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Reading the Scripture: A Preacher Discussion

Reading the Scripture: A Preacher Discussion

By Amy Ratcliffe and Tim Beedle Friday, June 17th, 2016

Whether it's on the page or screen, Preacher is an experience unlike any other. In a new series of posts, writer Amy Ratcliffe wades into the comic series which inspired AMC's new show, hitting the road with Custer, Tulip and Cassidy, and taking us all along for the ride.

It's been about a month since I started reading Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's PREACHER, and I've continued to be captivated by the weirdness of the world and characters. The pages can be enjoyed alone, but I've found myself wanting to discuss the "what the hell" aspects of the latest plot twists with someone. To that end, I convinced DCComics.com editor Tim Beedle to join me in reading Book Four (Issues #34–40). It didn't take much convincing.

We agreed to limit our commentary to just the main story. We’re reading the specials, but decided that the conversation would be more focused if we left those off. If you haven’t yet read PREACHER BOOK FOUR, it’s a great time to read it for the first time along with us and hopefully enjoy our commentary along the way. Here we go!


Issue #34 – Once Upon a Time

Amy: I'm continually impressed – I think that's the word I'm looking for – by Jesse's commitment to his overall mission. He's dedicated, even if he gets sidetracked occasionally. Issue #34 sees him focus and get back on the trail to God. Monument Valley is about as epic of a setting as you can have, and I like how it matches the scale of Jesse's mission. If you're working on a biblical scale with the sort of stakes Jesse is wrangling with, the background should be grand.

Monument Valley fits the bill for scale and also for history. The first inhabitants of the United States called the land home; that's what drew Jesse and his friends there. He was searching for answers tied to the Native Americans. For better or worse, the location distracted me a little. I have a soft spot in my heart for the desert and the weird beauty there, so that's all I kept thinking about.

Also a distraction: Arseface. What in the world is happening there? He's become a successful pop star. What? It speaks to the exploitative nature of some individuals and also the tendency of humans to latch onto the weird. Some memes that explode with popularity make no sense in the same ways that Arseface scoring number one hits makes no sense.

Tim: It makes no sense, and then it does. I could totally see someone like him getting instant national attention and blowing up Twitter, even releasing a hit album… and then, sadly probably for Arseface, disappearing only to emerge on the occasional celebrity reality show every now and then. All of which is something that I find fascinating because this was written, what, around ten years before Twitter? The idea of someone or something going viral didn’t exist yet, but it’s almost like Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon foresaw it.

But what I find really interesting at this point in the story is that we’re essentially seeing one of the most unique, interesting love triangles that I’ve ever seen. The feelings and emotions of the characters are some of the strongest and most believable that I’ve come across in a while. At this point, you really know the three of them and care about each of them, and you see how they care about each other—even when it may not be so readily apparent, like in the case of Tulip towards Cassidy. I’m not saying that I think she’s harboring an attraction towards him. Personally, I don’t think that she is (though, like you, I haven’t read the later volumes in the series, I may be totally wrong!). However, the fact that she hasn’t told Jesse about Cassidy’s constant drunken propositions shows that she at least cares about what he means to Jesse.

Amy: I feel like if Jesse weren't a thing, Tulip could be into Cassidy. The tingle of attraction and tension seems to be in the air. I wish we had the chance to spend time in Cassidy's thoughts to build up his affection towards Tulip more – or at least to learn more about it – but PREACHER isn't really that kind of book. Also, Cassidy doesn't strike me as the sort to go all poetic and schmoopy over a lady.

Tim: Well, he was buddies with Dylan Thomas. You never know…


Issue #35 – You & Me Against the World

Amy: Though I realize I just talked about Jesse's mission, the parts I appreciate most about issue #35 have to do with the moments of friendship. Cassidy tried to stop drinking for the sake of Tulip for all of about five minutes. It only took Jesse happening to have alcohol to pull Cass off the wagon. Sigh. However, for the conversation that spilled out between the two pals, I'll take it.

Tim: How great are the conversations between the two of them, by the way? It’s amazing that in a series as batshit crazy as this one, it’s the conversations between the characters that I’ve found have stayed with me after I’ve finished each volume.

Amy: Cass and Jesse have some sort of connection that runs deep and true. They talk about a wide range of topics easily – small jokes and bigger discussions about whether anything could push Jesse into becoming as heartless as the Saint of Killers (who, by the way, shows back up with an impressive entrance towards the end of the issue).

In my previous column about PREACHER, I talked briefly about the power of the Allfather. This issue confirmed Herr Starr has taken over the role and done so with glee. He certainly has a more intimidating countenance than the Allfather, and even though Starr has failed over and over again, he still manages to give me the creeps anytime he's on the page. He's formidable despite his missteps.

And Bob Dicks? It's a ridiculous name, but it just so happens that ridiculous works in PREACHER.

Tim: You know, I didn’t realize how ridiculous his name was until just now! Rather, I was focused on trying to figure out how Mr. Dicks (oh god, it’s even worse written out like that!) is going to bite the bullet. Because you know he’s not long for this world. Maybe he’ll bite a bullet literally. We haven’t seen that yet.

I’m not sure if Starr gives me the creeps so much as I find him irritating in that way that truly great villains often are. In spite of all the missteps, he keeps coming back stronger and more dangerous than ever, and it’s downright scary all of the resources he has available to him.

Onward to the next issue, shall we?


Issue #36 – Come and Get It

Tim: Before we get into this chapter too much, can I just comment on how absolutely PERFECT it is that this sequence is taking place in Arizona. We’re essentially seeing the most over-the-top, high throttle showdown and gunfight to ever be put to the page. But its heart is pure Western, which I know is something you’ve written about in past columns. This whole chapter seems to be the epitome of it.

Amy: My focus on issue #36 settled on Saint of Killers. It's weird. We've seen him bust onto the scene and cause incredible amounts of damage and destruction repeatedly, yet I'm still not numb to it. I know what he's capable of; I shouldn't be surprised. And yet... Maybe I'm fascinated by his single-minded and laser focused nature.

But then, when you think he's nothing but a killing machine, the table flips. We learned about his backstory recently, and when Jesse pulled out that knowledge, the Saint of Killers backed off. Jesse recognized God's role in transforming the Saint, and once Jesse shared his thoughts, it looked like the Saint of Killers stepped out of a fog. Tim, what about that exchange do you think had an effect on the Saint of Killers?

Tim: It’s hard to tell because it’s impossible to get a read on the Saint of Killers. He has about one expression, and it’s a permanent scowl of sour rage. If I were to guess, it’s that he now has a direction in which to point his unending hate. Though he clearly has a few other beefs to settle before he gets to it.

But I have to say, I really like the Saint of Killers the more I get into this series. Where Starr comes off like an impetuous little weasel with way too much authority (I know the show has already been cast, but couldn’t you see Christoph Waltz playing him in some sort of big screen version?), the Saint is pure badass. I can’t say that I sympathize with him. I think his whole existence is a textbook example of how you reap what you sow. But I do find him riveting and now I’m really curious what his whole role may be in this thing.


Issue #37 – The Shatterer of Worlds

Tim: I’m laughing now because I started this discussion talking about relationships and how the moments that have really stood out to me are conversations between our main characters, but holy crap, this sequence! How awesome is it?! Easily my favorite action sequence by far. Of course, I think one of the reasons it’s so effectively tense and exciting is because it’s allowing us to see the absolute best traits of these characters. You have Tulip mowing down Grail baddies with a machine gun, Cassidy risking his life in daylight to try to help and Jesse doing what he can to save both of them. All while the Saint of Killers is taking down tanks with a pair of freakin’ revolvers.

Amy: I was positively thrilled to see Tulip bring hell down upon these tools. Also, it's about time Jesse realized her worth. Everything about the movement of the scenes from tracing the flying gunshots to watching Herr Starr get a small serving of just desserts was dynamic and had my eyes flying over the panels faster than any other pages yet. I am so, so happy about Featherstone calling Herr Starr out for not being grateful.

Tim: And once you think it’s over, the whole thing goes nuclear. Like I said earlier, the resources at Starr’s disposal are ridiculous. Even with the Word of God on his side, how can a regular joe like Jesse stand a chance against him? By the way do you think it’s interesting that in a series with such strong supernatural elements, the adversaries are all human? We get angels and demons in the first issue of PREACHER, and yet, other than the Saint of Killers, we don’t see them all that much. Interesting choice by the creators, wouldn’t you say?

Amy: That's a really good point. This is a tangent, but I promise it's going to tie-in. In the television series Supernatural, the main characters hunt all sorts of demons and monsters, but some of the worst foes they've encountered have been humans. It's similar here. We cause enough problems without having help from entities like the Saint of Killers.


Issue #38 – Badlands

Amy: Well, damn. The love triangle point you touched on earlier, Tim, is especially relevant now. As far as Tulip and Cassidy know, Jesse is dead. My heart is breaking for Tulip. We saw her be a complete badass, and now the table is turned. She's dealing with loss by escaping, and as nice as Cass can be, he's probably not particularly helpful when it comes to breaking addictions. I don't want to diminish what he's going through either; Jesse was his best mate. It can't be easy to carry that grief along with guilt over having a thing for Tulip.

Tim: Yeah, this whole storyline took a turn, didn’t it? Here I was talking about how much fun it was and now we’ve hit a dark patch. It’s hard seeing Tulip like this, but it also feels 100% real. So often in entertainment, the emotional toll that death takes on characters is either ignored entirely, greatly diminished into one easily defined response—often rage and a desire for revenge—or just feels like an obstacle for the character to overcome. But this feels messy, and you know it’s going nowhere good. It’s a brave choice letting your characters become less likable and slip into such a damaging spiral in a medium like comics, which depends on readers coming back to buy each new chapter as it comes out.

Amy: Getting back to another point you made: Humans are the worst. Herr Starr keeps finding himself in the oddest of situations, and this time the situation involves the Chunt brothers. I haven't had this reaction many times so far, but I raised my eyebrows in a "Is this too much?" way when the Chunts were introduced.

Tim: It’s amazing that every time I think I’ve gotten to where PREACHER can no longer shock me, it goes and proves me wrong! That said, you have to appreciate how well this particularly nasty turn fits into the narrative. It sounds like for someone to have survived the nuclear blast, they would have had to be underground…and anyone who chooses to live deep underground is definitely going to be missing a few screws.


Issue #39 – For All Mankind

Amy: Falling out of a plane? Just a day in the life of Jesse. My memory is blurry, but has anything about Genesis having healing powers come up yet?

Tim: I don’t believe so.

Amy: That's the leap I'm making about why Jesse is slightly damaged but still among the living. He's encountered yet another weird character in Johnny Lee Wombat. As Johnny told his story, I found myself experiencing two feelings: 1) Relief that it was a break from whatever the heck is happening with Herr Starr and the Chunts. 2) Fascination with how vengeance plays in PREACHER. It's a constant motivator and often drives the characters to go to extremes. Maybe that's the point? If we let a desire for revenge run away from us, we can go too far.

Note how I'm avoiding going into Starr. I'm not certain why this subplot is the one giving me the creeps, but I raced over those pages in order to get past them.

Tim: Amy, if that subplot didn’t give you the creeps, I’d worry about you. I don’t have much to say about it myself other than that I’ll never be able to listen to that “wub wub” song in Return of the Jedi without cracking up now. I clearly have the sense of humor of a twelve year old.

I could use a little more time to ruminate on this and obviously we won’t know until we’re done reading the series, but I’m starting to wonder if PREACHER is really about the corruption or death of the American dream. I’m curious to see what ultimately happens to Cassidy, since he wears his love of the country on his sleeve at the beginning of the story. Jesse and Tulip are a little subtler about it, but their love for each other and desire to spend the rest of their lives together would definitely fit in with that ideal. Even Starr’s drive for power, which comes packaged up with wealth and influence, seems to be slowly falling apart. If that’s the case, if PREACHER is about the destruction of the American dream, then Johnny’s story fits right in with that theme and it’s looking like Arseface’s might as well.


Issue #40 – Arsefaced World

Tim: Before we get into the last chapter, I have to say that it’s nice to now know where Jesse gets his eye patch. I haven’t read PREACHER before, but I’ve seen the covers and knew that eventually he picked that up and I was wondering, and if I’m being honest dreading, how that was going to happen to him.

Amy: Jesse Custer, a man on a mission to find God and save abused animals. A sheriff kicking a dog is one of the worst things I've seen in the pages of PREACHER. I'm glad the eyepatch sporting Jesse was there to throw the cop through a windshield and rescue the stray canine. This happens along the way of finding Tulip. If you need a reminder about how handy cell phones are, this is a fine issue to read. Jesse could have saved himself so much trouble.

Still believing Jesse dead, Cassidy and Tulip apparently moved onto the next step of their relationship. Is Tulip in a place where she can make that sort of decision for herself? I think so. Sometimes jumping into a new relationship is akin to drinking or taking pills—it's a distraction and way to escape from pain. Except with Tulip, there doesn't seem to be any reprieve from her sadness.

Tim: I think this is definitely a case of two seriously flawed and seriously hurting people making some bad choices, and again, I’m just struck by how believable it all is. How real. I was particularly struck by the scene in the restaurant near the very end where Cassidy’s trying so hard to elevate the mood and get the moment to something resembling a normal night out for a couple and Tulip’s clearly not feeling it at all. I’ve seen couples who are on two totally different pages like that. Heck, I’ve been in relationships like that. It’s not good, but it’s very honest.

Amy: I'm still puzzled by all things Arseface.

Tim: Yeah, this is an odd one. I was assuming Ennis and Dillon were “cheekily” pointing out how many asses there really are in this world—but then they threw in that bit with Arseface’s father telling him he loves him and I can only guess this is just meant to be a dream of Arseface’s. We’ll have to see where things go for him in the next volume.

That’s true for all of our characters, for that matter. Clearly there’s some drama ahead. I suppose we’ll see how bad it gets as we get into Book Five.
 

That's all we wrote. What were your impressions of Issues #34–40? Head to the comments and share your thoughts (feel free to go issue-by-issue like Tim and I did!). Also, don’t forget to drop by this time next week for another look at this always surprising series.