After finishing the 3rd season of AMC’s tv adaptation of Preacher this summer, and then reading the subsequent article on Pajiba about where it may go from here based on clues from the comics, I figured it was a good time to maybe check out Garth Ennis’ books for myself: I am a fan of reading comics from time to time, and this at least has a clear start and finish unlike some other characters with their many many arcs and appearances in other series, etc. And it’s also always interesting to see how things get adapted from their source and how two different mediums will deal with the same subject. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, just saying that this review will obviously have some comparisons being made between the two, which I think is pretty inevitable.
The Preacher series follows Jesse Custer (whose initials I didn’t notice the heavy symbolism behind until the last couple of books, I’m ashamed to say), a revered in a small Texas town who finds himself holding the power of the Word of God. The possession of this power, however, and where it came from is a bit of a mystery, but we do know that it’s arrival on earth caused great destruction for Jesse’s congregation, and so he finds himself both on the run from the law, as well as on a mission to find God who has abandoned his post in heaven, to find an explanation for this abandonment of his creation on earth. Along for the ride is Jesse’s ex-girlfriend, Tulip, who he used to be engaged in a life of crime with until suddenly leaving her only to show up as a preacher years later, and a vampire named Cassidy who ends up a friend by chance. We see pieces of their pasts which ultimately end up informing the current paths they are on, crossing ways with a host of interesting characters including old family, angels, saints, God, and a secret organization called the Grail that has a keen interest in Jesse and his powers.
What can be said about this series is that it’s pretty wacky and wild: it’s not afraid to go to weird places, which is a tone similarly seen in the show, though I will say this is maybe not always a positive thing (though I’ll touch on that later). But this weirdness it dives into doesn’t mean it’s per say just fun and games, as there are a lot of good themes brought up in terms of religion and belief, which may be obvious given the subject and title of the series. Beyond that, however, there are other intriguing subjects of loyalty, morality, addiction, lawfulness, and even somewhat calling-out the unabashed machoism of the main character as he clearly lives out a bit of an old-school western fantasy in his ways. This also ties into some pleasantly surprising topics being brought up regarding gender roles and relationships, as well as a small piece of the ever-topical subject of men with power/powerful families being able to get away with atrocities towards women. Now, these subjects maybe get a little repetitive between Jesse and Tulip, and they aren’t perfect in the delivery, but given the time these graphic novels were written in the 90s, I think they are pretty alright (a good start, but could go further).
But despite these strengths, I can’t bring myself to say that I outright loved this series. Because while it’s unafraid to be out there, at times it’s a bit too much: there was more than once that I asked if what they did was really necessary, in terms of gratuitous violence or sexual deviance, etc. I’m not saying that things can’t be dark and gruesome, but sometimes it makes you wonder why an author wanted to put something in there so much that it made the final editing cut, and if it is really needed or just for shock. Is it supposed to be funny when overweight people or those with disabilities are made into a farce? Does every homosexual male need to be portrayed as particularly deviant or not-quite-right in the head? In this same vein, there is the useable of quite a few slurs, and while it is for the most part more villainous or outright “bad” characters using them so it paints this usage in a negative light, it comes across as excessive at times and I again wonder why certain writers feel a need to throw those words in at any possible moment. I can’t help but feel like all of this in some ways feeds into the heavy American-dream/proud American tone waxed throughout the series (I mentioned the macho, red-blooded cowboy image earlier? That’s what I’m thinking about).
Speaking of the machoism, let’s talk about the characters: they are extremely flawed and not really that likeable, but still have interesting layers to them. The problem here, though, is that having seen the tv adaptation, I can’t help but like their portrayals and characterization in the show a lot more than in the graphic novels: no matter how expressive or emotive they can be, it’s easier to get attached to a real person than to a drawing on a page (I say as if I didn’t get teary-eyed in a couple of moments within the last book of the series). And I just generally like the characterization of the main trio of Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy, and their relationships in the show more than in the graphic novels, regardless of how problematic they may be; it’s because all those actors are so darn charismatic, and I totally understand their draw to one another! There has also been more development in the show in regards to side-characters, giving them more depth beyond the one-note stereotypes that they come across as at times in the books. So in a way, having an adaptation to compare to has hindered my liking of this series in a couple of ways, but most directly in terms of the characters themselves.
Finally, I will comment on the art of the series, done by Steve Dillon and say that it is clean, the characters are all expressive to a good level in their renderings, and it veers into the grotesque when required by the story being told. There isn’t much that struck me about it, however, as the style is one that I think I’ve seen before in other graphic novels; if I had to use one word to describe it, I would say that it feels familiar. The cover art that you see periodically throughout the series to mark changes in original issues by Glen Fabry, however, has such a particular style to it that I am so on the fence about. There is such an attention to detail, especially in every single inch of the human face and body, which almost reminds me of my attention to shadow in my own realistic portraits that I like to do. But this realism is extended right to the edge of where it might be considered too-much, and the images then almost look… lumpy? But at the same time not wrong, just different. Fabry’s style is definitely distinct, I just don’t know that it’s for me, yet I don’t hate it either.
So in the end, Garth Ennis’ Preacher is an interesting series, if a bit much at times; it was worth the read and I am intrigued to see where the tv series goes next (as I said, I do love those characters a lot, despite all their flaws). But more than anything, this was definitely an interesting series to read while riding the bus every day, as I never knew what I would get upon flipping the page and hoping my super-close seat-mate for the ride wouldn’t be glancing over at a moment where suddenly there’s full-page blood, violence, filth, nudity, or something else completely absurd and unexplainable.
CBR10 Bingo Square: The Book Was Better?