Friday, 3 June 2016

By providence, a preacher worth watching

Preacher – the cast
It’s been pretty much gospel that Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s seminal comic series, Preacher, would never make it on screen.

Rambling across 75 issues from 1996 to 2000, the Vertigo-published story was apparently stuck in various layers of development hell for years, amid general feelings that it was ultimately impossible to film.

But fast forward a few years, when Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and Sam Catlin took up the challenge for AMC – and now we’re able to see the results.

In the UK, the pilot premiered as an Amazon Prime exclusive a fortnight ago. The first ordinary episode will air on 6 June, also on Amazon.

So far, we’ve had the chance to meet the three main protagonists: Jesse Custer, a small-town Texas preacher with a dodgy past who is struggling with his faith; Cassidy, an Irish vampire, and Tulip O’Hare, Jesse’s gun-toting ex.

Around the world, various clergy are exploding in front of their congregations in an unexplained manner – apparently, this includes leading Scientologist Tom Cruise, which may give you an idea of the humour on display.

But while Jesse prays for God to give him a sign of his existence, his body is invaded by something that gives him a strange, new power over people – although he has yet to realise this.

If it has moments that seem to channel Tarantino, it also has moments of surprising tenderness – not least in how Jesse treats the bullying sheriffs son, a young man whose attempted suicide by shooting himself in the mouth has failed, leaving him disfigured in such a way as to become known as Arseface.

The whole thing is dark, violent, funny, mixed-up and deeply un-PC stuff; part western, part road movie, part crime caper, part supernatural thriller, part horror story – but if you’ve ever read the comic, you’ll already know this.

And if you haven’t, then you’re in for a wild, genre-defying ride – and not one for those inclined to take offence easily.

It looks superb, with a wonderful sense of the vastness of the Texan landscape.

And the casting appears inspired. Dominic Cooper looks perfect as the eponymous cleric and nicely conveys the conflicts in the character.

Ruth Negga as Tulip is as feisty and takes-no-nonsense as you’d expect, but it has to be said, on this first outing at least, that Joseph Gilgun is going to steal the show as Cassidy.

It’s a fascinating point that none of this triumvirate of leading actors are from the US: Cooper and Gilgun are English; Negga is Ethiopian/Irish.

And that continues throughout the cast.

On the basis of the pilot, we’re in for a thoroughly entertaining time.

But the start of Preacher was not the only comic-related noteworthy moment of last week.

Arriving on my desk was a very nice hardback edition of the first four issues of Providence by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows.

This short series of just 12 issues started last year. This first trade is a hardback, limited to just 6,666 copies.

Set in 1919 in the US, Moore returns to his exploration of Lovecraftian horror, intertwining it with elements of real history to create a layered story.

The central character here is Robert Black, a young man trying to make his way as a writer, first as a New York reporter and then with the aim of writing a Great American Novel about the occult ‘outsiders’ that he seeking out – as a metaphor for social outsiders in the country.

And central to this is Black’s own mixed status: at once, part of the privileged white establishment, he is also Jewish and gay, hiding both from most of those he encounters.

But for all that, he is also not immune to bigotry himself.

Some commentators have noted that Black is not particularly likeable. The real point is that he is a flawed and complex character – which is actually what you expect in something by Moore.

And this being a Moore work, it also defies it’s nature as a comic to include substantial amounts of text – both pages from Black’s diary and also from leaflets and books he collects.

Burrow’s art works well in conveying a sepia world that is never far from the strange and the dark.

All in all, a grown-up comic treat.

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