Four-Color Flashback: ‘Preacher: Vol. 2 – Until the End of the World’

Four-Color Flashback returned last week with the first of nine installments discussing the controversial Vertigo series Preacher. I’m new to the series, Paul’s been a fan since it first started in 1995, and we roundtable it. (Or is it a cross-table? There are only two of us.)

This week, we discuss Preacher: Vol. 2 – Until the End of the World

Paul: Okay, Mr. AJ, you survived the first explosive, expletive-laden volume of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher. Here we are, back for more, so tell me…how do you think the second volume, Until the End of the World, holds up?

AJ: I loved the first volume. I had some problems with it–Arseface, Detective Bridges’ sexuality–but on the whole, I thought it was a really entertaining comic with some brilliant ideas. I’m happy to report that Until the End of the World not only continues the witty, profane, blood-splattered fun of Gone to Texas; it also does it one better by introducing some seriously compelling bits of mythology.

Paul: Ooh, give us a fer instance.

AJ: First of all, the revelation of Jesse’s childhood. You warned me last time that no matter how fucked-up I thought it would be, it would be even more fucked-up. You were right. His dad is killed right in front of him by two monstrous individuals by the names of Jody and T.C., then he and his mom are dragged back to the home of her mom: Jesse’s Gran’ma. Jesse’s evil, evil Gran’ma. After Jody kills Jesse’s dog, Jesse calls him a “dirty fucker,” the result of which is his mother’s death. After that, Jesse is put in a coffin and sent to the bottom of the swamp. I mean…Jesus Christ. Really. I haven’t even mentioned poor one-eyed Billy-Bob.

Paul: Dude. The level of fucked, fucked, fucking fucked-up-itude of Jesse’s childhood is beyond words. But what really sells it all, no matter how ridiculously over-the-top the evil gets, is Jesse’s reaction to Tulip being in danger, being hurt, ultimately being killed.

AJ: I’d agree with that. Though the evil is undoubtedly over-the-top–we’re only two volumes in, but I can’t imagine Preacher ever not being over-the-top–is it bad that I just went, “Well…yeah, they’re a creepy backwoods hick family led by a controlling matriarch. Of course they’re gonna kill dogs and fuck chickens and send kids to the bottom of the swamp until they love the Lord”? Either there’s already so much horror that relies on similar conventions or I’m just showing my bias against rednecks, but unlike some of the stereotypes last time around, that didn’t bother me at all.

Paul: Hahaha, fair enough. So talk to me about John Wayne.

AJ: Didn’t have a whole lot of range, but played the macho cowboy hero better than almost anyone else. Best performance was in The Shootist.

Oh wait. You mean this John Wayne. Gone to Texas established that the Duke’s spirit, or some manifestation thereof, has been appearing to Jesse for almost his whole life. In this volume, we find out that Jesse has looked up to Wayne ever since his dad took him to see True Grit. So he grew up with this ideal of John Wayne as the perfect man’s man. Then before his dad died, his dad imparted these words to him: “You gotta be like John Wayne: you don’t take no shit off fools, an’ you judge a person by what’s in ’em, not how they look. An’ you do the right thing.” So what I’m wondering is this: did the scene in Vol. 1 of the Duke’s hand reaching out to lil’ Jesse from the TV screen occur before or after his old man bit it? In other words, has Jesse created this John Wayne figure as a coping mechanism or is it actually a spirit of some kind?

Paul: One of my favorite forgotten, never-brought-up-again moments from the Angel television series involved one character having a very moving conversation with what is either the spirit or the idealized memory of a deceased loved one. I always wanted that moment to be more important than it ultimately appears to have been. But reading this story again for probably the tenth time, I suddenly realized I feel the same way about Jesse and the Duke. I won’t say whether or not we ever get a definitive answer as to the who/what/when/where/why of HeadDuke, but I will say I love the ambiguity of it at this particular point of the series.

And I also just realized I invoked the Battlestar Galactica equivalents as well, with the HeadSix and HeadBaltar. Apparently I really love this trope. Despite not being much of a John Wayne fan.

AJ: Dude. The Shootist.

Paul: It’s been way too long to give an honest opinion. I don’t hate him, just never worshiped him like so many did/do…including Jesse. And clearly Ennis.

AJ: Interesting that you bring up Ennis’ seeming adoration of Wayne. I’m gonna commit that cardinal sin of talking about the creator instead of his work for just a teensy second. John Wayne was a huge right-wing figure; I like a number of his movies, but there’s no denying that. I know Ennis has a noted disdain for religion, but his and Jesse’s idolization of John Wayne, along with a few other things, got me wondering about Ennis’ politics. Do you think there’s a political bent to Preacher?

Paul: Hmm. I’m not sure. I am notoriously disdainful of religion, and a lot of other things that figure prominently in the series. Yet I’ve enjoyed Preacher tremendously every time I’ve read it. I think more than any political statement or study, this book is Ennis’ love letter to the American Ideal of Manly Manhood as represented by Texas, John Wayne, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. There is most definitely something to be read into the exploration of religion and freedom as it plays out by the end. But the classic Old West and mythic gunslinger stuff is just window dressing.

I think.

AJ: I’ll keep that in mind as we go along, and hopefully by the end, we can come back to this question.

Speaking of manly manliness, though, this volume explores another interesting facet of Rev. Jesse Custer. He was raised on a mixture of his dad’s noble cowboy ideals along with Jody, T.C., and Gran’ma’s cruelty. Because his mom took care to homeschool him in the early part of his life, before those bastards killed her too, he grew up with more book smarts than he had any right to. As such, he recognizes that Tulip might be his equal and understands the concept of female empowerment, but struggles to reconcile that with his man’s man moral code. He also looks down on terms like “insecurity” and “partner,” which he deems New Age bullshit. There are a few hilarious conversations between him and Cassidy, who apparently goes in for the “New Age” stuff.

Paul: Cassidy has some depths to him, as we’ll learn. But he also has his own…”problematic” past to deal with. I think what we’ve seen him doing to this point is mocking that New Age stuff for/with Jesse. But he may not be entirely turned off to some of those concepts.

Now, politics, religion, and New Age leads us to talk about…Herr Starr. What did you think of this new character?

AJ: I’m intrigued. The character relates perhaps the most shocking bit of the series’ mythology thus far, even more shocking than God quitting Heaven: Christ didn’t die when he was nailed to the cross. His followers (the Disciples?) paid off the local authorities and drugged Jesus with a soporific. When he rose three days later, that was just because the drugs had worn off. Jesus then took Mary Magdalene as his bride, had a few kids, and didn’t die until he was run over by a cart at the age of 48. Ever since, the Grail, a global organization which Herr Starr belongs to, has “guarded the blood of the Lamb.” According to Starr, Armageddon is going to start in the year 2000, which, I’m assuming perhaps not coincidentally, is when Preacher reached the end of its run. The latest member of Christ’s bloodline hasn’t turned out so well, so Starr has devised a conspiracy whereby this youngest Christ child is going to be wheeled out as the Messiah at the height of apocalyptic chaos, then promptly killed. His idea is to bring in Jesse Custer as the man who will die for all of our sins.

So far, Preacher has dealt with some heavy shit–God, demons, angels, the Saint of Killers–but this is the first development that feels like it’s building toward something truly epic. Herr Starr’s plan is certainly ambitious, and we know so little of him and the Grail at this point that I can’t even begin to judge whether or not his ambitions, brutal as they are, stem from any sort of just intentions.

Paul: Well, we’ve completely skipped over Jésus DeSade, which is all right because I didn’t particularly care for that little detour. What it gave us was the reunion of Jesse and Tulip with Cassidy (much to Tulip’s chagrin). It also gives us a glimpse at Cass’ sentimental side with the loss of his old girlfriend. That side of him becomes a story point later on (spoiler). But the ridiculousness of it all was kind of just bothersome to me.

AJ:  The Jésus DeSade portions of the story were easily my least favorite parts of this volume, but I have to admit the idea of a decadent sex party like the one he throws is kind of interesting to me. And his butler serving up an exotic animal for him to fuck? Dark as hell, but funny, and tells you everything you need to know about exactly how sleazy he is. It didn’t really go anywhere, though, and neither did the business with the sex investigators. On its own, though, I enjoyed that material well enough.

Paul:  However, what we need to mention is of course the big Cassidy moment at the end. What did you think of him posing as Jesse? Why did he do it? What does it mean? Where is it leading? And what about poor Hoover?

AJ: It was established almost from his first appearance that, though he’s a bloodsucker, Cassidy is a fundamentally good person. He’s helped Jesse and Tulip multiple times, we got that story about how he talked Si down from a bad trip at Woodstock, etc. As we discussed last time, the reveal that Si was the Reaver Cleaver made Cass angry because it broke his trust in someone he had been friends with for years. Right after that, Jesse makes it clear to him that certain people are worthy of trust. Here, we see Cass exchange with Jesse the same “MOTHERFUCKERRR!!” greeting that he did with Si. Clearly, Cassidy thinks Jesse and Tulip are good people. When it looks like Herr Starr’s going to kill Tulip, Cass simply does what he believes is the right thing. Now, it’s already gotten him into a lot of shit, but it kept Tulip alive. I think it’s just an extension of what we already knew about Cassidy: vampire or no, he’s a decent “human being.”

And yeah, Hoover. Poor Hoover. That was the most comically bleak last page ever, with him counting all those grains of sand Jesse commanded him to, only to have all of his work swept away by the wind.

Paul: So. Any new insights or opinions of our main cast? Final thoughts on this volume? Favorites scenes or quotes?

AJ: Well, we need to mention the fact that we meet God in these pages, and he shows himself to be a right bastard. He’s the one who dragged Jesse back to Gran’ma in Angelville, who encouraged her to find Jesse a new post to minister from. He wants to teach Jesse to blindly love him again so that he will stop looking for him. He allows Jody to kill Tulip, then brings her back to show his power. He asks Tulip to find Jesse in the hopes that that will also put an end to his search. However, God’s “special effects” razzmatazz wanes pretty quickly, and Tulip believes he’s scared of Jesse. Loved Tulip’s whole monologue about distrusting blind faith.

Paul: “I am a loving God, Tulip–BUT DON’T PUSH IT.”

AJ: So far, there are some interesting rules, or lack thereof, regarding vampires. The only traditional rule that we’ve heard about or seen enforced so far is, Direct sunlight = no-no. However, we see Cass using the bathroom, and in Vol. 1, he was all prepared to eat regular human food when there was no blood around. I’m curious to see if this is expanded on at all, or if we get to meet other vampires.

Paul: Yes and no. That’s all I can say.

One of my favorite scenes in this volume, aside from Jesse beating Jody to death, was the way Private John Custer and Christina L’Angelle first met. And a favorite quote: “You vicious murdering fucked-up shiteating hateful cocksucking evil tyrant bitch of a whore from hell!!”

AJ: Besides that, I felt like there were a bunch of great lines and moments in this volume. Gran’ma’s death scene, where she shoots up in the sky like a rocket. Jesse and Cassidy’s discussion about Laurel and Hardy vs. Chaplin (even though I disagree with it). If I had to pick my favorite line, it would have to be, “Came the day that T.C. fucked the chicken…” I mean, what other comic book would even say anything remotely like that?!

Runner-up: “Doesn’t speak American.” – Jesse, about the cat after it doesn’t obey the Word.

Paul: Now, as a teaser for things to come…remember the lighter.

AJ: Ominous.

Next week: Preacher: Vol. 3 – Proud Americans, collecting issues #18-26.

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