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PREACHER - Part I

As the title ends, Fandom begins part one of a two-part review of the series

By Jason Bovberg     August 23, 2000

So the time of Preacher is coming to an end. As we say goodbye to the friends we made and the adventures we shared in this powerfully affecting comic, the time has come to take a look back on what made this masterpiece rise above the vast majority of 20th century graphic storytelling.

When Britons Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon partnered up under DC Vertigo to create a modern-day American Western, they clearly had a few objectives in mind. The first objective was to devote the comic wholeheartedly to its characters--Jesse Custer, a troubled preacher on the ultimate quest; Tulip O'Hare, strongwilled, talented with a handgun, but firmly by Jesse's side; and Cassidy, the Irish vampire who becomes Jesse's greatest friend and greatest betrayer. The second objective was to take this damn comic and go for broke--from its frankly realistic sexuality to its no-holds-barred violence. The third objective, of course, was to find God.

As Preacher comes to a close, I realize with a kind of awe that Ennis and Dillon have not only accomplished all their objectives, but treated us to one hell of a good time. Yep, they even found God. The trick, it turns out, is knowing where to look.

Preacher tosses us into the middle of its story and catches us up, Quentin Tarantino-like, with a number of linking flashbacks. The intent of this comic is clear on its first page: Tulip asks Jesse where he's going to start looking for God. Jesse responds that Texas is as good a place as any, because 'it sure as hell ain't the church.'

Jesse's spiritual quest begins in earnest when he becomes inhabited by a rogue entity called Genesis'a comet with the face of an infant' spawned by the unholy union between an angel and a demon. With Genesis at his core, Jesse holds a power inside him that rivals God's: When Jesse speaks, everyone listens. Now God's on the run, and Jesse's made it his mission to call the Coward to task. But there's a hitch: Heaven has sent the world's orneriest gunfighterthe Saint of Killersafter Genesis. The spectre of this inevitable showdown haunts most of the series.

The first arc does give us a slam-bang showdownand it's a taste of the graphic intensity to expect in this series. The violence is palpable, the gore is eye-popping and the action has an energy that leaps from the page like Alien's chestburster. But the first showdown ends in stunned détente and leads us into what will become the series' modus operandi: subplot arcs that take us around the country as Jesse conducts his search.

Interestingly, as we follow Preacher through its freakshows and its motels, through its countless fistfights and its raucous bars, we find that Jesse's search for God is more internal than external--in his relationships with his friends, in his encounters with mortal angels and demons, and in the shaping of his moral stance, which we witness in great detail in the family episodes.

The first real subplot arc takes us to New York, where Jesse finds a wretched hive of scum and villainy--all God's work--and in striking foreshadow, we witness an act of betrayal that puts Cassidy's trustworthiness in question.

Next, in Angelville, Jesse goes back home and we learn about the ideallic father who taught him about honor and respect and responsibility--mostly with the help of John Wayne, who turns up throughout Preacher like the third entity in some far-out holy trinity. We also learn about his dad's death at the hands of his redneck uncles and his grandmother, who senses Jesse's spiritual destiny but only wants to tear Jesse's soul away.

In San Francisco, our trio find their way into a den of iniquity that is a showcase for depraved humanity. Jesse also obtains his most fervent mortal nemesisHerr Starrwho will come to represent Preacher's contempt for power-mad (typically religious) authority figures. Starr's own quest--for a modern-day messiah to head up the Grail, an omnipotent secret alliance that guards Christ's bloodline--turns quickly from professional to personal and mirrors the stalk of the Saint of Killers, whose thunderous pursuit of Jesse comes to a somewhat unsatisfactory close--at least, for those of us craving that wild shootout between a possessed preacher and a gunslinger from Hell.

The arc that takes us to Masada and the Grail tests the bonds between the three protagonists in startlingly gory fashion. By its close, Jesse and Cassidy are soulmates. But that won't last. Despite all they've built, Cassidy is about to quietly betray his friend, and the unlikely betrayal will ultimately rival God's countless betrayals throughout the Preacher series.

However, in the next arc, which takes us to New Orleans for a tale of voodoo and revenge, we find that Cassidy's damning behavior might be the result of forces external to him. Can we still blame him for his actions? Maybe, but it's still awfully tough to watch Jesse save the bloodsucker's life in the desert of Monument Valley. This arc illustrates the stupid, misguided power of Starr's Grail and also buries a cleaver into the relationships between Jesse, Cassidy and Tulip. When Jesse finally sees the evidence of Cassidy's betrayal, his search for God sidetracks into a new, ponderous journey of the soul.

In the town of Salvation, Jesse's war with power-hungry Odin Quincannon is a microcosm of Preacher's main thrust. But this war he fights alone, and he discovers answers that foreshadow an end to Preacher. Jesse reunites emotionally with his long-lost mother, then--to end the arc--encounters possibly the most vile depravity ever to grace the pages of a comic book. But Jesse finds his own salvation and saddles up to hit the trail again. He's got some unfinished business with the Almighty, as well as with Cassidy.

An elaborate sequence of flashbacks follow, mostly to feed us backstory and build suspense. A showdown looms, and we're itching for it. The showdown promises a resolution between the protagonistsas bloody as is necessaryand an Answer to Jesse's quest.

In Part Two of this review, I'll take a look at the Alamo arc, in which Preacher comes to a head, and the epilogue issue due out today, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2000, which will put Preacher to rest. Everyone's invited, but watch your assthere might be things about God you'd rather not learn.

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