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Preacher is a comic series written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Steve Dillon with covers painted by Glenn Fabry. A post-modern contemporary western, it is notable for its extreme violence, profanity and off-colour humour as well as its satirical content. It was published by DC's Vertigo imprint and ran for 66 issues (plus spin-off specials) between 1995 and 2000. The whole run, including specials, has been collected as a series of graphic novels.
The central character is Jesse Custer, a disillusioned Texan preacher who is possessed by a being called Genesis, the newborn offspring of an angel and a demon, which in the process kills his entire congregation. Genesis has no will and no control over Jesse, but gives him a voice that compels obedience. Driven by a strong sense of right and wrong, Jesse goes on a journey across the United States (as well as to Europe) attempting to find God, who abandoned Heaven the moment Genesis was born, and hold him to account. He is joined by his old girlfriend Tulip O'Hare, as well as an Irish vampire named Cassidy.
During the course of their journeys, the three encounter enemies and obstacles both sacred and profane, including the Saint of Killers, a former western gunslinger who killed the Devil and now acts as the angel of death; a serial-killer called the "Reaver-Cleaver"; the Grail, a secret organization controlling the governments of the world and protecting the bloodline of Christ; Herr Starr, ostensible Allfather of the Grail, a megalomaniac with a penchant for prostitutes, who wishes to use Custer for his own ends; several fallen angels; and Jesse's own redneck family — particularly his nasty Cajun grandmother, her mighty bodyguard Jody, and the "animal-loving" T.C.
Comic relief is provided by Arseface, a teenager who attempted to imitate the suicide of rock star Kurt Cobain by shooting himself in the face with a shotgun. He survived the suicide attempt, and after many attempts at reconstructive plastic surgery ended with, in Cassidy's words, "a face like an arse". In the later issues, Arseface goes through a sped-up cycle of American fame: underground sensation to popular star to lawsuit bait and target of censorship. In the end, his manager takes all his money.
Preacher draws on movies, particularly westerns, for many of its stylistic elements. For example: the apparition of John Wayne appears regularly to Jesse as a sort of spiritual guide or conscience; Monument Valley and The Alamo serve as backdrops to various legs of the journey; for a time, Jesse acts as the sheriff of a small town in Texas; and the character and backstory of the Saint of Killers owes a great deal to the Clint Eastwood movie Unforgiven. The series makes much of the clash between the values of John Wayne films and those of the modern world. As well as westerns, the comic's mix of extreme violence, irreverent dialogue and off-colour humour is reminiscent of the films of Quentin Tarantino.
The series also invokes ideas popularized by such books as Holy Blood, Holy Grail - in Preacher, the bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene has been preserved. However, to keep the bloodline pure, its guardians have forced their descendants to intermarry with each other incestuously, resulting in Christ's last surviving descendants being severely mentally deficient.
Aside from the regular series, six spin-offs were published, all written by Ennis:
- The Saint of Killers - a four-issue miniseries recounting the origin of the saint, drawn by Steve Pugh and Carlos Ezquerra
- The Story of You-Know-Who - a one-shot recounting the origin of Arseface, drawn by Richard Case
- The Good Old Boys - a one-shot, in which Jesse's mother's henchmen Jody and T.C. star in a parody of 1980s action movies, drawn by Carlos Ezquerra
- Blood and Whiskey - a one-shot featuring Cassidy which satirises Anne Rice-style vampires, drawn by Dillon
- One Man's War - a one-shot recounting Herr Starr's past and shining a light on his motivations, drawn by Peter Snejbjerg
- Tall in the Saddle - a one-shot of Jesse and Tulip's wild youth, pencilled by Dillon and inked by John McCrea