By: Sean Murphy (writer/artist), Todd Klein (letters), Gregory Lockard (assistant editor) & Karen Berger (editor)
The Story: Bad things happen and J2 rebels
Review (with minor SPOILERS): One reason I love PRJ is that it is damn hard to review. There’s a lot of meat on the bone and it challenges you as a commentator to write something that isn’t messy and running all over the place. I can tell you: Not many comics have this quality. Even the best issues of a really good superhero comic (like the Snyder/Capullo Batman) have a very defined emphasis to them, and it makes them more orderly to review. The same thing is true of really good creator-driven series like The Walking Dead or American Vampire or Scalped. Reviewing PRJ is more like commenting on Charles Burns.
So, I guess if you take nothing else from this review, know that PRJ #4 is a very challenging work. There’s a lot of excitement and plot development, but there’s also some depth to the work and you can really swim around in that if you so choose.
Let’s break down some of the cool elements of the issue:
1). Exciting comics with character development – Seeing Chris get himself ready for his big breakout by skipping rope and then making a break for it or seeing a young, IRA-shooter Thomas visiting horrible vengeance on a bunch of unionists is exciting. Seeing these two characters grow over the course of these four issues has been powerful. They’ve both very complex and have a lot of scars on themselves.
2). Deeper meanings. – I’m not really sure what to make of some of the depths of this story, but it is very thought provoking. Consider Chris and where he came from. From a surface standpoint, he was created by a TV executive (Slate) who arranged for a naive young girl (Grace) to have a cloned baby Jesus Christ. Does that mean that Slate is “God”? He certainly is as close to a “father” of Chris as the God is the father of the original Jesus Christ. Right? People worship his reality TV program, right? And, what finally makes Chris revolt against Slate is the death of his mother (struck down by Slate for her rebellion against him). So Chris revolts against Slate and revolts against religion at the same time. Eerie, huh? And then layer on top of this the fact that Slate doesn’t really believe any of the religious stuff he pushes on Chris; he’s just doing that to get people to watch his TV show. Is that saying something about the leaders of organized religion? Perhaps they just want to you show up, feed their ego and put money in the collection plate? See what I mean? There’s a LOT here to gnaw on if you really want to.
3). Unafraid to offend. – I have a few religious comic friends and they probably wouldn’t be able to read this. Much like I’ve had a few Muslim friends who won’t read The Satanic Verses because they know they’ll find it challenging. You have to give Murphy credit. Whether these are his own beliefs (and this feels like a personal work) or just a story, he’s not afraid to rock the boat. That’s something to be admired in a guy who isn’t established in the industry. He could be illustrating Spider-Man, but instead he’s doing challenging works like PRJ.
4). Art that blends realism & cartooning. – I’ve always loved this about Murphy’s art. Look at the bottom panel of page 3, showing Thomas fighting some mercenaries: In the foreground, we have a mercenary who looks pretty realistic (and has great lighting effects), then in the mid-ground we have a slightly cartoony Thomas (poised for action, thick heavy lines, rough, blocky) and in the background we have a totally cartoony scene of mercenary with Bugs Bunny stars circling around his crotch because Thomas just crunched his balls (plus this guy is done in finer lines). Wonderful panel. And this is just one panel in the comic.
5). Detail!!! – The detail is amazing too. You can almost get lost in it. Murphy draws everything: the fact that the strap on the soldier’s kneepad has two different types of elastic, the lugs on a solider’s boot, the stitching on the shoulder-straps of Thomas’s vest… Just slow down and dwell on a panel. There’s nothing where you feel like Murphy took a shortcut.
6). Creative panels – Take the panel where Grace dies. She’s laying there in a pool of blood. Slate is standing over her, but you can’t see his face. The doctor is looking up at Slate. And you can see Slate’s entire body reflected in the pool of blood. Remember–Slate is God. The creation of the panel is impressive enough, but pulling off a reflection like that in black and white is amazing.
7). Minor nitpicks. – The quibbles I have are the most minor of things. I only mention them to preserve a sense of balance to the hyperbole above. I wish Murphy would learn a couple more faces because a lot of these folks look like people from his previous works. Of course, that isn’t a unique problem in comic art, even for good artists. And I think Murphy noodles a little bit when he shades Slate’s face; fewer lines might be better. I’m also a little confused about the appearance of the “angel” at the end of issue #3 and whether that has any bearing on events of this issue. The angel doesn’t quite fit when I think about the bigger issues in the comic. Plus, now that I’ve thought about it, Thomas’ journey from IRA shooter to “bodyguard/thug with faith” seems like a smaller story then the whole Slate as God story. Thomas isn’t bad, but the other story is so thought provoking that I feel I’m shortchanging Thomas when Thomas is a fabulous character (honestly, I’d read a comic called, “Thomas of the IRA”). But these are minor nitpicks.
Conclusion: What a wonderful comic! It’s enjoyable just on a surface level and features exquisite art. The depth of the story sets it apart from most other comics on the shelf.
– Dean Stell