So as AMC closed out modern classic series in recent years like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, the search to fill the void and continue that momentum with new programming was on. With Better Call Saul, some source material has been mined, with a show that is a prequel of sorts, telling the back story of a few supporting characters on Bad before they appeared on that show. In an era where a lot of spin-offs are shameless refusals to let go and grab some more cash that rightfully tank (sorry Sons of Anarchy fans, because I was one of them, and the proposed series that will explore the club’s early years sounds terrible), Saul has pleasantly surprised viewers by becoming a good show in its own right. In a similar vein, with the runaway success of The Walking Dead, which is based on a comic series, as the most successful cable series of all time, AMC is rolling out their version of Preacher, based on the classic series from DC’s Vertigo imprint.
Preacher has been kicking around in development for over 15 years. At one point, Ben Affleck’s name was attached to the project. Based on his now 0-for-2 track record with major comic projects, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that nothing happened with that and hope he sticks with the producing/directing niche he’s found. James Marsden (the X-men movies’ Cyclops) is another name that came and went. Now I’ll admit that I haven’t looked at any press or teaser material, or really know the actors involved or their bodies of work that well. You’ll recognize Dominic Cooper, playing the main hero Jesse Custer, from playing Howard Stark (a.k.a. Tony Stark’s father) on Marvel’s Agent Carter and in the first Captain America film. I see Jackie Earle Haley, the former child actor who’s had a late career renaissance as a character actor in the 2000’s (and did an awesome job as Rorschach in the adaptation of The Watchmen) in a smaller role. I also remember Anatol Yusef as Meyer Lansky in Boardwalk Empire. That’s about it. So I have no idea what storyline or parts thereof will be used first, but will be curious and hopeful when I check it out.
I’ve said before that I can concede a comic adaptation doesn’t have to be panel-for-panel exact to “get it right”. In fact, having never been a reader of The Walking Dead, I’ve come to follow and enjoy the show on its’ own. Seeing what Dead has been able to show on the small screen alleviates fears that some of the language, sex and violence that honestly comes up as part of the stories won’t be watered down. I’m sure you can watch Preacher cold and be able to follow, or as an old series fan like me, use it as an excuse to dig out and revisit some great stories. But for those of you who plan to watch and are maybe thinking of getting a hold of some or all of the back issues in any format to read for the first time and prep yourselves? I’ve only got one thing to say: Oh. You. Lucky. Bastards.
The original Preacher series run consists of 66 issues, along with five one-off specials and a four-issue limited series, written by Garth Ennis. Unlike other series where another artist may occasionally step in as guest peniciller for an issue or story arc, the signature look of Preacher remained consistent, with the bulk of the art chores falling to the clean lines and great expressions of Steve Dillon, always accompanied by a beautiful Glenn Fabry painted cover.
When I look at this and some of my favourite series of all time (in this case, Vertigo’s The Sandman and Y The Last Man, DC’s Starman; maybe they’ll get a similar treatment here somewhere down the road), they seem to share a lot of common elements. Besides having strong leads that you enjoy and root for, they’re surrounded by a well-rounded group of supporting characters that aren’t just there to prop up the main. They’ve got compelling stories of their own. The universe they operate in, whether created just for the series and/or pulling from previous ones, is well thought out and connected. Nothing happens randomly. All threads are picked up and no questions are left unanswered. They’re all about journeys, both physical and emotional, with finite ends. All arcs are wild rides on their own, but contribute to the original over-arching one while developing characters and moving the story further. The common plea with something good, especially if it has a large fan base and is financially successful, is to keep it going. But it says something about the integrity of the creators who know they’ve had a good run and still commit to wrapping it up when their tale’s been told.
My first exposure to Preacher was the Gone to Texas trade which collects issues #1-7. While I’m sure you would enjoy any sampling, I promise you this series will be a lot more satisfying if you can read it in order. It was actually picked up by an old friend who had “the spiteful Catholic kid” in him intrigued by the back cover blurb saying something about “an angry preacher on the road with his ex-girlfriend and a hard-drinking Irish vampire”. Never a big reader, he passed it on to me without even getting around to giving it a look. I was hooked. Jesse Custer is a disillusioned, small town preacher granted the power of “the voice of God”, when Genesis, a by-product entity of an angel and a devil having an illicit tryst, bonds with him. It compels anyone to whom Jesse utters a suggestion to follow it – To The Letter. That means if he says “go fuck yourself” or orders you to count every grain of sand on a beach, you’re gonna do it. With this ability and his companions in tow, Jesse has made it a mission to track down God and make him answer for his shortcomings with humanity.
Fair warning to anyone sensitive to imagery that might be considered blasphemous or exceptionally cruel, this might not be your cup of tea. But for those of you willing to see it through, your initial outbursts of “oh no!” will strangely turn into cries of “oh yes!” as you find yourself wanting more. Super-spoiler: anyone who ever sees the payoff with the Meat Man character becomes part of a special club that knows what you’re talking about when you say it’s a scene you can’t un-see…
Tulip O’Hare is an ex-girlfriend of Jesse’s who reconnects with him while dealing with her own world of troubles. This may be one of the strongest female characters I’ve ever seen portrayed in comics. She is tough and gives as good as she gets, but not over-compensating to the point where she can’t show some vulnerability or endure her own pains and suffering along with everyone else on this odyssey. She is there because it suits her wants and needs, not to be “the girlfriend” or mother hen of the group. Cassidy completes the main trio. An Irish vampire turned during WWI, he loves his good times and booze. But while constantly fronting as a roguish prick, any sense of nobility or loyalty he displays is offset by an equal capability of giving in to darkness and inherent selfish urges. At one point in the saga where the “team” is split up is used as an opportunity to further delve into the back story of these two before they meet up with Jesse. We also get to meet Jesse’s twisted family and see what made him who he is, along with some flashbacks of his father in Vietnam.
We meet a legion of characters on the road, along with some other families, both real and metaphorical. Some of many standouts include: Detective John Tool, the cop with the worst luck in the world, drawn as a bystander into some of the misadventures of Jesse & co. The Duke, a spirit embodying John Wayne in all his western glory, who has been communicating with Jesse since he was a little boy. Arse-face, based on a real-life teen Nirvana fan who survived an attempt to emulate Kurt Cobain’s suicide by shotgun only to have his reconstructed face look like, well…you know. The Messiah, the last descendant of Jesus, protected by an agency known as The Grail, who is a pure inbred idiot due to their efforts to “keep the holy bloodlines pure” (now what did I say about blasphemy?!). Herr Starr, a nemesis whose ongoing accumulation of humiliating physical indignations has to be seen to be believed. Let’s put it this way, receiving a scar down the middle of his bald head that makes it look like a giant penis is the least of his discomforts. Finally there’s the Saint of Killers, the character strong enough to merit the only Preacher mini-series. Picture the Punisher taken to a level of holy righteousness and it’s a start. This undead gent comes to us from the pioneer days with a pair of perpetually loaded pistols that can kill angels. He’s got his own reasons to have a hate-on for God. Not one for discussion and reasoning, the trail of bodies left behind him is long and piled high. As these characters cross paths, many showdowns take place, leading up to the final one in the series’ epic conclusion.
Initial fan reaction will determine if the Preacher television series gets a life beyond its’ original batch of episodes. Network budget limitations and moral restraint might make replicating some of what is depicted in the comics cost prohibitive. But as we’ve seen on The Walking Dead and even with Game of Thrones, characters and storylines can deviate from the source material and still be successful while satisfying to watch; so I’ve got every reason to be optimistic. Regardless of the end result, the original Preacher series will remain untarnished in my eyes; and if you decide to check it out too, I’m pretty sure it will end up on your list of faves if it isn’t there already. So whether it’s enjoying the print, screen or both versions of something…..
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!