I’ve never read the original Preacher comics.
I have no explanation nor excuse for this. Despite having enjoyed other Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon collaborations such as their work on Hellblazer (indeed, I consider Ennis second to only Mike Carey in my ranking of John Constantine writers), I’ve never had the occasion or opportunity to enjoy what is considered by many to be the greatest series to come out of Vertigo Comics.
I just never got around to it, much as there are many other great works of literature I’ve never found the time to read. I freely admit to this, though it is as shameful and shocking coming from a comic critic of my caliber as a Shakespearean scholar confessing he’s never read or seen Macbeth.
And yet, despite having never read Preacher, I am familiar with it. I understand the basic plot. I’ve learned the backgrounds of the main characters. I even know about how the whole thing rather sneakily ties into Garth Ennis’ run on Hellblazer.
I believe that possessing this knowledge but lacking any sentiment regarding the books and “how they are supposed to be” makes me uniquely qualified to offer an opinion on the new TV adaptation. I can objectively consider the original comic in the broadest possible terms while simultaneously appraising the television series as its own beast. In other words, I can be both the fan and the newbie as I watch this show.
The pilot is largely concerned with introducing our three protagonists. Jesse is the titular preacher – a good but faithless soul with a dark past, who only feels the spirit upon him after drinking half a bottle of Ratwater Whiskey. Cassidy is an Irish vampire, newly arrived to Annville, Texas after jumping out of an airplane to escape a group of vampire hunters. And Tulip is an assassin, currently on the run from some bad people from whom she stole a map, who used to be Jesse’s lady back before he decided to become a man of the cloth.
The pilot also establishes the central conflict of the series, as some “thing” from outer space comes to Earth and begins making holy men all around the world explode before their respective flocks. Said entity finds and merges with Jesse, giving him a strange power that allows him to command people. And the entity is being tracked by two mysterious men, whom arrive at Jesse’s church just as the pilot ends.
There’s been some cosmetic changes from the comics, but the characters seem to be intact. Jesse is a do-gooder, who tries to do right by people despite his better judgement regarding the futility of trying to minister to the souls of the sort of slack-jawed yokels who look the other way over wife-beating and child-abuse while rioting over a high-school mascot being changed. Cassidy is a right bastard who nevertheless does have some sort of code of honor, backing Jesse in a bar fight when the odds are against him. And Tulip is an undisputed bad-ass who is surprisingly good with children and goes out of her way to mentor a similarly tough-minded ten-year-old girl. All of the performances by the core cast are solid, firmly establishing the trio as likable characters.
The direction by Seth Rogen and Ethan Goldberg is reminiscent of the horror works of Sam Raimi and Kevin Smith, in that this show is simultaneously brutal and hilarious. The action goes over the top in just the right ways, with sight-gags such a news report that Tom Cruise mysteriously exploded before a crowd of Scientologists. In this, the creative team has perfectly captured the spirit of the original comics, as has the teleplay by Sam Catlin. Honestly, the production team did an outstanding job overall, with the musical score and the make-up effects deserving particular high praise. It will be a crime if whoever is responsible for the effects used to bring Arseface to life doesn’t win some kind of award for their work here.
In short, Preacher is an fun, interesting TV series that seems to capture the anarchic yet idealistic spirit of the original graphic novels. Purists may debate the changes, but – speaking as someone being exposed to this world for the first time – I enjoyed what I saw here. And I can’t wait for the next episode in two weeks!