Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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So a Preacher, a Hitwoman, and a Vampire Walk into a Bar...

Preacher was one of the most acclaimed and popular titles of the late '90s, which was greatly appreciated by Vertigo, I'm sure: Preacher started right around the time Sandman was ending. So Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon had a lot to live up to. It was supposed to be a Western, and I'm not really into Westerns, so I thought it might not be my thing.

I am coming to the conclusion that it is quite possible everything is my thing, but I have to put up a facade of resistance for appearance's sake.

Preacher is a Western, but it's more about taking the tropes and applying them to a modern world. More importantly, it's about taking that sense of mythos and spreading it all over the American landscape. It's quite ironic that an Irishman pulled out such a great American story, a story that's in some respects a love letter to the country and everything it has been and can be.

The short story goes like this: Jesse Custer is a preacher who's out to find God...and punch him in the face. Literally. And figuratively. Perhaps a bit of both. He's been possessed by a supernatural force from Heaven that has imbued him with the Word of God, and after he has a chat with some angels, he decides he needs to have a face-to-face with the Creator Himself. I was immediately drawn in by the supernatural/religious mythology stuff, but, as is true of the best stories, really, that stuff wasn't the point. The real story was in the characters, the core trio.

Jesse Custer is a man's man, growing up on Westerns and inheriting their ideology (in the grand tradition of, oh, so many others, he talks to his imaginary friend, John Wayne). He has a very firm belief in right and wrong and dispensing justice where it needs dispensing, which means that a great deal of the book involves Jesse beating the shit out of people. One of the values instilled in him by his father is that he should be a "good guy" because there are too many bad guys out there. What makes a "good guy" and how can he make sure he is one? That's only one of the many questions Jesse seeks to answer throughout the course of the series.

Tulip O'Hare is Jesse's old girlfriend. She has the misfortune of being stuck in a very masculine comic and makes up for it by being TOTALLY AWESOME. Because Tulip doesn't take shit from anyone, not even Jesse Custer. Especially Jesse Custer and his traditional views of gender roles, his inability to figure out this "feminism" thing all the ladies are talking about. Honestly, there were times when I wasn't sure whether Ennis was being really sexist, but his characterization of Tulip makes it clear he doesn't espouse everything he has his characters say. Tulip is badass and good with guns, and the fact that she loves Jesse doesn't diminish her in any way. She is strong independent of him, and she can take care of her own damn self, thank you very much. Come to think of it, she's a lot like Zoe from Firefly.

Cassidy is, as all the blurbs say, a "hard-drinking Irish vampire." He's that roguish ruffian archetype, the fun-loving guy who's also kind of a fuck-up. He's thrown into the story by chance, but he and Jesse soon develop a strong friendship that is just an important a relationship as the one between Jesse and Tulip. He grows a lot over the course of the series (probably more than any of the other characters since he starts out at a lower place) as he accompanies Jesse on his mission to God. Plus, he's a vampire! Everyone loves vampires.

Strip away all the supernatural/religious trappings, and Preacher is really about the complicated relationships between these three people as they travel together and discover who they are and how they really relate to one another. It's about more than that, of course: it's about the changing shape of American traditions and ideals, the nature of God and faith, and a whole host of things I can't quite put my finger on. Ennis manages to pack in a lot of thematic material, some of it more subtle than others.

He also manages to pack in a lot of "mature" content, much of which seems gratuitous and just there for shock value. He seems to have an obsession with disfigurement (one of the major characters is named Arseface) and bodily fluids, and the series is filled with all manner of sexual perversion. The main villain in particular is practically a punching bag (but it's a testament to Ennis that he still keeps him formidable and scary). So much of it is over-the-top that I know it's supposed to be funny, but, as the_narration put it, it's more immature than mature. I know that the fact that the title is almost gleefully offensive is part of its appeal, though. For the most part, it doesn't overshadow the great story.

The story is most definitely One Long Story, although it sort of ebbs and flows with some storylines engaging me much more than others. The story kept going in unexpected directions, shifting from the epic to the personal and back, and even though some of the plot resolutions are a little deus ex...well, deus, the characterization is strong. And I haven't even mentioned the awesome Saint of Killers, the unkillable gunman with impeccable marksmanship and a perpetual scowl.

See him for yourself by reading the first issue, courtesy of Vertigo. That way, I don't have to attempt to write good things about Steve Dillon's art: look at him do his job properly! He communicates a lot through facial expressions throughout the series. Oh, and I have to give major props to Glenn Fabry's awesome painted covers, which really brought the characters to life in a whole new way. If you like what you see, the series is collected in nine trades.

Preacher may feature several appearances by God, but, really, it's about being human.
Tags: books, comics, pimpings

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