Preacher: Gone to Texas
Garth Ennis, writer,
Steve Dillon, artist
(DC Comics/Vertigo, 1996;
reprinted from Preacher
issues 1-7, 1995)

The owner of a local comic shop (now defunct, sadly) tossed me a copy of Gone to Texas one day and told me to read it. It was Vertigo's new wunderkind, he said, replacing the much-mourned Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. When I hesitated, he made me this deal: borrow the book for free and if I don't like it, I lose nothing. If I do, I have to buy a copy.

I did, and I did. But I didn't want to.

The Preacher is from the creative minds of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, who made such a fabulous team on Vertigo's Hellblazer series. Hard to believe, but it's even stranger.

The Preacher of the title is Jesse Custer, a reluctant man of the cloth who packs his entire Annville, Texas congregation into church one day following his drunken Saturday night rampage in the local bar. It's at that moment that Genesis, the all-powerful offspring of an archangel and a demon, breaks free from its Heavenly bonds and seeks a life and will on Earth. The will it chooses is Jesse's, and his congregation pays the price for proximity to their union.

Meanwhile, Tulip begins and ends her career as a professional hitwoman, and ends up fleeing for her life in the company of Cassidy, an Irish-accented ne'er-do-well -- who turns out to be a vampire. They meet up with Jesse at the scene of his personal apocalypse, where it turns out Tulip is Jesse's long-absent ex-lover, and the threesome goes on to take on the mighty forces of Texas lawmen as well as the unbeatable Saint of Killers, a sadistic serial murderer and Arseface. Sorry, you need to read it yourself to understand Arseface.

The three main characters are exceptionally well developed. You can't help but like them despite the mayhem in their wake, and you certainly root for them along the way.

Steve Dillon's artwork is phenomenal, topped only by the realism of Glenn Fabry's cover paintings. Dillon takes particular delight, apparently, in exposing in great detail the results of bullets on flesh and other gory pieces of Ennis's tale.

I didn't want to enjoy Preacher. The violence in the story is over the top, and the graphic nature of the art is unsettling at best. The images of torn and tortured flesh are extreme, and unavoidable. And yet -- I couldn't put it down. It sucks you in, shakes you around and doesn't let go until the story is done. And next time I visited the comic shop, I handed over the cash, not the book. And I asked if there were any more. I've been hooked ever since.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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