– This post was originally published on my now-defunct site, New to Comics. –
New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic-books, explaining their background, reviewing them, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. The title is a reference to a former university project that I carried on as its own site for several years before laying it to rest.
As you may have guessed from the topic of the month, I find concepts like religion and mythology rather interesting, even if I don’t buy into them 100%. As such, I figured I’d round out by ‘Mythology Month’ with a story that doesn’t feature any superheroes – it’s a more ‘indie’ sort of comic (although it’s not all that indie; pretty mainstream really) but does, at times, have a rather heavy focus on religion.
Going forward, this is the way things’ll probably go – two or three superhero focused weeks, then a fourth that looks at something not from the ‘Big Two’s mainline universes. This week, from DC’s Vertigo Imprint, it’s Preacher: Book One.
Published by: DC Comics’ Vertigo Imprint
Written by: Garth Ennis
Art by: Steve Dillon
WHAT’s THE STORY?
Preacher has taken a step into the spotlight in recent years, as its the basis of the Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg & Sam Caitlin-produced adaptation on AMC, and widely available through Amazon Prime.
Personally, I’m a big fan of the TV show. It has its ups and downs, but it’s something me and my girlfriend will sit down to watch every time there’s a new episode, which is something I can say about very few series (it’s rare that a TV show outside of Doctor Who can keep my attention for its entire run). But prior to now, I’d never gotten round to actually reading the source material. All I knew was that it apparently differed quite a lot, with season one of the show acting as more of a prequel than a direct adaptation.
And while I can see what they mean, it’s clear that the show took quite a lot of liberties when crafting this adaptation, as they’ve stretched out, essentially, the first issue or two, into an entire ten episodes, making it not so much a prequel as just a different story.
Even with its differences, I’m glad the show has been made. The property has been in development for a live-action adaptation since the late nineties but has continuously fallen through due to producers worries about how it could be religiously controversial; which it definitely is.
But this feels like a property that should overcome its struggles, not so people can see the show, but so they might consider reading the book.
WHAT’s THE PLOT?
The story follows a -you guessed it- preacher, by the name of Jesse Custer. Teamed with his ex-girlfriend Tulip and an Irish vampire called Cassidy, Jesse has left his church in search of God, who has, apparently, abandoned heaven.
Gods disappearance coincides with the escape of an entity known as Genesis, a disembodied creature with the face of a baby, who has been spawned from the union of an angel and a demon. Escaping to Earth, Genesis possesses Jesse, granting him the power to control people with his commands, as if he was speaking the ‘word of God’ – this possession and the knowledge that comes with it are what drive him on his quest in search for the maker.
However, before Jesse, Cassidy and Tulip can make any progress, they become embroiled in a hunt for a serial killer, revelations about Tulip’s secret new profession and Jesse’s own family disputes, which led this former bad-boy to become a preacher in the first place. All the while, the gang find themselves wanted by the police, and hunted by a seemingly invincible man known only as the Saint of Killers.
IS IT ACCESSIBLE?
Being set in its own little world, Preacher can be enjoyed without extensive knowledge of comics. While All-Star Superman, Ultimate Spider-Man, Extremis, Rebirth, Blood, Thor and even Watchmen, to some extent, required you to have some knowledge of at least the superhero genre, Preacher blazes its own trail, with brand new characters, concepts and an intriguing premise that even people who aren’t fans of the tights and powers can enjoy.
However, while it is accessible, the comic is probably not for everyone.
Those with unwavering religious beliefs, who don’t like heretical statements (even ones based in a piece of fiction) should probably stay away, as this comic does not paint God in the best light. Similarly, religious beliefs aside, this comic isn’t for the faint of heart; there’s gore, profanity and even some sexually explicit imagery.
If you’re okay with all of that though, then by all means, jump right in!
WHAT’s THE VERDICT?
With the TV show having been my first point of contact with this property, I was unsure how I would find it, but I have to say, the TV show may as well not exist, because this comic is very much it’s own, very well written, thing (I don’t mean that as disrespect to the TV show, just that the two versions aren’t all that similar).
From the get-go, these three characters are exceptionally well fleshed out. You get who they are straight away, and it’s easy to find them all very likeable for very different reasons. Also, compared to the TV show, they’re much more relatable. While Cassidy is a vampire, and it’s hard to relate to that, the other two characters aren’t trained killers; they’re just real people who have had shitty lives. And I don’t know about you, but I can relate to real, down-to-earth people who haven’t been trained how to kill for the sake of a good action scene, more than I can relate to, say, James Bond.
Furthermore, it’s also a welcome change of pace to not only have characters who may be on the same level as the audience but also characters who act and react to things that you might in everyday life. While there is a supernatural element to the book, such as the angels, demons, the Saint of Killers and Cassidy the vampire, those things take a back seat in favour of telling down-to-Earth stories about people, and their relationships. And it just so happens that those down-to-Earth stories occasionally feature the aforementioned supernatural elements. But for the most part, the heroes aren’t facing off against super-villains or demons, or what have you; they’re facing off against corrupt people, their own problems and their desire to be better. There don’t seem to be any world-ending stakes (yet), just personal traumas and a search for a better life.
It’s also interesting, especially compared to the TV show, in how much it gives you while keeping you invested. The overarching story is about Jesse’s quest for God, so one might assume (especially if you’ve watched the TV show) that God won’t be present, and yet, he shows up here (but not in a way that would make the ongoing narrative pointless – I won’t say any more to avoid spoilers) giving you a taste, but not the full meal.
Another big factor in this being such a good comic is the art. When I first encountered Steve Dillon, I wasn’t a fan of his style. And while I think sometimes it might not work so well with super-hero comics, things like this, with blood, guts and grime, really work in his favour. Also depicting more realistic characters than the types that generally parade around the Marvel or DC universes seems to work in his favour.
Overall, this is a very satisfying read, especially if you’re looking for something different. I may well cover the next few chapters at some point because frankly, I really want to know what happens yet – and not just that (because I could no doubt read what happens online), I want to experience it. And I think you should too.