BOOK CLUB: Preacher Book 6

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We’ve decided to to dedicate some longer posts to reviewing TPBs, collections and hardcovers of all kinds. Since a lot of stories are best told as a long form, we feel it’s necessary to review them as a whole. Today, Patrick’s reviewing a new collection of the final story from the classic 1990’s series Preacher. Hilarious, Tarantino-esque and remarkably bold, he explores the deeper meanings of this series, and how it finishes up.

The measure of a great action comic is how close it can come to absurdity, only to pull up the reins at the last second, and deliver something genuinely awesome. The Preacher series has so far been pretty good at this: a gigantic fat man falling from a helicopter to crush the descendant of Christ? Absurd.  How about a lone gunman taking on an entire army of fanatic Christian militants? Fairly awesome.The series tends to try and one-up itself as it progresses, steadily pushing the limits of grotesquery and the profane. Artist Steve Dillon seems to think people are filled with a chunky tomato paste, ready to torrent forth in cartoonish spouts of red, heads bursting like cherries, brains splattering the deck etc. But despite appearances, there is a real human heart beating at the core of Preacher. In the series’ final instalment we don’t really get the epic finale we might have hoped for, but instead receive a lesson on the value of self worth.

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Preacher excels at using the character’s relationships to form a palpable sense of gravity around separate plot arcs, orbiting each other until their inevitable collision. The series takes things fairly slowly, establishing an end goal early on, but stopping frequently for flashback issues or other similar character developing diversions. Comic books are pretty much the only image based medium that can allow an author/artist to flesh out characters in this way. In film for instance, there needs to be a balance between character developments and plot developments, with no real room for a step back like the flashback which opens this final preacher collection. Of course this means that characters do need to be genuinely interesting to warrant such attention. Thankfully in preacher this is the case, and it saves the series otherwise anticlimactic ending

It’s difficult to avoid spoilers when trying to describe the complex character relations in Preacher. There are numerous betrayals, reveals, confessions and the like that should be left for you to read, but trust me when I say that they’re well crafted to leave a reader conflicted as to what they want the final outcome to be. People in this comic’s world are like people in the real world, making mistakes, hurting allies all for the cause of healing their wounded pride. Every character in this last book does something they don’t want to do just because they feel they have to. Alone, that fact seems pretty unremarkable. Pretty much every fictional character has to do something they don’t want to do. But the scenarios in preacher are so human that it is relatable to an almost uncomfortable degree. After finishing the book I wouldn’t say I was satisfied but maybe that’s what they’re going for. Actions motivated by pride rarely have a fulfilling conclusion.

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The action sequences also go to lengths to highlight the farcical nature of human pride. Our one-legged, dick-headed villain, Herr Starr suffers humiliation after humiliation turning from the composed militant into the bitter buffoon. One particular meeting of his genital area with a rabid hound seems to tip him over the edge. Consumed by the need to appease his battered ego, he becomes a pitiable figure, inept and respected by no one. The greatest secret organisation the world has ever seen topples under the weight of Starr’s hubris.

This issue also contains the final showdown with God (not a spoiler, the blurb tells you that much). To me, this was the biggest disappointment of the series. Sure, the fist fight outside the Alamo was pretty cool for all its symbolism (maybe), but I was hoping for something a little more epic when it came to taking on god. Turns out he’s not much of a villain, or all that mighty. I was 100% expecting an omnipotence paradox to be his downfall, and while that was kinda the case, it was pretty weak. Give me Bayonetta’s final boss any day.

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To me the overall message of the series can be summed up pretty well in this Richard Dawkins quote: “The atheist view is correspondingly life-affirming and life-enhancing, while at the same time never being tainted with self-delusion, wishful thinking, or the whingeing self-pity of those who feel that life owes them something.”  Obviously that’s going to rub people the wrong way, but there’s an undeniable truth to it even if it’s removed from its atheist context. Looking for strength and happiness in what you’ve already got is always a better bet than waiting for life to deliver it to you. In the end, everything’s about being able to face yourself in the mirror and be proud of what you see. And for such a sappy message, Preacher’s done one hell of a job making it seem like the most macho thing in the world.

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