Punk Rock Jesus

Collecting Punk Rock Jesus #1-6 (Sep 12-Feb 13)

Writer/artist: Sean Murphy

DC/Vertigo, $16.99,  B&W, 224 pages

There's a lot to recommend Punk Rock Jesus in general, and it's definitely a book that will make you think. But, weirdly for a book set in the near future, it felt dated to me.

Here's the plot: A wealthy reality-TV producer claims to take DNA from the Shroud of Turin, and launches a TV show that will follow the life of the Second Coming of Jesus, called "Chris," from his implantation in a virginal mother to birth and then on into his life. By age 15 Chris is questioning what he's supposed to be, and with the death of his mother, runs away and becomes a punk rocker antagonistic to the very idea of religion. In the course of the story we meet people whose faith falls all over the spectrum: Chris's bodyguard, a former IRA enforcer in search of redemption; Chris's sister, who believes in a benign higher power; the New American Christians, an aggressive and violent pro-Christian group; the scientist in charge of the cloning process, an atheist; and so forth.

It's written and drawn by Sean Murphy, who describes the book as autobiography in disguise. That's in reference to, among other things, Murphy's conversion from die-hard Catholic to atheist. Each character, he has said in interviews, represent his position on the faith spectrum when he experienced it.

Which means there's a lot to think about here. Punk Rock Jesus puts religion on the front burner, but never tells you what's "right." You're forced to think, pretty much from start to finish. And there's plenty of action for a think-piece, so there's plenty of story to carry you forward as well.

Meanwhile, the art is satisfying. Fans may know Murphy from American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest and Joe the Barbarian. Those who enjoy his work -- and I count myself among them -- will discover that it actually looks better here in black and white.

But for all that, I found myself curiously unmoved by Punk Rock Jesus. I think I was supposed to find my beliefs challenged -- there's pretty much something to offend everyone here -- and therefore become aroused and engaged. And maybe that will happen for some people. But I'm pretty comfortable in what I do and don't believe, and I'm not at all concerned in what others believe, so I view the topic somewhat at a remove.

Further, the injection of punk rock and the IRA puts a time stamp on the book that makes me think of it as something that's in the rear-view mirror. Punk Rock Jesus is set in the near future, as I said, and Murphy takes pains to establish how these historical elements become relevant in this near future, but nevertheless I can't force myself to take punk rock seriously. Been there, heard that, tore the T-shirt.

So I find myself admiring Punk Rock Jesus for its ambition, for its execution, for its courage. But my admiration is all intellectual, as I find myself emotionally disengaged. Your mileage may vary.

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