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Preacher: Gone To Texas

It’s nice to know that even I can still be surprised when it comes to comic book content, and while you read that line, you should imagine that I’m actually a grizzled old veteran reader of the silver-age, rather than the plucky college-aged comic book reader that I am. It helps the ambience of the article.

I’ve heard plenty of hype about Garth Ennis’ Preacher: people say that it’s one of the best comic books ever written, that it broke all kinds of ground for adult oriented comics, even among the already mature readers of the Vertigo imprint. Oddly enough, I’d never added it to my backlog of “Comics to expend mass quantities of money better used for food” list.

And then, fancy struck one day and I picked up the first of many volumes of Ennis’ tale of grotesque religious violence.

Rev. Jesse Custer is a preacher in a small Texan town with spotty past. And one day, as he sits in judgment of his very sinful congregation, a heavenly/abyssal entity known as Genesis enters his body, and turns that small church into a big hole full of molten parishioners. As it turns out, Genesis is an escapee from a divine prison, and Heaven’s DOC are so frightened at this occurrence that they’ve dispatched the patron Saint of Killers to find Custer and kill the Genesis entity. Now Custer, along with an ex-girlfriend and a hard drinking Irish vampire, are on the run, trying to discover the nature of Genesis and why heaven wants it dead so very badly. Also, they’d like to not be shot to death.

One thing that jumps out right away about Preacher, which is what actually caused me to be surprised: it was the casual use of the most horrendous violence I’ve ever encountered in comics. Don’t misunderstand; I’m all for the graphic depictions of violence in adult oriented comics. Vertigo has a history of using a tasteful amount of bloodshed in their books, as well other companies and imprints like Humanoids (which recently became another DC imprint). Wildstorm has never shied away from violence, at least not since The Authority and Warren Ellis made it seem refreshingly new. Even Marvel seems willing to gore it up with The Ultimates.

But here, the violence is so frequent, usually over-the-top, and just plain grotesque enough that it really distracts one from the story. Whenever scenes involving angels, the hierarchy and bureaucracy of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the repercussions of what exactly Genesis is were featured, I was thoroughly intrigued. Ennis crafts a believably strange and corrupt heavenly host and understanding the way the world, Heaven, and Hell all work is something he makes the reader ponder, which makes the read more enjoyable. The problem is, that after one of these scenes, someone will inevitably get his or her face shot off, neck torn open, or genitalia removed not a few pages thereafter. It’s distracting and at times, it seems pointless, especially in the random scenes involving Cassidy and Custer, who seem to simply provoke and get into fights in bars and pool halls.

Ennis also gives little to no background for the characters in his story, which makes them feel somewhat one-note. Tulip, Custer’s ex-girlfriend, has some vague history of being an assassin, but mostly she’s just Custer’s ex-girlfriend, continuously having a fight with him about the reason he left her, which is never even close to explained. The Saint of Killers is pretty much a walking juggernaut of old-cowboy-looking death and not much else. Cassidy seems to be the most fleshed out of the supporting cast, as Ennis really finds a way to mesh vampirism with an Irish personality. He’s a liquored up lover of life who prefers the weird and wacky to any trappings of traditional fictional vampires: meaning he sleeps under a tarp during the day doesn’t appear to have fangs.

Custer may be more contradictory than any character I’ve read, and I once read a story about a man called Captain Contradiction. On the one hand, Custer claims to not want to lord his powers over anyone, seeing it as hypocritical, yet Ennis writes him as a man who loves to lord his righteousness over others when he’s a simple small town preacher. And for a man that seems to talk a whole bunch about responsibility when it comes to his (and God’s as a matter of fact) power, he misuses it several times and with no visible regret, killing some people and dismembering others. It doesn’t help that this man of God spends half the book trying to have sex with his ex-girlfriend. I’m not one to respect organized religion of any type, but don’t use the supposed sanctity of the office of Preacher simply to contrast the vagary of the character wearing the collar and not have it mean something to the character. That’s just sloppy.

The artwork is actually very good, especially when the skin, viscera, and blood start to fly. Steve Dillon’s pencil and ink work are what almost drove me to throw up (in a respectful kind of way) because he has a great eye for biological detail. When several men actually get their faces shot off, you can see the skin tearing away from the faces, the muscles under showing and flexing…ooooh so very creepy and disturbing. Dillon also has some interesting designs for some of the characters especially the properly named Arseface. Cassidy also looks like the most toned-down vampire I’ve ever laid eyes: faded jeans and gray skin, with some sunglasses. No poofy shirts for this bloodsucker. The mottled and subtle coloring by Matt Hollingsworth also helps project that ominous and vaguely disturbing feeling that Preacher fosters so well.

It’s not a terrible book as it features loads of interesting ideas and I’m sure that some of the problems I mentioned having with the story are addressed in later volumes, but I can’t recommend a book that seems to have relied too heavily on its shock value artwork to get it through the first seven issues, while ignoring the story. Even with the Joe Lansdale introduction and the various covers by Glen Fabry for $14.95, I still don’t recommend it. It seems Preacher was either over-hyped, or I set the bar too high, but ultimately it has too many problems to be a good graphic novel.

Preacher: Gone to Texas

Robert Sparling

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