Filed under: Comic Reviews, Vertigo Comics | Tags: American Vampire, Jesus, SeanMurphy, Spaceman
I found this week a particularly good week for comics, with plenty of titles I wanted to read (and time permitting review). I’ll usually try my best to sort them into some kind of order, starting with what I think is the weakest and leaving the best till last. I got this week’s pile totally and utterly wrong. Slotting Punk Rock Jesus somewhere in the middle, it resulted in an earlier than expected comic high and made the books left in my pile much less enjoyable. That’s right – I’m angry that this comic was so good.
I shouldn’t have been surprised though – it’s timing has been near perfect. I picked up the deluxe hardcover of Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison a few months back and soaked up every last page of it. Not only is the story an excellent one to lose yourself in (and one that would be ideal to be made into a movie), but it also introduced me to the amazing artwork of Sean Murphy. Within pages he’d soared very close to the top of my favourite artists of all time list. Keen to get my hands on more of his work, I was shocked to see that his list of comic work was pretty small, however with some more great timing, after Joe I was due to start on the third American Vampire hardcover, which by chance, featured the spin off issues Survival of the Fittest – drawn none other than Sean Murphy. Although I’m a big fan of Rafael Albuquerque on American Vampire, Murphy brought his incredible style to this spin off and made it his own. Not long after finishing that, while flicking through the pages of Previews, I noticed Punk Rock Jesus – a comic both written and drawn by Murphy. If only everything in life would fit together so perfectly like this.
The idea behind the comic sounded fairly high concept – a clone of Jesus Christ that is created as part of a reality show grows up to be an angry teenager. I thought I had a fairly good idea of how that comic might play out, and was still pretty interested to read it – but this wasn’t the comic I imagined. This is something much darker and grittier than some tongue in cheek take on reality TV and religion. The fact that the baby clone doesn’t really show up much in the first issue is testament to the fact that this book is much more about the support characters that fit in around Jesus 2’s (or J2 for short) story. In between the talks of science versus god there’s a fascinating story about the ex-IRA bodyguard hired for the TV show – it might be Jesus’ name on the front of the cover, but I suspect it’ll be Thomas McKael’s story that’s going to be the reason we keep coming back to this book each month. And the pet Polar Bear of course.
Not only has Murphy written a cracking first issue, he’s put an incredible amount of effort into drawing it too. Murphy has a very sketchy drawing style, but without loosing quality or detail. In fact the pages are so detailed that taking a step back and trying to absorb 2 pages at once is almost impossible, it’s not until you start reading the story panel by panel that you can really appreciate the level of detail in each. All of his character designs are meticulously thought out, meaning there’s no one boring to look at – no generic male faces with wide chins here. What I like most about Murphy’s characters are their hair – he seems to carefully place each strand on their heads, creating a unique style for each of them. This isn’t the kind of book that would adopt splash or double splash pages to tell the story, so I’m glad to see Murphy sticking to good old fashioned panel structures here, using a lot of the same storytelling techniques that worked so well on Joe the Barbarian.
This is the kind of quality book we’ve come to expect from Image over the past months, so it’s a nice surprise to see it’s something different from Vertigo instead. At Kapow! earlier in the year Dan DiDio made some comments about how they’d be looking to refresh their Vertigo range in a similar way to what they’d done with the New52 – a decision that came about because the books were growing stale with their overly complicated continuity. I’d agree that something needs to be down with DC’s Vertigo imprint, but maybe not quite as drastic as the New52 – Vertigo is the place where DC can really challenge Image for originality, offering something much darker and adult than it’s New52 superheroes books. Vertigo struggles at the moment due to it’s slim choice on offer, mainly consisting of long running books – there’s at least a couple of series in there that are over the 100 issue mark, so it’s not an ideal jumping on point for new readers. Image is pushing out at least a new number one every month, but with original content like Punk Rock Jesus and the recent Azzarello/Risso Spaceman series, DC can give them a run for their money – so let’s hope that whatever the refresh in the imprint is, it’ll help encourage new books like these.
As you can probably tell, I’m really excited by this book – it’s probably not only my favourite of the week, but possibly the whole month. It’s title may have 3 words in it that you could care less about, but if you’re interested in a good story with excellent artwork and storytelling, then don’t let them put you off.
Craig – @hastiecraig
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