We're in top five territory, people! We begin with... PUNK ROCK JESUS BY SEAN MURPHY AND TODD KLEIN!
When you hear the title of this comic, you expect a certain type of comic. Maybe something akin to American Idiot by Green Day. Certainly something a bit more crude and actually focused on the eponymous character. Instead, it's a wide-ranging character piece that spends nearly half of the series looking at the people surrounding Chris, the reality show clone of Jesus. If anything, the main protagonist is Thomas, the bodyguard at the J2 project. A former member of the IRA, he's a believer in the possible divinity of Chris and tries his best to keep his depressed, alcoholic, regretful mother alive, fend off religious fanatics that hate the project, and all while keeping watch over a child raised to be the new Christ... who, as he grows, realises more and more that it's a crock of shit.
I regret that this comic didn't come out 15 years ago. My teenage self would have loved it. It would have topped his best of the year list no doubt. I grew up going to Catholic school and, in my teens, became a hardcore atheist. I'm still quite anti-religion. This comic speaks to that side of me. But, that alone wouldn't earn it a spot on this list. Sean Murphy's writing and art do that. Anyone can take cheap shots and trash religion -- not everyone can create compelling characters, complex situations that make you think and consider your position, and deliver gorgeous black and white art. I loved his work on Joe the Barbarian, but this was better. More than that, this was Vertigo doing something unexpected: giving him a complete comic with no ads in black and white. How great is that? Could every Vertigo comic be that?
Murphy builds the world in this series. He doesn't simply jump in and start throwing punches. He does the work, he develops his characters, and, when Chris becomes the "Punk Rock Jesus" of the title, it feels earned. It feels organic and true, not simply an easy way out. This series showed writing skills beyond what I thought we would be getting. Everything about this series seemed to be about destroying my lame expectations. Well done, Mr. Murphy.
In 90 minutes, I'll be back with the next pre-2012 comic.
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