Preacher: Ancient History
Garth Ennis, writer,
Steve Pugh, Carlos Ezquerra
and Richard Case, artists
(DC Comics/Vertigo, 1998)

When Garth Ennis wanted to fill in the backgrounds of some of Preacher's supporting characters, he stepped outside of the ongoing series to do it in a four-issue mini-series and two one-shot specials. One was good, one great and one a total mistake.

The bulk of Ancient History is filled with the four-part "Saint of Killers" mini. The Saint, for those unfamiliar with the series so far, is a massive, hard-bitten man with guns that never miss or empty, and without an ounce of compassion or pity in his stone-cold heart. But where did this throwback to the American West come from? The American West, of course.

The story explains how a bad man became good, lost everything and became a literal spirit of vengeance. His hate was so strong that it quenched the fires of Hell. It's potent stuff, but the art by Steve Pugh in issues 1, 2 and 4 is a letdown. Carlos Ezquerra, who stepped in only for issue 3, did a better job with his rendition of Hell, the Devil and the Angel of Death than Pugh did with his various Western baddies.

The second story is about Arseface, a pitiful character whose sole purpose in Preacher is comic relief -- based on the theory, I suppose, that ugliness, self-inflicted tissue damage and a severe speech impediment is funny. In the first collection in the series, Gone to Texas, we learn that Arseface tried to kill himself to emulate his deceased hero, Kurt Cobain, and failed. We pretty much learn that Arseface's father is an unfeeling jerk and a lousy father. Why Ennis felt the need to devote an entire book to restating all that is a mystery. It's certainly not for the art; Richard Case's illustrations are adequate but uninspiring, and his attempt at drawing the scarred horror that is Arseface post-suicide attempt is just plain bad.

The third and final tale in Ancient History focuses on Jody and T.C., the evil bastards of Angelville who haunted Jesse's childhood and nearly wrecked the rest of his life as well. Oddly, in this tale they're the ipso facto heroes.

The story involves a self-absorbed "cop on the edge," a glamorous "supermodel-turned lawyer with a dangerous secret," a crashed helicopter, a pompous and psychotic villain, a dog, a gator and a gorilla. I feel bad for the gorilla -- that scene, near the beginning, is sure to raise flags among animal lovers everywhere -- but the overall tale is a clever spoof on the action-adventure cop genre. Ezquerra is back with the art on this one, and he carries it off well.

Two out of three's not bad, and two of these stories are a definite plus in the Preacher mythology. One story could have been left out with no great loss to the overall scheme of things, and most of the art fails to measure up. I was already a fan of regular Preacher artist Steve Dillon's work, but this book makes me appreciate him even more.

[ by Tom Knapp ]



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