Garth Ennis’ wildly original story about a wayward preacher who posses the word of God begins here. Join us as we revisit Jesse Custer’s adventures across America. Where he teams up with a gunslinging babe, a foul mouthed Irish vampire, and is frequently visited by the spirit of John Wayne. There is no proper way to articulate the magic of ‘Preacher’ however; we here at Bloody Disgusting are going to revisit this iconic series over the next ten weeks. Covering a trade at a time. This is your chance to read along, and experience one of the wittiest and most original stories in comics.
This week is the first trade “Preacher: Gone to Texas.” Filled with sacrilege, gore, and amazing characters. All brought to life by Steve Dillion’s disgusting depictions of America. If this is your first time through ‘Preacher” you won’t be able to put it down.
April 1995 was a great time to be a comic geek. Batman was in the middle of an arc called “Darkest Day” and “The Maxx” was launching its first issue at Image. A lucky few who perused the shelves would have picked up “Preacher” # 1, and realized that nothing else out there would really compare.
“The Time of the Preacher” begins innocently enough. Our main characters sit around a booth in some shitty diner, discussing how they all came together. There’s Jesse Custer the titular preacher, Tulip the southern belle and ex-girlfriend, and Cassidy the wayward Irish traveler with a knack for trouble. The southern drawl of the American Bible-Belt comes through in droves. It’s hard to believe the amazing dialogue comes from an Irishman.
Ennis paints Jesse’s character perfectly with a drunken scene at a bar. Jesse’s sprung a leak. He’s feeding the entire town their own confessions in a crisis of faith. It defines Jesse and characterizes his doubt.
Then in a flash we cut to heaven. We are introduced to the order of God, and how something has gone very wrong. A being called Genesis has escaped the holy kingdom. Of course, said being hasn’t wandered far.
The first issue is filled with great character moments. Tulip shows her skills with a gun; by blowing off some creep’s lower jaw. Cassidy’s dialogue is razor sharp, and his wit cuts anyone down to size. He takes a bullet to the head like a champ. Our main antagonist, The Saint of Killer’s explodes into the story by blowing out the back of someone’s skull. The issue hardly waits for the reader to keep up; the story hits the ground running and doesn’t look back.
Steve Dillion’s art is truly something to marvel at. The moments of gore are handled expertly, as most of them are over the top, but Dillion revels in the moment. He always makes sure to linger on the gore for a panel or two. The ramifications of extreme violence are in the panel to panel reactions. Things happen quickly but when gore is involved Dillion slows down, to create a moment of impact.
Dillion’s depiction of southern folk is also something to commend. The sunken in faces of the supporting characters, and the chiseled jaws of the police force say so much about them. Dillion has a uncanny ability to articulate lived in, broken looking people. It expertly magnifies the struggle of Jesse and his group, as the dregs of humanity constantly surround them.
So, a being called Genesis escapes from heaven. This being is a synthesis, a child of good and evil. It is the word of God, and it possesses Jesse Custer. The possession owns the first issue, as Dillion’s art vaults Jesses into the air, and disintegrates his entire congregation around him. It’s chilling stuff, and also the reason everyone has come together. The police are after Jesse for the mass murder, The Saint of Killers has come to reclaim Genesis, and Cassidy and Tulip are along for the ride.
Jesse searches for answers. He needs to find out why he was possessed and worse yet, he needs to find out where in the fuck God went. See since Genesis disappeared, so did God. Still with me?
Here the book kicks into a cross-country crisis of faith and character. We learn about Jesse’s incredible ability to stop anyone dead in their tracks with his words. The main trio provides ample amounts of laughs, and drama. Cassidy is one of the best characters put to page. He steals almost every scene he is in, and manages to be a profoundly human demon.
He and Jesse’s relationship allows for a lot of tension in the first trade. Cassidy is well equipped to help Jesse’s plight, but upon finding out that Cassidy is a demon, Jesse condemns him. It’s an interesting dynamic. Any amount of self-reflection would cause Jesse to realize he is far from a good person. Yet, he pushes Cassidy away all the same.
Jesse and Tulip’s relationship was fractured over past trauma. The classical bad breakup and the inability to talk about it push them into new territory. Neither wants to talk about the past, but each is such a different person since they parted ways that they cannot help but be enraptured by one another.
Finally, The Saint of Killers: an unstoppable killing machine who also happens to be the patron saint of killing. He is on Jesse’s trail, and stops at nothing to catch him. I mean fuck, he ends up severing a cop’s dick and shoving it so far into the man’s own ass that it has to be surgically removed.
Which is a nice segue way into just how special “Preacher” is. This is a series that isn’t afraid to take chances. The envelope is constantly pushed with depictions of extreme violence and gore. Yet, the characters who engage in such acts are so interesting and morally deplorable that you won’t be able to look away. Ennis cements this with the second arc in the trade. Centering on a NYPD cop and his super partner looking into the case of the reavercleaver.
Everything culminates in a dark and twisted way that leaves Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy more lost than before. The series pushes the characters into a point of no return, and manages to ensure that each of the main trio has unique goals. The story is massive but conveyed with the relative simplicity of the heaven and hell dynamic.
However, in true Ennis fashion things quickly become more morally grey. The distinction between good and evil washes away. In the end Ennis has a series filled with remarkably bad but entertaining people. Dillion brings every moment to life with a certain southern grit, and manages to revel in cringe worthy moments of gore.
There hasn’t really been anything like ‘Preacher’ since it ended in 2000. Rumors of a movie keep rising to the surface, but experiencing it on the page is a must. This is a master class in comic book storytelling, and each page brims with gore. If you haven’t read Preacher yet, go out and get “Gone to Texas” ASAP, you won’t regret it.
Rotting Retro Reviews is something new we’re launching. If you’ve got any more series you’d like to see us cover, or just have great things to say about “Preacher” sound off in the comments. We’ll continue to cover this series over the next couple of weeks, but want to hear about what retro series YOU want to see discussed here on BD.