By: Sean Murphy (story & art), Todd Klein (letters), Gregory Lockard (assistant editor) & Karen Berger (editor)
The Story: Sean Murphy’s story about religion, faith and belief comes to a close.
Review (with SPOILERS): This was very nicely done. Ending a complex story has to be the biggest challenge in creating fiction. Anyone who consumes much fiction knows that clever ideas are a dime a dozen and that the rare skills are (a) executing on the clever idea to tell a snappy story and (b) conceiving an acceptable ending.
Punk Rock Jesus had already proven that Sean Murphy could execute on his clever idea. Over the last 5 issues he’s told us a story that was entertaining and thought provoking. So, the only real question was how would it end. I think this ending is largely successful. There might be a few places I would have liked to see a slightly different choices, but even there we’re talking about changing something that is “very, very good” for some unknown avenue – that might have turned out worse. I doubt that the “perfect ending” exists just because a work of fiction means something different to every reader.
I also want to give Murphy credit for writing a series that pushes the review/blogging/podcasting community. Writing reviews of Spider-Man is easy. There, the only real concern is some fanboy busting you because you misremembered in what issue MJ and Peter broke up for the 20th time. With reviewing PRJ, you want to write a review that does justice to the work, and that can be hard. Honestly, over the course of the series it has resulted in a lot of deleting, rewrites and what-not on my part. This finale was challenging, so I’m punting and addressing things in bullet format after failing to write coherent prose about 10 times. Kudos to Mr. Murphy for making me feel like I should try to do better.
1). Thomas’ origin – Thomas is the best character of the series. I’d said before that I’d love to see a “Thomas of the IRA” spin-off series, but now – having seen what Thomas’ true origin is – I really don’t want that anymore. His origin with the IRA was based on such a cruel lie that seeing more of his misdeeds with the IRA would be painful because we readers would be in on the joke, but Thomas wouldn’t be. Still, let’s just have a future story of “Thomas: Biker for Justice” or something because I would like to see more of the character.
2). Thomas’ story fits now. – Even though I’ve enjoyed Thomas’ character, there were times when I wasn’t sure how he connected to the other events of PRJ. He was clearly too complex of a character to just be there for excitement, but sometimes he didn’t seem to totally fit. Now, it is all clear. Basically, Thomas – this hulking killer – is the only character in the story with any faith or belief. The fascinating thing is how Thomas’ belief in men (his father, his uncle, Rick Slate, Chris, etc.) has mostly served to deceive him and bring pain to his life whereas his religious faith as demonstrated by seeing visions of the Virgin Mary and Grace is still uplifting to him. This leads into Point #3 below…
3). Murphy isn’t totally slamming on religion. – The comic book world isn’t a very religious place. Heck, anytime a social/political issue comes up in the real world, the comic masses turn Twitter into a place where hipsters are attempting to impress each other with who can be more clever while making fun of red-state, religious beliefs. So, taking shots at organized religion isn’t that edgy within the comic community. To be clear, PRJ is far above “taking shots at organized religion”. This is a very provocative work that doesn’t stoop to playing on stereotypes. So, the impressive thing to me is how Murphy isn’t totally dismissive of religious faith and I totally identify with that. Thomas has faith and is a believer. It gives structure to his life even if he deviates from the “rules” sometimes. Even people who get annoyed at religious Bible-thumping when those people try to dictate who should be allowed to marry or where the Ten Commandments should be displayed have probably known people who have a more quiet faith and appreciate the sense of peace they derive from that faith. It’s nice to see Murphy give a nod to that sort of faith rather than taking the easy path of ripping everything having to do with religion.
4). Interesting ending for Chris. – I guess it’s fitting that Chris ended up dead and (kinda) martyred. Just like regular flavor Jesus died for his beliefs, so did Chris. But, what I think is most interesting about Chris is that even though the comic is called “Punk Rock Jesus”, Chris wasn’t the most interesting or compelling character. Even in his own comic, he was more of a symbol than a character and that parallels the original Jesus. We think of Jesus as a symbol, but he was also a man who probably had many of the failings that affect us all: bodily noises as inappropriate times, naughty behavior as a young boy, etc. I don’t know if Murphy meant for Chris to turn out this way, but he did.
5). Unsure what to make of the sister. – I think the title of this bullet says it all. Everything else about this comic had complex meanings, so I can’t imagine that the sister was nothing but a tool to prove that Chris wasn’t really a clone of Jesus. Still, I’ve thought and thought about it and I’m getting nothing. Someone pick it up in the comments.
6). Great art again. – By now, you’ve probably seen Murphy on a few year-end “best artist” lists. He’s one of the best in the business. One thing that stood out in this issue is how well he drew Thomas. He’s able to give the guy such a physical presence on the page. We should be used to this in comics because virtually all superheroes are drawn with Thomas’ basic physique, but Murphy is able to give him this quiet power. Just seeing him standing there you know that he could pull the arms off everyone in the room, yet I never feel that way when I see Thor or Superman. Perhaps it’s the contrast between Thomas and the other skinny dudes? The other thing that grabs me about Murphy’s art is how well he blends his slightly cartoonish characters and his starkly realistic inanimate objects. Just look at the cars and buildings! Murphy could have drawn these things for an advertising campaign. I’m always impressed at how he blends these two styles.
7). Different choices. – It’s always dangerous to suggest little ways for a creator of Murphy’s caliber to improve, but I’ve heaped ten tons of praise on the guy in reviewing PRJ (and Joe the Barbarian and American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest). He knows I love his work. Suggesting improvement is asking a pitcher who already throws a 99 mph fastball to change their grip just a tad to give the ball more movement. Anyway, two things I thought could have been a little better/different. One is when Thomas is chasing through Jerusalem after a kidnapped Chris. This silent sequence is a dark and emotional scene for Thomas, but the way it is illustrated is a little too light and a little too cartoony because it makes the scene feel a little lighter and fluffier than it should. Murphy has a more realistic style (that also tends to be darker) and I wish he’d used it here. This scene was also the only one in the series where I felt a colorist was lacking. The other nitpick that I have is how the fundamentalist Christians are depicted. We know they are kinda silly creatures, but they come off almost clownlike in the climactic scene which doesn’t fit with their role in the climax. I mean, we should appreciate the irony that the fundamentalist Christians have killed Chris, instead I found myself focus on how silly they were. Again, these are little things. I only point them out because I’ve prattled on for ~6000 words already over the course of the series about how awesome it is.
Conclusion: A wonderful ending to a series. I loved this and wish we had more comics that were so ambitious. Even though I’m looking forward to Murphy’s upcoming collaboration with Scott Snyder, I’d almost rather Murphy got to tell another story of his own again next time.
– Dean Stell