Preacher, Volume 7: Salvation by Garth Ennis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This Preacher trade gathers issues 41-50 of the regular run of the series, and focuses squarely on Jesse’s path after splitting with Cassidy and Tulip. It’s something of a refractory period in the story – Custer regroups and finds strength again – but it’s also home to some of the series’ more interesting foes, so it’s a worthwhile read. And that’s without counting the insight into the padre’s past this handful offers.
The story picks up six months after Jesse’s fateful almost-reconciliation with Tulip. It’s subdued in colouring, a walk along the end of a dock – but then on the next page, we’re shown colourful panels which begin to tell the story of what’s happened since. The book flips between the two periods – one of action, one of consideration – for its remainder, so that by the end we’ve a full reckoning of the time, and a feeling that the story’s ready to go forward.
(There’s also an excellent story at the end of the book where Space, Jesse’s father’s military mate, features again, explaining how Custer senior scored the highest military honour available to US servicemen. It’s a story that treats the Vietnam war as the combination of grind and pants-shitting terror it deserves – and is compassionate in its handling of how veterans feel, years later. It’s a well-considered piece dealing with memory and regret, and it’s a great thing to have included in this get-yer-groove-back collection.)
What gives the story license to go forward is the peyote trip Jesse was about to begin before Starr and the Saint interrupted in the last collection. It’s handled well – we see drug-enhanced portrayals of individuals from Custer’s life, as his subconscious wrestles with his conscious mind for control. We find out about how his eye was missing, hear from John Wayne, and get enough motivation to get back out there and kick ass.
But in the period before peyote, there’s Salvation, Texas. A small town (population 1626) where a stop-off for a beer results in Jesse serving a stretch as sheriff. It’s a slightly more urbanised version of the lawman flicks Ennis has mined for the series so far, but it’s great – by allowing the main character to do a bit of low-level arsekicking (instead of the high-stakes stuff involving the grail) we get a sense of him as a guy, not just a vehicle for an unholy consciousness.
What’s nice about Salvation is that figures from his past – including his family – show up, offering more development. We’re shown moral quandries, and Jesse’s repairing mindset is illustrated by how he handles increasingly important – and delicate – problems. There’s lots of small-town concerns addressed here, largely dominated by the figure of Odin Quincannon.
Quincannon is an interesting figure. He’s in the AMC adaptation, though in a slightly different capacity. I’ll be interested to see how they handle his more concerning peccadilloes in the show, as he’s the harbinger of some of the graphic novel’s most fucked-up images. (And this is without getting into his white supremacist employers, and the presence of PVC Nazis, which still might be a bit of a stretch for TV.) He’s a big baddie, and also a perfect example of short man syndrome. We all know how it’ll end from the first time Custer and he cross swords, but watching is play out with moneyed abandon is entertaining.
There’s a lot to be learned about the titular preacher of the series in this book, and while it can be argued that not a lot happens, some of the best lines of the run (“WHERE THE FUCK IS YOUR CHIN?”) are found in here. It places a high-stakes character in a very low-key environment, and that juxtaposition is entertaining and illuminating. We know there’s a religious arse-kicking coming, but it’s nice to see Custer go into bat for the little guy in a little town, so close to the source of his familial pain.