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PREACHERWriter: Garth Ennis
Artist: Steve Dillon
Publisher: Vertigo (DC)
Synopsis: Jesse Custer's had a bitch of a life, and despite being a preacher he's not too fond of the Almighty. So when he's gifted with the power of The Word, which lets him control people with his voice, he sets off with a hitwoman (his girlfriend) and a vampire (his best bud) to hold God accountable for the state of his creation.
How Is It?: Imagine if Quentin Tarantino had directed "Dogma". That movie would look like Strawberry Shortcake compared to "Preacher". This is a comic which features a character who attempted to blow his head off, failed, and was gifted with the sensitive nickname "Arseface". Well, that, and the fact that the religious content would make the people who protested "Dogma" start bleeding from the ears. It's twisted, bleak, and very funny. But it also has a real heart, believe it or not, in the exchanges between Jesse and his friends.
Gone to TexasSynopsis: Drinking and despairing in a small town in the "ass-end of Texas", Reverend Jesse Custer gets a divine visitation one day...unfortunately, it leaves the town destroyed, his congregation dead, and Jesse wanted by the law. However, it also gifts him with an extraordinary power that leads him on a quest with his ex-girlfriend Tulip and an Irish vampire named Cassidy to find God Himself.
How Is It?: This works better than the usual "set up the series premise" arcs. All the characters get strong introductions; Jesse and Cassidy's friendship, despite forming remarkably fast, clicks believably, and there's plenty of enigmas to keep you reading. Besides our unholy trinity, two other series regulars get memorable introductions: the cold-blooded Saint of Killers and the disfigured comic relief Arseface. Priming the pump for the rip-roaring western-style action to come, this makes for a grand start to the series.
Until The End Of The WorldSynopsis: Back in Houston to clear up some of Tulip's unresolved "business", Jesse and Tulip are taken by T.C. and Jody, the psychotic good ol' boys that work for Jesse's twisted Grandma. She's made his life a living hell until now, and she's not going to quit until he's dead.
How Is It?: Easily the best Preacher arc I've read so far, this one gives us a torrent of information about Jesse's unbelievably traumatic childhood in Angelville, how he became a Preacher, and why he ran off on Tulip a few years ago. For all the violence and twistedness Preacher regularly revels in, this story is the one that struck home for me. It's the tragic story of how Angelville killed everything Jesse ever loved--and now it's threatening to do the same for Tulip. But Jesse's a hard son of a bitch to keep down, and it's hard not to find this story weirdly inspiring...
Proud AmericansSynopsis: Cassidy's been kidnapped by the Grail, a secret organization more organized than heaven. Jesse and Tulip are going to have to travel to Europe and outwit the scheming Herr Starr and the monstrous Allfather to get him back. And the Saint of Killers is still on his trail...
How Is It?: A veritable epic, as the already 4-issues-old "Grail" storyline continues another 8 issues. Something of a spy thriller, this one also begins the tradition of Cassidy taking a real beating and bouncing back, as he's introduced to the sadistic Frankie the Eunuch (don't ask). Meanwhile Herr Starr continues to scheme against the Allfather, who we finally meet, along with the child the Grail has been charged with protecting--let's just say neither of them are fun to look at. The actual action and humour in this installment are great, along with some cool revelations about Jesse's enemies, but there are some unwarranted bits, like the juvenile plotline about Herr Starr's sexual experiences...you'll see what I mean. And Jesse takes an awful long time to get where he's going, and Cassidy's hardships are really painful to watch. Plotwise it's a turning point for the series, and there's lots of good stuff here--just don't expect any emotional depth on the level of "Until the End of the World". That's saved for the final segment, which tells us of Cassidy's origins and his adventures for the past 100 years.
Ancient HistorySynopsis: A trio of tales: we learn the history of the "Saint of Killers"; Arseface's life is illuminated in "The Story of You-Know-Who"; and T.C. and Jody have an adventure in "The Good Ol' Boys".
How Is It?: The heart of this one is definately the Saint of Killers storyline, which tells a rip-roaring, two-fisted western heavily inspired by "Unforgiven" (but even more raw and nasty, in Ennis' usual style). It's also kind of a tall tale, when it takes a detour to hell and back in the last two issues. It's a little disorienting, and disappointing, when Carlos Equerra takes over as the artist for part 3 (Parts 1, 2, and 4 are done by Steve Pugh) since I actually prefer Esquerra's artwork; Pugh's Saint doesn't look like the one in the main comics story (and he mysteriously grows sideburns, only to lose them again when Esquerra takes over!) "The Story of You-Know-Who" (Arseface) is fairly interesting and shows a light on the character's motivations in later issues, though you could argue it's not really neccessary to the main story. "The Good Ol' Boys" is "The Dukes of Hazzard" on crack, and it's good, disposable fun. It is a little weird to see all these characters, supposedly villains, becoming sympathetic heroes for a while. Anyway, this is mostly a diversion from the main storyline (not a rumour of Jesse, Tulip or Cassidy) but it's a nice bonus for Preacher fans.
Dixie FriedSynopsis: Last time Cassidy was in New Orleans, he left a bit of a mess behind. Now it's going to come back to haunt him, along with Jesse and Tulip, as they turn to Voodoo for help with their quest. And that's not taking into account a run-in with Arseface...
How Is It?: This one takes the series in a number of new directions; Arseface finally gets to clash with the group in a serious way, Herr Starr has a renewed sense of purpose, we learn a little more about Cassidy (and vampires in general), and Jessie finally is gifted with a major clue as to what exactly he should be DOING with Genesis. Most importantly, we see the beginnings of a possibly severe emotional breakdown on its way for the tightly-knit little community, as Tulip is once more driven to conflict with Jessie, and Cassidy makes a revelation that goes horribly wrong. And the enemies list gets another couple of additions. We're past the halfway point now, and barrelling into dark territory. The wonderful interplay between the three leads is used to maximum effect here, giving a powerful edge to the usual rough-and-tumble action and sniggering satire (which is almost entirely absent this time out, except for a few cheap potshots at the gothic fantasy genre in general and a certain comic maestro in particular). The Jessie-Tulip-Cassidy relationship is what's keeping me involved in the story at this point, and Ennis' writing is getting stronger and more subtle. Four more books to go...and the momentum is still increasing.
War In The SunSynopsis: OK, so Jessie knows he's got to turn to the Navajo to unlock the secrets of Genesis. So it's a simple matter of heading to Arizona and buying some peyote, right? Well, it would be, if it weren't for the sudden appearance of both the Saint of Killers and Herr Starr with an entire military brigade. The result is nearly apocalyptic, but not as much as the conflict that's suddenly tearing the trio apart.
How Is It?: This is what would be, in movie terms, the Darkest Hour for our heroes, as the personality conflicts that have been bubbling for most of the series finally erupt in quite spectacular fashion. Of course, this happens in the wake of a confrontation with the Saint that razes a pretty sizeable patch of Arizona, but trust me when I say that ends up being the LEAST of Jesse's problems. This issue beautifully (or horribly, depending on how you look at it) brings together the emotional subplots of the three heroes, turning what should have been an act of nobility for all into a devastating blow to Jesse's soul. It's hard to believe that this is being written by the same man who gives us a snickeringly juvenile "Deliverance"-style subplot about what happens to Herr Starr in the wake of the destruction. It's easily forgiven, though, and even Starr gets nicely fleshed out in the opening chapter (which provides him with an "origin" story). The ending is one of the most fist-clenching cliffhangers I've read in comics (all the more so since the issues raised aren't resolved until part 8). Read you must, but unless you're Jesse Custer be prepared to weep openly.
SalvationSynopsis: His friends think Jesse's dead. Jesse thinks his friends betrayed him. The quest for God seems to have hit a snag. Jesse retreats to a small town named Salvation to forget his misery, and soon ends up being embroiled in a struggle with local crime boss Odin Quincannon and his gang for control of the town. But he'll also meet up with a long-lost figure from his past, and a memory of exactly what happened to him in Arizona, that will set him back on the path towards God...one way or another.
How Is It?: This is one of those detours every extended comics story seems contractually obligated to take, which may be a bit frustrating now that events have been set in motion for the final showdown (which, for the record, I haven't read yet). As a standalone story it's the most classic "western" storyline in the series so far (stranger comes to small town, gets appointed sheriff, tangles with local gang) except perhaps for the Saint's origin story. And that's always pretty cool, but c'mon, Ennis!!! Get to the good stuff!!!! Still, it is true that Jesse would need some downtime after the crushing blows he was dealt in the last story, and there are a few important revelations here (we at least get to learn how Jesse survived the last arc, which turns out to be rather interesting). I'm also getting a little cheesed off at Ennis's juvenile shock stuff...it's not needed at this point, and seems to taint the more serious story at this point. I bring it up because the subplot about Quincannons' sexual, uh, tendencies, is possibly the most ludicrous and juvenile element introduced into the story so far. It's not even relevant to the plot!
All Hell's A-ComingSynopsis: Travelling across America to reunite with Tulip, Jesse also learns the truth about Cassidy's past, and what he did to the love of his life. Things are falling into place for a very different final confrontation than anyone was expecting...
How Is It?: After reading this TPB several times, I've decided that it's great. But it does strike one as being pretty bizarre when you read it for the first time. Here we're running towards a presumably apocalyptic confrontation with God, and everyone's worried about their relationships?!? Granted, Jesse has a plan that he's not letting us in on yet, but at this point Ennis seems to be much more interested in the Jesse-Tulip-Cassidy triangle than the original driving plot of the series. Yet, it does make perfect sense in the context of what we know about these characters, and unlike "Salvation" it does at least have a bearing on the ongoing plot. Still, anyone who reads Preacher for the action sequences and the religious satire is going to be developing something of a sinking feeling.
AlamoSynopsis: Jesse puts his plan into motion by striking a weird bargain with the Saint, and Cassidy is making plans of his own...plans that just might involve selling Jesse out to the almighty. The two of them, and Tulip, are heading for a final confrontation at the Alamo, a showdown with the Grail, and, quite possibly, the ruination of all three lives...
How Is It?: Well, the plot kicks in again, and I can't help feeling like Ennis rushed things a little. The three main characters and their relationships come to a sublime close, and even Arseface (of all people) gets a well-executed coda. However, Herr Starr has become a joke at this point, and the major plot points that were building for him throughout the series seem to come down to nothing. Likewise, Genesis's fate remains open-ended...and most disappointingly, the final encounter with God seems practically an afterthought (though it was set up well enough) and leaves the Saint's fate in question as well. Yet it seems a bit churlish to complain. After all, the story does end well and elegantly in many senses...it's just that it seems to have wound up somewhere completely different from where the author intended it to go. So, a bit of a mixed bag, but still a more-than-sufficient ending to a great series.
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