Preacher Is Here, But It's Not Faithful, at Least Not to the Comics

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Preacher, along with Sandman, was one of the series that turned me back into a comic fan. My then-girlfriend-now-wife had an incomplete set of the trades when we started dating, and helping her round off her collection was my go-to birthday/Valentine’s Day/Christmas gift for a good couple of years. I’d never seen a comic like it and I haven’t seen one since.

I’ve always been leery of a television or movie adaptation of Preacher. It’s essentially a road trip tale, and that makes for difficult television and even more difficult movies. It’s a hyper-violent, supremely blasphemous story, which limits its audience. One only has to look at Watchmen to see how bad this could go.

Preacher…ain’t bad. No, really, it’s a pretty damned compelling show. For those unfamiliar with the comics, Preacher revolves around Jesse Custer, a hoodlum turned reluctant man of God who merges with the offspring of a demon and an angel that gives him the supernatural ability to order people to do whatever he wants. Think of him as Kilgrave from Jessica Jones, but with an iron moral center out of a John Wayne flick.

Thus far the action in Preacher the television series is centered on where Jesse holds his congregation, Annville, Texas. The show has decided to go the Buffy/True Blood route of turning its home location into a nexus for activity rather than have Jesse travel the country and the world. In the comics, Annville is a few pages of dialogue before the town is blown to bits by the arrival of Genesis to possess Jesse.

This isn’t a bad thing for TV, necessarily. The touches of True Blood are especially well done, even down to implying there’s a Fellowship of the Sun-style organization of vampire hunters after Cassidy. Oh, right, I forgot to tell you this has vampires, and Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy is easily the most perfect part of the television adaptation. He embodies the character absolutely flawlessly.

But back to Jesse…the melancholy, drunken Preacher we see in the early pages of the initial “Gone to Texas” saga is there, and Dominic Cooper does a lovely job in the role (fun fact: The drunken fall from grace seen in the series was inspired by Jesse's meeting our own Bill Hicks in the comics). However, the changes that have been made in Jesse are just plain weird. His father, seen in flashbacks, was apparently a preacher himself instead of the victim of the violence of Jesse’s hyper-religious maternal family, as in the comics.

More than that, Jesse as a television character embraces his power and pledges to be a real preacher to his town. That is a weird character choice. In the comics, Jesse goes to war against God for abandoning His creation. That’s his whole point. To quote the comic: “God is real, and he’s irrelevant.” That’s what Preacher has always been about. Here…I don’t know. Jesse seems more interested in doing good works through the power of the Lord, which isn’t a bad thing but is also not Preacher as I understand it.

There are bright spots. I enjoyed Ruth Negga as Tulip even if the character is essentially completely new. She managed to be Tulip and this whole not-Tulip at the same time, and I loved her by the end of the episode. I like that they’re already setting up the “Salvation” storyline, my favorite from the comic, by setting scenes in the Quinncannon meat-processing plant. Ian Colletti’s very subtle turn as Arseface was surprisingly moving and heartfelt, and I forgive the show telling me his real name.

It was an enjoyable show, okay? I liked it the same way I liked True Blood and the early seasons of The Walking Dead. It’s a good show, but it’s not a terribly good adaptation. A lot of what made Preacher what it was is lost in place of a different story. Not a bad story, per se. In fact, it’s kind of a good adaptation of Jason Aaron’s Southern Bastards instead of a TV version of Garth Ennis’s Preacher. I enjoyed every minute of the show, but if you’re hoping for comic book purity, get used to disappointment.

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