So… Time to stare down Garth Ennis.
This is not something I do lightly. Ennis is a revered legend. And I’m not saying he’s a cult figure. No, his works are deeply admired. And some of them deserve it. His Punisher run is brilliant. I won’t dispute that. Born especially is a powerful, profound work about a dark soul with no chance of hope.
But his other works? They’re so staggeringly awful I feel like I’m being lied to by the comic audience. The Boys is a rancid piece of stool that uses all its grotesquery for an attack on superheroes of all things. The lesser known Where Monsters Dwell is profoundly homophobic. Then there’s this.
Preacher Book 1, comprising issues 1-12, is a deeply frustrating book. It’s equal parts extremely strong ideas that deserve fleshing out and the kind of edgelord bullshit that jackass wouldn’t stoop to. Ennis is utterly incapable of staying out of his own way and it’s astonishing to see. He sits right on the edge of a really great work and destroys it.
The premise is a good one. Jesse Custer, a preacher without faith, becomes possessed by Genesis, a demon/angel hybrid who gives him The Word of God, the power to control people. With his ex-girlfriend and a vampire, he sets out to find God himself who it turns out has been absent since Genesis was born. Oh and there’s a group of angels who’ve sent an immortal killer to get Genesis back.
That? That is a hell of a concept for a book. Sure there’s a fatal flaw in the premise but that is a great idea. Christian mythology is a rich vein to tap. Neil Gaiman dabbles in it often in his art as did John Milton and even the legendarily devout CS Lewis. The concept of a man on a quest to make God answer for his absence is a great one. Credit due: this is on Ennis who crafted a genius hook.
And I like most of the characters. I like the kind of a hitwoman Tulip. I love Cassidy, the vampire who would’ve obviously been stolen for Spike were this not contemporaneous with Buffy. I love the angels. I could in theory go with Jesse.
So why does he do everything he does in this book?
OK, I’m going to start with the plot issues. First, the fatal flaw. Jesse has lost his faith. OK, that could be interesting. Except we learn fast in this book he never had it. He was abused by his grandmother into joining the ministry. You have to start with your character in a place other than where they have to end up. This is a nihilistic book. We know Jesse won’t believe in God at the end even if he knows he exists, if you catch my drift. There is no arc here.
He also doesn’t immediately get to the plot. As soon as the book starts we have a weird side trip into a serial killer story that adds nothing. Why? It suggests he didn’t pace this well. This book ran roughly as long as Y: The Last Man and that began as and stayed a sprint.
And then there’s the profanity. Look, I worship George Carlin, who shares this book’s hatred of religion and love of swearing. Carlin was a titan. But Garth Ennis? You’re not George Carlin. Good lord, he crams every single f-bomb he can into every sentence. And there’s no power to it. Look at how Edgar Wright and Kevin Smith both fire them off incessantly but each one is a punch. Here it’s just a droning slog and it looks sad.
He’s also got the most stereotyped view of everything. I’ll let him have Cassidy’s constant speech like the Lucky Charms mascot with coprolalia because he is in fact Irish himself. But the view of the south? This is a major work and it’s no less comical than the Family Guy episode set here. It’s sad.
But y’all came for the shock value. Like the guy who has sex with a chicken. The kid with one eye whose parents were siblings and he plans on marrying his sister. The homophobic cop who wears a gimp suit and gets beat up because he’s gay. A drop of the good old N-word! Gross naked old people. The constant gore with no purpose.
None of this is funny. In fact you might recognize every single joke up there from juvenile comedies. This is a book by a little boy trying to shock you. And it’s not good. It’s sad honestly. It feels like someone who knows that this stuff can work but not the right dosage.
Steve Dillon’s art is as usual great. Given that Ennis was literally his best man at his wedding I can’t fault the collaboration. They were a hell of a team.
I’m frustrated by this book. The makings of a good book are here but not the actual book. However, this is the first in a series. So after I review Firefly and Serenity–I can already assure y’all I love those WAY more–I’m coming back. And I’m gonna see this series through to the end.
It’s gonna be a journey.