Have you ever read a graphic novel that’s stuck with you because of its graphic content? That was the case for me with Preacher: Book One. Written by Garth Ennis, Preacher tells the story of a Texas Reverend called Jesse Custer, who acquires a divine power called ‘The Word of God’ that allows him to command people to do anything he wants. The series has been adapted for TV, and after watching the show it inspired me to read the comic. As good as the show is, the comic is so much better.
The graphic novel starts off with Jesse sitting in a diner with his ex-girlfriend Tulip O’Haire and Irish vampire Cassidy. Jesse explains how Genesis, the offspring of an angel and demon bonded to his soul during a church service. His congregation and church were incinerated, which led to Tulip finding him in the ruins. Cassidy had given Tulip a ride after she’d botched a hit on a gang and unsuccessfully tried to steal Cassidy’s truck.
In Heaven, the angels are panicking, so they call on a supernatural cowboy, the Saint of Killers to hunt Jesse down and execute him. This culminates in a violent scene where local police surround Jesse and his friends, only for the Saint to slaughter every cop in the vicinity.
The trio manage to escape, but the Saint finds them again. Jesse uses the Word to force the cowboy to tell him about Genesis and an angel appears. The angel admits that God fled from Heaven as soon as Genesis was born, inspiring Jesse to go on a mission to find God.
Along the way, Jesse and his friends encounter a serial killer who cuts off people’s faces and are forced to deal with Jesse’s twisted grandmother Marie and the L’Angell family. After it’s revealed the Word doesn’t work on the L’Angells, Jesse and Tulip are captured and Marie plots to use her grandson for her own agenda.
Jesse’s tragic history is explored, with him telling Tulip that the L’Angells killed his father and kept him locked up in a watertight coffin every time he disobeyed them. Marie orders her bodyguard Jody to shoot Tulip. She’s brought back to life by God, who protected the L’Angells against the Word as a way of forcing Jesse to give up his search. Jesse manages to free himself and burns down the family home, gaining retribution against the people who made his life a living hell.
The violence, blasphemy and dark humour of Preacher might turn off some readers, but I enjoyed every part of it. There’s a scene where Jesse uses the Word and tells a cop to go and fuck himself. So, he does. I genuinely laughed out loud.
There’s an irreverence to Ennis’ writing that satirises Christianity. Jesse is a complicated protagonist who turned to religion because of the influence of his grandmother. He believes God needs to own up to his responsibility and uses the Word to punish people who he sees as unjust. His relationship with Tulip is layered, with them finding their way back to each other only after the tragedy of his background comes to the surface.
I also enjoyed the western influence of the graphic novel. John Wayne constantly appears to Jesse through the story, encouraging him to keep fighting. The Saint of Killers is a cowboy who was turned into the Angel of Death. The idea of white hats fighting against black hats is reinforced to great effect.
Steve Dillon is the perfect artist for such a brutal setting. The facial expressions of the characters are detailed and grotesque. There’s even a boy whose face looks like an ass.
Preacher: Book One is the most fucked up graphic novel I’ve ever read and that’s saying something. It’s a vivid story that pulls no punches and I loved it from start to finish. It’s available on Amazon now.