What if God abdicated his throne, fled from Heaven, and chose to live among us on Earth? What supernatural or otherworldly phenomena would spawn if an angel and a demon were to have a forbidden tryst? What happens when a man of God gains the Almighty’s voice and can direct and command anyone at will? And when this individual, who has been cursed with this unexpected power over others, learns of God’s vanishing… how far will he go to confront his maker and demand some answers?
This is Preacher.
AMC network has added to their lineup Preacher, the latest in comic book titles adapted for a television series. Brought on board as executive producers to assist producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (both of Superbad, Pineapple Express, This Is the End) and showrunner Sam Catlin (Breaking Bad), are the comic book’s creator Garth Ennis and Preacher’s artist Steve Dillon. Many fans of the Vertigo Comics title are wondering if the show will deviate from the comic book as many series do. To answer that, let’s take a look back at Ennis and Dillon’s creation and get you up to speed on all things Preacher.
What would happen if an angel and a demon were to mate and the spirit of their offspring embodied a mortal man?
Created in 1995 for Vertigo Comics, a DC Comics imprint, Preacher was the brainchild of Eisner Award-winning writer Garth Ennis. Known for such popular series as Hellblazer, Hitman, and The Punisher, the story and concept of Preacher came to Ennis while working on the Hellblazer series for Vertigo.
The writer, known for his dark tones with accents of satirical humor tossed in, joined forces with acclaimed artist Steve Dillon, who had previously worked with Ennis on Judge Dredd, The Punisher, and Hellblazer. The duo knew they had something special and unique on their hands. The series slowly gained followers after word-of- mouth of this intense, graphic, and at times mesmerizing comic book. An adaptation for Preacher has been in the works on and off for nearly eighteen years. Creator Garth Ennis, feeling Preacher possessed all the qualities of a successful feature film, began writing drafts in 1998 to pitch to studios. One setback after another delayed the project from moving forward in any capacity.
Finally we will get to witness a live-adaptation version of the series known for its unusual and quirky characters, enjoyable satire, captivating story arcs, and often violent situations that arise.
Preacher centers on Jesse Custer, a small town preacher from Annville, Texas who becomes possessed by a mysterious entity, born out of a taboo affair between an angel and a demon. The curse (or perhaps blessing?) endows Jesse with the Voice of God; with it, the words he projects have the capability to force his will upon those who hear him speak. Upon being consumed with this new power, Jesse’s church is wiped out and all the members of his congregation are killed. Custer, upon learning that God has departed from Heaven and is living on Earth, sets out to confront the Almighty on His decision. Jesse struggles with his faith and questions the very God he preaches. His challenging God Almighty has become his mission. It has given him purpose.
Jesse recruits the help of Tulip O’Hare, a brash and feisty ex-girlfriend of Jesse’s who’s not afraid to use a gun. The wannabe assassin, though she botched her first contract, comes across as a tough as nails female, but she carries pain with her: the loss of her parents, Jesse suddenly departing from her life, and a battle with addiction.
The love/hate dynamic between former lovers Jesse and Tulip play sporadically through the series. Tulip still upset about Jesse up and ditching her five years earlier.
Jesse and Tulip may not have reunited had it not been for a wise-cracking Irish vampire named Cassidy. The wanderer had given Tulip a lift and the three come together and ally themselves with one another. Another who struggles with drugs and alcohol, Cassidy offers a great deal of comic relief throughout the series. He even makes a deal with God. Yeah, they went there.
The three set off on a quest across the land to face God to find out why He abandoned Heaven, quit caring for the world, and to demand He get his mind right. The journey takes them all across the United States, from the deep South, to New York, and the swamps of Louisiana, to name a few.
The trio encounter a slew of memorable, and often bizarre, characters that accentuate the story and make for some enthralling reading. From some inbred hillbillies in the South, an ancient religious conspiratorial group, the Klan, serial killers, fallen angels, a Cowboy who can kill anything and is on the hunt for Jesse named The Saint of Killers, psycho goths, an assassin, and a suicidal teenager named Arseface (because his face looks like an arse… you’ll see). Oh yeah, let’s not forget about the spirit of John Wayne making frequent cameos. The adventures that Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy encounter is some of the best writing in the business and the cast of characters have amazing backstories, which hopefully see light in the TV series. Strong, compelling, emotional, brutal, intense, and memorable, Ennis outdoes himself and delivers a unique and intoxicating series.
A resolute atheist himself, Ennis does mention and incorporate quite a few biblical references. Though he depicts a world where the Almighty is NOT an all- loving God, the series did draw parallels to facets of The Bible: Jesus, The Grail, fallen angels, and an ancient religious order sworn to protect Christ’s bloodline.
Also what some may consider sacrilegious is when it is revealed to Cassidy that Jesus Christ actually had children and did not die on the cross. After living a life into his middle-age years, his bloodline worked its way through generations of incestuous marriages in order for it to retain its divine nature. The stories can be pornographic, sadistic, masochistic, vulgar, and contain a lot of black humor. As you can see, Preacher held nothing back and no topic was off-limits. That is what made Preacher great.
As easy as it is for Ennis to get credit for Preacher’s success, Steve Dillon’s illustrations brought the characters to life. His drawings at times exceeding what Ennis is attempting to convey. His fierce and striking visualizations leave impressionable marks in the reader’s mind. Ennis and Dillon’s passion truly come to light as each put out their best material and combined to deliver unique and compelling story arcs, produce controversial images depicting the horrors of the world, and a cast of characters that are wildly engaging and appealing.
There’s a reason why the series was a hit for DC Comics/Vertigo… it was the fantastic storytelling and the creative mind of Garth Ennis accompanied with the powerfully vivid imagery by Steve Dillon. Preacher is widely regarded as one of the greatest comic book titles of all time. The title has made an impact in numerous ways. Popularity quickly grew for the series and, in shortly over a year’s time, Ennis’ comic would become the most popular Vertigo single comic book in its entire history with its eighteenth issue. Author Stephen King has gone on record stating that his comic book miniseries The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born was heavily influenced by Preacher. On top of that, the series won the Eisner Award for Best Writer in 1998 and the Eagle Award for Favorite Color Comic Book in 1999, in addition to nine other nominations during its sixty-six issue run from 1995-2000.
There are many comic book purists who are hoping the AMC series adheres, for the most part, to the material found in the Vertigo title. The majority have come to accept that when a comic book is adapted for the big screen or television, some changes need to be made from the original source. This has become status quo in the entertainment industry. With the importance of ratings for the network, it is easy to understand that they will mold the show into what brings them the most viewers. Is that a good thing? It truly depends. If it slightly deviates for the original tale, while keeping the highlights underlying throughout the season, it should fare very well. You will most certainly will see a lot of components that made Preacher the cult comic book it did: fighting, drinking, cussing, action, and a bit of comedy. By comparison, look at The Walking Dead with regards to adjustments made from the original source material. Even with creator Robert Kirkman as part of the production team, there have been changes, alterations, and additions in the television program that have made for compelling storylines. But at its core, The Walking Dead doesn’t venture too far off Kirkman’s original material. One thing is for certain… just like The Walking Dead, Preacher’s story needed to be told on a cable network due to its graphic violence, adult language and themes, nudity, taboo topics, and overall risqué nature.
Fortunately, what the AMC series does benefit from is Ennis’ and Dillon’s involvement as executive producers. Certainly Ennis will want the show to, at the very least, maintain its foundation: the characters, the environment, the mood and tone of the story, and especially the premise. Veering too far off from his writing would be a discredit to Ennis’ hard work on the comic book and almost a slap in the face to true fans of the series who have waited anxiously to see this phenomenal story brought to life.