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Punk Rock Jesus #5 – Review

By: Sean Murphy (writer/artist), Todd Klein (letters) and Karen Berger (editor)

The Story: Chris continues his assault on fundamentalist religious movements.

Review (with SPOILERS): This is a very interesting issue.  On the surface, Murphy has introduced some fun and exciting elements to this issue.  At first, it’s tempting to think that Murphy is putting away all the allegory from the series so that he can tell a rousing finale – allegory can be confining, after all.  But if you ignore the bright and shiny stuff, all the complexities are still right there, causing you to think and ponder.  It’s impressive that Murphy can simultaneous tell a story that is (a) entertaining and (b) has a lot of depth.

Let’s talk about the fun stuff first.  Any comic that focuses so much on religion can get a little heavy at times.  Eventually the whole thing needs a colonic.  So, Murphy gives us some cool scenes of Thomas being an ass-kicker.  Thomas is just such a neat character.  I would totally read a series called, “Thomas of the IRA”.  He’s just so big, bad-ass and invincible that he’s fun to watch.  In a comic about God, Thomas is the closest thing we have to a superhuman.  Murphy also gives us some humor in the form of a spastic band-mate who is perpetually PUMPED about everything and really gets on Thomas’ nerves.

At first, I really thought this was all the comic was about, but then I scratched at it a little more and found some interesting stuff.  In my review of PRJ #4 we talked a little about how Rick Slate is kinda like God.  Slate is the mogul of reality television who caused Chris to be created from the Shroud of Turin.  So, he was kinda the creator of Chris and also the creator of the religion of TV that the mindless masses worship.  It was all very clever.  But, in this issue we get the teaser that Chris probably isn’t cloned from the Shroud, but from some as-yet unknown DNA.  Is there any question that he’s a clone of Rick Slate?

How clever and thought provoking!

I’m not sure precisely what that means, but it spurs a series of thoughts:

  • Chris is just a normal person: There is nothing supernatural about Chris.  Even if you accept that Jesus existed and that Jesus is the Son of God and that there was something divine in Jesus’ DNA, Chris doesn’t have any of this.
  • Normal people can do extraordinary things: If Chris is just a famous 15 year old, isn’t it amazing the power he is wielding?  He’s changing the world and it isn’t because he is a clone of Jesus.  On the flip side, we have Rick Slate – also a “normal man” – who has also done great things.  Slate isn’t good, but it’s hard to argue that he isn’t great.
  • All of Chris’ gifts come from Slate: Much is made in this issue of Chris’ 185 IQ, but he owes that to Slate.  And, all of his readings and trainings that he possesses also came from Slate, so there isn’t even a nature-vs-nurture argument.
  • LOTS of stuff about worshiping the wrong things: Whether it is the mindless people worshiping Slate’s TV shows or the lunatic fringe worshiping Chris (before turning on him), there are a LOT of people in the world of PRJ who have their values out of whack.

It’s just a really compelling story.  The only parts that aren’t quite pulling their weight are Thomas’ back-story and the tale of the scientist and her algae.  These stories aren’t “bad” in any way, but they just don’t compare to the masterful story of Chris.  Like I said, I’d love to read a “Thomas of the IRA” comic, but I’m not sure it quite fits in this issue.  However, it doesn’t hurt the story at all and since the issue is extra-sized, it isn’t even stealing pages.

Was the art good?  Well, let me put it this way, I turned the page at one point and actually verbally muttered, “Oh my god…”  This was the double-pager of Chris and his band playing.  Holy crap is this a page!  If my wife wouldn’t shoot me for buying it, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  You’ll not find a better piece of comic art.  It encompasses what I love about Murphy as an artist: the energy, the intense detail, the accurate machines, the emotion–wow.  The rest of the issue is mostly “Just more great Sean Murphy art” which means it is very, very good.  One other page really stood out: The scene when Thomas finds the dead child.  The emotion that bubbles off that page is intense.

Conclusion: This is the best comic being published right now.  From a writing/art standpoint, it might have a few equals, but the fact that Murphy actually has something to say puts it in another class.

Grade: A

- Dean Stell

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4 Responses

  1. I’ve not read this as am waiting for the trade, but this sounds great. Though I do still wish it wasn’t in black and white.

    That said, reading this review only makes me want the Wake even more (if you hadn’t heard, that’s a 12-issue maxi-series by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy – some kind of deep sea horror thing coming out next year from Vertigo). Easily one of my most anticipated books of the new year.

    • From talking to Murphy, the original plan was for it to be colored, but they just didn’t budget enough money to do it. You can see in the first few issues that he drew them with the expectation that they’d be colored because they look just like his original art (which I own a few pages of).

      You’ll love this. Even if you don’t like it as much as I do, it’s hard not to respect a guy who is actually trying to say something.

      The Wake should be awesome. I agree with you there. I’m almost giddy about that. :)

  2. NIce review.

    I would also add the mindless punk fans that worship Chris NOW on that list. Plus the people (how ever few there are) that worship Thomas. It’s basically celebrity worship.

    My take on the issue is that Chris is really as self-centered as Slate. He states it in this issue how he will stop all of this once Slate releases the Shroud. Basically, he doesnt care about doing “good” or how he is changing anything. He’s got a selffish agenda just like Slate.

    Another aspect was how he gets forgiveness but refuses to give it. Also, a trait of someone unwilling to accept and grow. Self-centered and totally unaware of anything else but what he wants. In some ways, he’s a lot like an alcoholic.It’s also pushes the idea that you get all the gifts (like a high IQ) but its all in how you use them that matters.

    I like the book but I don’t love it. But is nice to see someone try something so far reaching as this. So I give Murphy a lot of credit.

    • Thanks for the comments. You raise a lot of good points and I’ll keep an eye on those in the finale.

      I’m so glad that Murphy is doing this instead of drawing some “epic” Aquaman story written by someone else. I’m just really impressed by his ambition to do a story like this with his first published work. I mean…..he’s reasonably well connected. I’m sure if he wanted to, he probably could have written some back-up features in a Batman comic or something. You know….play it safe, do some story about Two Face and get some positive press. Instead he did PRJ as a debut. Impressive!

      I won’t fault Murphy if he takes a nice gig that pays him upfront next time. In fact, he’d probably we well advised to do something that’s a big commercial success. But, I absolutely want him to return to this type of work in the future.

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