Sunday, 9 December 2012


Usually when I read something (a comic, a book, the back of a cereal packet) I’m reading it for the ideas on display. That’s what attracts me to a title. Plots and characters are important but I can cope with bad ones if there’s enough invention on offer elsewhere.

Preacher is an exception to this. That’s not to say there aren’t any worthwhile ideas in the title. It’s that the characters in it are so memorable and well-developed that they are the highlight of the series. The ideas take a back seat.

The general plot of the series is that Jesse Custer, a disgraced, borderline alcoholic reverend, must locate God and find out why he has abandoned his position. Pretty much all of the plot developments are linked to the series’ central cast or its supporting characters, giving it a slightly slower paced feel than some other Vertigo titles.

Custer (same initials as Jesus Christ, you may have noticed) is a compelling enough central figure. As with all good protagonists he has his own set of morals that he sticks to throughout the book and has a nice selection of problems to overcome. He’s also gifted with a pretty impressive power: The Voice of God. It means that anybody will obey any command given to them by Custer. One amusing example of its use is when a man is instructed to count every grain of sand on a beach.

Custer is also a fan of Westerns. At various points in the title a figure looking very much like John Wayne appears as a sort of spirit guide to give Custer advice. To be honest it can feel a little jarring as it never quite fits with the feel of the rest of the book though. It can make sense, but you have to want it to.

Accompanying Jesse on his search are his on-off girlfriend Tulip O’Hare and new pal Cassidy. Tulip’s good with a gun and Cassidy’s a vampire who likes a drink. The dynamic between the three is one of the driving forces of the series.

Opposing Jesses, because he has obtained The Voice, are The Grail, sort of like an FBI for Christianity. The group is led by Herr Starr, one of the greatest comic book creations ever. Starr’s bad luck and misfortune are one of the series’ many running gags. During the course of the 75 issues he has an ear ripped off, receives a rather unfortunate scar on top of his head, and loses his genitals in a particularly unpleasant manner. His zeal and anger make him a wonderfully over the top character and a highlight of Preacher. The one page scenes that see him trying on various hats and wigs are priceless.

In more ambiguous territory is The Saint of Killers. The patron saint of murderers and assassins is tasked with tracking down Custer by the supposed forces of good. He starts out as a walking weapon but it’s slowly revealed that he was once a good man with his own set of principles, much like Jesse.

Garth Ennis borrows liberally from Western films as well as his own Catholic upbringing for much of the book. They’re not things that you’d immediately affiliate with one another but he manages to make them blend very nicely. Steve Dillon’s artwork is a perfect fit for the author’s vision. His strength is facial expressions as opposed to action set pieces, and it’s the art that really helps to make the relationships between all the main players work.

There are plenty of things that I could mention that people who have read Preacher would agree make the title wonderful. Arseface, for example. A character surviving a tank blast is another. There’s a joke about a sexy cake too. They don’t mean that much out of context, sadly, but do give you an idea of the sort of book Preacher is. It’s not the most mature or subtle Vertigo series ever put out but it is an inventive, quirky book packed with memorable characters, snappy dialogue and clever ideas. It’s regarded as one of the Vertigo imprint’s greatest titles for a reason.

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