Best Of The Best Trade Post: Preacher Volumes 1-3

PREACHER: GONE TO TEXAS (Vertigo)
Written by Garth Ennis, drawn by Steve Dillon
Collects Preacher #1-7
Preacher, like Starman, is one of my all-time favorite comic books. Also like Starman, I read Preacher all the way through for the first time while I was an intern at Wizard. Everyone was raving about it and I knocked out both series’ in 9 weeks with some other stuff. I read the whole thing through a while back when I triumphantly got all the trades either through Swap or cheap trade bins at cons (what can I say, I’m cheap). Over the weekend, I got it in my head that I wanted to re-read it again for the third time and damn, I’ve been having a great time. I’m three trades in and wish I could read faster because it’s SO GOOD.

Between my second and third readings, the Totally Rad Show guys talked about Garth Ennis and host Dan Trachtenberg said that Preacher is his favorite piece of fiction ever. That stuck in my head and have been thinking about it a lot while reading. And, while I do think the book relies a bit heavily on coincidence, I’m starting to think I might agree with him. It’s definitely my favorite comic book. But I should probably talk about why. Be warned, SPOILERS follow.

For one thing, the book starts out brilliantly. We begin with our three main heroes Jesse Custer (the titular Preacher and star of the book), his former girlfriend Tulip and Cassidy (the vampire). Sure, that might sound like the beginning of a joke, but I appreciate that Ennis starts his book with the group, who has just met up, talking about what happened. Sure, it’s a little exposition-y, but I prefer this way more to a lot of current team books that feel the need to explain every step without getting right into the action. The action I’m speaking of, is that Jesse–an actual preacher–just had an escaped prisoner from heaven named Genesis jump into his body, killing everyone in the town instantaneously. Turns out Genesis is the spawn of an angel and a demon and was imprisoned because he was a new idea. Gensis living inside Jesse means that he has what Tulip dubbed “The Word” which means, when he speaks in red fonts, anyone who understands him has to do whatever he says.

The first volume explains how these three came together (Jesse and Tulip dated, but he ran out five years ago. After a botched assassination attempt, she tried to steal Cassidy’s truck, but the two wound up traveling towards Jesse together), hints at everyone’s shadowy pasts, introduces us to Arseface and his asshole dad as well as some angels and raises the Saint of Killers from his slumber to go after Custer. It’s dense, but not hard to follow (strange as that might sound). The second half of the book features Cassidy taking Tulip and Jesse to NYC (a recurring setting in the book) where he tries to get them help through an old friend. It doesn’t end well.

Here’s what I love about the book: Jesse Custer, for all his faults–and he has lots–he’s a good man and a true hero. He does the right thing (as far as he’s concerned) and doesn’t let anything get in his way. Sure, it helps that he can make any English speaking person do whatever he says, but I get the feeling he’d at least try regardless. There’s a lot to Jesse Custer, which is good because that’s what the whole series is about.

PREACHER: UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD (Vertigo)
Written by Garth Ennis, drawn by Steve Dillon
Collects Preacher #8-17
Until The End Of The World helps us understand Jesse Custer even better as we’re introduced to his Grandmother and henchmen, a meaner group of people you’ve never seen before. Jigsaw from the Saw flicks read this book and was like “Whoa, ease up.” To give you an idea, not only did they shoot Jesse’s dad right in front of him when he was five, but they also had a tendency to lock the boy in an airtight coffin and drop him in the lake. For weeks, sometimes months, which is when he started talking to an imaginary John Wayne. As you might expect, these aren’t the type of family members you want to spend a Sunday brunch of barbecue with. In fact, you might just want to barbecue the lot of them and be done with it.

This trade has one of my favorite “villain getting beat” moments of all time. After seeing Tulip get shot in the face right in front of him and reliving all the terrible moments of his life that these people inflicted on him, Jesse gets a good talking-to by the Duke, gets himself free and sets out to kick some redneck ass. If it was a movie, I would raise my fists in the air and yell every time I read it, but since it’s a comic, I’d drop it on my foot or something, so I just get really excited. Think of that moment in every movie where the asshole bad guy finally gets what’s coming to him and put it onto a comic page. That’s how it is!

But that’s not all! The second half of the book reunites our trio of heroes (Cass took a little vacay at the end of the first), sets them on the trail of some people involved with the death of his girlfriend, meets Herr Starr and the Grail an Armageddon-obsessed Christian group with people EVERYWHERE and the ridiculously over the top Jesus de Sade, thrower of the grossest sex and drug parties ever committed to fiction. Which brings up an element of the book that keeps me from recommending it to everyone: it’s kind of gross. You’ll see and hear about just about every outside-the-box sexual practice ever committed or thought about. There’s lots of drug usage and references and I would imagine hardcore Christians would be highly offended (the Grail has been making sure the descendants of Jesus–the religious figure, not de Sade–have been inter-mingling to keep the bloodline pure, resulting in, well, an incestuous mess. I was raised Catholic and know where a lot of the imagery comes from, but it doesn’t bother me. So if any of those things are sacred cows (or cows you want to avoid altogether) this is not the book for you. However, if you want to challenge yourself, give it a shot (unless you’re related to me, I don’t want you guys thinking I’m a huge weirdo for loving this comic so much, I swear, it’s the story not the weird sex parties I like).

PREACHER: PROUD AMERICANS (Vertigo)
Written by Garth Ennis, drawn by Steve Dillon
Collects Preacher #18-26
This third volume of Preacher fills in some more holes in Jesse’s dad’s story as Jesse happens to meet up with his dad’s old army buddy Space and discovers where his dad’s lighter came from (John Wayne gave it to him) and an idea of the kind of man he was (a lot like Jesse is now, as it turns out, a good man who doesn’t take any shit). After that, the story focuses on Jesse and Tulip heading after Cassidy who was captured by the Grail who thought he was Jesse. The ruse doesn’t last long and things get even hotter at the Grail locale as the All Father (the big–literally–boss shows up with the aforementioned descendant of Jesus). See, Herr Starr wants to kill the child and tell the world that Jesse is the actual descendant because he can make anyone do whatever he wants. As you might expect, Jesse doesn’t like this plan too much. Once again, he ignores the huge odds against him, storms the castle, saves his friend, meets Genesis’ dad, makes Starr’s head look like a penis thanks to a knife wound and makes a deal with the Saint of Killers. The bad part? He left Tulip behind after arguing with her the whole trip about her joining him in battle. As Jesse explained, it’s just in a man to want to protect his woman, can’t be helped.

Before we discover what happens with Tulip (if you’re reading the books in order it will take a while as the next installment collects all the minis and one-shots about side characters) we hang out with Jesse and Cass in NYC again as Cass tells Jesse about his origin (not just how he became a vampire, but why he was where he got turned and what he did afterwards). After coming to America, Cass falls in love with NYC and the country as a whole. Is it weird that one of the most touching pieces of writing about this country of ours comes from an Irish writer and through the mouth of an Irish vampire?

Reading this comic makes me want to be a better man and I don’t mean that in a Jack Nicholson-in-As Good As It Gets way. I mean like a damn man, a cowboy. Someone who stands up for what they believe in, doesn’t take any shit and isn’t so damn worried about what other people will think about him that he won’t ask the guy at the coffee shop what he was talking about with someone else if it interests him. Anyway, the book with all of its craziness and bravado just gets me so pumped up. I know there are some really down moments coming up and I don’t even care. I’m jazzed to be going on this journey again. I thin I’ll be done by next week, though I may split the posts up. We’ll see. In the meantime cowboy up!

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