PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Comics

Just Another Nightmare, From Which I'm Trying to Awake: "Punk Rock Jesus"

If you think Sean Murphy's Punk Rock Jesus is in any way about Jesus, the Passion, and the prophesied Second Coming, you might be missing the point…


Punk Rock Jesus #1

Publisher: DC/Vertigo
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Sean Murphy
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2012-09
Amazon

If you think Sean Murphy's Punk Rock Jesus is in any way about Jesus, the Passion, and the prophesied Second Coming, you might be missing the point.

I say "might be", because as far as science-fictionalizing the Second Coming and even as far as producing a believable, viable vision of a scifi tomorrow, Sean's work is flawless. The set-up is really simple. At some point in the future, in the year 2019, the Ophis Corporation has bought the rights to the Turin Shroud and begins cloning Christ. The twist? Ophis will be monetizing this event but using it as the platform for a reality TV show. Prepare for "J2", the Second Coming, coming live to a TV set near you.

Two things make Sean's vision so wholly compelling, so inhumanly seductive. The first that this is a classic mode for scifi storytelling, one that throws the story into the immediate future. We've known since the very first scifi, since Buck Rogers and before, that scifi is really a story about the present, not the "distant lands" subgenre applied to some future time still in the offing. Philip K. Dick made this message abundantly clear a generation ago. And now, with Bill Gibson's most recent trilogy (scifi, but set in the present, post-911 world of the last decade), we've brushed up against a reminder of exactly this.

Given the overwhelming shadow cast by Gibson (great authors cast great shadows), is there still a place for scifi actually set in the future? Sean's secret triumph is to produce Punk Rock Jesus as a work that responds with a resounding "Yes!" to this question. It's a staple of scifi, the future-world wrought from the necessary politics of today expounded and expanded, extrapolated. Call it the pre-future mode of scifi. This was one of the secret recipes for success in Frank Miller's inestimable classic, The Dark Knight Returns -- the idea that the new world Batman must confront is recognizably our own but unimaginably extended, twisted into newer, darker proportions. Sean taps exactly this mode of storytelling, and masters it.

The second aspect that makes Punk Rock Jesus so wholly compelling is individuals. Good scifi is a rare thing. In the Winter Special Edition, 2001, of The Comics Journal Spain Rodriguez offers a very personal wrestling with the genre in the autobiographical "Space Case". What would a scifi tomorrow really look like? As a kid Spain (perhaps like us all) imagined shining cities and flying cars, robot butlers and elevated travelators that powered everyone everywhere without needing to take a step. It was the film version of Orwell's 1984 (the one starring Jon Hurt) that changed that imagine for Spain. What he saw instead was substandard housing and very little conspicuous technological advancement. This led Spain to the idea that the latter half of the twentieth century, JFK's assassination, landing on the moon, Hoover's cross-dressing, might seem very much like scifi to Spain's own Dad.

What Spain does articulate in "Space Case" is the beautiful argument for present-day scifi. But what doesn't really shift throughout his story however, is the unspoken idea that scifi (as it does, since it deals mostly in sweeping historical vistas), more often than not chronicles large groups of people. Sean's Punk Rock Jesus refuses this kind of genre-presupposition, narrative laziness and returns to the grander tradition of scifi. It presents individuals awash on a sea of cultural trends they can barely understand.

Amid the overweeningly arrogant backdrop of Ophis, we encounter Slate, the corporate wizard who makes this all happen. We encounter Dr. Sarah Epstein, the geneticist who's only doing this to save the plankton and the nekton, and thereby save the world. We encounter Don Baker he ersatz-hard-edged Larry King clone (remember Larry King?), Gwen, the new Mother Mary, Tim the quirky "technical advisor" security. But mostly we encounter Thomas McKael, the intimidating castle of a man, and J2's head of security.

No villains though. Even the New American Christians who mount violent protests outside J2 facilities, are more a lunatic fringe than any real kind of threat. Punk Rock Jesus is more about individuals riding out the waves of cultural change, more about the unforeseen and unforeseeable effects of building human culture. More about culture as a kind of demon-box, and each character recast as a particular nuance of Pandora.

This is really the point where the "might be" resurfaces, the moment when we realize we "might be" missing the point. Maybe Sean's Punk Rock Jesus really is just a damned good scifi yarn. Maybe it is just a lavishly rich pre-future scifi story. Maybe it does just assume the position of "great" scifi in that it tells the story of individuals. Maybe.

Or.

Or maybe, Punk Rock Jesus is something more entirely. Maybe it's retelling exactly the same story Sherlock (the recent BBC version starring Benedict Cumberbatch) is. Maybe its a severe and savage reminder of a half-formed thought by James Joyce, all these decades ago now--that, "History is a nightmare, from which I'm trying to awake".

Later in the issue, we encounter perhaps the only caricatures in Don Baker's guests, atheist Dr. Clark, and theist Father Sterling. When as fine a writer as Sean offers up caricatures, this is certainly a clue. True to what we expect of a hardline atheist stance, Dr. Clark suggests that perhaps there wasn't even a Jesus. Not verifiable historical evidence can be found after all.

And it's this idea, however ghastly to those of faith, that really is the hook for the entire debacle chronicle in Punk Rock Jesus. The idea that perhaps Slate, Epstein, McKael and the rest are simply reenacting cultural precepts. We certainly see Slate playing to the crowd in exactly this way when he modifies the J2 child's eyes to blue. The real question for Punk Rock Jesus is not whether or not we're doomed to repeat history, knowing it or not. But whether there is anything we are capable of, other than reenactment. Are we in fact ourselves? Can we be? Or are we simply reiterations of pre-imagined tropes? A zombie economy of cultural presuppositions?

Punk Rock Jesus is the best kind of scifi--a meditation on liberty for the cyber-age. And it would take a Masters thesis to fully unpack the ways in which we already come as prepackaged. Fortunately to this end, Nick Harkaway has already written The Blind Giant.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.