If this was Atop the Fourth Wall, the top of the top comic reviews in my eyes, I’d have a thematically appropriate lead in song. So let’s go with the awesome but now forgotten one hit wonder track “Do Right” by Jimmie’s Chicken Shack. Why? Because the chorus repeats what the question we’ll ask this review: What do I do right?
Because we established last time that Garth Ennis does a lot wrong. A ton wrong. So much wrong I’m amazed he has fans. I mean say what you want about Frank Miller, he has stone classics. Ennis? Not really the same.
But this time I found quite a bit that I think he does right. Now I want to be clear, Ennis still descends deep into juvenilia. We aren’t done with that by a long shot. But thankfully we are going to give some love to things he does actually nail.
We get to start with the plot. This is for the most the most part an extremely tight book. Jesse and Tulip reunite with Cassidy to get revenge on people connected with the vampire’s girlfriend’s overdose death. Cassidy gets captured by a group known as the Grail that has protected the bloodline of Jesus and wants to use Jesse to start Armageddon and substitute the possessed title character for the actual descendant. Jesse has to fight back and save Cassidy.
OK, we have an actual book this time. There’s far less meandering and trying to figure out what the series is. Jesse is fighting a multitier war. God wants him and Genesis dead. The Grail wants Jesse for their purposes. The Saint of Killers, well it’s unclear yet but he has a role. We have a clear conflict that actually interested me for once.
We also have what this book needed: Full embrace of blasphemy. Ennis is unsurprisingly an atheist and I feel like the book needed him to go on ahead and delve deep into offending the religious if that’s what this is. Otherwise it’s wishy washy. So revealing Jesus’ followers faked his death and resurrection (old theory known as the Passover Plot) then had children which resulted in the modern day deeply inbred descendant? It’s what this needs.
Ennis also pauses to briefly do what he does brilliant with an interlude where Jesse meets a war buddy of his dad’s and for an issue the book becomes one of Ennis’ genius war stories. I don’t even like war fiction but Ennis writes such grief drenched depictions of combat and the toll it takes. For a shining moment the book becomes transcendent.
With the book tightening in plot, I really feel like Ennis’ worst tendencies eased up slightly. There’s better swearing this time. Sex isn’t automatically a horror show. There’s less of an icky feeling.
Too bad I still have a lot to say.
OK, Garth, what is wrong with you regarding homophobia? Now it feels like an issue after three separate books where that was an issue and I’m sure I can think of more. He even repeats the same joke of a macho man discovering he might like gay sex he used in book one! Contrast that with the brilliant way It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia revealed Seann William Scott’s Country Mac was gay by having him successfully pick up body builders. And how eventually the show had to actually make amends for the jokes about regular Mac that are aging badly. Here it’s bad.
There’s more bestiality here too. Just…why. God. Why.
I also think the incest is a case where it was pulled too early as a joke last book. It fits here where the whole point is shocking us with a key plotline but it’s less impactful. Also, Garth, I know you’ve read Michael Moorcock. So have I. Having a Jesus figure be a babbling mentally ill creation ain’t new.
Then he adds a bulimic who vomits all over himself. Giving that a single line too. GROSS.
Like this is still his issue. Ennis is starting to put it together. I’m getting invested in the characters. But he has to be the little boy. And that’s so aggravating because I want to go all in now. But he has to be himself.
Still, I’m going into book 3 with hope. There’s real signs of life. We’ll see what wins out.