Review: “Preacher: Gone To Texas”
Preacher: Gone To Texas
Written by Garth Ennis, Artwork by Steve Dillon
Like Hollywood, the world of comics often moves in trends. From the thirties through the fifties, stories focused on primarily on high adventure — superhero books, westerns, army tales — all of these fell nicely into an action/adventure mode that was gobbled up by generations of comic-hungry kids. Under the mainstream, however, there were undercurrents and movements toward the extreme.
By the late fifties, thanks primarily to a prodigious output by EC Comics (founded by those same wacky geniuses who brought us Mad Magazine) a growing trend of extreme horror books began to wash across the comic world. Soon, titles like Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror and Weird War Tales were the prizes of every kid’s collection, and as the fervor for the subject matter grew, so too did concern among parents who felt that harmful messages were being conveyed. In the age of McCarthy-ism, even something as seemingly insignificant as a comic book was placed under a microscope.
And what did we get from all this undue scrutiny? The Comics Code, a rating system of sorts, was placed on all comics deemed acceptable for mass consumption by the public.
A book like Preacher: Gone to Texas would likely have been one of the first to be axed back in that black era. Equal parts twisted mythic Western, Southern Gothic Horror, Slapstick Comedy, and Quentin Tarantino-inspired shoot `em up, Preacher, which featured outlandishly violent situations and the most vile group of sympathetic characters this side of Reservoir Dogs, was probably the most extreme title released by a major publisher in the nineties. Of course, this immediately made it a rousing success.
Written by Garth Ennis, a Scot who first made a splash after replacing scribe Jamie Delano on the seemingly endless run of Hellblazer, the premiere volume of Preacher focuses on Jesse Custer, a former scuzzbag who is seeking redemption by doing time as a preacher in a small, washed out Texas burg. But Jesse is quite literally disgusted by his flock of followers, who wallow in sin and degradation only to put on a mask of virtue every Sunday morning. Jesse’s path to salvation is less than he expected. Soon enough, however, he’s the center of a spiritual conspiracy that finds him hosting the essence of a being called Genesis, who was created from the union of a demon and an angel. Naturally, the forces of both Heaven and Hell take a decided interest in Jesse’s well being, seeing that he’s the only human being on Earth that wields the powers of the almighty.
And have I mentioned Tulip yet? She’s Jesse’s gun-toting ex-girlfriend, a former victim of severe child abuse who is also the ballsiest, most tough-as-nails femme to come down the comic pike in the last ten years. And get this — she’s not depicted as some prototypical, adolescent female eye candy — she’s physically and spiritually flawed, which befits a character of her stature.
Oh, and then there’s Cassidy, a hip Brit who constantly dons a pair of shades and just oozes noir movie coolness. By the way, he’s also a vampire.
Eventually, we’ll see a union of these characters that pits them all against the United States Government, the combined forces of Heaven and Hell, an undead assassin called the Saint of Killers, an accidental shooting victim known as `Arseface,’ and a psychotic backwoods Grandmother with a shotgun and a brood of mentally challenged kids. And this is all before Jesse decides to go looking for God to give him a piece of his mind.
Ennis character work shines here, and it’s a tribute to his skills with plot and character that blast apart expectations. Sure, all the folks presented here come off as archetypes at the outset, but Ennis snappy dialogue (and yes, it’s quite profane) reveals motivations without ever once coming across as blatant. For once, the plot is dictated by the characters are not simply plot cyphers — their storyline is dictated by their actions, rather than the other way around, which tends to find characters merely linear functionaries. The violence is handled respectfully (though it does threaten to go over the top on occasion) and I’m still amazed that an author from Scotland can have so much knowledge of the American dream.
Steve Dillon’s artwork retains a pulpy, visceral style demanded by the material, and his line work is clear and concise. Like the storyline, the artwork’s seeming simplicity belies deep emotional content. It’s perfectly in tune with Ennis’s writing.
Preacher was the start of a trend in the nineties — the ultraviolent action-comedy-horror-pastiche. Many books released in its wake have attempted to follow its pattern, though none have succeeded in the mix of the brutal, the irreverent, and the insightful that Ennis masterfully weaves through the series. Hell, Preacher wasn’t just the start of a trend — it was a trend unto itself.
Preacher, published by DC Comics, is available only through comic retailers.