Comic Book Review

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Part two of our review of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's acclaimed Vertigo series.

By Jason Bovberg     September 06, 2000

Preacher is history. Wednesday, Aug. 30, saw the release of the final issue of a comic series that helped bring a new maturity to comics, and that will hopefully usher in a new era of strong writing and unhurried art to an increasingly commercialized medium. This remarkable comic's epilogue issue, titled 'A Hell of a Vision,' satisfactorily ties up most of the series' loose ends, but leaves one question--perhaps the biggest question of all--suitably unresolved.

Part one of this review looked back on five years of Preacher, on the major events that led us to its final showdown. Paging through the early installments after all these years, I was first struck by the detail of artist Steve Dillon's art and the way he took his first stabs at characters who would quickly mature into real people. In Preacher's introductory arc, Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy are mere caricatures, embryos of their adult personae. And yet, as if to balance the precarious nature of those personifications, the detail on top of them--the hashmarked shadows, the wrinkles in the clothing, the spiked hair--is painstaking. In the final issue, it is plain that both writer and artist came to know their characters inside and out, and long ago passed the storytelling responsibility into their able, inked hands.

Revisiting all of writer Garth Ennis' story arcs brings an understanding that Jesse Custer's search for God occurs in a necessarily roundabout way. At its heart, Preacher is the story of Jesse Custer's need to confront God and ask Him why he's abandoned His creation--not an easy question for a mere comic book to tackle. But Preacher is up to the task, and we knew it from the start. But be warned: This is a story in which the characters hold contempt for a cowardly God, in which the All-Mighty is constantly taken to task for his actions. So if you're not too keen on passionate explorations of faith in the vein of, say, The Last Temptation of Christ, then you'd best steer clear of Preacher.

Fittingly, Preacher's seven-issue 'Alamo' arc and the epilogue have a firm focus on the relationships between its characters. Where, you might ask, does this motley crew fit in a story about finding God? If you've been reading Preacher religiously, you understand that God is in the details--particularly, in the hearts and minds of Preacher's people. Remember that most of the events that unfold in the Preacher universe occur in the absence of God. And yet, nothing's changed. The world is still filled with people both upstanding and contemptible, stand-up folks fighting for good causes and vile monsters in human guise.

The guiding force behind all these characters' motivations is not the all-knowing, all-powerful being that most churches glorify, but rather their own souls. After all is said and done, Preacher suggests that spirituality is what you make of it. 'Why do bad things happen to good people?' the comic asks. Starr's deluded assistant Featherstone gives us the answer in issue #64: 'Chaos and random horror [are] never more than a bad day away from anyone.' In other words, don't count on heavenly help. You've just gotta live your own life the best you can.

This 'absence of God' theory--treated literally by Preacher as metaphor--breaks down our early expectation of an eventual showdown between Jesse and the All-Mighty, or even between Jesse and that kick-ass Saint of Killers. Instead, the showdown that occurs in Preacher's final pages is between two friends, Jesse and Cassidy, for the simple reason that character is what matters in this world. God is incidental, or at least passive. God is the effect of these characters' actions, not the cause. As Jesse tells us in the final pages, 'We don't need no God to shape the world for us. We can make our lives the way we want them. Or we ain't worth nothing.'

The buildup to the fistfight in front of the Alamo is extensive--we saw it coming way back in Masada--and the payoff is powerful. Jesse's anger at Cassidy's betrayal is so strong that he attains a supernatural strength. But after Cassidy's due ass-whipping, Jesse reaches out a hand to help the vampire. The moment brings to light an effect of Genesis that we might not have considered. Before Genesis--the devil/angel spawn with the power of God--inhabited him, Jesse was a lost soul, a man who doubted his actions and regretted his past. However, infused with the power of God, Jesse is Preacher's constant voice of reason. Most importantly, he can always detect the angels from the assholes. He knows instinctively whether this person is good at heart or that person is rotten to the core. Cassidy, despite his heinous wrongs, is worth saving. A Hell of a Vision shows that Jesse's instinct was correct.

Preacheroffers other revelations at its end, not least of which is the outcome of a showdown between God and the Saint of Killers, whose new purpose in afterlife is to avenge God's murder of his family. But even after the Saint exacts his revenge and pauses to rest on God's throne, we're left awaiting an answer that never comes: What of Genesis? We know the infant spirit no longer inhabits Jesse, so where did it go? That question is cause for much pondering, but I suspect the little guy's still got a lot to learn about this world, despite five years of the best upbringing any kid could hope for. He's got some big shoes to fill. After all, what is Genesis but a beginning?

After it deals with its big questions, Preacher once again reminds us that its most important resolution rests with Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy. There is tangible emotional weight to these final panels of our heroes facing a new world of their own making. The series' final image, appropriately, is that of its characters--a snapshot taken in a bar, taped to the rearview mirror of a pickup. I'm going to miss these people.

Preacher has been an astonishing combination of epic novel and western movie--both of which you wish would never end. Even after watching Jesse and Tulip ride off into the sunset, I can still hear the twang of an Ennio Morricone guitar and the snap-burn of a cigarette coming to life. I'll be revisiting the Preacher universe often.


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