In the Land of God and Monsters, there was Preacher (Preacher Book 1 Review)
PREACHER: BOOK ONE
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Steve Dillon
Colorists: Matt Hollingsworth and Pamela Rambo
Letterer: Clem Robins
DC Vertigo has made headlines as of late because it was announced that this beloved mature-reader imprint will cease to exist. DC has decided to abandon its imprints in favor of a rating system instead. DC Kids for the children, DC for teens and up, DC Black Label for mature readers. Upon hearing this news, this pushed me to start picking up some Vertigo titles before they, possibly, start printing those books with the DC Black Label logo instead. Numerous people mourned the loss of this imprint by celebrating the best books Vertigo had to offer. Each and every single time, Garth Ennis' and Steve Dillon's PREACHER was discussed. After reading just book one. It’s so understandable why this series is beloved. There are too many adjectives that can be used to describe it. Therefore, I’m going to focus on just three; it’s hilarious, it’s daring, and it’s humanistic.
Humor runs rampant in this fictional world Ennis has created. The themes of religion, freedom, traditional Our main protagonist is Jesse Custer. He is a bad reverend with a knack for drinking. As our story begins, he goes into a bar and starts yelling out all of the small town sins that he has heard in confessionals. This doesn’t go over well and ends up being beaten up. The next day, it’s Sunday, and all of the townsfolk went to Sunday sermon. Before Jesse can even deliver it, a freak accident occurs where Jesse’s soul bonds with Genesis, a child of an angel and a demon who has the power and strength as God himself. This annihilates everyone but Jesse. This grants Jesse the power of the word of God. Anything he tells someone to do, they will do it to the words literal meaning. Jesse’s superpower is the stripping free will from others. This results in Jesse wanting to find God, who just so happens to decide that he was going to give up ruling over humanity and ask him why he decided he could do that. How hilarious is that? The notion that God, himself, just QUITS doing his job is ridiculous, to begin with. I cannot even begin to imagine the type of uproar that would have caused when this was first released. The fact that Jesse can exploit free will and have the same powers as God sounds like a funny exploration of the idea that those in absolute power may not be your “ideal” good person. There are loads of other amusing things about Garth’s writing in Preacher. I think it mostly stands out with any panel were Cassidy talks. Cassidy is along for the ride with Jesse. He also happens to be a 119-year-old Irish vampire. This vampire likes to drink until the wake of dawn and then sleep in the hood of his trunk with a blanket over himself. Before realizing he was a vampire, his scenes were so strange that I thought Cassidy was just a whacked out druggie. It’s humorous to me that instead of this vampire dying to get his hands on a victim to “drink” blood from, he’s much more worried about finding cigarettes and the closest bar to “drink”. It’s a very fun genre subversion in my opinion. I am a big vampire fan and it’s so ingrained in their culture to be innately sexual and the fact that Garth doesn’t approach Cassidy like that is brilliant and fun! One scene that stood out in particular that frames Ennis as a cheeky humorist is when Jesse commands someone to, “Go F*** themselves” and Ennis has that character interpret the command to its literal meaning. This results in that person to severe their penis and… well, you know the rest. It’s extremely dark and sardonic humor but its utter ridiculousness sells you each and every time.
Alongside its humor, Garth is not afraid to write about a lot of taboo subjects. In his own way, he has written PREACHER as an extremely daring criticism of organized religion and those who practice it. Jesse’s family history is the biggest proof that those who follow God the closest aren’t necessarily good people; to a further extent, they can be extremely evil. Ennis features a character who displays extreme notions of homophobia only to reveal how this character has been projecting the internal conflict of this character realizing they were gay. That tale is as old as time however, Garth approaches it by shrouding it in a scene where we see that character engaging in paid for BDSM adventures with this person being the submissive. Garth seems to always push the boundaries over lines that you would have never thought existed until you read it. That notion couldn’t be exampled better by a character who is a suicide survivor. This character was from a small town and had nothing better to his identity around how much he idolized Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana. So, on that fateful day when the news broke that Cobain had reportedly killed himself, this character attempted to the same but managed to survive. The criticism of following false idols is all too apparent in a really heartbreaking way. Even though that criticism is an important lesson and still relevant today, how Ennis goes about just makes you scratch your head and say, “did he have to illustrate his point like that?”
Even with it’s raunchy and wild social commentary, the point of Preacher remains this subtle notion of humanism. Humanism is the idea that purpose and ideas should come from humanity itself and not from the influence of divinity. Steve Dillon’s art displays this well. No matter what these characters seem to go through. Steve always manages to convey and illustrate these characters with hope. Jesse always seems to give off a smirk here and there as he tries to get Tulip to open up about her mysterious past. Tulip will slightly smile every time they escape from imminent danger in hopes that tomorrow will be better. Cassidy is always bonkers and smiling knowing that his immortality will let him enjoy “life” for another night. Dillon manages to convey so much with his direct lining and shading that gives off rays of hope for humanity in a piece that has so much to say about why humanity sucks. Summed up from a line Jesse’s dad told him, “ya gotta be one of the good guys…’cause there’s too many of the bad.” Even throughout the morally questionable actions of our protagonist, the universe created makes it known that good and evil is not black and white. It asks you, as the reader, if the ends justify the means. I take comfort in knowing that Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy are trying the best that they can. At the end of the day, isn’t that all that matters?
PREACHER is a very heavy read, not for the faint of heart. I’m afraid that a lot of how Ennis goes about talking about taboo subjects hasn’t aged well for a current day audience who is expecting these topics to be handled to a certain sensitivity degree. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Ennis does a very good job of showing the audience just why he chooses to talk about them the way that he does. If raunchy black humor does not bother you, I urge you to give this Vertigo classic a try. For those who may seem squeamish, I still urge you to give this boundary-pushing narrative a try as well. Despite its unconventionality, Ennis and Dillon have managed to create something incredibly powerful about trying to be good people in a messed up world.