Punk Rock Jesus #2
Written and Illustrated by Sean Murphy
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo

How do you follow an indelible first issue that ended with the kind of stunning, did-that-just-happen moment that sends readers into a texting frenzy? In the case of Punk Rock Jesus, a comic you really ought to be reading, writer/artist Sean Murphy more than delivers on the promise of an exceptional, bruising introduction. This six-issue series has ambition to spare, and it’s shaping up to be one of the most memorable comics of the year.

Take some DNA from the Shroud of Turin, attach it to an egg to create a Jesus clone, artificially inseminate a virgin with the fertilized result and launch a global reality show based on the so-called second coming of Christ. What could go wrong? It’s as disastrous an idea as it sounds, and Murphy takes readers deeper into the chaos and controversy that began even before baby Chris drew his first, televised breath in issue #1.

Much of the second chapter is devoted to naive teen mom Gwen Fairling, who is now essentially a prisoner of Ophis, the company behind the J2 reality show. If there were any doubt about Ophis’ ruthlessness in keeping the J2 franchise intact and juicing the ratings — and I don’t know how there could be any question at this point — this issue will dissolve it. Far-fetched as this story might seem at first blush, the circus surrounding Gwen and her baby, the outrageous manipulation of truth and the pressure to feed the bottomless TV beast are quite believable.

Gwen’s hopeless situation brings her closer to Thomas McKael, the ex-IRA terrorist who serves as security and knows quite a bit about tragedy. The flashbacks to Thomas’ boyhood in the days following his parents’ violent murder in Belfast are heart-wrenching. Murphy’s intense black-and-white illustrations are so powerful that Thomas needs no dialogue to convey the depths of his trauma or the devastation he’s endured and inflicted. Thomas is a man of few words, but there is much more to him than brawn and an intimidating scowl.

Murphy’s character sketches, both written and illustrated, are something special. Geneticist Dr. Sarah Epstein, the brains behind the cloning, is still coming to grips with the deal she’s made with the devil, so to speak. She’s already gotten a frightening glimpse of the consequences of her partnership with Ophis, and while she makes valiant attempts to assert herself or advocate for Gwen’s well-being, she’s much more vulnerable than she knows. J2 producer Rick Slate is menace incarnate, a shark with a too-wide smile and a black hole where his heart ought to be. There’s a feeling that the whole thing could blow up at any moment, especially with all the bullhorn-toting religious extremists and excitable voyeurs surrounding the enterprise. Slate couldn’t care less, because the overheated drama means good ratings.

Murphy tackles a lot of big themes without making the story oppressively dense, and they combine to make Punk Rock Jesus one of the most substantive, surprising books you can buy right now. Now this is an event comic. Grade: A

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