Summary: J2 causes both outrage and adulation. Religious zealots either love or hate the show, angry politicians worry about its influence on the nation, and members of the scientific community fear the implications of cloning a human being at all, let alone the Son of God.
Punk Rock Jesus, by Sean Murphy 7.75
Forget the awkward title: is this ever a story for our times! ‘Punk Rock Jesus’ takes us to 2019, where media conglomerate Ophis decides to use the genetic material on the Shroud of Turin to clone Jesus Christ for “J2”, a reality show. Naturally, this causes all sorts of ethical, religious and political conflicts even before Chris is born from the womb of his virgin mother, Gwen Fairling.
But then he’s born: a Caucasian, fair-haired boy with blue eyes (because Ophis director and show-runner, Rick Slate had the genetic material altered to better serve American expectations!) who is secluded from the rest of the world on a secure island for his protection. His every moment from his Christmas Day birth onward is broadcast for hungry eyes, making Ophis a fortune.
…and transforming Chris into a disenchanted rebel.
He’s subject to intense scrutiny, is worshiped by believers, reviled by non-believers, under constant personal threat, is emotionally and intellectually manipulated by Slate, watches his mother come apart at the seams, doesn’t have friends to play with, sees his loved ones get murdered in front of him and carries the burden of being the purported Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
What the !@#$ could go possibly wrong with the J2 project?
Heh heh… welcome back, J.C.!
The whole concept came to Sean Murphy’s mind in 2007 when Sarah Palin became John McCain’s running mate in the U.S. federal election. Murphy couldn’t believe that someone so “ignorant could come so close to being President” and felt the need to express his political views and discuss the state of the world today. Five years later, ‘Punk Rock Jesus’ was an award-winning comic.
But, personally, I have mixed feelings about it.
Firstly, I very much like the concept. In this day and age, where our level of consumption and profiteering are unsustainable, it wouldn’t be surprising that someone would want to use Jesus Christ as a way to make money (ahem… some already do!). And it’s pretty clear that the bottom line would always be more important than any moral principles, ethical guidelines or even logic.
However, I’m not convinced by the way that Murphy has developed the whole thing.
- For starters, the very idea that Slate would have the genetic material modified automatically means that Chris is a fake. Slate doesn’t care, obviously, because he’s all about ratings, but it’s a wonder that no one in the media discusses the fact that Chris is Caucasian. Maybe they do and it’s simply not in the book, but that’s lacking for me. I mean, how can you claim to have the real thing if it doesn’t look the part?
- How could anyone believe that Chris would be the Second Coming of Christ if he’s raised in such drastically different conditions than the original was? Granted, the core aspect is his being the son of God, but his upbringing also shaped him – it required poverty and oppression (and whatever else happened to him that’s not in the Bible!). But he certainly wasn’t brainwashed, secluded in a compound!
Again, maybe people did care and it was discussed in the background – but it’s not in the book.
- How could Slate have complete control of the whole operation, have Chris broadcast live 24/7, and yet not be aware of all the little developments? At the very least, someone would report back to him what viewers are seeing and discussing. It would have been important to explain the limitations of Slate’s monitoring that justify Chris, Rebekah and her mom’s ability to smuggle things, do things in secret, …etc.
- In light of the above, I’m not convinced that Chris’ escape could be possible, given Slate’s controlling nature (unless he gave J.C. way more slack than we’re actually led to believe), and that he’d be able to stay hidden for as long as he has given his visibility and notoriety and lack of life skills. In any event, Slate would have to be a really poor read if he didn’t see that Chris was a pressure cooker just waiting to explode.
- Of course, having said that, Slate also had such a poor grasp of human behaviour that he forced an unhealthy environment on Chris; he should have known that he was forming a completely different individual than the original Christ. But was that intentional? When one considers that the name of his organization is Ophis (i.e. Greek for serpent), you have to wonder what powers were behind him…
- Though there are plenty of other matters worth discussing, the last one that really stuck with me the concept that Thomas McKael, a Frank castle-type (‘Jesus meets The Punisher’, anyone?), could safeguard Chris. Though Thomas is proven to be effective, how likely is it that Chris could remain safe under the watch of only one man for fifteen years? He has to slip-up sometimes, right? And he has to sleep, too, right?
In any event, it’s still a fascinating read, with numerous twists to keep readers turning the page (though I may have spoiled a few – sorry), and Murphy’s artwork is truly amazing. A-MAZ-ING. Though it’s black and white and gritty, there’s a definite John Byrne influence in his style, most notably in the visages. And he made use of the page extremely well, sometimes using two-page spreads. He’s an excellent storyteller.
Ultimately, there are many reasons to pick up this book.
Have a little faith in ‘Punk Rock Jesus’.