I first read about Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s comic Preacher at the 2014 British Library exhibition, Comics Unmasked. Of all the interesting and weird graphic novels and illustrated stories on display there, this was the only one I made a mental (and later physical) note to read. It has, though, taken me over six months to get round to it, and the reason for my ‘That sounds like my kind of thing’ reaction has completely faded. However, upon reading this first of six books, I stand by my original suggestion, as Preacher is fucking great. Terrifying, exciting and action-packed in a way that most comics that come into my literary sights tend not to be, this comic kept me engaged, excited and frequently confused – but not in a bad way.
Preacher ran for about 70 issues in the mid to late 90s – the book I read contained the first 12, which was enough for some actual plot to happen.* The premise of Preacher is weird: a Texan preacher is inhabited by Genesis, a being escaped from heaven, the spawn of a demon and an angel. This presence within Jesse Custer (who, even before this, hallucinates John Wayne as a personal mentor) gives him almost god-like powers, and because of this he has heaven’s wrath pursuing him in the person of the serial-killing Saint of Killers. Custer makes friends with an Irish vampire and finds his ex-girlfriend, and together they decide to search across the world for the absent God, who ran away when Genesis was born, because he (God) feels Genesis (now Jesse Custer) may be of equal power to me.
Yes, that makes it sound like a mess. But the first 12 issues explore Jesse as he reconnects with Tulip, his erstwhile lover, and Cassidy, the vampire. It reveals why he ended up as a preacher despite being such a badass, and implies pretty heavily why it was that the demon-angel-child chose to inhabit him. (Because he’s a badass and a preacher, it’s pretty fucking simple.) The characters encounter violent police officers, a New York serial killer, the beings of heaven and Jesse’s surviving family, all the while getting into a lot of trouble.
My review of this feels like it’s being quite simplistic, but I suppose that’s because the comic is. There are mysteries that are swiftly solved, there are fight scenes that are compelling, there are jokes, there’s a lot of drinking and petty crime, there are cliffhangers and unexpected revelations, there are twists and there is plot. In terms of an engaging discussion of spirituality (which I was, perhaps, kinda hoping for) there’s nothing, but I can’t really fault Preacher for being an exciting, engaging and entertaining bit of graphic fiction.
It doesn’t say as much about the human condition as The Walking Dead, it doesn’t say as much about misguided faith as From Hell, but the fact that it’s a thrilling read that kept me coming back for “one more chapter” when I really should’ve been working on my novel, I can’t pretend I didn’t have a great time reading it.
Great fun. I’ll certainly read another volume when I feel I deserve a treat.
* The problem I had with trying to read The Walking Dead in anything but the 48-issue omnibus editions was the sheer lack of getting anywhere – everything took too long. This is the opposite with Preacher – if anything I’d’ve been happy for things to go a little slower. Also, my favourite character wasn’t in the last five issues, which was a shame.