I feel like I’m repeating what everyone else has said about Preacher so far in this review series, but wow. I have mixed feelings about this book.
Like many others, when I first read Preacher about a year and a half ago, I was enthralled and amazed and shocked and confused and all kinds of emotions. I read it at a time when I had first really begun delving into the comic book world. I’d grown up casually reading comics, but after reading Saga I dove into the world of comics headfirst armed with a library card and an intense passion for the medium.
Along came Preacher. It was more violent than anything I had ever read, more blasphemous, more depraved, and I was loving it. Reading it made me feel rebellious. I felt like I was part of something, joining with so many others who had gone on this wild literary ride. Though I started to question how much I loved the story in the last few volumes, I still declared my excitement about the series as a whole on the regular.
But mannnnnnnnnn was this second read rough.
Here we have a series that, supposedly, centers around a guy looking for God so that he can force God to explain why he has abandoned heaven and caused pain for so many people. But when I think back on the series, this is not at all what even comes to mind. I know the story does come back to this is the last couple volumes, but the back of Volume 6 talks all about Jesse trying to find God, and then barely touches on it in the trade itself. There are just so many things going on in Preacher, it loses sight of where it was going when it began.
That being said, I love the first issue of War in the Sun. The Grail has always been one of my favorite parts of the Preacher universe. In a unique twist on a common theme of religious entities influencing politics, The Grail has been actively militarized and involved in bringing about the end of the world since the death of Christ. There are no long lost texts or defunct societies that must be rediscovered and revived, The Grail has just been chugging along, doing its thing for centuries. The conspiracy runs deep as The Grail brings political leaders and important figures from around the world under its control through favors and connections.
The most intriguing part of this story is Herr Starr’s character development. When War in the Sun starts out, it seems to be jumping into a sympathetic origin story of a misunderstood villain. In the first few pages, set in the past, Herr Starr’s military deployment successfully defuses a hostage situation on an airplane. When the smoke clears, all the hostages are alive, but one little girl who was hit by a stray bullet. While the important looking inspector guy (not entirely sure what his rank is, but he’s wearing a trench coat and smoking a cigarette so probably pretty high up there) tells everyone that it’s a miracle more people weren’t killed and one death is nothing compared to the allowance of twelve they had for the night, Herr Starr holds the girl’s disfigured corpse and says, “This is not the way the world should be.”
What a moment, right? Herr Starr is showing his soft side. Maybe he hasn’t always been such a terrible person. Maybe the woes of the world have hardened and twisted him over the years. His fellow soldier, Brendel, certainly thinks so, offering Herr Starr a place in The Grail and letting him in on the grand conspiracy that is leading to the apocalypse. We get more insight into Starr’s past when he speaks with the Allfather of The Grail. The Allfather recounts a moment in Starr’s childhood when bullies held him down and cut a star into his face. “A star for Starr.” At first this too seems like a tale of a sad, misunderstood boy, driven to violence by horrible circumstances. The bullies targeted Starr because he was quiet and kept to himself. Starr was five at the time. He had done no wrong and this bothered them. After the children cut Starr, causing him to lose sight in one eye and be permanently scarred. After this, Starr spent the next five years killing off each of the bullies, making the deaths look like accidents, which is certainly a little disturbing, but again this story is told within the context of the Starr we’ve seen crying over a dead girl’s body.
This perception drastically shifts when Herr Starr is in the car talking to Brendel and explaining his plans to thwart The Grail’s scheme. Herr Starr does not agree with the person The Grail has chosen to make their messiah and he worries that the Allfather is no longer making rational decisions for The Grail’s cause. He plans to kill the Allfather and the child that has been chosen to be the Grail’s savior, to which Brendel replies, “Have you forgotten the little girl? . . . I watched you that night, gazing at her shattered face. That’s why I invited you to join The Grail. I thought you’d want to build a world where little girls would never have to die again.”
Herr Star’s response to this changes everything we had previously thought about his character in this issue. He says, “Then we were seeing different things that night. I was looking at the face of chaos. A reminder that the world lacks order, that uncertainty can reach out and smash us at any time. So long as that continues to be true, fixating on a single death is pointless. I am at war. I have been all my life. And I would kill a million little girls to win.”
Take a minute to let that sink in.
Now go back and think about Herr Starr’s conversation with the Allfather. So what I had read as Herr Starr being a sad boy acting out in the face of tragedy, was actually just Herr Starr being a sociopathic murderer. Herr Starr is not a sympathetic villain. Herr Starr does not have a soft little caramely center. Herr Starr is cold and calculating and terrible. I love that I was so ready to give Herr Starr a pass and accept that he was complicated and tormented soul, but Preacher was like NOPE! Wrong. You knew he was terrible, Julia. He is a really really awful person. Honestly, who cares what his past is. He’s really awful. And we almost got you to forgive him. But nope. Don’t do that.
Speaking of terrible people, we then move on to the next issue, when Cassidy makes an appearance. Ugh, Cassidy. I was so okay with him for so much of this series and then in the fifth book, he made me so upset. And then he just continued to make me more and more upset. And now that I’ve read the whole series on gone back to reread this book, the sight of Cassidy makes me immediately queasy. Basically, if a girl isn’t into you, don’t try to force her to be into you and ESPECIALLY don’t use her depression over the death of the love of her love and her consequent spiral into drug abuse and lethargy as a reason to move in sexually. I just. Ugh. He’s so upsetting and disturbing.
The entire rest of this book after the first issue is a giant clusterfudge disaster, much like the entire second half of this series. Jesse goes to take peyote so that he can be closer to Genesis, but he never actually ends up taking peyote in this book. (Remember that whole thing I mentioned about how the God storyline seems to get forgotten about in the rest of this mess? This is Exhibit A.) His hallucinogenic pursuits are derailed because Herr Starr decides to use Jesse to lure the Saint of Killers out into the desert, where Herr Starr is prepared with tanks and guns and planes and helicopters and a small section of the army. Of course, the Saint of Killers just barrels through them all and kills everything, so Herr Starr panics, calls in a favor with the president, and drops a nuke on the Saint of Killers. Yup. That happens.
And then! As if things couldn’t get any more ridiculous, Herr Starr falls out of a plane while he’s trying to get away (?) and somehow survives (??) and then wakes up in a cave with his leg has been eaten off by three cannibalistic siblings (???). And THEN! Jesse also falls out of a plane, but is saved from falling by Cassidy. He then uses the voice of Genesis to command Cassidy to let go of him so that only one of them has to die and not both of them. I know Preacher is all about being ridiculous and over the top, but what in the heavens is even happening in this book, it’s so all over the place and so crazy, but that certainly isn’t even the most concerning part.
The thing about this book that really leaves a dirty, gritty, slimy feeling crawling all over my skin is the Cassidy thing I mentioned earlier. After Jesse falls out of the plane and everyone thinks he’s dead, Cassidy and Tulip start traveling together. Tulip is heavily sedating herself with pills and alcohol. For a short while, Cassidy keeps his distance, but soon enough he swoops in to the position of Tulip’s lover and it is so non-consensual and terrible. This book is filled with destruction and death and people being terrible people, but all of it is so over the top that it doesn’t really sink in. Cassidy’s manipulation of Tulip is so real that it stands out as the most egregious act in the whole Preacher series.
The ending of this book also makes me incredibly angry. Jesse has recovered from his fall in the desert and is on the hunt to find Tulip and Cassidy. When he finally finds them again, he sees them through a diner window. Just as he’s walking up, he sees Cassidy lean in and kiss Tulip and he immediately falls down on the sidewalk in shock. And then he just LEAVES!! (Well, technically he doesn’t leave in this book, it ends with him lying on the sidewalk. He leaves in the beginning of the next one, but I know that’s what happens next and it makes me very upset.) He should have gone in and fought for her. He knows Cassidy. He know he’s scummy. He knows that everyone thought he was dead. What did he expect? I can’t imagine a real person would walk away from that situation and let the two most important people in his life continue to think that he was dead. It’s infuriating.
There was one little bright spot in all of the mess that was War in the Sun. The Fuck You Astronaut. After Jesse falls out of the plane into the desert, he forgets everything that happens until a month later when he wakes up in the home of Johnny Lee Wombat. Johnny tells Jesse about how when he was growing up he always dreamed of being an astronaut, but was then kicked out of the space program for faking the information on his application. Since he left the program, Johnny has been working on a project in the desert. For ten years he blew holes into the desert floor until he spelled out the words ‘fuck you’ in giant letters that could be seen from space. That guy is a gem in the terrible sea of violence and cruelty that is this book.
I’m so bummed with how I felt when rereading Preacher. For the first 60 pages, I was so excited to once again be reading about The Grail and all the ridiculousness surrounding Herr Starr. But then everything turned to chaos, gratuitous violence, terrible people, and disgustingness for the sake of disgustingness. I don’t understand why Arseface is still a story line that is happening in this series and I wish Garth Ennis would cool it with the inbred family portrayals. Thank goodness for the Fuck You Astronaut.