I just finished Preacher, a 75 issue series by Garth Ennis (illustrated by Steve Dillon), and I wonder if I will ever find another series to match it in that hold-your-interest, make-you-want-to-rush-home-and-read quality. Oddly, it sat on my shelf for a few years. I left it there because I thought it just wasn't my style. The cover art was weird, and the surface of the whole thing looked boring to me. A preacher from Texas goes on some sort of adventure. Why would I invest in a comic whose hero was a preacher? I mean come on. Not my style.
But for some reason (perhaps some notion that it would be a waste of money to have bought all the books in the series, only to never read them?), I decided to give it a chance. I think I was on some mission to complete something I started, which for me personally is like a weird trip I get on from time to time... So I read the first issue, just to see if I was wrong about my earlier assessment of the thing. And that was all it took.
It was completely irreverent. I couldn't believe what I was reading, right in that first issue. A preacher who appeared to be a hard drinking badass, starts exposing the depraved sins of his parish members when they pop off to him in a bar. And I am not talking your run of the mill sins, either. Two rednecks raped a child years ago, thought nobody knew. The preacher remembered. Some local tramp did it with a horse. The preacher outs her right there in the saloon. At this point, I know this series is for me.
The premise is interesting, in that the Preacher, a guy named Jesse Custer (initials JC) finds himself imbued with a celestial being named Genesis, who is the progeny of an angel and a demon. When Genesis attaches to his soul, Jesse is empowered to speak with the Word of God, which of course makes people obey him. Jesse decides that he must find God and give him a piece of his mind, what for all the bad things that happen in the world under His watch, and he wants to make Him answer for it. He befriends a vampire, who is a hard drinking Irishman to take along on his quest, and of course his true love Tulip. And of course he is guided by the spirit of John Wayne.
Preacher deals with some very basic issues, and by basic I mean deep existential questions about the nature of God, spirituality, sin and redemption, free will, and all the Big Whys. In the world of Preacher, God exists. It is not a question of wondering, or why one needs faith. God is, and he's on the run. He left heaven in shambles, and nobody can find him. If you are a god fearing whatever, Preacher is probably not for you, because it basically conceptualizes notions that would, to most sensible, god fearing whatevers, amount to blasphemy. But Garth Ennis uses these perhaps unholy ideas to explore spiritual questions, to challenge existing constructs, and rather breaks it all down literally by destroying everything just to see what is really built there in the first place. I am reminded of an exchange Jesse has about God with his psychotic, demented, evil grandmother, whose plan is to force him to become a preacher. She says to the young childhood Jesse, something to the effect of, 'Now Jesse, God watches everything you do. Always. He wants you to love Him with all your heart, and He will be with you forever when you're dead. Now doesn't that make you feel better?' To which Jesse whispers to himself, 'No, Granma. That scares me.' Perfect. A nail right in the collective heart.
What I also find interesting about Preacher, or maybe the genre of comics is general, is the effect circumstances have on people to essentially transform their characters, to actually make them who they are. In the world of comics, these kinds of things are simply made more explicitly obvious. A bayou scientist becomes an organic being by a chemical accident, and incarnates as Swamp Thing, for example. In Preacher, I cannot call the job of writing about it done unless I mention Arseface. While a minor character, Arseface becomes what he is because of his circumstance when he fails to see anything worth living for when Kurt Cobain shoots himself, so he decides to put a gun to his face. Of course he survives, only to look like, well, Arseface. Perhaps not as outwardly heroic as Swamp Thing, or Superman, but really, who in real life ever is? As I read the Arseface arcs, I felt something in my heart. It was true pity, or compassion, not sure which, but I know it because I felt it, right where real feelings live.