Since discovering Garth Ennis’ Preacher series, I’ve been entertained by the themes of religion and violence. A stand out character is the Saint of Killers, a supernatural cowboy who doubles as the Angel of Death. Introduced as a villain, the Saint was dispatched by Heaven to track down Jesse Custer and kill him. But as the series progressed, he was revealed to be much more than just a one-note gunslinger.
During the American Civil War, an unnamed cowboy fought for the Confederacy, becoming one of the most violent soldiers on the battlefield. He developed an infamous reputation and returned to Texas, earning money as a Native American bounty hunter. Soon, he met a girl held captive by a group of Apaches and saved her. The cowboy offered her transport and she saw a good man in him. They fell in love, had a daughter and the cowboy tried to leave his bloody past behind.
However, the cowboy’s wife and daughter caught a fever and he needed to get medicine. His journey was delayed by an outlaw called Gumbo McCready in the town of Ratwater, and by the time he returned home, his family had died.
Enraged, the cowboy returned to Ratwater and went on a killing spree until only McCready was left. McCready took a girl hostage, but the cowboy shot her through the head. He didn’t realise he’d wasted his last bullet and McCready managed to impale him through the chest with a shovel.
The cowboy’s soul was sent to Hell, but his hatred and unsated vengeance couldn’t be contained. Tired of his position, the Angel of Death took notice and offered the cowboy a chance to get his revenge. The cowboy became the new Angel of Death and had two Walker Colt revolver pistols made that could kill anything. The Saint’s first order of business was to shoot the Devil through the head after he’d been insulted.
The Saint returned to Ratwater, slaughtering McCready and the entire town. He went on to become God’s personal instrument of death. After he was awakened to kill Jesse, the Saint found he was unable to carry out his task because the preacher’s ‘Word of God’ stopped him. This was the only time the Saint had been stopped from killing and it caused an intense hatred to build towards Jesse.
The Saint learned from a Seraph that Jesse possessed the knowledge of why his wife and daughter died. When he caught up to Jesse, the preacher told him that the death of his family wasn’t an accident. Eventually, Jesse and the Saint worked together to pay God back for everything he’d done. When God returned to Heaven, the Saint was waiting for him. Even after God offered to bring his family back, the Saint chose to rest and killed God with his guns.
The Saint was an immortal who could only be stopped by the Word of God. He was invulnerable to harm, having been buried under a mountain and blown up with a nuclear missile. An expert marksmen, the Saint’s demonic pistols possessed unlimited ammunition and always hit their target.
There’s a tragic element to his story that helped him transition from a villain into an anti-hero. The Saint fits the classic ‘lone gunslinger’ trope found in all westerns. Ennis has stated that the character was based on Clint Eastwood and the film Unforgiven, with the Saint being ‘unforgiven’ for his crimes.
Classic westerns usually have good guys and bad, but the Saint is somewhere in between. He could be used as a metaphor for how destructive humanity can be. Compared to the western setting, the Saint embodies the lawlessness and isolation of the genre.