Thursday, July 12, 2012

66 Days of Preacher: Day 1

Okay, here we go. Whenever I pondered the possibility of exploring theology in graphic literature the first title that came to mind was Preacher. This series exists as 66 issues (as well as some one shots and spinoffs, but we'll leave them be for now) and is one of my favorite series I've ever read. It's right up there with Y: The Last Man and The Walking Dead. Written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Steve Dillon, Preacher is an awesome joyride of a story filled with some of the most insane scenarios I have seen in any storytelling medium.

It's also incredibly blasphemous, heretical, offensive, irreverent, and brilliant. I read through the series years ago, before the concept of Wednesday Theology ever occurred to me. So it's well past time I read through it again and write down some thoughts.

One issue at a time.

Since this is Preacher, be advised that everything that follows should be considered relatively to extremely Not Safe For Work. So, if you're faint of heart, easily offended, or, you know, my mother, you might not want to read on.

Preacher #1 "The Time of the Preacher"
Garth Ennis - Writer. Steve Dillon - Artist. Matt Hollingsworth - Colorist. Clem Robins - Letterer. Julie Rottenberg - Assoc. Editor. Stuart Moore - Editor. 

The issue begins with our three main protagonists sitting in a diner recapping the story thus far. Of all the awesome moments that he places in this series, Ennis also really shines at enjoyable dialogue. The witty banter and conversations between the characters is a highlight of the series as much as the strangest things that are peppered throughout the story. And believe me, strange things are coming.

So Jesse Custer and Tulip have a history together. They used to be in a relationship until Jesse mysteriously ran away five years ago. Now, or at least until very recently, he's the minister of the church in the small town of Annville, Texas. The flashback to a few days ago begins as Jesse recalls having a crisis of faith and drunkenly visiting Annville's local bar and berating all the patrons for their deviant lifestyle outside of his church.

The story then jumps to Heaven. Yes, Heaven, where we see a spacecraft type building up in the clouds with a hole in its wall. Apparently the structure was a kind of celestial jail that imprisoned a being called Genesis, the unholy spawn of an angel and a demon. And Genesis has escaped.

In this heavenly administration there are at least two types of angels: Adephi, who are the worker angels that get things done and take care of the day to day business of Heaven; and Seraphi, the warrior angels. God does not seem to be around as the Adephi and Seraphi argue about how to get Genesis back. The Adephi reason that Genesis is going to Earth to bond with a soul which would, essentially, give the Genesis possessed human enough power to rival that of God Almighty. Yeah, the angels are freaking out about that notion.

Back at the diner, Tulip recounts how she was apparently trying to assassinate someone in Dallas when it all goes wrong and she finds herself running away being shot at. She tries to jack a pickup, incidentally driven by the one and only Cassidy. Instead of giving up his ride, Cassidy lets Tulip hop on board and they both drive out of town.

Meanwhile, one of the Adephi goes to a cemetary called Boot Hill to awaken the Saint of All Killers, an immortal cowboy that likes to shoot things dead. A lot. He will be one of the main baddies of the book. Come to think of it, there are a lot of main baddies in this book.

Anyway, returning to Jesse's story, he's in his church the next day about to give his sermon. After his drunken rant the previous evening, the whole town has packed the church to see what this preacher is going to do next. And then the rainbow comet with the face of a baby that is Genesis screams into the church, binds with Jesse Custer, and blows up the church in a massive explosion that kills everyone except Jesse.

This all happens just as Tulip and Jesse are coincidentally driving just outside Annville and witness the huge explosion. They investigate, find Jesse, exchange a couple moments of disbelief, and then flee the scene. Next shows up Sheriff Root, a vulgar, racist, homophobic policeman investigating the mess at Annville. He has some weird theory that government coverups and Martian minorities (I, admittedly, totally cleaned up that language here) are responsible. Root and his fellow officers soon come across our trio of protagonists and a standoff ensues until Jesse drums up his new found Genesis powers and tells the police to put down their guns. And since Genesis has the power of God, when Jesse speaks with the voice of Genesis, he's speaking with the voice of God. The police automatically comply and put down their weapons.

As they flee the scene, the Saint of All Killers appears and confronts the police. The issue concludes with a foreboding sense that not nice things are about to happen between the police and the Saint. And that is issue one of Preacher. If I recall correctly, it's actually pretty tame compared to some of the events that will happen to Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy over the next several dozen issues.

Probably the main theological issues in this issue involve the hierarchies of Heaven, of which I (or really anybody) know little about outside of speculation. I don't know if Ennis based Preacher's organization of Heaven on anything in particular or just made it up as it suited the story.

We do get a rather stereotypical view of Heaven with the puffy clouds and winged angels flying around. But the Seraphi are beastly creatures that would be terrifying to see in person. They would not make cute figurines to display on an end table or shelf. The Adephi are more quaint and subdued. But still not cute. Scripture does imply there are various types of angels, if we want to read that literally into the mentions of angels and supernatural creatures. The most well known are Cherubim (ex: Genesis 3:24) and Seraphim (ex: Isaiah 6:6).

So what about the main plot point of this story, the creature of Genesis? Could a demon and an angel procreate? Well, if demons are fallen angels, as Christianity popular holds, at least, then I suppose really they are all angels. So it seems possible, that is if angels can procreate at all. This I think is unlikely. I don't imagine angels as even having genitalia, much like I don't believe God has genitalia, as much as we popularly refer to the Deity as a masculine entity.

But let's say angels and demons can reproduce. Would the result of such crossbreeding be any sort of creature with a power comparable to God? I do not see how or why. Really, it doesn't make any sense other than being a good hook for the story. So if the whole idea of the Genesis creature offends you, you're taking this series way too seriously (says the guy who is writing extensively about the theology of this series). Sometimes you need to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Counts of Blasphemy: 18*

* I do this partially in jest. I get annoyed by people and organizations that base the value of a story or product solely on how "family friendly" or offensive it is. I know the Bible certainly is not family friendly. Also, I am realizing what counts as blasphemy may be kind of subjective. There are a lot of moments and phrasings and ideas that could be considered blasphemous, I suppose, but aren't explicitly so. Take the line, "One look at their faces, and I could tell the good Lord was using my prayers to wipe his ass." That might not be specifically a blasphemy against God directly, but certainly frames him in a blasphemous context. But if that counts, then the majority of my blog counts as blasphemy, since I see the need to engage these blasphemous contexts in order to reveal some theological understanding. So, maybe purely out of my own self interest, I did not count it. Instead I'll stick with the more objective instances of taking the Lord's name in vain and as an exclamation. Those are way easier to count, anyway.

Best Line: "I see you every Sunday, the few of you bother to show up, an' you think you can sing a few goddamn hymns an' then act like savages for the rest of the week? You're fuckin' drivin' me insane an' I'm here to tell you, that ain't the way it works--" - Reverend Jesse Custer

That is actually very poignant. If one can get past the profanity.

Best Panel:
The Seraphi are apparently no match for Genesis.

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