Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher: Gone to Texas

Preacher 1Preacher is one of those series that was always on my list of things to check out someday. I had a vague idea that it involved some guy walking around in a cowboy duster shooting things up. It’s not that, although there is a character that fits that description. He’s not one of the good guys. (There’s a lesson there: browse carefully.) The first collection, Gone to Texas, sets the stage.

Jesse Custer is a small-town Texas preacher who somehow merges with an entity known as Genesis and manages to incinerate his congregation one Sunday — and on that particular Sunday, everyone in the town of Annville decided to show up for church. Coincidentally, Custer’s former girlfriend, Tulip, and a man named Cassidy (well, not exactly a man, but that comes clear later on) happen to be driving by Annville when the church goes up. Jesse is the only survivor, and he’s — well, changed sort of says it: he has the power to make people obey him, willing or not.

Genesis is the result of celestial miscegenation; the Adephi, on orders from the Seraphi, send the Saint of Killers (he’s the one in the duster) to hunt it down. The Seraphi are in charge because God resigned and took off, which news gives Jesse a purpose and the series an overall storyline: Jesse’s going to find God and make him tell everyone the truth. John Wayne makes an appearance — several, actually: he’s visited Jesse since Jesse was a child. Oh, and Cassidy? He’s a vampire.

This is not spoiler — this is just set-up. There’s more that we get in hints, bits, and dribbles. And if it all sounds like a recipe for chaos, well, there’s a certain element of that.

It turns into a bit more than the story of one man’s search for God, however literally Ennis may have decided to portray it. This first volume shows every sign of a series that is turning into a look at America’s underbelly. It’s rough, it’s crude, it’s violent, but if the assholes win, it’s usually short-term: the bad guys are prone to receiving their just due, and the worse they are, the more apt their rewards. Ennis has done some first-rate storytelling here — the three main characters, Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy, are composed of all sorts of sharps edges and points, and there’s baggage being carried around quite openly. Sometimes it’s like being forced to stand back and look at our own lives. If some of the minor characters veer toward stereotype, they still serve a purpose. (This is not, however, the first time I’ve seen Heaven portrayed as a badly run bureaucracy bereft of the top echelon of leadership. It’s just the most savage.)

And it’s tight. There’s not much in the way of fat, and the story moves. Exposition is built in, rather than being a sit-down lecture (a sure way to kill momentum, in my book). Ennis plays tricks with time here, shuttling between then and now with no warning, but it works, and in the final analysis, that’s what counts.

Steve Dillon’s art is right in sync. One is tempted to say that it’s as rough and crude as the story, but in fact, neither really is, at least in the execution. Characters are highly individual, rendered in strong lines in the best kind of comic realism. It’s also very refreshing to read a Western comic in which the visuals and the dialogue are in a symbiotic relationship — there’s a lot of freedom here in page design that takes this one out of the realm of the illustrated story and moves it quite definitely into graphic literature. Things happen between the dialogue balloons, and everything’s working together.

So I’m sitting here thinking “What took me so long?” But happily, there are eight collected volumes to go.

Click through for the next review, a twofer: Until the End of the World and Proud Americans.

(Vertigo, 1996) Collects Preacher #1-7.

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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