A reality TV show starring a clone of Jesus Christ causes chaos across the U.S. of the near future in PUNK ROCK JESUS, a new graphic novel written and drawn by Sean Murphy, the acclaimed illustrator of JOE THE BARBARIAN and AMERICAN VAMPIRE.
J2 causes both outrage and adulation. Religious zealots either love or hate the show, angry politicians worry about its influence on the nation, and members of the scientific community fear the implications of cloning a human being at all, let alone the Son of God.
Thomas McKael is the clones’s bodyguard and former IRA operative, who despite his turbulent past is hired to protect the new Jesus—a baby who captivates the world, but grows up to become an angry teenager.
When falling ratings force the network to cut Jesus’s mother from the series the young star runs away, renounces his religious heritage and forms a punk rock band. And what starts off as babysitting for Thomas becomes an epic battle, as Jesus goes to war against the corporate media complex that created him.
I want to start off this review with a couple of disclaimers. The most important of which probably being that if you do not like reading graphic novels or other mediums that depict religiously controversial content, then this is not for you. I’m sure you may have realized that from the title and synopsis above, but I figured it might be good to mention such a thing. Additionally, I will admit to being sympathetic towards a lot of the views perpetuated on the side opposite of religion in this graphic novel; however, as you may be able to extrapolate from my rating, this does not make me automatically start raving about the amazingness of this comic. So I’m a little less biased than you might think. ;D Finally, while the art is absolutely fan-flipping-tastic, I am mostly critiquing this on the writing and story content as I feel that I’m not quite qualified to be an art critic.
So this graphic novel essentially has two halves: exposition/buildup and the actual punk rock portion that we are anticipating from the beginning. And yes, while the buildup does make the latter portion all the more satisfying and understandable, I felt like more time was spent building up the scenario than the actual execution. When we finally get to see Chris, the clone of Jesus, rocking it up, it feels so much more rushed than the rest of the comic that it is ultimately disappointing, with the ending feeling like it was quickly slapped on. Which is quite sad, too, when the premise held a lot of potential to be ungodly fun. That isn’t to say it completely fails in this regard though. I mean, I can’t help but love that Sean Murphy drew a badass looking picture of Carl Sagan, among various gunfights and other action-packed scenes. Also, I think I have a new love for genetically engineered polar bears to cuddle with.
The plot does give a somewhat heavy-handed examination of the role of religion within our society versus scientific advancement, with some unfortunately stereotypical fundamentalists being a consistent backdrop throughout. In fact, a good chunk of the characters I felt did not get time to be filled out well enough to where I had trouble emotionally connecting. I did like, though, that we get quite a spectrum of belief within the cast of characters, from the militantly atheist to the staunch Catholic seeking redemption, with skeptical scientists and others filling things out. While not kind in its treatment of religion, the graphic novel manages to at least give multiple points of view, with the Catholic Thomas McKael easily being the best written character. McKael’s backstory is heartbreaking, so be prepared with perhaps a tissue or two. Just warning you.
We also touch on some other issues that were for me personally hard to read. Gwen, Chris’s mother, deals with a lot of predictable issues for being locked up on an island taking care of a child while constantly in front of cameras on live television. Post-partum depression being among those. Murphy handles these issues well, I think, especially on the psychological front; I felt like he did do his research before writing and it shows on multiple fronts. I mean, he showed the psychological effects of isolation quite well and I have no complaints. Of course, reality television gets a heavy-handed treatment with this story, but that’s not all that entirely surprising.
Overall, I felt like this comic does succeed at making one think critically about their beliefs, even if I felt that the storytelling was flawed. Read this one with an open mind, especially if you hold strong religious beliefs.