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Vertigo Book Club: A Preacher Fan Comes Home

Vertigo Book Club: A Preacher Fan Comes Home

By Danielle Bullis Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

Welcome to the Vertigo Book Club, a recurring feature where readers share their thoughts on a Vertigo classic that they’ve just read for the first time…or the first time in a while.

I had never read a PREACHER comic when AMC’s Preacher TV series premiered. I had heard about it from friends, and I once had a roommate with an extensive comic book collection who maintained that Preacher was her favorite comic of all time. I placed it in my mental to-read list, but that’s as far as I got. I had no idea what it was about, but when I heard a description for the AMC show, I did a figurative double-take. A preacher, his ex-girlfriend, and an Irish vampire travel the US looking for God? You have my attention.

As a fan of British TV, I recognized the lead actors, and I excitedly rushed home the Sunday it premiered, hoping it would be as entertaining as it sounded. Sure enough, each episode offered a masterful concoction of comedy, violence and sequences almost too wild to be believed. I watch a lot of TV shows, but I never imagined I would see a four-minute action scene in which a couple of angels and a preacher battle a violent seraphim to the death in a dingy motel room in Texas. I was hooked.

Flash forward: Season two has premiered, exceeded my expectations, wrapped up, and I’m still telling myself to check out the comic.

My downfall as a comic reader is that instead of seeking out the issues on my read list, I often read what is handed to me and readily available. Luckily, that is exactly what happened to me with ABSOLUTE PREACHER VOL. 1.

The book itself weighs about nine pounds and collects the first 26 issues of the 66-issue Preacher series. The slipcase features two beautifully gritty character illustrations by Preacher cover artist Glenn Fabry. The book itself looks like a leather-bound Bible, complete with red ribbon bookmark. The only thing missing are gold-edged pages. It’s actually very reminiscent of the Bible aesthetic of the Complete and Unabridged edition of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is fitting, seeing as how both books seem to have the same amount of reverence for religion. (Hint: Very little.)  

I sat down on a recent Friday evening with this extremely heavy book on my lap and decided to dive in. It opens with introduction by the show’s creators, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
They recount how each came to discover the comic, and the process it took to land control of the live-action adaptation. They compare the “insanity” of Preacher to that of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (I knew it!), and talk about why the comic resonates so strongly with fans like themselves.

I hadn’t read anything by Garth Ennis before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly hadn’t expected to binge-read the entire thing over the next three days.

I enjoyed the story, I adored the characters, and I was impressed by the emotional ups and downs I experienced. Because the events of the show and the comic are largely different, the show had almost no bearing on my reading experience. I had no idea what was about to happen at any moment, and I couldn't put it down.

There were storylines in this volume that blew me away, and scenes I desperately hope to see brought to life on the show. In particular, I loved seeing Cassidy’s backstory in early-1900’s Ireland that included his transformation into a vampire, and his eventual emigration to America. I loved his realization that in NYC, the city that never sleeps, a creature of the night could actually have a social life.

It made me happy when Jesse met an old army buddy of his late father’s, and was finally able to learn who his father really was and how his parents met. I enjoyed the character of unluckiest cop in the world, John Tool, and his super-cop partner. I loved the scene in which Cassidy was held hostage by an obnoxious Italian eunuch with a shotgun who threatened to take him apart far faster than he could regenerate. The suspense thickened and I actually feared for Cassidy’s life, willing him to hold on long enough for Jesse to rescue him.

Conversely, there were things in these first two books that I met with less enthusiasm. There is an alarming amount of gay slurs used that weren’t wholly unnecessary from a storytelling perspective, but it was slightly jarring to read today—a time when such slurs are considered to be particularly volatile. There are instances of animal abuse and a cruel animal death that may be upsetting to some readers. There are a few instances where bestiality is committed by some nefarious characters. (Animals affected are a chicken, a fish, an armadillo and possibly, a gerbil. WHY?) None of it is directly shown, but it’s still off-putting and I hope none of it makes its way onto the show.

The good news is that though some elements in the comic were beyond the levels of vulgarity I tend to prefer, none of it seemed to taint my growing admiration for the story as a whole. That may be the greatest power of Preacher, the ability to show you all the bad guys in the world, but show just enough of the good guys to make you feel like the world isn’t awful.

The mediums that are comics and television are so incredibly different that I won’t bother trying to compare the show to the comic. The comic is something truly special, a must-read for anyone who enjoys the show. On the other hand, I think the show has managed to carve its own path in the Preacher universe while doing great justice to the source material. I do like that the show has had the time to take minor characters and really explore them. Particularly those of Eugene (Arseface) and the angels, DeBlanc and Fiore.

If you love the Preacher comics, the absolute edition might just be worth shelling out for. The bonus material in the back of the volume includes Garth Ennis’s “Gone to Texas” letters from the first 26 issues, the full script from issue #11, and 29 pages of gorgeous Preacher cover art from Steve Dillon, Glenn Fabry and more.

If you plan on snagging this absolute edition, you might want to track down some Blackened Voodoo Lager by Dixie Brewing Company, as it is the official drink of Preacher, according to Garth Ennis. I’m inclined to take his advice, because after reading this much Preacher, I could use a beer.

ABSOLUTE PREACHER VOL. 1 and VOL. 2 by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon are now available. Look for VOL. 3 in stores on April 25, 2018. Preacher is also available in softcover collections and as a digital download.