What would happen if Jesus were cloned today?
That’s the question lingering in and out of Sean Murphy’s comic book exploration “Punk Rock Jesus”. Within its pages, artist and writer Murphy asks a simple question: In ten years or so, when scientific advancements are further but the American/world attention can still focus on reality television, what would the cloning of Jesus Christ do?
How would we go about treating a “Messiah” of today?
Now, I must say, that this book came highly recommended. Right before the New Year, this was one of the best new series of 2012 to be reviewed. After frequenting all of the comic book news sites that do weekly comic reviews, they came in. The reviews of the comics. Each one better than the last.
Apparently, it seemed everyone loved this series.
The customers in the shop loved this series.
Everyone said read it. It’s good.
So, I did.
Here’s what happened:
First, let me start by saying some wonderful things about Sean Murphy and his art. For a time, Murphy has been known primarily as an artist. Drawing some of the most critically acclaimed series in recent years such as “American Vampire” and “Joe the Barbarian” (both of which are on my list to read) he’s grown in popularity.
Within this book, though, I found nothing but black and white images. No color.
Each page is livelier than the last. What Murphy illustrates is poignant main characters and exciting drama. Our main character Thomas McKael, rose during the war of the Irish Republican Army in the late 1980s, taught how to fight in Lybia and trained to kill in Ireland. In a world of clean cut television producers and potential Messiahs, Thomas maintains a constant shadow across his face. It’s an interesting artistic choice. He’s the only one. Murphy makes sure to always have Thomas maintain a rough, gruff exterior.
From the punk rock performances and the city skylines, Murphy draws it all.
I could spend the entirety of this article writing about his art alone, but a comic is more than that. It needs a story to go in sync. This one has a hefty question behind it.
What would the world do if Jesus Christ were cloned today?
We’re shown a powerful television company, Ophis, which has gained access to the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud was supposedly used to wrap Jesus as he was buried. Murphy writes that within the shroud were traces of Jesus’ DNA. The company hires world renowned geneticist Dr. Sarah Epstein to remove the DNA, combine it with a healthy egg and implant it into the body of a virgin.
Why a virgin?
Because the only way that Ophis and their resident producer, Mr. Slate, think the world audience would watch their 24 hour reality telecast is if they follow the Bible story. They select a young girl, Gwen Fairling, who is to be the future mother of the newly minted Jesus Christ.
Or, Chris, as he comes to be known.
Why does all of this sound super real?
Because this is not at all that far off from what could actually happen. And isn’t that the scariest part?
See, for the first half of the book, Murphy crafts a brilliant science fiction beauty. The best science fiction, I always say, creates a story that makes you think when the fictional science aspects occur. It’s never a matter of “If?” it’s a matter of “When?”
When would we attempt to clone Jesus Christ?
And, when would we attempt to put it on television?
Murphy fashions these characters with such human thought and emotion that it’s hard not to think of this as biographical at certain points. The mother, Gwen, begins to succumb to the pressures of the media and her producer overlord Mr. Slate. The doctor, Sarah Epstein, questions her own decisions in giving her mind to the likes of Ophis. Thomas McKael, Chris’ (Jesus Christ Clone) IRA trained bodyguard, questions why he would bother guarding a clone in the first place. Redemption?
All in all, the first half was going brilliantly.
Then, Chris grew up.
He learned about Punk Music.
He learned about atheism.
Then, at the height of Ophis’ and Mr. Slate’s betrayal, Chris rebels.
He becomes The Punk Rock Jesus and leads his followers and band, The Flak Jackets, into a world of free thoughts and righteous music.
Sounds great, right?
But it was hard to read the story and not think that Murphy had a message hidden underneath it all. Its fine, I totally understand if writers imbue their views into books. I find it better if noticeable signs are not present. I mean, writers are people too. It’s not to say they don’t have their own thoughts. Best left to the imagination, I guess. That might the simplest way of saying it.
However, at the end of the trade paperback collecting the entire story, Murphy writes a letter. A letter stating when he first became an atheist. Suddenly, the story felt less like an actual story. Suddenly, with that letter, it felt like a piece of propaganda that Murphy was crafting.
It was a weird, sudden twist. I began to care about the characters, the stories, the conflicts of these people as they faced the world. Defending their Christ against the religious and non-religious fanatics of the world, Thomas and Sarah and Chris are forced to fight back. Then, the letter.
Was it a story?
Or was it just propaganda?
Not that I have issues with people’s views, I don’t. Believe what you want. But what I’m still processing is Murphy’s story.
Was it that?
You’d have to decide for yourself.
In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Tucson Citizen, Bobby Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, employee and frequenter of Heroes & Villains Comics/Game Store, and explorer of the importance of comics. He recommends each and every comic he writes about.
Contact him at email@example.com
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