Comic History 101: Preacher


The nineties was a troubling time for the world of comics. Frank Miller and Alan Moore had begun to move the medium the closest it had ever been to the mainstream. They inserted grit and gore into what had previously been seen as an immature medium and it struck a chord with readers. This in turn led to a scene filled with writers battling each other to be the most hard-core extreme comic book on the block. We saw Superman die, Spider-Man tackle the clone saga and Batman deal with heavy themes such as rape and the various psychosis attributed to his rogues gallery. With this background noise of gore and grit you would think it would be almost impossible to stand out with another book attempting to push the boundaries of taste. Not for Garth Ennis.

Porn, Priests And Philosophy

If you want a dog to take a bitter pill you wrap it in meat and if you want a nineties comic book reader to consider philosophy and religion you wrap it up in extreme violence and sex. Garth Ennis knew this when he sat down to write Preacher, he had managed a fairly successful run on Hellblazer for DC Comics by using this technique and now it was time to put it to work on his own plot and characters. Ennis is a fairly staunch Atheist but he wanted to examine the effect religion has upon people and the lengths people are willing to go in the name of their religions. With this goal in mind, Ennis created the character of Jesse Custer, a hitman turned priest who is chosen to possess the word of God which allows him to force people to follow his commands. This character creates an interesting series of questions because his ability allow him to gain access to anything he’s ever wanted but it also turns most pleasure hollow as he can just take anything he wants on a whim. It was this character, along with his foul-mouth vampiric side-kick, Cassidy, and his hit-woman ex-girlfriend, Tulip, that would capture reader and leave Preacher with a strong legacy as one of the most popular independent comics of all time.

Success And Sacrifice

Preacher never saw the insane sales that many series I have covered in this segment saw but nonetheless it was always a fairly successful comic book series from its release in ninety five. Many to this day still dismiss the series as a relic of the hard-core nineties, as the level of violence of and obscenity it pretty extreme even for the era of its conception. However, if you can get past the sex and violence, there is a brilliant story at the heart of Preacher and that is why most review sites have it pegged at a four or above out of five while others have it set right down at a one or two. It’s a marmite book, people love it or hate it, but everyone always has a reaction to it.

Preaching To The Choir

Normally at this point I would talk about the influence a series had after its conception, Preacher’s legacy is a little different to other series though. There are few works that have directly followed in its footsteps, outside of Ennis’ own back catalogue at least. However, the series showed how a comic book can work within the mainstream of the medium while also working on a deeper level and that is something that writers to this day have taken on board. Most recently, Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals has shown how a comic book can use sex and shock to pull readers in while discussing much deeper aspects of the human experience. Preacher was a mould-breaker and like every good punk movement it passed the torch to the next generation. It’s my hope that this spirt of revolution through subversion never dies in the medium. Next week I’ll be looking at 1602 and how Neil Gaiman rocked the entire Marvel Universe.

…That was this week’s Comic History 101!!! Check back on Saturday for a new BearSleuth Spoiler Free Comic Book Bundle!!!

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