Over the years, Preacher has been the increasingly dissatisfying palate cleanser I’ve used after reading a volume of Proust.
In this capacity, Preacher did its job, allowing my literary sensibilities to refocus themselves without leaving me misreading – through modernist fatigue – texts that deserve more than a cursory attention (e.g. The Taiga Syndrome). As Preacher went on, though, I found it harder to remember what had happened in the previous volume, and it was only while reading this, the final one, that I realised what the problem was: Preacher peaks significantly before the halfway mark.
Once The Grail (a sinister, secret organisation) and Genesis (the powerful lovechild of an angel and a demon) and the inbred descendent of Christ (protected for centuries by The Grail) have been unmasked, the comic falls into a less-than-satisfying pattern.
In the second half of the narrative, there are fewer new characters, and those that are introduced tend to end up very quickly dead. Sub-plots take up multiple chapters but go nowhere. The power that Jesse Custer (possessed by Genesis) wields doesn’t get any stronger, but his enemies – particularly Herr Starr (sadistic leader of The Grail) – become weaker, both in the comics’ plot and as characters.
Cassidy (the sassy Irish vampire) becomes more of a villain, and though the love triangle between him and Tulip (Custer’s long term girlfriend) and Custer is heavily foreshadowed, what happens is unsatisfying: there is a possessiveness in the way both of the men behave towards Tulip, and the idea that the reader is meant to side with one controlling, patronising, chauvinist who secretly drugs his girlfriend over another is a fucking stretch, and surely would have felt out-dated even 20 years ago when these pages first appeared.
Preacher meanders as it goes on, existential threats recede and the world created gets smaller rather than bigger: everything is connected, but even then too much of it feels like an aside. The bombast and the obscenity and the double-barrelled, throbbing blasphemy of the first couple of volumes is toned down. There are also none of the Custer’s-father-in-the-Vietnam-War flashbacks here, which were always the highlights of the comics’ digressions.
The central problem with most of slightly-more-than-half of Preacher is this: it doesn’t tell the story it’s ostensibly telling. Yes, there are some metatextual lines in the final pages that address this, but I don’t that is quite the rebuttal Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon hoped it would be. The narrative of the comic doesn’t build over the second half of its run, which is all the more frustrating given the power and joy of the first half. Preacher peaks early, and there’s a part of me that wishes I hadn’t bothered persisting with reading it because it had increasingly diminishing returns.
That said, it is still cheeky and sometimes funny, and the (whiplash-averse) twists and turns of the final chapter are enjoyable, but as a piece that poses big, unanswerable questions and then bothers to try and answer them, it inevitably fails to satisfy.
Preacher was published, of course, pre-Lost, and it suffers from that show – and others’ – infamous weakness: it wasn’t planned far enough ahead.
It was nice to spend a few hours back amongst the gang, but like when Custer finds an elderly friend of the eternally-youthful vampire who is now a haggard, homeless addict, some things develop and some things do not. There is pathos here, but not as much as in earlier volumes, and nor is there sufficient bathos. It’s disappointing, but this used to be the fate of all long-running cultural products, didn’t it: they’d keep going until after they’d run out of ideas and then they’d cobble together an approximation of an ending based on what they already had? In many ways, the final two seasons of Game of Thrones resurrected a dead televisual trope. That, like the comic book Preacher, didn’t end well. Maybe the Dominic Cooper-led TV series, though, will avoid the pitfalls of the comic and wrap itself up nicely? I’ll see. Maybe. Eventually.
Preacher as a whole is not a failure, but it’s inconsistent. The highs of those first two volumes are never matched. Imagine if Proust had phoned everything in after Swann’s Way? Or anything else that long didn’t bother once a readership had been established? This is mass popular culture from a different, pleasingly over, era.
Thank The Saint of Killers, I must say, for progress.
What comic book series should I read next? Ideally one that’s good until the end. Recs recs recs in the comments please.
Send free money to Scott Manley Hadley.