The series consists of 75 issues in total — 66 regular, monthly issues, five one-shot specials and a four-issue Saint of Killers limited series. The entire run has been collected in nine trade paperback editions. The final monthly issue, number 66, was published in July 2000.
Genesis, the product of the unauthorized, unnatural coupling of an angel and a demon, is an infant with no sense of individual will. However, as it is composed of both pure goodness and pure evil, it might have enough power to rival that of God himself. In other words, Jesse Custer, bonded to Genesis, may have become the most powerful being in the whole of living existence.
Custer, driven by a strong sense of right and wrong, goes on a journey across the United States attempting to (literally) find God, who abandoned Heaven the moment Genesis was born. He also begins to discover the truth about his new powers, which allow him to command the obedience of those who hear his words. He is joined by his old girlfriend Tulip O'Hare, as well as a hard-drinking Irish vampire named Cassidy.
During the course of their journeys, the three encounter enemies and obstacles both sacred and profane, including: the Saint of Killers, an invincible, quick-drawing, perfect-aiming, come-lately Angel of Death answering only to the authority of God Himself; a serial-killer called the 'Reaver-Cleaver'; The Grail, a secret organization controlling the governments of the world and protecting the bloodline of Jesus; Herr Starr, ostensible Allfather of the Grail, a megalomaniac with a penchant for prostitutes, who wishes to use Custer for his own ends; several fallen angels; and Jesse's own redneck 'family' — particularly his nasty Cajun grandmother, her mighty bodyguard Jody, and the 'animal-loving' T.C.
In particular, Preacher draws on movies, particularly western movies, for many of its stylistic elements. For example: an apparition of John Wayne is a recurring character and serves as a sort of spiritual guide or conscience for Custer; Monument Valley and The Alamo serve as backdrops to various legs of the journey; for a time, Jesse acts as the sheriff of a small town in Texas, and must protect the inhabitants from harm; the image of the Saint of Killers, a reformed outlaw-turned-evil-once-more in the tradition of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven character, William Munny, is a nod to the classic Western notion of nemesis, straight and true and terrible.
The series also invokes ideas popularized by such books as Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Like Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Preacher claims that there is a still-viable bloodline descending from Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. Herr Starr reveals to Cassidy that Jesus had children, and did not die on the cross, but instead lived to middle-age, and was killed by a runaway dung cart. After his death the Grail guardians took away his offspring, who were forced to intermarry with one another in order to keep Jesus' divine power within the bloodline. For over 2000 years this intermarrying perpetuated an incestuous family tree culminating with the mentally handicapped descendants of Jesus having a child, during the birth of whom the mother dies, effectively producing the last generation of the Jesus' line.
In the beginning of the narrative, told in retrospect in the first issue of Preacher, Jesse Custer is a vicar of dubious nature, just about to address the members of his parish after a night of heavy drinking and with many enemies in the audience. This opening scene is identical to the famous opening of Selma Lagerlöf's novel Gösta Berling's Saga.
Additionally, the series examines the role of American identity and ideals in the modern age. This extends beyond the personal level, where old-fashioned western "Cowboy" ethics and attitudes meet modern feminism, to the collective level, where the traumas of the Vietnam War, corporate excess and the cyclical nature of violence, among other things, are explored. The conflict between liberal and conservative politics is also examined, as are depression, repression, sexuality, pornography, drug use, homelessness and immigration.
A symbolic presence is that of Arseface, a teenager who attempted to imitate the suicide of rock star Kurt Cobain by shooting himself in the face with a shotgun. He survived the suicide attempt, and after many attempts at reconstructive plastic surgery ended up as a 'fella with a face like an arse'. (In the later issues, Arseface goes through a sped-up cycle of American fame: underground sensation to popular star to lawsuit bait and target of censorship. In the end, his manager takes all his money.)
(All art by Steve Dillon, unless otherwise noted.)
For several years, a film adaptation by View Askew Productions was in the works, with James Marsden attached to play the lead. The project never materialized, although production got so far as to begin make up tests for the Arseface character, gruesome pictures of which can be found online . At one point, Samuel L. Jackson, a comic book fan, expressed interest in playing the Saint of Killers.
In May of 2006, rumors began circulating that the cable TV network HBO might produce an adaptation of Preacher. In late November 2006, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed this, reporting that the network was developing a one-hour series with executive producers Mark Steven Johnson and Howard Deutch, the writing-directing team who created Grumpier Old Men. Johnson will also write the pilot.
Mark Steven Johnson told SCI FI Wire that he plans to turn each issue of the comic into a single episode, which will be as close to the original source material as possible. "I gave [HBO] the comics, and I said, 'Every issue is an hour,'" Johnson said at a preview of his film Ghost Rider in Hollywood, Calif., on Nov. 30 2006. "And it's exactly the book. ... I had my meeting yesterday, and Garth Ennis is on the phone, and we're all in the room, and Garth is like, 'You don't have to be so beholden to the comic.' And I'm like, 'No, no, no. It's got to be like the comic.' So that's what's so brilliant about it. It's just like, HBO, who else would do it but them? Nobody. ... HBO is just like, 'Bring it on.'" Johnson has also confirmed that this will include the various one-shots and mini-series.
However, Mark Steven Johnson has since reversed this position and stated that there will be new content. In an interview with iF Magazine he notes "Well there would be nothing new to add if we did that so [PREACHER creator] Garth [Ennis] and I have been creating new stories for the series." recently Garth claimed that everyone at HBO likes what they have seen so far but at the moment there is a change in manager taking place and so they await the approval of the new manager
Mark Steven Johnson has stated that HBO have passed on Preacher and that someone is seeking rights to adapt it into a feature. He was quoted as saying "We were budgeting and everything and it was getting really close to going, But the new head of HBO felt it was just too dark and too violent and too controversial. Which, of course, is kind of the point!"
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