Book review: Preacher, Volume 4: Ancient History

Preacher, Volume 4: Ancient History Preacher, Volume 4: Ancient History by Garth Ennis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another day, another collection of Preacher issues. However, this one’s something of an oddity. It gathers together three one-shot specials: Saint of Killers, The Story of You-Know-You and Good Old Boys. There’s a lengthy introduction by series author, Garth Ennis, in which his love of cinema is apparent – which is convenient, as the volume contains an excellent riff on his favourite genre, the Western, as well as a not-so-great version of the ’80s action film.

The first thing to note is that the focal characters of the regular run are missing from these stories. Here, we’re given two origin stories and a fill-’em-out story. None of these stories are essential to understanding the main Preacher narrative (the last of the three is the most disposable, seeming to exist pretty much solely for fuck jokes and bat beatings) but they are interesting if you’re curious about some of the supporting characters’ lives before they ran into Jesse et al.

The next thing to note is that the issues here aren’t drawn by the regular illustrator, Steve Dillon. They’re drawn by a couple of other artists – Steve Pugh and Carlos Ezquerra for the first, Richard Case for the second and Ezquerra again for the third. It’s an interesting difference from Dillon’s style – Case’s work is most visibly different, with much thinner outlining, more like a Nagel-styled line than a comic line. Pugh and Ezquerra create a suitably bloody morass for their slot, while Ezquerra’s solo work for the final story is suitably gung-ho ’80s with hairy knuckles and big hair.

The most successful story comes first: that of the Saint of Killers. It shows how a single Civil War-era dude became the never-missing killing machine. It’s a Proper Western, all the things Ennis has been referencing throughout the run, but it’s completely let off the chain here. You want a reason why a man’s a cold-hearted bastard? It’s here, and it’s written in blood, with cameos from the Devil, and a suspiciously-looking-like-Paul-Stanley Angel of Death. It’s economical – a story of revenge – but there’s a lot of detail to the tale, from the snowed-in shitburg of Ratwater to the flaming towers of hell. It’s satisfying, to say the least.

Next, we learn about Arseface’s history. Or, rather, how he came to have the face of an arse. It’s told plainly, bookended by some Forrest Gump callbacks. This is the storyline that’ll be diverged from the most in the AMC adaptation – they’ve already set up Sheriff Root as a major character, and we’re already far away from Kurt Cobain’s death – but it’s a neat enough way of explaining why the guy looks the way he does.

Finally, we’re reintroduced to swamp scum Jody and TC. They’re being badasses in a knockoff of a Reagan-era action film, replete with pit-fighting and a cop/journalist duo who stumble upon something bigger than they are. I don’t know what it is, but the dialogue falls pretty flat, though the big bad of this section – Saddam Hopper – is kind of amusing in his unable-to-swear-properly fury.

Of the three, the first is indispensable and largely the reason this has four stars. It’s that good. The others? Well, I like Arseface, but I could’ve done without further fish-fucking.

My Goodreads profile is here.

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