Preacher has to be one of the most overrated comic book series of all time. It has made many best comics of all time lists and many people have cited it as a source of influence. In reality it is very interesting premise that is never fully utilized accept to tell the simple story of love and friendship against a background of unnecessary excessive violence and gore. It’s a shame, because the questions raised about God, responsibility and determinism are interesting and worthy of deep thought and analysis. I have not read much of Ennis’s other work such as The Boy’s or his run on Hellblazer that is said to have inspired Preacher so don’t know if it is perhaps just his style, or if he was trying something new or trying to accomplish something in particular.
The first problem I have with Preacher is the premises, Genesis. The spawn of a devil and angel with power said to rival or surpass that of God himself. I just don’t get how that makes any sense. First of all, why would an angel be pure good and why would a demon be pure evil? I don’t think such beings can be reduced to such simple absolutes, although I don’t necessarily have a lot to back this up with. There is of cause the example of Lucifer who started as an angel which unless he was a victim of God’s master plan, would show that not all angels are pure good. There is the point that if angels lack free will then they can only be what they are designed to be, but given that back in the day they routinely slayed thousands of innocents, can they really be said to be pure good? It’s an issue in theology in which good is defined as whatever is aligned with God, which is often quite distinct from what we may philosophize is objectively good.
Of course, this is never adequately gone into detail and we just have to accept the premise. It seems like Ennis just thought that it was a good enough premise to have an godlike being to serve the story without having really thought it through. One of the main problems with Genesis is that it reduced God’s power. God is meant to be omnipotent (although the omnipotence paradox easily shows that to be impossible) yet is unable to prevent the creation of a being more powerful than he? I mean, Genesis exists without any real personality being controlled by a human who didn’t quite know how to wield the power….so God couldn’t have simply stopped the fornication that resulted in Genesis, what with existing out of time and such? It seems unlikely that such a thing is outside of his power, which then leaves the possibility that it was part of God’s plan. In which case why fear Genesis?
Then there’s the word of god, the main demonstration of the power Genesis provides to Jesse. Essentially it allows him to command anyone….to do anything against their free will. It serves as a good excuse to have characters do horrible disgusting things…but again it is never really explored. Why would humans, who were created for the soul purpose of having free will, be subject to something that could override it? A backdoor of sorts? That isn’t so hard to buy but it seems odd to me. Then, why would Genesis have this particular power? Shouldn’t Genesis simply be raw power? Also, if the power is equal or close to that of God….would this not mean things such as turning back time, manipulating reality, bringing people back from the dead etc should all be possible? Genesis should be far more powerful than what jesus was capable of, yet as portrayed is capable of far less. How does that make sense? Again, it seems like it was just a good excuse for violence. Things like Jesse going back in time to talk to his father or bringing people back to life, restoring Arseface to his pre-disfigured state or reverse Cassidies vampirism all should be possible and would have made a far more interesting comic IMO, yet these possibilities are never even explored.
So, what about the individual characters? Despite the plot flaws and needless violence, Preacher is redeemed because of some very interesting and well written characters who have a whole lot of heart. The protagonist of the series, Jesse Custer is a good ol’ boy from Texas working as a preacher who doesn’t tend to have any faith left. Throughout his journey we see the experiences that made him the man he is today, his uncompromising morals and his views on religion and life. One thing I felt lacking with Jesse was that it was never really explored why he felt his blame on God for abandoning his creation was justified. Was he blaming god for his shitty life? Shouldn’t he have grown out of that and accepted that shit happens?
One thing I wish was explored more was how Jesse uses the word of god so casually. Ordering people to savagely mutilate themselves or torture themselves (such as counting all the grains of sand on a beach) without a second thought, especially when the punishment does not fit the crime seems out of character. For someone who is ultimately a good person yet doesn’t seem to care about the pain he inflicts on others throughout his quest.
What about Arseface? Arseface seems to be the strangest character of all….a boy with a face like an arse due to a failed suicide attempt. He is shown to be the epitome of pathos….being manipulated or dismissed at every turn while being eternally optimistic and taking it all in stride. I really can’t understand why this character exists, as it doesn’t serve the plot at all. I guess it can be seen as a very, very shallow commentary on western society’s obsession with violence and celebrity….but even that seems out of place. The simplest explanation would seem to be that it was just another excuse to have violence and grossness for the sake of it.
Herr Starr was quite an interesting character and serves as the main antagonist to Jesse throughout the series. A man who truly believes in what he is doing and after hearing of the word of god, develops a plan to make use of it. Instead, what could be a complex character used to examine some of the issues I mention above is instead used as a cheap comedic gimmick, with Herr Starr suffering humiliating injury after injury. The origin and motivation of the character only serves as a thing premise, giving him a reason to go between points so as to be able to suffer in interesting ways. It’s a shame.
Cassidy the Irish vampire was probably my favorite character. He was a unique character, with an interesting outlook and lifestyle. He is easily the character with the most character growth during the series and who is changed drastically by the end of it. He makes mistakes and after a lifetime of not caring, understand why he should. His friendship with Jesse and the subsequent dissemination and redemption of said friendship is one of the nicest stories ever told. These are the redeeming features of Preacher…the story of friendship and family that is told underneath everything.
The Saint of Killers is also an interesting and quite cool character. At the same time, quite an odd character. A vicious killer whose hatred actually freezes over hell and is thus made a saint. Again this is never fleshed out….why would his hate cause hell to freeze over? Even if we just take it…why would the angels make him a saint? Why not some sort of mercenary for hell? None of that matters too much, as the characters is original and cool and just works much of the time. What doesn’t work, at all, is the ending of preacher. Why would he kill god? Why would he be able to kill god? His weapons are made from the Angel of Death’s sword….and it seems unlikely the Angel of Death could have killed god had he wanted to. The main problem is with the ending though….why oh why would he be able to kill god? His power while impressive should pale in comparison to the one and only lord. Oh well.
There are of course a lot more characters in Preacher, but I can’t be bothered to mention most of them, as most of them are gimmicks and not particularly interesting. The retarded shit-flinging offspring of Jesus, a guy who likes to fornicate with meat mannequins, a pair of English sodomites…none of these characters is particularly interesting or gripping and for me at least they simply get in the way of what could be an amazing story. The one exception could be said to be the offspring of Jesus, although this was more interesting to see how faith based obsession can drive people, as the character himself was still uninteresting. I don’t find Tulip worth writing about, as she just isn’t that interesting. She is a fine character but doesn’t have too much of her own story and remains simply Jesse’s love interest.
I did enjoy Preacher, I just think that it was a wasted opportunity. It starts of with such an interesting premise where so many issues could be examined or commented on, but all of that is swept aside for the comic book equivalent of a cheaply made exploitation movie. Girls, guns, violence, vampires, sex, whatever. It wasn’t all bad and it is what it is. The things that shine in preacher are the stories of the various relationships, the dialogue and the artwork isn’t too bad either. However for people to keep highlighting Preacher as some kind of amazing influential accomplishment…that I just don’t understand.
As for examining or commenting on various issues and problems….I don’t think Preacher tries. If it does, it’s always very briefly and overshadowed by the violence, comedy, sex or whatever else is taking up most of the page. It’s like trying to find a complex commentary on the difference between good and evil in Batman Forever. I haven’t read Lucifer or Hellblazer which I have heard good things about and do seem to examine some of these interesting religious and philosophical issues. For the moment though…Supernatural has to be the best media I have found that examines these issues. It does it fairly well considering it’s on network TV and as restricted as it is. Still, so far it’s managed to look at what it means to be human, the soul, free will, the role of god, faith in general, good and evil etc. Good stuff and definitely worth checking out.
In the meanwhile Preacher has been confirmed to happen as a film, being helmed by DJ Caruso. I don’t mind Caruso as a director, thinking Eagle Eye was a well told an paced story with the right amount of action and story. I can see him bring a fairly faithful adaptation to the screen. The problem is what changes will the adaptation go through? Much of the stuff in the comic probably wouldn’t fly for the screen and since the studios are not going to want an R rating which means quite a lot is going to be cut. Still, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Quite a lot can be excised from the film without affecting the story….no women made of meat, no English sodomites, no Arseface…just the story of friendship and a quest to make God accountable. By sticking to the core, taking the general idea and examining the issues a much better film can be had.
The problem is that such a film wouldn’t be the same Preacher as the fans of the comic are familiar with. In this case though, I think there is a chance to make the film far superior to the comic, so I am all for it. If the studio wanted to have a more faithful adaptation then they should probably commission Robert Rodriguez to film it as one of his grindhouse films. Personally, I’ll take a good story that provides food for thought over senseless violence as a poor excuse for comedy any day of the week. Still, it’s going to be interesting to see how this turns out.