What does it mean to be a villain? Is it about intent? Is it about actions? What if those actions are terrible but driven by a righteous belief? These are questions I ask myself anytime I read a new story. I ask questions about the heroes, too. Sometimes—often, actually—I find the line between the hero's and villain's qualities to be thin. They both share traits in the same categories, and that's definitely been the case with Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's PREACHER.
Look at Jesse. He has an inner moral compass guiding him, but his needle is more wobbly than most people's. He does what he believes to be just, and sometimes it involves punching faces and drawing blood. Jesse's pursuance of what is right isn't necessarily right, even if it's effective. I don't know if I'd call him a hero; I'm pretty sure I wouldn't, but my feelings on the topic vary with the turning of the page. I do know Jesse's qualities are elevated by comparing him to the villains in PREACHER.
Grotesque. Callous. Cruel. Those are a few words I'd use to describe the foes Jesse, Cassidy, and Tulip go up against in PREACHER. The best characters make lasting impressions, and every villain I've encountered in the pages has earned a place in my long-term memory. Ennis and Dillon have a way of mixing despicable personality traits with interesting physical characteristics; the combination makes for precise, distasteful characters I can't shake from my head. The villains contribute to the unique world and mythology of PREACHER, and their extreme actions push the envelope. I can only imagine the effect they had when the comics were first published in the mid-late '90s.
Who's the worst of the worst? A number of names come to mind in an instant. Herr Starr. Jesse's family. The Saint of Killers. The Allfather. I don't have to flip through the collected volumes for a refresher. Especially not for someone like the Allfather.
Allfather D'Aronique is the 112th Allfather of The Grail, the organization dedicated to guarding The Messiah. The Allfather is powerful. Before he's introduced, he's talked about in tones that recognize his influence but also carry a reluctance about having to deal with him. This is a man the leaders of the world call every day to thank for protecting their power, and yet, he doesn't wear a power suit or maintain any sort of power or control over his physical form. Instead, he's grossly overweight and bulimic. It's both a contradiction and not—if you have boundless influence, would you bother to regulate your size?
The Allfather's girth is such that The Grail spends tens of millions of dollars every year fixing airplanes that break when they land because of the excessive weight. He has to travel with a group of people capable of carrying him. He stuffs his face and vomits all over himself. I shudder to think about the numerous tasks others are required to do for the Allfather because he cannot.
I haven't even touched upon his cruelty. During the Allfather's brief appearance in Volume 2, we see him send at least a dozen of his men to their deaths against the Saint of Killers without batting an eye. It was a small brush against his moral fabric, but I don't want or need to know more. The character is horrifying on a few levels, and I won't be forgetting him anytime soon.
D'Aronique is a single example of the unsavory characters in the story but not an extreme one. They all have distinctive aspects that take them beyond merely being "bad." The villains of PREACHER might make my nose wrinkle in disgust or make my eyebrows raise in shock, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Don't forget about your homework for next week! Tim Beedle and I will be discussing Volume 4 of PREACHER, and we want to hear your thoughts. Read it over the weekend, take some notes, and come back next Friday to share with the class.