Jan 16, 2014

Ten Awards for Preacher

Ten Awards for Preacher
by Duy

It might not be a stretch to say that Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon is my favorite comic series ever. It's not what I think is the best comic ever, or the most flawless, or the most well-written, or the best-drawn. But it's my favorite series that lasts more than five books (or at least 50 issues). So allow me to give out ten awards for it, stuff I like from it better than from anywhere else in comics.

SPOILERS follow for Preacher, so don't read on if you don't want the series spoiled for you!

Cast of Characters You Will Most Want to Drink With

I'm not even so sure that any other cast of characters has made me want to have a drink with most of the characters, but even if any others have, they'd be such distant runner-ups behind the cast of Preacher

Even when it was coming out, Preacher's main criticism was that it was full of shocks, gratuitous and unnecessary. And it is. But if that were all there is to the series, it wouldn't have lasted so long and wouldn't be so acclaimed. At the heart of the story is its characters, who feel more real to me than any cast of characters I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

Jesse Custer, the foul-mouthed reverend, armed with the Word, which can make people do anything, off on a search to find God, who in this universe is a petty and irresponsible one. Tulip O'Hare, the love of Jesse's life, and the most badass woman to come out of comics (at least). Cassidy, the Irish vampire, who will draw you in as a friend right off the bat. A night out with these guys would be full of booze, pool, and fighting!

Even the villains would be fun to drink with (from a distance. And if you're protected.). Herr Starr, the sacred executioner of the Grail (an underground cabal trying to reintroduce the Messiah to the world by way of a nuclear explosion), is just so uptight and bad things happen to him all the time. It'd be funny.

I just wouldn't want to drink with Arseface. I've got some limits, you know.

Also known to me as the one joke in the series that does not age well

Best Parents

Has any mom in comics ever been as cool as Christina Custer nee L'Angelle? The one good soul from a family that murders those they deem as "sinners" and forces Jesse into the life of a preacher at the expense of his own wishes, free will, friends, and family, Christina is thought dead for most of the series, until Jesse runs into her in Texas town called Salvation (where he becomes the sheriff). Going by Jodie, she doesn't have any compunctions at all about protecting the son she hadn't seen for decades.

And has the essence of the superhero (and that's what Jesse is, essentially — he does the right thing, has a superpower, exceptional fighting skills, a couple of sidekicks, a rogues' gallery, and maybe a costume, depending on how you see it) ever been as distilled to its purest than the time John Custer gave his son his final words to live by?

"Don't take no shit off fools. An' you judge a person by what's in 'em, not how they look.
An' you do the right thing. You gotta be one of the good guys, son.
'Cause there's way too many of the bad."
That's John Wayne he's talking to, by the way. Because who else would it be but the Duke?

I love the Custers.

Best Burn Ever

Preacher has the one line I always still remember from time to time and still makes me chuckle. Faced with a bunch of Ku Klux Klan members, Jesse gets the drop on them and has them unmask. And he makes the following point.

"Where the fuck is your chin?"

Hah. I just laughed uploading that.

Best Fistfights

One thing I tend to say is that no one draws a fistfight like Jack Kirby, but that's because if comic book creators were gods, Kirby would be the god of momentum and over-the-topness and exaggeration. Preacher's got more grit to it, and Steve Dillon's art style is of the more grounded, more "plausible" school. In other words, in Preacher, the fights are short, dirty, and unpleasant. They are also badass and adrenaline-pumping.

There are many slugfests in Preacher, but for me the best one that didn't involve a gun happens in the second volume, Until the End of the World. Kidnapped by his grandma and just having seen Tulip shot in front of him (she gets better), he finally decides he's not going to take it anymore and comes face to face with Jody, the murderer of his father and the love of his life.

What follows is my favorite fistfight ever in comics. One so cathartic and blood-pumping that by the end of it and Tulip comes back out and tells Jesse she's alive, and she's about to explain, he just says "I don't care. I don't give a good goddamn." And neither did I. I just cared that they had won.

Most Badass Lines

I have to give out two awards for this category because I really just want to mention one but award it to the other. The entire time Jesse's fighting Jody up there, Tulip gets brought back to life, confronting Jody's partner, TC, who's just been beaten up by Jesse. TC sees Tulip, who, when they first met, he called a "cooze" and asked if she had a name. So when she catches up to him, she makes sure that the last thing he remembers is her name. "It's Tulip."

There are other badass lines in the comic, but no lines in it (or any I've read or heard since) compares to the one the Saint of Killers blurts out when the Grail is attacking him, their leader telling the troops to give him Hell Invulnerable and armed with guns that don't miss and don't need reloading, the Saint only has one thing to say: "Gimme all the Hell you got to spare."

That's why the Saint is also the winner of our next award...

Most "You Are Fucked" Moment Ever

The Saint of Killers is pissed. Jesse has just told him that he was created specifically so he could experience tragedy and become the patron saint of killers and assassins. Nevertheless, he feels grateful to the preacher for giving him this information, so he leaves it alone and decides, instead, to take it out on the group of people who are there to take Custer down: soldiers from the US Army. (I don't know if he was just pissed or he just wanted to repay the favor to Jesse. Works either way, I think.)

So they do. They hit him with everything they have. And then the dust clears.

You can take your Jokers and your Superboy Primes and your Dr. Dooms and whoever else. The one guy I don't ever want to run into when he's pissed off is the Saint of Killers.

Best Painted Covers

There have been painted covers before and painted covers since, but for me, no set of painted covers delivered on a more consistent basis than Glenn Fabry's. Along with Steve Dillon's facial expressions, it went a long way into making them feel like real people. Here are some of my favorites, which you can click on to enlarge.


Best Description of What It's Like
at the Empire State Building, a Bar,
and New York City

There is one issue in all the 66 issues of Preacher and its various specials where Cassidy talks about coming to America through New York City. It resonates with me because I remember the first time I went to New York City. Seeing it in so many comics (Spider-Man is my favorite superhero) and it being so far away from where I grew up, you'd think I'd have been prepared for it, especially when you consider that Manila is no slouch as a city, but no. And Cassidy, who had just gone through hell to save Tulip and who Jesse had gone through as much hell to save, was talking about it, and he got it.

For me it wasn't much more'n a name, this place across the ocean yeh heard all these stories about. If someone did go there, it was for good. They weren't comin' back to show yeh their holiday photos. It was just... the buildin's all looked like mountains, wi' lit windows an' fire escapes all over them, they blotted out the stars. I remember lookin' up at them, near laughin', like, an' thinkin' -- No way! No way can they build them that big! There were people shoutin', an' cars drivin' about, and music comin' out've places... an' way behind the nearer stuff was this sort've deep hum, like a big animal or somethin', rumblin' away.
New York went on forever. It never stopped. It never shut up.

The first thing Cassidy does upon getting to New York is get his baggage stolen, bringing him back down to Earth. (Which, really, is what happens in New York. You're all astounded and it feels all magical, and then some dude yells at you to get out of the damn way.) So he goes into a bar. And he's got a kind of romantic, poetic view of a bar that I certainly don't think of when I go into one.

There's somethin' about a bar, an' I think it's that it's the only public place
where yeh can close the door an' leave the good, bad or indifferent world outside.
Yeh catch yer breath. Start again. Yeh buy yerself a drink, an'
yeh get as much company or privacy with it as yeh want.

But he's right. You're in a new city and you want to be outside, but alone? You want to meet new people? You want to catch your breath? For most people, including yours truly, the place to go to is a bar.

The entire conversation Cassidy has with Jesse takes place on the Empire State Building's viewing deck, and all I can say is, yes. That's what it feels like. Not just the first time I went up the Empire State Building, but every single time I went up there.

It's on the Empire State Building that Cassidy tells Jesse he's backing him up for the long haul. He compares Jesse to his brother, and says he's indebted to him. It's in that moment that you know what they've become: best friends, as good as brothers, who would die for each other. You probably can't relate to Jesse — he's too good, too confident, too sure of himself that he's probably not like most people you've ever met. But Cassidy's just a dude who's trying to help whichever way he can and he screws up. If you can't relate to him, you at least know people like him. And that guy is probably one of your best friends.

Best Heel Turn

And just like that, it was over. In the very next issue, Cassidy commits the ultimate betrayal of any guy/guy friendship, hitting on Tulip. When Tulip reminds him he's Jesse's friend, he throws Jesse under the bus. Out of a desire not to hurt Jesse, Tulip keeps it between them, but it persists. When Jesse is presumed dead, Cass feeds Tulip a bunch of painkillers, drugs, and booze and takes advantage of her, until one day he forgets to stock up on valium and Tulip, with her head clear, decides to end it. And when Cassidy won't let her leave?

When Tulip and Jesse finally find each other again, she finally tells him everything that happened. And just like everyone who ever had a friend as good as Cassidy appeared to be, Jesse didn't want to believe it, only accepting it as true because it came out of the mouth of the one person he trusted more. And us, the readers, who've been reading from the start? We don't want to believe it either. We've seen the good in Cassidy. It was hard to believe he could be so bad.

But he was. He crossed every line of basic human decency and did it at the expense of people's lives. If the people he ran into didn't die, they were left living lives that made them wish they may as well have been.

Even with all that, though, when Jesse confronts him, for all the talk about principles, decency, morality, and everything else, you can tell that a big part of Jesse being pissed off is just that Cass was his very good friend, and that it hurt.

Best Romance

I've written about the love story of Jesse Custer and Tulip O'Hare before, so I don't really think I need to talk about it at much more. It's all there.

But I think it bears mentioning that Preacher could so easily shift from all the cussing and the swearing and all the violence and gore to moments of genuine tenderness, friendship, love, and romance. At the heart of the entire story, past the search for God and past the Saint's quest for peace and past everything involving Cassidy, is the love story of Jesse Custer and Tulip O'Hare. I've never bought into a comic book relationship more than this one. When Tulip's friend Amy says they were made for each other, we believe it. When they lose each other, we feel it. When Tulip loses herself in booze, drugs, and Cassidy, it makes us want to scream "But Jesse's not dead!" When Jesse sees Tulip with Cassidy and falls to the floor in shock, we fall with him. And when they find each other again, we are happy, because these two should be together, damn it. And they should be together until the end of the world.

Individually, Jesse Custer and Tulip O'Hare are among my favorite characters in all of fiction. (Tulip may very well be my favorite female character.) As a couple, they're number one, because more than any others, they just get me right there, in the organ that pumps my blood.

1 comment:

Joe Burden said...

Nice awards. I share your opinion on this being the best comic series out there, and I there's so many reasons that's so - the characters, the bad guys, the themes, the little incidents along the way, the cruel humour. The Bill Hicks cameo!

Preacher is essential reading for anyone, anywhere, ever.

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