I don’t know what to add to my previous comments on this series of comic books I’ve slowly been reading across the last year. This third volume, consumed during a flight from Laandaan to Munich, was accompanied by masses of physical pain as the cold I’ve been developing morphed into something that rammed iron up and into all the tubes in my head. In particular my ears, but also the bits of flesh that form my cheeks*. A gnawing physical sensation quite easy to understand and visualise, given the basic knowledge of liquids and pressure that GCSE Physics gifts a growing mind. So, alongside the gruesome visual violence in front of my external eyes, there were gruesome mental images in front of my internal eyes (only one hour sleep in between work and travel) of rupturing inner ears and sinuses, creating a very personal sense of fear and bodily worry as the book progressed.
How does Volume 3 differ from those that proceeded it?
Jesse Custer, the eponymous preacher, does not appear in the book for about 150 pages. Instead the reader is given two extended flashbacks. The longer – and more interesting – charts the origin story of the Saint of Killers, a villain-cum-enemy from the previous two books. Here, is a blisteringly dark Western, we see a desperate, violent bounty killer rescued from his life by human emotion, only to have men far worse than he ever was injure him in an unforgiveable way. The Saint of Killers dies in a fight, with hatred in his heart, and his rage and anger is so intense that hell freezes over on his arrival, the Angel of Death offers the Saint of Killers his job and Satan himself gets a bit too lippy and ends up feeling the fire of the Saint’s steel. He returns to Earth, forever to wander, killing without remorse on Heaven’s behalf whenever called upon, until – as we’ve already seen – he becomes disillusioned and independent.
The second, shorter flashback explores the life of Cassidy – the cheeky Irish vampire – five years before meeting Custer. Here he is hanging out in New Orleans, making friends with another vampire who has cultivated a circle of Gothy fans desperate to be bitten. Obviously, this turns out to be far more corrupt than it initially appears and Cassidy has to run off, leaving a mess behind. When, back in the present, Custer, Tulip and Cassidy arrive in New Orleans on their continued search for God, every plan they make is interrupted by the echoes of Cassidy’s previous actions, and he also starts drunkenly hitting on Custer’s girlfriend, which obviously isn’t a good idea.
Because half of this book is taken up with flashbacks, the overall narrative of Preacher doesn’t advance very far. Through some voodoo magic Custer learns more about the demon-angel hybrid inside him and discovers that the way to find God – whose evil he ever learns more about – is to let himself go and allow Genesis to fully possess his frame. He must abandon his body to the energy within him, something the story has been hinting at for a while but has not yet done.
There are lots of action scenes, some fun historical asides and some entertaining references to the Gothic, but this is Preacher on a gently more believable scale. Nothing truly outrageous happens, there is nothing as shocking as Jesus de Sade, there is very little sex and all of the issues collected here feel somewhat tamer than what has gone before.
To be honest, I’ll do a bit of research before continuing and see if the extravagance and pacing returns – because, unfortunately, Preacher: Book Three felt like a filler episode in a long-running story and was a bit unsatisfying.
Maybe it’s just that vampires are a bit passé, 20ish years later, or maybe it’s that Goth dress sense and that whole self-harming-for-street-cred thing went on for far too long in the noughties and isn’t as transcendental or shocking as it maybe once was.
There’s no incest here, no abuse, no bestiality: Satan is the only Judeo-Christian character who is depicted and shown to be lacking in power, and this is later revealed to be a play by the almost-all-powerful God himself.
This volume continues to play with the characters and ideas from earlier volumes, but it never quite catches fire here. Dissappointing.
* The best cut of meat to be found on a human. Apparently/I’ve read.