—There's a fella's gonna be coming for me. An' you couldn't stop him wi' a hundred've yer scum. You couldn't stop him wi' a thousand guns.
Cassidy, praying for the main character to save him.
Garth Ennis' Preacher tells the story of Jesse Custer, a down-at-heel Texan preacher whose life is turned around when he is cursed with The Word of God, which compels people to do whatever he commands. After finding out that God has abdicated His throne, Jesse sets out on a quest to bring Him to task, joined by Tulip, his ex-girlfriend-turned-hitman, and Cassidy, an Irish vampire.Their quest takes them across the dark heart of America, from the streets of New York to the Louisiana swamps, and along the way they meet inbred hicks, serial killers, John Wayne's ghost, The Saint of Killers, the retarded descendants of Jesus, an ancient religious conspiracy, a pair of perverted Sexual Investigators, Bill Hicks, the anti-Pope, fallen angels, voodoo children, psycho goths, The Klan and a kid with a face like an arse.The book enthusiastically denies the Christian concept of a loving God, satirizes various aspects of modern living and throws in a few good fistfights and explosions along the way. It was published by Vertigo Comics. The series lasted for 66 regular issues, running from April, 1995 to October, 2000. There were also a number of specials and a 4-issue mini-series featuring the Saint of Killers.
This series provides examples of:
0% Approval Rating: Sheriff Hugo Root is feared and loathed by everyone in Annville, his wife left him and it's heavily implied that even his deputies despise him. Seeing as the man was basically just a thug with a badge, this comes as no surprise. Ironically, the one person who doesn't hate him at the start of the series is his biggest victim: Arseface, his own son, whom he mercilessly abused until the latter's failed suicide attempt.
Achilles' Heel: Jesse Custer's Word of God can only affect those who understand it, as evidenced by a non-English-speaking strike team dispatched by Starr. (And a cat). It's also proven that The Word can be thwarted if Jesse is interrupted.
Played with during Jesse's rescue of Cassidy: Forewarned by Herr Starr, Frankie has a rifle aimed square at Jesse while he gloats that if Jesse says one word, he'll shoot. Jesse says "Miss."
Author Tract: There are too many times for it to be a coincidence that the plot stops dead in its tracks just so that various characters (mostly Jesse and Cassidy) can give their opinion about a certain subject. One egregious example is when Jesse hears how Arseface was being sued by the parents of one of his fans because the fan tried to look like him and died by shooting themselves in the face multiple times. Jesse then goes on a tirade about media watchdogs and political correctness, and then for some reason the tirade switches from those subjects to being about people who wear body piercings. In fairness to this particular example, Jesse realizes what he was complaining about and says thathe needs to get laid.
Jesse and Cassidy talk about how the worst thing a man can ever do is hit a woman (instead of serial murder, cannibalism, or betraying loved ones).
Back from the Dead: Played straight and literally for the most part, with several characters directly resurrected.
Big Screwed-Up Family: The L'Angelles. Jesse remarks that the L'Angelles must have the "Devil's own piss" running in their veins instead of blood. It was something of a miracle that Jesse's own mother turned out as well as she did — which is probably why she fled in the first place.
Body Horror: Used as a method of torture - A paralyzed man is distracted by Eisenstein for several minutes until he is allowed to look to the side and sees Eisenstein's bodyguard eating his hand. He gives up the information.
Interestingly, though the Saint of Killers originally lived in the Civil War era and slept for a century before waking up for the events of the series, he has no problem dealing with such technology as cars, radios, helicopters, and tanks. Of course, he tends to deal with such things the way he deals with everything.
His miniseries mentions at the end that 'his shade' walked the Earth after going to sleep, doing his job as angel of death as 'he had a busy century ahead of him'. It's possible he saw the world's development as he did so: he does seem pretty non-plussed when he's actually woken up.
Bottomless Magazines: The Saint of Killers' revolvers. They were forged by Satan to have their hammers never fall on empty chambers.
Brother-Sister Incest: Over the course of the series we see the unfortunate genetic result of two sets of inbred families - Billy-Bob's family in "All In The Family" and the handicapped children of Jesus in "Crusaders". Lampshaded by Starr.
Starr: Son of man or son of God, you can't fuck your sister and expect much good to come of it.
But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Subverted. When Hoover comes back from counting sand, Jessie does not remember him for a few minutes. When he does recognize him, he acknowledges that he was wrong and helps Hoover forget the worst of the trauma.
Butt Monkey: Hoover and Arseface are sympathetic examples, which is interesting since the former is technically an antagonist. Starr, on the other hand, just lives a never-ending Humiliation Conga from one page to the next.
Joe the bartender also counts, but he's still an optimist. Mistaken (partially his own fault) for a serial pedophile and medically castrated as a result? Check. Inability to sexually satisfy his wife, leading to divorce? Check. Wife winning all the money he got from the state to compensate for destroying his balls? Check.
Detective John Tool, "the unluckiest cop in the world"
Compensating for Something: Starr loves his big gun. Or as he calls it, muttering "Doomcock. Doomcock." Of course, he thought he was just practicing, saying cock then he cocked it and DOOM when he fired it.
Comes Great Responsibility: Jesse initially resists using his powers for his own gain...then decides to just say hell with it. By the end of the series, though, he learns some hard lessons about the unintended consequences of rash action.
Corrupt Hick: Odin Quincannon in "Salvation". Also known as the Meat King, he is a corrupt hick who operates an inhumane meat plant, orders the death of a local sheriff, is a card-carrying member of The Klan, tries to blow up a nearby village with napalm, employs a Hitler fetishist as his PA and repeatedly has sex with a giant female figure made out of sides of ham. Seriously. He was so corrupt his fellow Klansmen started wondering if he was taking the whole racism thing a bit too far.
Cal Hicks tries to be this, but he seems to embrace the stereotypes of Private Detective more. He has a fancy car (repossessed because he can't afford it on a police salary), hot girlfriend (leaving him, probably because he's a virgin with a ridiculously ludicrous idea of what sex is like), on suspension (you can only get away with this if you have a massively perfect arrest record and he doesn't), has a canine sidekick (Doofus, leaves after T.C. spends the night with the dog), and has a drinking problem (probably brought on by hard-drinkin' detectives on TV). Tries to fly a copter and crashes it. Tries to take charge and it's clear Jody has him outclassed. Talks tough and Jody feeds him to a gator. Really, one of the more inept wannabes.
Jesse becomes this in Salvation. Awesomeness ensues. No doubt inspired by:
Tom Pickett, the Texas Ranger Jesse and Tulip met when they were younger.
Cuteness Proximity: The Saint gets a couple of moments of this with the girl he later marries, and then with their child, though of course it's largely played for contrast. Also, to his surprise, Tulip's Rated M for Manly dad (though it helps that she just burped).
Aw, so you're a girl. That needn't be so bad.
Dark Action Girl: That one chick. You know the one. With the action. And the dark.
Deadpan Snarker: Starr is the outstanding case, but Featherstone does her best, and most others have their moments.
Death Is the Only Option: Jesse Custer's plan near the end is to die so that God himself will return to Heaven thinking it now safe, only to find the Saint of Killers occupying the celestial throne. Jesse returns from the dead but comments that still being alive is an empty victory, like using a cheat code in a video game.
Bill, Cassidy's old heroin supplier. When Cassidy can no longer get the money for his habits, he says that Cassidy or his girlfriend can give him a blowjob instead: "I'm not particular".
Depraved Homosexual: All the queer characters in the series are more or less depraved. On the other hand, there are a fair few depraved straight folks about, too - Ms. Oatlash stands out as an example.
Development Hell: Various attempts to adapt it for a series on Showtime, HBO, or a feature length movie.
Determinator: Many, but special mention needs to be given to Herr Starr after his escape from the desert.
Hoover, who is made by the Word of God to count sand. Even Jesse later admits that this crossed the line.
Jesse's grandmother catches him cursing at Jody after he nails his dog to the fence. She responds by nailing him into a weighted box and dropping him in the river for a week with just an air hose to keep him from suffocating. Of course, that was probably more to tighten her control over him and "toughen him up" than anything else.
Eagleland: Somehow subverted. Warts and all - and they are very big warts - this series reads like Garth Ennis' love letter to America.
Earth Is Young: Straight Type C: The Bible is literal truth, and the reason we have reason to believe otherwise is that God is desperate to be loved: If our lives are Hell on Earth and we don't have any reason to believe that God even exists but still love him anyway, then our love is such a sweet ego-boost in His eyes.
"Gets ya to fuckin' love him and then stabz ya inna back. Love him so much ya don't believe he did it. Blood all over ya. Big fuckin' knife in ya back. An' ya don't believe he did it. Maybe hez sick. Maybe it wasn't him. Just looked like him. Maybe he made a mistake."
Gilligan Cut: When Hoover starts getting worried about Starr's behavior, Featherstone reasurres him that he's as stable and rational as ever. Cut to Starr throwing a computer through a high-rise window, with a scream of "FUCKING COMPUTERS!"
God Is Evil: While arguably not as bad as God in Spawn, God, as depicted here, is a selfish, love-obsessed malicious prick who deliberately engineers suffering and mayhem because people loving him despite all the sadistic tortures he inflicts fills him with joy.
God Is Flawed: It is eventually revealed that all of the world's problems are caused by being created by a guy who grew up in total solitude (because there wasn't any universe yet!) and thus developed what could be considered a narcissistic personality disorder as well as any number of related mental problems.
Good People Have Good Sex: And evil people have weird, fucked-up, unmentionable sex that sometimes barely seems to qualify as sex...
Good Scars, Evil Scars: Herr Starr's scar is evil, especially since it makes him into a walking Gag Penis. His "star for Starr" scar is what turned him into a bald, gruff voiced calculating killer in the first place.
Good Thing You Can Heal: Cassidy. He takes decapitation in stride. This is used against him when Herr Starr, furious at the depth of his error in kidnapping Cassidy instead of Jesse, calls in his old friend Frankie to continuously shoot him to near-death, then wait for him to heal, then repeat.
Gory Discretion Shot: Highly averted, with one particularly strong subversion - Billy-Bob's fatal wounding in "How I learned to love the Lord" in the second volume.
Played straight with the very last death of the comic, though perhaps that's just for artistic nuance.
Happily Failed Suicide: Arseface tried to kill himself because he was sad and lonely, and his idol and his only friend had both just killed themselves. After the failed suicide attempt, he does all he can to turn his life around, but can never get away from his face being horribly disfigured by the shotgun blast that so fortunately missed his brain. This may be inspired by the real-life botched shotgun suicide of James Vance after hearing a subliminal message in a Judas Priest song.
Heel-Face Turn: The Saint Of Killers. It certainly says something about the series that that character's decision to kill God Almighty marks his Heel-Face Turn.
To a lesser but no less profound degree, Hoover and Featherstone.
Heteronormative Crusader: Discussed, with the main characters taking a very negative stand on this kind of behavior and certain villains implying that do some normative crusading along with their racist ditto.
Implacable Man: The Saint is thwarted once in the whole series and only because he didn't know that Jesse's Word of God could affect him, and even then, he very nearly makes Jesse repeat himself; he stops pulling his gun halfway, but doesn't put it back in the holster as ordered, at first. He makes it very clear in his next appearance that it willnotwork again.
Instant Death Bullet: Usually played straight (especially with the Saint of Killers, specifically mentioned to have a gun of instant-death - his bullets are shown to tear people in half at some points), but subverted at least thrice.
Karma Houdini: After all of the skeletons in his closet are revealed at how much a monster he is, Cassidy pulls it off making a deal with God to capture Genesis. The last pages show him alive, with his curse removed.
The Saint of Killers, too, gets off more or less scot-free despite murdering, what, thousands of people? Granted, lots of those people had it coming, but many were just unlucky bastards in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Kick the Dog: A literal example of this leads to Jesse throwing a Jerkass cop through his cruiser windshield.
Laser Sight: One shows up on Jesse's side to show Klansmen that he's got them covered.
The Last DJ: Colonel Holden provides the page quote, and Jesse qualifies too, considering how much easier his own life would be if he sold out his integrity.
Law of Inverse Fertility: In the Salvation arc, Toby and never-seen girlfriend Turleen aren't even thinking of having a baby (Or much else, for that matter) when he tells Jodie that he thought she was pregnant because she'd missed her period. They're not worried, because it happened once before, last month. God, these two are such idiots.
Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: The Duke, clearly meant to be John Wayne but never explicitly referred to as such and always drawn with face in shadow. Ditto The King, more briefly.
Light Is Not Good: Put it like this; Satan or his minions, aside from the Saint of Killers, never show up. The Angels do their jobs for them.
Even Genesis' father isn't spared, instead coming off as a serious Bastard Boyfriend; he denounces Genesis as an unnatural abomination that needs to be destroyed, calls the she-demon he fathered it upon disgusting, and admits without hesitation that when the pregnant she-demon approached him and pleaded with him to join her in abandoning Hell and Heaven alike so they could be a family, he strangled her to death, hoping to also kill Genesis in her womb. His only regret is not doing it sooner, because he was cast out from Heaven as a result of Genesis' birth.
Like a Badass out of Hell: The Saint of Killers, stopping only just long enough on the way out to shoot Satan in the face for insulting him.
Literal Genie: Jesse's choice of words with the Word of God sometimes has... unfortunate consequences. Like the time he told Arseface's father to "go fuck yourself", which resulted in him tearing off his own penis and sodomizing himself with it.
Made of Plasticine: Human beings are ludicrously fragile in this series. Every bone broken will immediately sprout forth from the skin- even breaking someone's finger does this. Kicks to the chin can pop eyes out, punches to the throat are fatal, blood spurts from every single wound, etc.
Mondegreen: When Jessie, Tulip, and Cass sing along to What a Feeling by Irene Cara in Dixie Fried, they sing the line "got me reelin'" instead of "bein's believin'"
Moral Dissonance: Neither Jesse nor anyone else ever seems to consider that, for example, after his "bank robbery" the teller who gave him the money probably went to prison. For that matter, Jesse's supposedly high moral standards seem to clash with his constant criminality. And at no point does anyone criticize him for his Violence Really Is the Answer solution to everything. Cindy eventually calls him out on this by pointing out that the sheriff really ought to observe the law a little more often.
More Dakka: Starr has a tank unload its shells directly into the Saint. And when that doesn't work, well, he's got a backup plan too...
Negated Moment of Awesome: Cassidy tries to attack the Saint of Killers by ramming him with a pickup truck. The Saint doesn't even flinch, the truck crumples like paper, Cass gets flung through the windshield, past Hugo Root, to land practically on his head next to Jesse. He clearly thought that plan through... (His repeated tendency to not plan ahead or thoroughly is the main reason why he gets in so much trouble).
Not Using the Z Word: They curse, they kill, they blaspheme; but, despite the fact that one of the characters is undead and drinks blood, nobody says the word "vampire" even once. Cassidy does describe himself as "the V word", though...
Our Vampires Are Different: Cassidy loves garlic, is unaffected by holy water and crosses and survives decapitation. He can also enter a church, can't turn into anything, and doesn't need invitations to enter anyplace. He doesn't even have any fangs, just regular teeth. The sun's a killer, though.
"I tried (turning into a bat) once. Broke both my legs."
Out of the Inferno: The Saint takes a direct hit from an atomic bomb. Several scenes later, we cut to him standing amidst the nuclear fire, his perfectly undamaged duster still flapping in the breeze, with a contemptuous look on his face.
Saint of Killers: "Not enough gun."
Papa Wolf: John Custer, who would have won against Jody. Seriously, John hit him like a train!
Period Piece: The series is seemingly inexorably tied to the time of its publication, with the (for most of the series) looming year of 2000 being a major plot point, Kurt Cobain's death to Arseface's origin, Jesse's father serving in Vietnam...if the series were to be adapated for a movie or a series, one wonders what kind of headaches it would be if they decided to update it to current events.
Person of Mass Destruction: The Saint of Killers, which was realized far too late by an unfortunate tank battalion. How dangerous could a guy who looks like he walked out of a Western set be?
The Power of Legacy: Deconstructed, then averted. When Jesse is hanging on to Cassidy from a plane, he tells Cassidy to tell Tulip he loves her, then orders him to let go. Cassidy then reveals himself by telling Tulip that Jessie didn't say anything. But at the very end, Cassidy's goodbye letter explains to Tulip what Jesse had really told him.
Precision F-Strike: Considering that this book uses at least one F-word to describe an adorable baby kitten, it's pretty amazing that they still manage to pull this trope off:
Hoover: Motherfucker. You evil, soulless, motherfucker.
And let's not forget the one that is visible from space.
Pure Is Not Good: The Grail is filled with this. Whether they realize it or not. (Honestly, they look at their captive lineage of Jesus's badly atavistic descendants, and they still think that because the line has never had new blood, it's automatically good?!)
Purple Prose: In the one-shot "Blood and Whiskey", the vampire Eccarius speaks this way. It's revealed that he's a self-important posuer dimwit who just followed what was in the books and movies on vampires without question.
Quick Draw: The Saint of Killers can draw his guns faster than a man can see. He uses this to shut down Jesse's Word the second time they meet.
Saint of Killers: "I'm bettin' I can clear holster 'fore your words hit the breeze, preacher. First twitch I see...that's what I'm gonna do."
Right after his Happily Failed Suicide, Arsefaceís best friendís sister asked him why he and her brother were Driven to Suicide. Arseface answers (writes) ''Nobody cared''. To the only person who cared enough to visit him in the hospital. She angrily screams before leaving in tears:
Self-obsessed, whining little shit! Nobody cared? Nobody Cared? If you two did you this to yourselves, then YOU DIDN'T CARE NEITHER!
Redemption Failure: Since he's something of an Expy of Clint Eastwood's characters, Saint of Killers' gets a backstory about his life as a retired outlaw and gunslinger. Things rapidly go awry in fashion very similar to what befalls Eastwood's character in Unforgiven.
Retired Monster: Gunther Hahn, the Angel of Death and, at the end of the story, the Saint of Killers.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Herr Starr got his scar, voice, and baldness from a childhood incident where a gang of schoolboys cut his eye out with a piece of glass. They ended up dead before his tenth birthday. This incident got him the job as the Chief Executioner of the Grail.
Scope Snipe: Eisenstein's bodyguard almost kills a sniper this way. It's not a scope snipe because the bodyguard's bullet hits the sniper in the center of the sniper's forehead, not the sniper's eye. In a preceding panel the sniper is looking through his scope at the bodyguard- there was no reason for the sniper, seeing the bodyguard aiming at him, to stop looking through the scope and raise his (the sniper's) rifle to where the scope would have been pointing above his eye level.
Serial Killings, Specific Target: Herr Starr is given the task of murdering a man in an insane asylum in such a way that the authorities do not investigate his death too deeply. Being a pragmatic man, Starr simply blows up the entire asylum, so that investigators will have several hundred potential targets to sort through. Rather than a serial killing, it's a mass murder, but the intent is the same.
When John Wayne gives you a lighter that says "Fuck Communism", you don't really have a choice.
Social Services Does Not Exist: One of the reasons why the L'Angelles are so fucked up, passing on the increasingly psychotic tendencies to succeeding generations. Also, why Billy-Bob and Lori come from an increasingly inbred family.
Undoubtedly the L'Angelles' Grail connections (Allfather D'Aronique, the most powerful man in the world, was Marie's nephew) kept their multitude of crimes - such as kidnapping John Custer and his family, his murder and all the other crap that Jody and T.C. pulled - from being investigated.
Spirit Advisor: Jesse is guided on the path to become a Real Man by John Wayne.
Spoiled Sweet: Rich girl Amy is the first person to befriend Tulip, who was pretty lonely at this point.
Hollywood Masochism: If the authors know anything about actual BDSM and fetishism, then they chose to hide it really well for the same of Rule of Funny or whatever. Or it might just be that every single sadomasochist in the comic also just happens to be psychotic or similar.
Take That: One long trainride of it against Christianity.
Plus a generous helping of it for certain historical Irishmen. Michael Collins for one is given a good hard kick, and Cassidy expresses a very poor opinion of Padraig Pearse.
A character who is clearly meant to be Neil Gaiman has a sheaf of rolled-up poetry forced down his throat by Cassidy. Later in the same arc, he is mentioned as having achieved great success as a writer by "blending genres".
One of the "sexual investigators" has a trophy for blowing the "entire English rugby team," as well as winning the Navy...blowing championship 3 years in a row.
There are more than a few shots taken at the music industry, media commentators, media watchdogs, political correctness, psychiatrists and psychology buzzwords, liberal and conservative extremists, Goths, Anne Rice, racists, child molesters, self-loathing homophobes, and hypocrites of every variety. In fact, it's hard to think of anyone who wasn't told to stick it where the sun doesn't shine at least once during this series. Except John Wayne.
The Unfair Sex: Cassidy is a horrible person for confessing to Tulip that he's in love with her, but in a flashback issue, Amy openly acknowledges her feelings for Jesse, but he is understanding and they decide not to do anything about it because they both "love her (Tulip) too much". Eventually, some shadier details about Cassidy's past begin to surface to justify this sentiment, but not until after Cassidy has been vilified.
There Are No Therapists: The option is mentioned, but disregarded because "Shrinks are for assholes". Jesse also goes into an amusing rant about the overuse of the word "insecure" and other pop-psych buzzwords and phrases in conversations.
Trampoline Tummy: Disgustingly subverted. The handicapped kid who is the last surviving descendant of Jesus apparently amuses himself by taking flying leaps into the copious fat-rolls of the evil Cardinal who rules The Grail. Rather than just bouncing hilariously off of it, however, it also makes the cardinal puke by the bucketload, which suits him fine since he's bulimic...
Uh-Oh Eyes: Cassidy looks to be a pretty average man in his mid twenties. The only hint of his condition is the horribly bloodshot state of his eyes.
Undying Loyalty: The closest thing to a redeeming feature Jody ever displays. He is genuinely upset that Miss Marie will die of old age soon and hates Jesse for giving her trouble. He even has a kind of truly sick loyalty to Jesse in his dogged determination to be the father figure from hell.
It's implied near the end that the Saint of Killers is disgusted, if not outright horrified, at the atrocities he has committed since becoming who he is.
What the Hell, Hero?: Frequent. When Jesse rashly or irresponsibly uses the Word, it often comes back to bite him in the ass. A big part of his Character Development comes from realizing that he can't just throw his weight around whenever he wants to.
Kind-of-lampshaded for Jody, by Jody, while chatting up Tommi.
Will They or Won't They?: Jesse and Cindy. The story dances around the possibility of their coupling for some time. Keep in mind that at this point Tulip thinks Jesse is dead and Jesse thinks she's moved on to a relationship with Cassidy and is not sure that dropping in on her life again is fair.
Artistic License - Pharmacology: When Tulip goes to a bar, she speaks to a barman who claims he was wrongfully chemically castrated (his name sounded similar to that of a pedophile). The thing is, he claims his testicles were rendered useless as if he was literally castrated. This does not work as one needs to be constantly chemically re-castrated in order for the effects to last. Given that this was written in the mid 90s, one could forgive Garth Ennis for not knowing this.