Rev. Jesse Custer is a small town minister who never wanted the job. But his will was broken by the sick and twisted machinations of his Gran’ma and he went into the family business.
Then one day, Genesis, the offspring of the unprecedented and forbidden coupling of an angel and a demon, escapes from Heaven and merges with Jesse, destroying the small town of Annville, Texas in the process. From that point on, Jesse can literally speak the word of God. Anything he says in that voice— anything— must be obeyed.
When Jesse learns that God has left Heaven, he decides to track Him down and make Him account for Himself. Accompanying him in this endeavor are his girlfriend, Tulip O’Hare, and the Irish vampire Cassidy.
That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, which was published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint in 66 issues (plus ancillary specials) between 1995 and 2000. The entire saga has been collected in nine volumes.
Of course, even with the power to command anyone (well, anyone who can understand English), Jesse’s not going to have an easy time of it. Heaven wants Genesis back and has sent the unstoppable Saint of Killers— whose hatred shut down the fires of Hell when he arrived there and who killed the Devil himself— to kill Jesse. What’s more, Herr Starr, an ambitious member of The Grail— a secret organization dating back to the crucifixion— intends that Jesse should be their new Messiah, whether Jesse likes it or not.
And it’s not always smooth sailing with either Tulip or Cassidy, either.
If Preacher were a movie, it would be rated R. There’s a great deal of both sex and violence; and while some of it is gratuitous, some of it reaches almost absurdist levels. The indignities hoisted upon Herr Starr are prime examples of that absurdity.
It’s also a great read; and the characters are very human. As a young man, Jesse stole cars with Tulip. He also drinks, swears and smokes too much. And his— if you will— spiritual advisor appears to be the spirit of John Wayne.
Jesse has a strong sense of right and wrong and doesn’t use his “powers” for personal gain. He tells Cassidy that he intends to make God face up to his responsibilities; and that if he uses his gift to lord it over people (or get suites at the Ritz Carlton), who would he be to talk about responsibility.
Tulip is strong-willed, a crack shot with a gun and was briefly employed as a hitwoman.
Cassidy prefers alcohol to blood and is more or less a fun guy; but he also engages in self destructive behavior that often takes others down with him.
The tragic turn The Saint of Killers’ life took— the one that led him to damn himself— was orchestrated by God Himself. So the Saint wants words with God, too.
Preacher also has some genuinely funny moments. In one storyline, Cassidy meets a relatively new vampire in New Orleans who embraces the Bram Stoker model. He sleeps in a coffin, only drinks blood and believes vampires should remain apart from humans (except when feeding). That’s a bit too much for the hedonistic Cassidy, who ignores his soliloquizing companion to join a rowdy crowd.
If you’re easily offended, you probably won’t like Preacher. But if you’re not easily offended or if you’re willing to look past the parts of it that do offend you, you might like it after all.
Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.