Sean Murphy devotes himself entirely to making the angriest, trashiest, most hilariously depressing distillation of Paul Verhoeven and Philip K. Dick imaginable. Like Sin City, Scalped, Judge Dredd, Garth Ennis’ Punisher, or Garth Ennis’ anything else, this is about horrible things being committed by, or happening to, horrible people, the worst of all being a slimy corporate executive who can’t stop grinning like Patrick Bateman as he lectures anyone, good or bad, about how much he owns them: if Irish hulk Thomas McKael, who pages earlier drove a boat through a trawler housing religious radicals (in what I imagine Murphy’s done as the kind of speed-ramping shot that Zack Snyder does in everything, only with the knowledge that being able to do something doesn’t mean “do it all the time”), finds himself powerless next to this guy, what chance do a kind-hearted scientist, a smartass techie, the leader of those same fundamentalists, or the teen girl Gwen and her cloned baby Jesus have? The answer: not much.
With my review of the previous issue, I might have been a little off to say this wasn’t an exploitation comic. How can it not be with a title like Punk Rock Jesus, and with the stuff that happens here? This is a comic about cloning Jesus to parade around on national TV, after all. It’s also one where an executive fakes miracles (infant Chris ‘turning’ juice to wine) for the purpose of boosting ratings, and where a drunk Gwen (who, it turns out, had been forced into huge amounts of plastic surgery before being impregnated) flees a media circus, only to crash her car into a wall. Murphy is very much playing on trash-culture. More specifically, he’s playing on our obsession with it. Right after McKael demolishes the New American Christian protesters, Slate (the executive) keeps their leader in a darkened room, bragging about how every time she shows up and the Irishman beats them down, their ratings go up. In this scene, McKael is practically soaked in menacing shadows, while the well-lit Slate mugs as if he’s still in front of the camera. Given how prevalent cameras are on the island this all takes place on, he very well could be. So, yeah, this actually is an exploitation comic, but that’s not a bad thing by itself: Murphy is using this imagery for a purpose, expressing how downright rotten our talk radio/cable news/social media culture and the constant stream of meaningless “content” really is. And he does so by kicking us in the gut about it, repeatedly, then shoving our faces in the filth.
Yet there’s always hope, whether it’s the quiet moments of the group bonding with each other or a genetically-engineered polar bear, or that final moment where McKael and Gwen have had enough of Slate’s manipulations and escape the facility, manifesting the punk’s call to anger. Sure, it actually causes further problems (as the final page shows), because breaking the rules always does, but Murphy finds worth in the expression of outrage. Instead of offering a pretentious, commercial gimmick (hello, Before Watchmen), he’s given us the real deal.