When AMC announced a television adaptation of the comic series Preacher, one of the most influential and disturbing comics of all time, I was both ecstatic and full of trepidation. While I waited impatiently for any news of casting/set pictures/trailers, like many other fans I did the only logical thing: I picked up my collected editions and reread Garth Ennis’s odyssey of horror. To those of you have not read the comics – seriously, read the comics – and to those of you watching the show, I will try not to spoil too much from the forthcoming Season 2. Although you should really head to your local comic shop and pick up the collected editions, they are amazing, especially if you have enjoyed the show; it is far from an exact adaptation, but it does capture the tone of the series quite well.
Preacher begins in the small town of Annville, Texas. Local preacher Jesse Custer is delivering his Sunday sermon when he is possessed by the entity Genesis, the unnatural union of an angel and demon. During the initial bonding of Genesis, Jesse’s church is destroyed and the entire congregation killed. Jesse is a proud man with a firm belief in good and evil, right and wrong. When he discovers that Genesis has given him the ability to command others to obey anything he says, he treks across the United States with his gun-loving ex-lover, Tulip, and a booze-loving Irish vampire called Cassidy to literally find God–who has abandoned Heaven. Of course several obstacles get in the way including: angels, corrupt law enforcement, the FBI, the KKK, evil buisness man Odin Quincannon, an evil religious organization, serial killers, vampire wannabes, dysfunctional billionaires and a Nazi dominatrix, just to name a few.
The dysfunctional Three Musketeers of Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy are all deeply flawed, yet equally compelling. Jesse is a survivor of a childhood filled with violence, including witnessing the murder of his father and childhood friend at the hands of his sadistic family. Tulip, the assassin, could’ve easily been cast aside as the cliched comic love interest–and yes, most of her arc does revolve around her relationships with both men, but she is never defined by them. Cassidy, a fan favorite, the selfish drunk vampire who proves that even the most depraved and narcissistic among us are capable of redemption.
Aside from the twisted trinity, another favorite is the character of Eugene, more commonly known as Arseface. Eugene is the personification of a celebrity-obsessed world. Eugene, like Jesse, has an abusive home life. His adoration for Kurt Cobain, the abuse he suffers at home, and his constant bullying at school drives him and his best friend to a suicide pact. His friend, “Pube,” commits suicide in the exact fashion of Kurt Cobain, yet Eugene survives his suicide attempt, though it leaves him horribly disfigured, with a face puckered like as “arse,” as Cassidy eloquently puts it. Such a traumatic act would normally drive a person to a deep depression, yet Eugene comes away with a much more positive world view, and even becomes a rockstar for a about a minute–but much like in reality, his fame is fleeting.
Finally, the villains of Preacher leave a lasting impression. As in many mythos, angels are dicks, including in Ennis’s world. The evil organization known as the Grail are charged with safeguarding the descendants of Jesus Christ who, thanks to the organization’s own influence, have become an inbred freak show. The Grail’s leader, Herr Starr, is one of the most degenerate individuals in all of comicdom, but probably the best-known villain in the series is the Cowboy, the Saint of Killers. The Saint has two Colts forged by the Devil himself that can kill anything–perhaps ironically, the first victim of the Saint’s new weapons is the Devil himself. But while the Saint of Killers was ranked the 74th greatest comic book villain of all time by IGN, the biggest villain of this series is, controversially enough, God himself. Preacher‘s God is wrathful, selfish, and high on the belief that he should not be held accountable for any of his actions. When Jesse is granted his new powers and begins his quest, God repeatedly tries to scare him off, and eventually disfigures Jesse for having the gall to not blindly worship and adore the Lord.
With an original run of sixty-six issues, plus five specials, and a four issue mini-series, running from 1995 – 2000, writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon crafted a deeply disturbing epic of violence, love, betrayal, greed, death hope, the horrors religious zeal can inflict on the wold, and faith both lost and found. Preacher is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended. It is violent as hell (I do mean that literally), it is overtly sexual (a Nazi dominatrix tries to rape Jesse), and it is vulgar (there is so much profanity in this comic you begin not to notice it).
Dillon’s beautifully grotesque world includes several panels that are vividly drawn, some that I wish I could forget; let’s just to say there are many on-the-page moments that won’t make it to the screen. Once you get past the shock and the vulgarity, however, you realize that there is so much more to Preacher than that. This comic is a love letter to the great American Wild West and its heroes and villains. Jesse is a cowboy, whose conscience speaks to him in the form of the most famous big screen cowboy, John Wayne. It is a deeply moral story, that requires exploring the depravity of the world before it can show the good. The most important lesson in this macabre world of Ennis and Dillon comes via flashback in a beautiful speech from Jesse’s father’s John, before his death: “…ya gotta be on of the good guys son, cause there’s way to many of the bad.”
Preacher, DC Vertigo
Created by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
First issue: #1 (April, 1995) | Final issue #66 (October, 2000)