Preacher is a comic book series created by writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon, published by the American comic book label Vertigo imprint of DC Comics, with painted covers by Glenn Fabry.
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.
tells the story of Jesse Custer
, a down-and-out preacher in the small Texas
town of Annville. Custer was accidentally possessed by the supernatural creature named Genesis in an incident which killed his entire congregation and flattened his church.
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.
Themes and influences
focuses on narrative storytelling and characterization. It drew considerable praise (and protest) for its unapologetic handling of religious and supernatural themes, its dark and frequently violent humor, and its wide range of allusions to popular culture outside of comic books.
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.)
- Gone to Texas (collects issues 1–7)
Until the End of the World (collects issues 8–17)
- Reverend Jesse Custer, a tough Texas preacher who's lost his faith, is possessed by a mysterious entity called Genesis — a conscienceless force whose power may rival that of God Himself. Through insight granted him by Genesis, now lodged in Jesse's mind in a sort of supernatural symbiosis, Jesse learns that the Lord God has left Heaven and abandoned His responsibilities. Moreover, Jesse becomes aware that he has been given the power of The Word Of God, depicted in the comic through the use of red text (a reference to the printing method often used for indicating Jesus' speech in the Bible), allowing him to deliver irresistible commands to any being, including God Himself (e.g. "Eat your gun" or "Count three million grains of sand", whereupon the commandee cannot help but to comply fully. This power bears somewhat ironic linguistic and physical limitations, explored occasionally throughout the series). Armed with these newfound attributes, he sets out on a quest to find God and make Him answer for His dereliction of duty.
Accompanying Jesse on his journey are Tulip O'Hare, Jesse's former girlfriend who has long thought that he abandoned her, and Cassidy, a 100-year-old Irish vampire who often seems to prefer a pint in the pub to the blood of the innocent — though his unavoidable, unnatural hunger is something of a sticky point for the ethical Preacher.
Meanwhile, in Heaven, a quorum of angels, trying desperately to keep things from falling apart, decides to send the Saint of Killers — an immortal, unstoppable killing machine — to Earth with orders to recapture Genesis at any cost.
Proud Americans (collects issues 18–26)
- In "All in the Family", Jesse's secret past is revealed as he is forced to confront his family, and the horrible childhood he's been running from his entire life.
- In "Hunters", Jesse and Co. travel west to San Francisco, where they run afoul of a pair of 'sexual investigators'; an armadillo-sodomizing, lifelong-partying aesthete by the name of Jesus de Sade; and The Grail — an ancient and immensely powerful religious conspiracy that wants to use Jesse's power to bring about Armageddon. The Grail is personified by a clever and ambitious German military expert known only as 'Herr Starr' (who, along with God, serves as the series' primary villain).
Ancient History (collects the Saint of Killers limited series, plus Preacher Special: The Story of You-Know-Who and Preacher Special: The Good Old Boys)
- Jesse and Tulip journey to France to rescue Cassidy from the Grail's heavily-guarded secret fortress ('Masada'), where Cassidy (pretending to be Custer) is being held by Herr Starr and tortured by a gelded, sadistic Mafioso named Frankie the Eunuch (who tortures Cassidy by shooting him multiple times with a Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle). The Saint of Killers follows them, and all Hell breaks loose.
Upon their return to the States, a grateful Cassidy tells Jesse his life's story: how he fought in the Irish War of Independence, how he was assaulted by a bog-hag outside of Dublin and turned into a vampire, and how he began his long love affair with New York City.
Dixie Fried (collects issues 27–33 and Preacher Special: Blood and Whiskey)
- In the four-part "Saint of Killers" story, we learn who the Saint was before he died, and why he was given the job of Angel of Death. Also, hell freezes over. (art by Steve Pugh and Carlos Ezquerra)
- The Story of You-Know-Who (so called because DC would not allow the word "arse" to be used on the cover) recounts the events that led up to and followed Arseface's attempted suicide. (art by Richard Case)
- The Good Old Boys is a twisted satire of 1980s action movies, starring none other than Jody and T.C. from the "All in the Family" storyline. (art by Carlos Ezquerra)
War in the Sun (collects issues 34–40 and Preacher Special: One Man's War)
- Blood and Whiskey is a tale of Cassidy's past; the story of the New Orleans-based gothic cult 'Les Enfants du Sang' and the only time Cassidy ever met another vampire.
- In Dixie Fried, our heroes arrive in New Orleans, where an old friend of Cassidy's — who just happens to be a voodoo priest — may be able to help Jesse unlock the secrets locked deep within Genesis. Unfortunately, a dark aspect of Cassidy's past (shown in Blood and Whiskey) threatens to confound this attempt and kill everyone involved.
Salvation (collects issues 41–50)
- In One Man's War, we learn exactly what kind of man Herr Starr is, where he came from, and how he got involved in the Grail conspiracy. (art by Peter Snejberg)
- In War in the Sun, Starr's lust for power reaches its peak with a massive military assault in Monument Valley, Utah. Starr comes prepared with an entire tank battalion and even a nuke, but is all that hardware really enough to stop the Saint of Killers? (The answer, of course, is 'not enough gun.')
All Hell's A-Coming (collects issues 51–58 and Preacher Special: Tall in the Saddle)
- Presumed dead and feeling betrayed by both his true love and his best friend, Jesse abandons his quest and takes a job as a lawman in the tiny town of Salvation, Texas — where a figure from his past suddenly re-emerges, even as Jesse (along with beautiful Deputy Cindy Dagget) deals with domestic disputes, the KKK, and the robber-baron of the town, the disgustingly psychotic Odin Quincannon. Also, Jesse is kidnapped by a mad Nazi Fetishist hellbent on making him her 'Führer of Love'. He later ingests peyote which causes him to remember his climactic confrontation with God (including a symbolic injury which may be an allusion to the Nordic namesake of the series' most recent villain figure), following the events in Monument Valley.
Alamo (collects issues 59–66)
- Tulip finally escapes from the self-destructive spiral she's been in since Jesse's 'death'. Jesse and Tulip are reunited, and Jesse learns just how much of a bastard Cassidy really is.
- "Tall in the Saddle" is a tale of Jesse and Tulip's wild early experiments in car theft.
- A crescendo is reached, deep in the heart of Texas: Jesse hatches an ingenious scheme to finally put an end to his quest; Starr gives up on his plans for Jesse, and decides to just kill him instead; Jesse has his final confrontation with Cassidy outside the walls of the Alamo; Tulip shows everyone exactly what she's made of; and the Saint finally finds what he's been looking for.
Adaptations in other media
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!"
References in other media
- In the issue 11 of Y: The Last Man, Yorick is shown to own a silver Zippo lighter with "Fuck Communism" engraved on it, identical to one owned by Jesse Custer. When asked about it Yorick states, "It's from this thing I read back in high school. A, uh... a 'graphic novel.'"