Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Preacher, Volume 1: Gone to Texas Review (Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon)


Garth Ennis is definitely one of my all-time favourite comic book writers. I forget which series I read first - his Punisher MAX run I think followed by The Boys - but I do remember coming to Preacher very late in the game, despite being told it was his finest work to date. And I remember reading it and thinking, no, it’s not. Re-reading it recently, I’m still not convinced and I’m baffled at most readers’ overwhelmingly positive response to it. 

Jesse Custer is a former bad boy turned preacher in a Texan town who one day gets superpowers from God and accidentally burns his entire flock alive. He meets his old flame/hitman, Tulip, and a random stranger called Cassidy who’s also an Irish vampire, and together they look to hunt down God - who’s on Earth somewhere - and tell him what a lousy job he’s doing with Creation. Meanwhile, the Saint of Killers, an unstoppable killing machine, is on Custer’s trail. 

The book opens with Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy sitting around a cafe table nattering away, and it’s this setup that bothered me the most in the volume: they’re always sat round cafe tables reminding themselves (and the reader) who they are, what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. I guess Ennis really liked Pulp Fiction and Tarantino’s other movies and thought it’d be riveting to have his characters mimic that style - and that’s fine, there were plenty of Tarantino copycats in the wake of Pulp Fiction - but he can’t emulate Tarantino’s dialogue successfully enough and instead his expositional summary dumps became extremely trite long before the end. 

The characters didn’t grab me - I don’t really care about boring Jesse whose quest to find God or whatever isn’t interesting in the least, and the other characters like Tulip are about as two-dimensional as you can get. Cassidy plays the louche slacker (a quintessential 90s archetype that still annoyingly crops up now and then) whose jokes fall flat every single time. “I’ve got this brilliant recipe for quiche. You make the quiche, right, an’ then you cook it, an’ then you throw the stupid fuckin’ thing out the window. Then you grill yourself a t-bone an’ eat that instead.” Ugh. He comes up with drivel like that all the time and it’s so irritating. 

I’ve seen lots of reviews that mention that Preacher is gory and bloody, etc., and it is but not enough to really warrant it being THE thing to know about the book. If you’ve read Ennis before, you’ll already know he writes gory comics - The Punisher, The Boys, Jennifer Blood, War Stories, hell, practically every Ennis book contains the same amount of gore as you see in Preacher, so I’m not sure why it’s worth pointing out about this comic. It’s a bloody story but no more so than any other Ennis and/or Steve Dillon book you’ll read. 

The setup is just boring. Some weird thing from Heaven (which is real) called Genesis has escaped and become part of Custer who now has the Word of God, meaning he can will whoever into doing anything he wants with his voice. And because the world’s gone to pot, Custer’s going to find God and tell him to sort it out, make him care somehow, probably using the Word of God? Meh. I’m not sure why Tulip or Cassidy are along for the ride either. I guess neither have anything much going on? Which is always a compelling motivation to have…

I really like Steve Dillon’s art so seeing that here is always awesome, and Ennis’ murder mystery in New York City at the end was ok. At least that had a story rather than characters standing about telling the reader about themselves and their situation while they waited for the Saint of Killers to show up. You can also see the prototype for Detective Soap from Welcome Back, Frank in Detective John Tool - the two are comically incompetent detectives chasing after much more competent criminals. 

And Arseface still makes me laugh - he’s a Kurt Cobain fan who tried committing suicide the same way as his hero with a gun in the mouth but miraculously lived and whose face now looks like an arse! The scenes where he’s trying to be upbeat and cheerful to his grim father who can’t bear to look at his son were so damn funny. But overall there’s very little to like in a 200+ page book that’s hugely rated by the majority of readers. 

First volumes aren’t always indicative of the series as a whole. I wasn’t that impressed with the first volumes of Sandman, Y: The Last Man and Scalped but went on to adore the rest of the series. And Ennis has written enough brilliant books to warrant a level of trust other writers wouldn’t, so I’ll keep on with Preacher. But Gone to Texas is a surprisingly very weak first book in such an acclaimed series.

Preacher Book One TP

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