Published on May 28th, 2014 | by Michael0
The List of Shame – Preacher
Preacher was the right work at the right time for someone of my vintage. In those Saturday strolls around Waterstones, there it would be, one of the chosen few comics sitting proudly in a proper book shop among the more familiar faces of Spider-Man and Batman, plus the obligatory copies of Maus and Watchmen, of course. The front cover of the first trade was so enticing (Glenn Fabry’s covers are magnificent throughout), featuring a ruggedly handsome Priest flanked by a blonde woman on one side and grizzled punk looking fellow on the other in a classic trinity pose. Being denied the book only made me want it more – it was published by Vertigo and came with parental warnings, more than once shop assistants stopped me from looking too closely at the book.
Fortunately my father, a far more liberal man and a comic lover himself, took a different attitude so each time I’d saved up my pennies he’d get me the next volume. In this way, over about three years I absolutely consumed the misadventures of Jesse (the titular Preacher), his gorgeous, non-nonsense girlfriend Tulip and Cassidy, the hell-raisin’ Irish vampire who tagged along because, hey, what the hell?
Our hero Jesse Custer (check those initials!) is a small-town preacher and boozehound who has quite the religious experience when he is possessed by an angel/demon hybrid, whose arrival causes Jesse’s entire congregation to perish in a fire. Jesse now finds he has ‘The Word’, the ability to make anyone do whatever he says. As luck would have it, as he skips town he runs into his old flame Tulip, herself running away from a very short lived career as a hit woman. Tulip had been hitching a ride with Cassidy, who as an immortal vampire decides to stick with the crazy pair and see where it takes him. Oh, did I mention Jesse takes advice from the ghost of John Wayne?
Our intrepid band find out what Jesse has been possessed by and that the Lord God Almighty has abandoned his throne. Well, honourable Texan man that he is, Jesse will not let this stand and makes it his life’s work to track down God and make him answer for failing his creation. What follows is a glorious fable which draws heavily from the picaresque tradition (a series of largely unrelated misadventures) as well as creator Garth Ennis’ beloved westerns. Jesse is the strong, silent type, like Tony Soprano’s lamented Gary Cooper, while his most persistent adversary, the grim Saint of Killers is Clint Eastwood’s William Munny, made immortal and given magic guns. Along the way Jesse also falls foul of The Grail, a secret sect that protects Jesus’ bloodline and is on the look-out for a new messiah as well as his own family, a brood that make the Klan positively inclusive.
Their journey is never straight forward as they get mixed up in all sorts of hijinks, from New York serial killers to New Orleans vampire cults, but the comic blends the dark and the violent with real humanity and humour. Ennis, and his characters, switch effortlessly from the merits of Laurel and Hardy over Chaplin (‘He couldn’t make me laugh if he stuck his walking stick up his arse’) to bare-knuckle bar fights, often on a single page.
Jesse may be a hard drinker and a fighter, but he’s a very decent man. He’ll punch a barman out for insulting him, but he’ll leave money for all the beer he drank while the man lay unconscious. And he never over-uses his Word and often plain forgets about it (Ennis’ Gotham set series Hitman also features a lead who is reluctant to use his superpowers). It’s his sense of pride and duty that drive him to continue of his quixotic quest, even though he risks losing everything, more than once. No hero can be great without his villains though, and Preacher has those by the bucketload. Alongside the relentless, tragic figure of the Saint of Killers, we have D’Aronique, the obese, malevolent and cruel head of The Grail, Jody and T.C, a pair of good ole boys from Jesse’s past and of course Herr Starr. Starr is an operative for The Grail who sees potential in Jesse – the latest offspring from Jesus’ bloodline is not really messiah material, Starr wants him replaced and Jesse, with his miraculous gift is the man to replace him. Initially Starr tries to talk Jesse into it but he is turned down flat, but he is not to be deterred. Like Captain Ahab, Starr suffers disfigurement after disfigurement in his pursuit of Jesse, each one fuelling his increasingly unhinged desire as he chases his sperm whale. The cold, driven Stark becomes deranged in his pursuit, risking The Grail’s very existence for the sake of his own revenge. In that regard he mirrors his quarry – Jesse too will not give up until God answers for his crimes. As well as this and other controversial subject matter, Ennis and artist Steve Dillon don’t shy away from gore; a strong stomach is a must for Preacher readers.
The eclectic cast of characters
One shots and miniseries featuring minor characters round out the story and the world Ennis and Dillon have created (although these series feature a number of guest artists). Not all of them are essential, or of the same quality as the main series, but they add flavour and are collected within the nine trade set that makes up the entire series.
After years of false starts and dead ends, it seems that Preacher will finally make it to the screen. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg will develop it as a TV series for AMC, though whether it will make it unfiltered is another matter (in case you were wondering who Rogen might possibly play from the character descriptions I’ve given, he says he has no plans to co-star in the series). Do yourself a favour though before the planned series comes to fruition and get in on the ground floor so you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about.