Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon,
Preacher: it’s a road trip. It’s a buddy-story. It’s a romance. It’s a gun-totin’ action tale. It’s a supernatural fantasy. It’s a bitingly satirical voyage through the excesses of religion and what some will do in the name of their beliefs. And it’s very, very much a Western. Right down to a stubborn Texan hero who feels compelled to always try and do the right thing (as his father once told him, son you got to try and be one of the good guys, ‘cause there’s way to many of the bad). Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher is all of these and more, and as DC has been republishing the series in new, large volumes, each containing a larger chunk of the original in each volume, it’s never been easier to find your way into this modern classic. But it’s not for the easily offended: bloody action (very bloody) abounds, there’s blasphemy, sex, drugs, naughty language, a boy with the face of an arse (yes, meet Arseface!), a quest to hold God almighty to account for the injustices and suffering of the world and, oh yes, the ghost of John Wayne, who only Jesse Custer, our eponymous Preacher man, can see, and who has been giving him advice since he was a small boy watching Western movies on the TV:
”You’re probably wondering why I’m talkin’ to ya. Reason, is, you an’ me’re gonna be pardners. Anytime ya need me I’ll be here, son. ‘Cause a man kin use some advice in a world as rough as this one…”
An entity escapes from Heaven and plummets to the Earth, striking a small, redneck Texan town’s church. In a huge energy release the congregation and the church are obliterated, save for Jesse, the minister, who the entity – Genesis – has fused with mentally. Enter a handily passing Irish vampire, Cassidy, who has been around since the Easter Rising (a vamp who owes more to the brilliant Near Dark than Interview With the Vampire), and Tulip O’Hare, a formidable gunsel who hit some trouble and is hitching a ride with Cass. And she just happens to be Jesse’s gun-carrying ex. And when I say ‘ex’ of course I mean the two of them are still really crazily in love with one another. But before there can be any reunion or explanations the law turns up, followed by a grim-face man in 19th century cowboy garb, a man whose antique six-guns kills with every shot, never require reloading and can slaughter anything from a man to a helicopter to Heavenly beings. He is the Saint of Killers, sent to end Jesse’s union with Genesis the hard way. And it that means killing his way across half creation he’ll do it…
As the main trio travel across America (in this volume taking in a detour to New York, some bizarre sexual shenanigans and a serial killer – plus a trip to the top of the Empire State, then forced back south by an encounter with Jesse’s vicious, dreadful family) each of their back-stories starts to be revealed, in road-movie fashion, the journey and the events along the highway slowly bonding them to each other, even if often in the oddest ways sometimes (and sometimes driving them apart but you know the deeper friendship will always bring them back despite any harsh words). And Jesse slowly pieces together information about Genesis, discovering it is a being that should never have existed in Heaven, Hell or Earth, the offspring of a union between a demon and an angel. Such a fusion of Heaven and Hell was never meant to exist in all of creation, and God himself has vanished, hot-footing it and leaving some minor angels in charge, clearly terrified of the implications of what this new being could mean.
Jesse already has a taste of its power as he discovers he can literally command anyone – human, even angel, with his voice if he wishes it. And there’s more knowledge locked up in Genesis that he slowly comes to understand, and as he does he looks at the evil and injustice and suffering in the world and decides God hasn’t been doing his job. And that God needs to be held to account for all the bad things he’s allowed to happen to good people, and he’s damned well gonna have a proper reckoning with him…
As quests go tracking down God with the intention of giving him a mouthful for making a mess of creation (and more than likely a good ‘ole whuppin’) is pretty out there, but as with most quest stories and as with most road-trip tales, this is as much about the journey and how it opens up the characters to each other (in their case literally through love, death and beyond), and how the trials they endure shape them, and Jesse’s quest; it’s a brilliantly inventive take on the classic Hero’s Journey.
Ennis has rarely been better than he was with this series, aided and abetted by fellow 2000 AD alumni Steve Dillon, whose art retains that nice, clearly defined line he showed previously in the likes of Judge Dredd. The continent-ranging nature of the trio’s trip means Dillon gets to have a bash at everything from small-town, rural South to the skyscrapers of NYC to desert scenes right out of a John Ford Western, and scenes from dingy pool halls to Heaven itself, sexual fetishes, sudden bursts of quite gruesome violence (there’s nothing romantic about punching or shooting someone here, it’s horrible and bloody) and deep romance, all of which he handles with aplomb.
Ennis and Dillon stir so many ingredients into the pot here, and then as the volumes progress adding more – odder situations, side-trips on other tasks, even more bizarre characters – and yet it never feels overcooked because they stretch it across such a broad canvas it all has time to breath before the final showdown we all know is coming, with God as the bad guy and Jesse the righteous sheriff coming for his High Noon. With this revamped edition (and the subsequent volumes) taking in some 350 pages it gives the new reader a much better taste of Preacher, which remains, along with Gaiman’s Sandman, as one of the best self-contained series DC’s acclaimed Vertigo imprint has ever produced. Never tried it? Now’s your chance.