You wait and wait and wait for a controversial comic book about Jesus Christ and then two come along all at once! That’s right, readers, get ready, once again, for more moral outrage this week as writer Joe Casey and artist Benjamin Marra’s original graphic novel Jesusfreak dropped Wednesday the 20th of March. Let’s hope if there is any outrage, those casting criticisms will have at least read the book which I found a very strange but satisfying experience. Strange, because of the book’s aesthetics (more on that in a moment) but satisfying as a totally original and very different take on one of The Bible’s biggest stars.
Casey and Marra wear their influences proudly, transporting the untold story of Jesus’s formative years – before his recruitment drive that saw him pick up a dozen disciples along the way to spreading the word of God and paying the price too – as Marra takes up the aesthetics and art stylings of the Kung-Fu comics of the 1970’s and especially the Master of Kung-Fu exploitation comics from Paul Gulacy and Doug Moench. Brad Simpson’s colour work on this project really adds to the sense of heat and dirt, reminding me not just of the exploitation comics of the 70’s, but also of some of the more street-level, kitchen sink dramas of that era. A truly symbiotic artist relationship, with the moment where Jesus hallucinates bringing even brighter and hotter tones again.
This certainly isn’t like any depiction of Jesus you’ve ever seen, nor will see again, I imagine as it’s so unique. A kick-ass Christ that battles his was through adversity and trippy hallucinations that are all too real for this young saviour-in-the-making. It’s a highly evocative, intense and often-violent book and will, I dare say, appeal to those who fondly remember Marvel’s martial arts’ inspired output of the 70’s. But then, the Bible and the era it depicts was one of violence, as wonderfully presented in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ. This, to me, felt more like a Quentin Tarantino movie, but on paper: a reverential homage to another era of comic book making, done with style and with care and with originality. I didn’t think, at any point, that this was an exploitative comic (ironically enough), but rather a new way of depicting an old story. Hmm, now I think I want to see Tarantino take on the story of Christ. Now, that would be something! Until then though, I’ve got Jesusfreak.
Parts of the story will resonate with many who are familiar with Jesus’s adventures on the road, with his meeting John the Baptist being a central part of this sandals, sweat and swords’ saga. But for me, it read more like a coming-of-age drama in which Jesus awakens to the reality of life under the yoke of foreign enforces, the Romans, and one Pontius Pilate. The Jesus of the New Testament may well have been all about spreading peace, love and the word of his dad amongst the downtrodden of the Biblical Middle East, but here he is still evolving and does battle with his fists of righteous fury as much as he does with his spirit too.
There will be much made of the violence (there really isn’t as much as you’d think) and already Fox New have cautiously reported on Casey and Marra’s Jesus being a ‘killer who beheads enemies with swords’ proving that fake new is alive and well.
Still, all publicity is good publicity and free publicity is even better! The real story here? For the first time in a long time, we are given a Jesus who isn’t your usual white Jesus stereotype. Now, that is progress!