Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Steve Dillion
Synopsis: Merging with a bizarre spiritual force called Genesis, Texan Preacher Jesse Custer becomes completely disillusioned with the beliefs that he had dedicated his entire life to. Now possessing the power of “the word,” an ability to make people do whatever he utters, Custer begins a violent and riotous journey across the country. Joined by his gun-toting girlfriend Tulip and the hard drinking Irish vampire Cassidy, the Preacher loses faith in both man and God as he witnesses dark atrocities and improbable calamities during his exploration of America.
I actually picked up the first volume of Preacher a few years ago. My favorite comic book store was having a sale on graphic novels so I took advantage of it and pick up a few books that had been on my to read list. Preacher was one of them and I remember when I checked out the owner telling me how excited he was for me to be starting the series for the first time. When I got home I put it right on my shelf and there it stayed for years until now.
There is no reason for me to take this long to finally start reading it. I have heard nothing but good things and how it is one of the best series of the 90’s. Recently when Steve Dillion unfortunatly passed away many pointed to this series as including some of his best work. Considering all of that it made sense to include this early on in this series.
I have had some experience to this title outside of the comic. I briefly watched the pilot of the current AMC series but stopped halfway through. It was not due to the qualify of the show which I enjoyed for the most part, but mostly due to my desire to read the comic before I watched the show. I found that I enjoy Walking Dead much more as someone who has read the comic first. So I wanted to follow the same pattern with Preacher.
I have long enjoyed stories the delve into the mythology of Heaven and Hell. Mythology in general interest me, which is a big reason I am such a fan of the character of Thor. The story of Heaven vs Hell is especially appealing due to my ability to relate to it more on a personal level. It is a big reason why I have enjoyed past comics like Vertigo’s Lucifer and IDW’s Hot Damn. Considering that it is no surprise I enjoyed this series.
What struck me immediately is the work of Steve Dillion. All of his characters have so much personality to them. Every person he draws, whether it someone in the background or a main character, has a very distinct look that tells you nearly everything you need to know. This is also a book full of violence. Limbs get blown off, bodies pile up, and faces literally get torn off. For the most part Dillion is able to depict this level of violence without being gruesome or gratuitous.
Not that this first volume was without gratuitous discourse. I have read a number of Garth Enis comics and understand his sense of humor and tend to enjoy it. Here it was far more inconsistent. At times it was more juvenile than I was expecting. It had very 90’s want to be edgy tone to it, similar to Howard Stern or Beavis and Butthead at the time. I am not against lowbrow humor from time to time, but can get tiresome when there isn’t anything behind it. Especially with how one note it was at times. It was as if you combined the quip filled repartee of Joss Whedon with the brash vocabulary of a Quentin Tarantino movie. That may sound great, sometimes it is, but mostly comes off as a kid excited about the dirty words he can get away with now.
What is intriguing about this story is the character of Jesse Custer. Going into this I somewhat assumed he would be akin to Constantine from Hellblazer. In reality his lacks the arrogant attitude and is more confused about his faith and place in the world. Everything about this series is dependent upon the moral quandaries of his character. He literately has the power of God so in order for there to be any form of stakes Enis needed to construct a compelling dilemma and somehow he manages to pull it off. So far with this first volume it is mostly focused on coming to an understanding of this new power he wields and the place he now holds. What is exciting about it most is the potential for the more complex storylines to come.
Concerns for New Readers:
So far this series if very much of the time it came out. From the hair styles to the clothes to the pop culture references everything screams this book was made in the 90’s. Personally I think it’s fine if a film or book feels of the time it was made, especially when it takes place during present day. I could see some turned off though if they prefer things to be more timeless. For those younger readers who did not grow up in the 90’s there may be some general references they might miss.
The other piece that came apparent was had little people understood how the internet worked during the time of this release. Without spoiling anything it becomes a major part of the second story arc in the first volume. Knowing how perturbed some geeks can get regarding technology being inappropriately represented some may get annoyed with this story element.Overall it should just be a minor quibble as it does not greatly impact the narrative, but we know how fickle geeks can be at times.
Does It Live Up to the Hype?
An important element of this section is to remember that I am not determining if the property is good or bad here. Overall I would say Preacher Vol 1: Gone to Texas is a quality read and I would certainty be picking up the second volume.
However, this series has be called one of the best of its time and in some circles of all time. I realize that I am only a small portion of my way through this entire series but as of right now I would say it does not live up to that level of praise.
My biggest gripes come from how it relied a lot on stereotypical character choices. None of the Texas characters felt very authentic as they were just these one dimensional bigots with very little complexity. Compare them to the characters in Jason Aaron’s Southern Bastards you will see a better way of a approaching a similar idea.
I had similar issues with the rest of Jesse Custer’s trio. Tulip for example reminds me of how badly written women tend to be in comics. As of this point her only driving motivation is to get closure over her relationship with Jesse by finding out why he left her. There are hints in her background where she can become more of her own character, but as of right now she solely exists to further the development of Jesse.
Cassidy, the badass vampire with a heart of gold, is a fun character without question. I enjoy the way Enis uses his powers especially a way he is able to survive an incoming attack from a SWAT team. Still his character type does come off as overly played out. I do take into account that he may have been a more original character at the time, but reading this decades later I at times wondered if he is nothing more than a more graphic version of a Buffy character. (Again I realize this came well before Buffy).
With that said part of what makes comics great is the ability to develop characters over a longer period of time, and what I did love about this comic is the world Enis built and the dynamics between the characters. So I am personally excited to see if as this series continues my gripes dissipate and what I love is expanded upon.