Thursday, July 19, 2012

66 Days of Preacher: Day 4

Well, here it is. Issue four of Preacher and it is great. Plenty of crazy stuff happens in these pages and the main MacGuffin, or plot, for the series is explained to us. By the end of this issue Jesse Custer will be on a mission.

And all of Heaven will be dead set on stopping him.

Standard Preacher NSFW protocols apply.

Preacher #4 "Standing Tall"
Garth Ennis - Writer. Steve Dillon - Artist. Matt Hollingsworth - Colorist. Clem Robins - Letterer. Julie Rottenberg - Assoc. Editor. Stuart Moore - Editor.

When we left off, Jesse and Tulip just had a reunion with Sheriff Root who was pointing a gun straight at Jesse's head. The altercation continues here, with Tulip pulling her own gun on Root and exacerbating the standoff.

In another location, Cassidy, the immortal vampire that he is, has survived the Saint of All Killer's attempt on his undead life. He's still grievously injured, but is back in his pickup driving away. Remember before when I mentioned that Ennis has a flair for dialogue? It really shines here as Cassidy talks to himself, whom he addresses as "Doctor Cassidy," about what steps he should take to properly heal himself. Cassidy convinces himself that tending to his wounds can wait and his first priority should be returning to help Jesse and Tulip. But Jesse was mean the last time Cassidy saw the preacher! Well, yes, but as Doctor Cassidy explains, "...careful consideration will reveal that Jesse is not a bad bloke really, and tempers were pretty heated all round. And if the patient doesn't help, he knows he'll feel bad for at least a year."

Cassidy really is a pretty good guy. At least as far as characters in Preacher go.

The standoff abruptly takes a turn, not with the arrival of Cassidy (he's still on the way) but with the presence of the Saint. Now things are about to get very messy as Root and the Saint prepare to draw on each other. Again, the standoff gets interrupted, and this time it is by the heroic arrival of Cassidy, who drives his truck straight into the Saint. Unfortunately, the Saint possesses supernatural qualities of his own and merely stands there unmoved as the truck crumples around him.

Cassidy flies out the windshield and tumbles across the pavement before stopping in a bloody heap next to Jesse. It's the start of a beautiful friendship.

The Saint and Root ignore the chaos around them and prepare to shoot at one another, despite Root quickly becoming hesitant to take on the Saint by his own. But then we encounter another interruption! Remember how Root's disfigured son was hiding in the back seat of the Sheriff's car? Well, now he pops out and yells at the Saint not to kill his dad. Root is clearly embarrassed, everyone else is rather shocked at the sight, and Cassidy quips, "That fella's got a face like an arse." Have I mentioned Cassidy is Irish? Well, he is, and tends to use such non-American English slang. Root's son later comments that he doesn't know what that means, and I cannot recall if he ever does figure it out.

Anyway, Jesse takes advantage of this final distraction and invokes Genesis' power akin to the Word of God to tell everyone to stop. He confronts the Saint and orders him to call down from Heaven whoever gave him the order to hunt down Genesis. The Saint reluctantly complies and a glorious angel appears in the sky before them. Now this is one of the beautiful angels that someone would collect porcelain figurines of, but Jesse orders the angel to cut out the showmanship.

The angel transforms from a being of glory into DeBlanc, one of the Adephi, who's frame and physique look rather sad and pathetic compared to the being of majesty he just appeared as. DeBlanc, ordered by Jesse to explain the situation, tells the preacher that God quit. At about the same time Genesis was created, God announced he had some business to attend to on Earth, departed Heaven, and hadn't been heard from since.

DeBlanc pleads with Jesse to let the Adephi remove Genesis from him and everything can go back to normal. Jesse has another idea and explains the overarching plot for the rest of the series: the preacher Jesse Custer is going to hunt down God and hold him accountable for what he's done.

The angel objects, but Jesse Genesis-orders him to leave. The Saint also departs, but on his own accord. Sheriff Root likewise tries to leave, but Jesse has had enough of the redneck sheriff. He Genesis-orders Root to do something obscene and anatomically impossible to himself.

That scene ends and the next one picks up with the police and EMT's on the scene caring for Root who, since commanded by the Word of God, has literally done to himself that anatomically impossible act he was ordered to do. Before the ambulance takes him away, Root cries out for his son to bring him his holster. Eager to help his father, the boy brings him his gun. Root promptly shoots himself to end his embarrassment and misery. This causes his son to run off into the night, adopt the moniker "Arseface," and swear vengeance on Jesse Custer.

Now let's discuss some theology! On the issue of quitting Heaven and being entirely absent from orchestrating what occurs on creation, DeBlanc remarks, with as much surprise as the rest of the characters, that no one has noticed. Nothing has changed. A world without God at the helm appears nearly the same with him steering. Says DeBlanc, "But here we are: he's gone and nothing's changed. No apocalypse, no lion lying down with the lamb, four horsemen still in the stable..."

Clearly the implication is that we don't need God. The world keeps on spinning with or without him, so why even bother having him in control. If he even is in control, that is. This, of course, makes the reader remember the classic Neitzsche quote that "God is dead and we have killed him." This doesn't mean that God is literally dead, but civilization, through the advancements of science and reason, has come to a place where it no longer needs to rely on superstitious beliefs in ancient mythologies to guide humanity.

I think it would be fair to say Ennis isn't particular fond of religion, especially Christianity. But the novelty of Preacher is that by immersing this tale in so much religion, even as a critique or condemnation, it challenges the readers to engage these theological concepts. Often they probably do this unaware, for they are too busy enjoying the story.

Of course, we have the plot and line from Jesse Custer that I get so excited about. Speaking of God, Jesse says, "You know what? I'm gonna go lookin' for him. I don't care how long it takes or where I have to go. I'm gonna find him. An' I'm gonna make him tell his people what he's done."

This is essentially the problem of evil once again. The world right now for Jesse Custer is pretty messed up. Why would God let that happen. Well, apparently because God has abandoned Heaven. So, why did God do that? Why, God, why?

What I find interesting is how Jesse goes about finding his answers. He's talking with an angel and a Saint, but he doesn't press them more to explain God's actions (they likely have no more insight to offer, anyway). He's also a minister, which means he probably has ties and connections to other members of the clergy that he could discuss this problem with. He could even take his questions to proper religious authorities and theologians. Instead, Jesse wants to find God himself and appeal to him directly. Okay, maybe that's a polite way to phrase Jesse's intentions.

Believe it or not, this reminds me of the biblical Job. Job suffered for no apparent reason and longed for some closure. His "friends" tried to offer him several theological and overly religious explanations, but they were pompous, ineffectual, and Job eventually rebuked them for their "insight."

The book of Job is often cited as the biblical example of theodicy, or explaining the problem of suffering. Theodicy is, in a way, defending the actions (or inaction) of God when the world is full of unexplainable evil and suffering. David B. Burrell contends that Job doesn't offer a theodicy at all. In his book Deconstructing Theodicy: Why Job Has Nothing to Say to the Puzzle of Suffering, Burrell suggests, "Job is commended in the end because he dared to address the creator-God; his interlocutors are castigated for purporting to speak knowingly about that One" (1048).*

Jesse Custer doesn't want someone to explain God's actions to him. He doesn't want someone to claim to know what God is doing and why. He wants to address God directly. Of course, he wants to do this with far more malice and indignation than Job ever did.

But here's the point of Burrell's book on Job, and possibly a point one could glean from Preacher (especially if that person was a bit mad. Hello, my name is Mitch): are we content with the streamlined answers about God that organized Christianity presents us with? Or do we dare to address the creator-God directly? Would we rather have explanations and know about God, or would we rather know God? Remember, the latter does not necessarily include the former. God finally did respond to Job, but the Deity didn't offer any explanation or answer any of Job's pressing questions. Burrell offers, "Speaking about something veers toward explaining, while speaking to someone can engage both in a relationship of exchange open to yet other forms of understanding" (1052).

Counts of Blasphemy: 2

The count is surprisingly low for this issue. But then you may consider that this issue is all about the idea that God quit Heaven and his responsibilities, which is a fairly blasphemous theme. I mean, it's probably blasphemous, right?

Best Line: "How the hell can God quit...?" - Jesse Custer

Best Panel(s):

Immature humor? Absolutely. But this just shows that theological issues can appear in the most bizarre stories and media. Theology isn't relegated to stuffy churches and dry academic books. It is also in graphic literature about angels, vampires, and a Saint of All Killers.

*Kindle ebook location

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