Preaching Up a Bloodbath

Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Preacher. (DC Entertainment)

In real life, you seldom see a guy with a preacher’s collar kicking the crap out of a tavern full of hoods. But what makes Preacher the most intense and interesting comic in ages is that it combines moments that can’t really happen (liquor-swilling vampires looking way Seattle at age 99) with those that could happen but don’t (a minister drunkenly rambling about the secret sins of a small town). In short, Preacher reminds its readers how fun it is to watch the good guys kick some ass.

Jesse Custer is the chain-smoking, hard-drinking, bar-brawling brooder of a title character. The product of an upbringing that would have chastened the Manson Family, Jesse spreads the word to a bumfuck Texas town until the demon spawn of an angel and a devil escapes Heaven and inhabits his body. It’s an apocalyptic event that kills all his congregants and sets the fuzz on his tail, of course, but it also gives Jesse “The Word”—power to make people do as he wishes.

Standing in stark relief against the handwringing and whining of so many comics aimed at adults, writer Garth Ennis, a 26-year-old Belfast phenom, and artist Steve Dillon, a 34-year-old Londoner, give Preacher a much-needed breath of violence, action and imagination. In a plot too twisted to encapsulate, Jesse and two equally unusual comrades kill, wisecrack and curse their way across America every month. Together, they face adversaries from The Saint of Killers to Jesus DeSade, as Jesse tries to divine an explanation for the religious presence within.

Themes of loyalty and friendship dominate, but the richness of personality separates Preacher from its superhero brethren. Jesse is laden with complex, sometimes contradictory traits. He’s a ruthless streetfighter who feels horrible for speaking harshly to his friends. He worships the John Wayne’s cut-and-dried solutions but is nauseated by vogue pop psychology. (One of the best lines comes courtesy of the latter, when Jesse’s girlfriend Tulip recalls the pickup line, “It’s time you took a swim in Lake You.”)

Garth Ennis.

According to Dillon, it’s no accident that the eyes and language of the characters carry the story as much as the plot. “The violent action scenes bore the ass off me. I like doing the faces and expressions.”

Preacher has come under fire for its violence and unrelentingly polluted language. But if that’s what it takes to capture its characters, its creators are willing to stand the heat. “Jesse doesn’t say ‘fuck’ any more than I do in a night at the pub,” defends Ennis, whose editor credits him with many such nights.

With fan mail pouring in and the book a third of the way through its planned 5-year run, it’s clearly touching a nerve. Undaunted by the challenge of writing about heros who are way larger than life and whose vulnerabilities are much more complicated than Kryptonite, Ennis follows a simple rule. “In Preacher, nobody—not even G0d—is perfect.”

Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

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Ken Kurson

Ken Kurson is the founder of Sea of Reeds Media. He is the former editor in chief of the New York Observer and also founded Green Magazine and covered finance for Esquire magazine for almost 20 years. Ken is the author of several books, including the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Leadership.

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