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So a Preacher, a Hitwoman, and a Vampire Walk into a Bar... - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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May 28th, 2008


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12:02 am - 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.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Current Music: Stars - Elevator Love Letter

(24 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:spadada
Date:May 28th, 2008 12:45 pm (UTC)
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I love Preacher. I've read the entire series two or three times and once had a conversation about how good it was with Jesse Lacey, the lead singer of Brand New, before I knew he was anything more than my friend Kevin's friend Jesse.

You know, they've tried to develop it for television twice. The last time Ennis and Dillon were involved and HBO was on board. Not sure what happened.

but, really, it's about being human.
Yep. And being in love.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:May 28th, 2008 02:38 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I heard they were trying to do it for HBO with each issue being one episode, which would have been cool. But I don't know whether that whole project is dead in the water or not. It may be for the best, really, since the guy in charge was Mark Steven Johnson, of Daredevil and Ghost Rider infamy.
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From:spadada
Date:May 28th, 2008 04:46 pm (UTC)
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My thoughts exactly about Mark Steven Johnson.
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From:riani1
Date:May 28th, 2008 03:43 pm (UTC)
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I agree with the over-the-topness of a lot of stuff, though I suppose there's also a bit of what's supposed to be hip irony going on, as well. I flipped through a few pages where it seemed they were going for perverse and grotesque just for the sake of perverse (your grotesque and perverse may vary).

But yeah, good story. Though I always worried about what happened to the dog at the very end.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:May 28th, 2008 04:12 pm (UTC)
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Oh, Jesse wouldn't abandon ol' Skeeter!
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From:allsunday
Date:May 28th, 2008 09:58 pm (UTC)
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Aw crap, I've been avoiding this series forever and now I'm going to have to read it. I have to many fandoms on my "to do" list.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:May 28th, 2008 10:13 pm (UTC)
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Ha ha ha. This is what I do. Enjoy!
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From:allsunday
Date:May 28th, 2008 10:15 pm (UTC)
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*shakes fist*
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From:mrbroom
Date:May 29th, 2008 01:03 am (UTC)
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I think I said this last time:

About damn time.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:May 29th, 2008 01:18 am (UTC)
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That is, in fact, what you said last time. You're running out of material, Broomy.
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From:mrbroom
Date:May 29th, 2008 12:48 pm (UTC)
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You're telling me. You are, in fact, quite literally telling me. I rely on you to remember what I've said to you, as your memory far outstrips mine.

I re-read both Preacher and Transmetropolitan every year or so. I'm in the middle of the latter now, and damned if I can't get over how great Warren Ellis is. I've already forgotten whether or not you've read Transmetropolitan, too. I'm terrible.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:May 29th, 2008 02:22 pm (UTC)
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I have not, but I have heard good things.
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From:mrbroom
Date:May 29th, 2008 02:24 pm (UTC)
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I anticipate another entry like this in the next few months, then. Once you get started, you will be baffled that you lived without knowing Spider Jerusalem.
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From:roxybisquaint
Date:May 29th, 2008 08:18 am (UTC)
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Oooo, now you've got me excited to read this. And a link to the first issue? Sweet.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:May 29th, 2008 02:32 pm (UTC)
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Hope you enjoy!

And love your icon! Hee.
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From:the_narration
Date:May 29th, 2008 10:05 am (UTC)
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I read this... a little less than two years ago. Checked out the whole series from the university library.

It's a damn good comic and I love it, but I stand by my earlier statements that at times the "mature content" seems forced and immature. Luckily the good stuff more than makes up for it. (Unfortunately in Ennis' more recent works, this is no longer the case.)

And just because it has to be said: "Not enough gun."
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From:spectralbovine
Date:May 29th, 2008 02:33 pm (UTC)
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The Saint of Killers is pretty badass.
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From:the_narration
Date:May 29th, 2008 08:36 pm (UTC)
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He is. I love the sheer mythology of him and his backstory.
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From:soundingsea
Date:May 30th, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
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Awesome. I loved Preacher when it was coming out. Now I need to go pull out my trades and re-read it.

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.

Hee! You are the fabulously well-rounded Sunil. Of course you have much appreciation for all that is good.
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From:tskaredoff
Date:June 6th, 2008 01:46 am (UTC)
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Coincidentally, I just started reading this. My husband picked up the first volume at our local shop, and once we have it in the house of course I'm reading it, too. Two volumes in, I don't love it, yet, but I want to keep reading it.

I picked up the first Powers at the same time, and I am loving that.

[Commenting within a week of the post, practically timely!]
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 6th, 2008 01:52 am (UTC)
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Well, I think the first two volumes of Preacher are pretty strong, so I don't know what you'll think of the rest, but if you keep reading, I hope you end up loving it.

Powers is pretty great.
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From:tskaredoff
Date:June 6th, 2008 02:11 am (UTC)
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I've actually only read the first volume. Bought the second, but haven't read it, yet. Which is how I know I don't love it. DH finished the first book and was ready to rush out and jump into second one immediately.

It'll probably grow on me.
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From:mycenae
Date:July 6th, 2008 09:23 pm (UTC)
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I totally just finished reading Preacher and I'm sitting here with this big ol' grin on my face, googling for other people's reviews.

Damn, that was fantastic. And now I want to go drive around the country and stare meaningfully at beautiful vistas.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 6th, 2008 09:35 pm (UTC)
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Hee. I'm glad you liked it! It's such a love letter to America, in a way.

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