After months of anticipation, Preacher exploded onto screens last Sunday. The premiere episode of AMC's adaptation of the comic by writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon established a key difference from the source material with the final scene: Jesse Custer, a.k.a. Preacher, decided his purpose was to stay in Annville and save the souls of its citizens, of his flock. He doesn't know what happened to him or that he possesses the Word of God—he might suspect something is off, but he isn't fully aware. Not yet.
In the comic series, Jesse went in another direction. Literally. He learned he was inhabited and granted powers by Genesis, a being created by an illicit relationship between a demon and an angel. That knowledge is enough of a revelation for an entire lifetime, frankly, but it wasn't all Jesse had to wrestle with. Jesse also found out God abandoned heaven when Genesis emerged.
Jesse took umbrage with God bailing, and I don't particularly blame him. In response, the not-so-good Preacher took it upon himself to hit the road to find God. As you can imagine, when an entity as powerful as God doesn't want to be found, it's not an easy task to track him down.
The comic meanders out of Annville and onto the road, and the look and style is very much reminiscent of the western film genre. The dialogue is straightforward. The Saint of Killers looks like an outlaw and cowboy. The ghost of John Wayne, the actor who was basically a quintessential western hero, appears to Jesse to offer advice. The comic incorporates iconography from the genre—variations of a lone person striding into town or sweeping, orange-hued rocky vistas splashing across the page.
Heck, Jesse fits into the conventional western film hero suit with ease. He's from Texas. He may not follow the law to the letter (okay, he doesn't follow the law to the letter at all), but he's driven by a personal code of honor. He acts according to his moral center and pursues justice and what he believes to be right. It wouldn't feel terribly out of place for him to say, "Howdy, pardner." Though he might add some uh, color, to the phrase.
Ennis has called PREACHER his spin on the western. He developed the story with "the hallmarks of the stories" he grew up on. He said, "The hero would stand four-square for what was right and just, the girl would be beautiful, the sidekick a rogue, the villains a bunch of shits, the comic relief an annoying little bastard."
The AMC series, as far as I know, won't be following the comic to places such as the Alamo or Monument Valley (which is about the most western looking landscape to ever landscape). It is set in Texas, but the point I'm trying to make is that it's not necessarily about location. It's about touchstones like principles, character archetypes, and language—the verbal and visual kinds. The western influences are among the features that make PREACHER stand apart and leave a mark.
If you missed the premiere episode of AMC’s Preacher, the network is re-airing it this Sunday, May 29 at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. CST). Or you can stream the whole thing right now on AMC’s website. I’ll be back in a week with another dive into this crazy, cool comic series.