Jesusfreak hits the shelves today, marketed as the next big controversy in the comic scene. Fox & Friends even highlighted its release, claiming writer Joe Casey (Wildcats 3.0, Uncanny X-Men) depicts Jesus as a sword-swinging superhero. This drew an immediate and intense response from viewers, some claiming anyone backing the trade would meet their judgement in the Second Coming from Christ himself.
This industry is no stranger to the media creating a sensation around a storyline and calling it controversial; ie. The Death of Superman. However, there is something enticing about reading a new take on the Christian Messiah, especially since it's the middle of Lent, I haven't had red meat in days, and I want the carnage that only the fists of the Son of God could deliver. Fox & Friends promised me moral outrage and I am ready to be offended.
The cover itself has the edgy vibes of a Quentin Tarantino movie, with blocky lettering on a yellow background and colored squares with bloody spears, hissing snakes, stoic villains, and more. Even the introduction hints at something bigger than a religious retelling of Jesus as he is generally known to the general public. Casey makes it clear, the research is solid but he's just "here to put on a show." This sets the scene for anyone wanting Bible school to expect badassery.
We are introduced to Jesus who works as a carpenter, spending his days restoring cities ransacked by the Romans and his nights plagued with visions. His colleagues blame everything from headaches to exhaustion for these violent visions, but it isn't until a midnight conversation with a lizard that he realizes there may be a higher explanation for his problems. He chooses to venture towards Bethabara, meditating, training, and teaming up with John the Baptist as he goes.
It's here where the bulk of the story takes place, and unfortunately Casey fails to take Jesusfreak to the level he promised in interviews. It's 30 pages in when we finally see Jesus take on the Romans, and those pages were full of confusing choices in who was directing the narration. With text bubbles changing from yellow to pink to blue I am still unclear if Casey intended there to be three different narrators or if this was just an aesthetic misdirection.
Artist Benjamin Marra did well with drawing Jesus' intense nightmare-inducing visions and psychedelic meditations, but he seems to be artistically carried by colorist Brad Simpson whose harsh contrasts have elevated the comic this far. Marra's shortcomings are more apparent in his character's faces, especially in the baptism scene where John the Baptist looks more like an afflicted person from Garth Ennis' Crossed than a protagonist.
Unfortunately, Casey also makes it unclear what the primary conflict of the story is. After John the Baptist is taken by Pontius Pilate, readers are led to believe that Jesus enters the Roman stronghold to rescue his friend and confront the man who ultimately leads to his death. Instead, Jesus is confronted by the lizard who previously served him with his call to action earlier in the storyline, only now its Hulked out into the demonic entity that had been plaguing Jesus' visions all along. Here, Marra really delivers with the action scenes and readers finally get a whopping 10 pages of Ninja Jesus action. He presents Jesus less as a desperate carpenter and draws him to emulate Bruce Lee: white pants, black bowl cut, and martial arts master. The scenes here were exciting and Casey finally gives us straight to the point dialogue that doesn't read like a Bible lesson. However, once the lizard is defeated the next threat is once again Pontius…an anticlimactic choice especially considering Jesus just took down lizard-Satan by slitting his throat with the spear of destiny.
The story ends with Jesus on the road to take down the Roman emperor but again, it feels anticlimactic considering the big fight scene occurred against a much bigger villain. With the news and controversy surrounding this comic before it was ever released, there was very little edginess and action in this storyline. I feel the only reason this was released in a combined trade and not individual comics is because Image knew not many would give it a chance past issues 1 and 2, especially since it was packed with historical and religious undertones. Either way, feel free to give it a read but don't expect anything near the controversy offered by the media since there just isn't enough of the cool Ninja Jesus action scenes.
Honestly, the most controversial part of this comic comes from the prologue where Casey attempts to elevate the importance of this religious retelling as anything other than relatively forgetful.
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