Yeah, well, so, FUCK!
This has happened. Punk Rock Jesus #3 has taken the series to that place where it goes from a simple comic book tale to something that is rap, rap, rapping on the door of great literature. Think storytelling through comic books isn’t as riveting as normal books? Well then, you haven’t come down off your educated soapbox long enough to discover the absolute joy of Punk Rock Jesus. The first two entries to this modern tale of technology gone amok were spectacular, but issue 3, this is something completely different. When Will Eisner spoke about the power of storytelling through sequential art, this is what he meant.
Artist/writer Sean Murphy pushes everything into high gear. There are huge jumps in time, characters that were seemingly one-dimensional become fully realized and the shadow of what’s to come begins to spread. The complexity of what Murphy is doing here is staggering, especially considering he only has six issues to complete it and that he’s illustrating it with his particularly chaotic black and white style. Punk Rock Jesus should be a mess, but instead it’s a testimony to what comic books should always aspire to be.
Enough gushing, let me get to the brass tacks. Issue 3 begins just after 2, with Thomas attempting to save Gwen from the angry hoards of NAC members. The rescue is fast and brutal, but effective. Once back inside the compound, Rick Slate, the evil corporate bastard overseeing the J2 TV Show, uses Thomas and Gwen’s romp to reassert his control, but in that sickly sweet “I wanted to help you” style that only truly evil men can master. Jump ahead and Chris, the boy cloned from the blood of Jesus and placed into Gwen’s womb, is five and being taught by creepy cartoons who Jesus is and how he’s descended from him. Gwen, feeling like a failure as a mother and unable to escape the clutches of the compound, slips deeper into drugs and alcohol.
The only friend Chris has is Dr. Epstein’s daughter Rebekah. Epstein is the scientist that originally culled the blood of Christ for cloning and now, regretting it, is trying to keep tabs on Chris. Any of you who read issue 1 will begin to get the vibe of who Rebekah might be. A failed attempt by Chris to walk on water incites even more ire in Gwen and puts a strain on Thomas’s loyalty to the corporation. Jump ahead again and Chris is fourteen. Slate and the corporation, to downplay rumors of abuse and mistreatment in the compound, are using Chris as a puppet.
Watching her son coerced to lie in public forces Gwen’s hand, and she attempt a violent coup, one that leaves her kicked out of the compound and separated from Chris. Without his mother there to love him, Chris becomes enraged and begins sabotaging the show. His friendship with Thomas is the only thing holding him together. The end of issue 3 is so exciting, so weird and so good that you’ll be breathless for issue 4.
All of what I just wrote is but the outline strokes of Murphy’s story. He touches on religion, racism, corporatization, friendship, secrets, lies, the power of the media, the bond between mother and son, desperation, alienation and violence. He takes those ideas and spreads them through every panel in the book. Gwen becomes a much more three-dimensional character, as does Thomas. For the first time, we get to know Chris and, by the end of this issue, we feel for him. As edgy as this is and as violent as the imagery can be, Murphy fills it with emotion and humanity. That’s the key to what makes Punk Rock Jesus work. With all the darkness befalling these characters, their humanity keeps a light flickering.
Tying all of this together is Murphy’s stylized art. The lines are strong here, but only in the structure of the forms, faces are thinner strokes and smaller lines. Each character is given a very specific look so nobody bleeds into the anyone else. In short, you can tell who everybody is instantly (the Walking Dead artist could learn a thing or two from Mr. Murphy). Giving the whole thing weight are the inks, which set heavily into shoulders and extremities of each person. The heavy inks give Thomas his mass, while the thinner inks allow Gwen and Chris to seem fragile. In between that are Dr. Epstein and Slate. Murphy is also so good at translating movement from a two-dimensional medium.
Punk Rock Jesus is nothing short of masterful. The characters are rich with personality, the plot is layered and the textures in the art allow for maximum enjoyment. I have not been this excited about a comic book in a long time.