Garth Ennis loves America the way that I love Las Vegas: fascinated by the unashamed spectacle, but eventually baffled by the idiots who roam the streets. “Dixie Fried” is perhaps the perfect example of this, as no good story about the United States would be complete without a trip to New Orleans, and yet the majority of the characters found in the Big Easy are two dimensional and ridiculous. But I suppose that’s exactly how most outsiders would view the average American.
After the events with The Grail, Jesse decides he needs to do some deep soul searching to try to figure out what this Genesis thing that’s inside him really is. Cassidy suggests trying voodoo because, hey, why not, and also, if you’re going to write a story about America, you’re probably going to want to visit New Orleans. Alternate ideas at the time were to have them go to New England to eat clam chowder or Indiana to become farmers, because these are things that people know about America. And maybe stop off for some peaches in Georgia (side note: California produces more peaches than Georgia).
They run into Arseface on the way there. He’s been tracking Jesse down to make him pay for what he did to Arseface’s father, but, after laughing at him for a bit, they convince AF to go with them, and that perhaps his dad wasn’t a great guy.
Yes, I know I’ve skipped the first two issues in this collection, but I’ll come back to them, I promise. They need some discussing.
In New Orleans, Cassidy sets up a meeting with some former friends, specifically Xavier and Dee. Xavier is a witch doctor and Dee happens to be friends with Cassidy’s ex, who doesn’t just want Cassidy dead, she wants him to suffer.
The Anne Rice cult in New Orleans still has a mad on for Cassidy so they set out to kill him (theoretically to turn themselves into vampires, too, somehow) and anyone associated with him. Arseface, meanwhile, joins a local band up on stage and becomes an instant hit, at least the guy who discovered Elvis thinks so.
The wannabe vampires attack Tulip, who does them in like the action star that she is. They launch a counter attack, though, just as Jesse is undergoing his voodoo mind meld. He sees the origin of the Saint of Killers which is, to be honest, the highlight of this entire arc. The parallel running between Jesse and the Saint is one of the nicer stories in the entire series. They’ both searching for God, but for very different reasons. They’re both seemingly single minded in their pursuit. What’s particularly interesting is the idea that the Saint of Killers is a twisted picture of John Wayne, the man Jesse turns to whenever he’s in trouble.
There’s gratuitous violence and people die and in the end Dee pays the price for being anywhere near Cassidy. That’s the theme of this arc, really: people who spend any time around Cassidy end up getting shit on. Xavier actually says as much to Tulip before she and Jesse leave town. It’s not intentional, but Cassidy just makes those around him suffer. He is the bad boyfriend that neither men nor women can seem to keep out.
All of this adds fuel to the fire already burning in Tulip after the events of the first two issues in this collection.
It also introduces what might be the saving grace of the series.
A while back, another comic book web site ran an article about the “real villain of Preacher” or something like that, with a tag line suggesting that this was some revelation that anyone who read the book probably missed. Their answer: Cassidy. Which, of course, made the article ridiculous, because if you read Preacher and didn’t realize that Cassidy was the bad guy, you should have paid more attention.
It’s in these first two issues that we start thinking something might be up.
Cassidy gets drunk and tells Tulip he has feelings for her. Jesse be damned, he’s in love with her. This is a problem. Tulip doesn’t tell Jesse, but she does tell her best friend Amy. Tulip explains to her friend why she has no plans to tell Jesse and it cuts to the heart of the series:
This is, to my mind, the first time Ennis has really introduced the idea that perhaps he’s challenging preconceived notions of masculinity. If this is how Cassidy gets into Jesse’s good graces – which ends up being horrible for everyone involved – then maybe this type of manly bonding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe Cassidy is the villain because he represents everything that’s the problem: the ultimate male, devoid of conscious or fear.
But it’s really hard to believe that this is Ennis’ goal. Even if we set aside the sheer volume of manly man humor (including rampant homophobia), there’s the simple fact that Jesse is never taken to task for his belief system, which is funny, given he’s pretty skeptical about his other belief system. There’s nothing to indicate that perhaps Jesse’s perspective on what makes another guy a solid dude bro is a problem. Rather, it’s just Cassidy who is the issue, a guy who takes advantage of other dude bros, usually to get laid.
This is part of what makes Preacher so difficult to pick apart. We want it to mean more than it does. We don’t want to look back on something we read twenty years ago to see that maybe we just thought it was cool because we were immature boys who wanted to be cool like Jesse and Cassidy. And while I have long maintained that the greatness of this series ultimately boils down to the romance between Jesse and Tulip, I’m starting to wonder if perhaps I’ve been glorifying that for all these years, too.
I’ll say this much, though, re-reading this series has reminded me how well paced it is, how quickly it moves without glossing over anything important. Purely from a craftsmanship standpoint, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a great comic. It is creative, whether we choose to accept what that creativity is about. The main characters are as frighteningly true as the minor characters are frighteningly stereotyped. Ennis’ greatest weapon, however, is Dillon, who manages to make this story hyper realistic as opposed to completely ridiculous.
This eventually get worse with regards to Cassidy, so it will be interesting to see how my opinion of the series fluctuates. I have no idea how old, suburban me will respond to the finale, compared to how young, punk rock me did.