Four-Color Flashback: ‘Preacher: Vol. 3 – Proud Americans’

Welcome to week 3 of 9 in our analysis of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher. Weeks 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

Paul & AJ: MOTHERFUCKERRR!!!

AJ: Last week, you said that Preacher is Garth Ennis’ love letter to an idealized America. Fittingly enough, this third volume is entitled Proud Americans. It opens with a tribute to unfairly treated Vietnam vets, closes with Cassidy’s immigrant’s ode to America, and in between continues Jesse’s struggle between modern ways of thinking and his own manly American moral code. The book also encompasses much more than that, with Jesse’s rescue of Cassidy from the Grail, but those moments seemed the most heartfelt. I didn’t entirely see the love letter aspect last week, but now I completely see what you meant.

Paul: I’m glad my comment makes sense now. I think the love letter aspects were definitely present in the previous volumes, but this volume most definitely brings that theme front and center. It’s sometimes a challenge for me to comment on this series as if I haven’t read the entire thing before.

So let’s talk about the first story in this collection, “Texas and the Spaceman,” which would’ve been issue #18 of the series. I foreshadowed last time that you should remember that lighter, having forgotten that the very next story would be the reveal I was hinting at. But what did you think of this story?

AJ: When you advised us newbies to “remember the lighter,” I was expecting it to pop up in some grisly fashion, which seems par for the course for this series. So color me surprised when it reappears in one of the book’s most moving chapters yet. While waiting for a flight at JFK, Jesse chances to sit next to a man who has a “FUCK COMMUNISM” lighter identical to the one he picked up on the Angelville farm. Turns out the man is one of his dad’s old war buddies, who tells him all about the father he barely had a chance to know. Garth Ennis is on record as being a student of World War II, and it’s only natural that that interest would spill over into other wars. His take on Vietnam seems very natural, and takes a turn toward the frightening when Texas (John Custer) and the Spaceman (Billy Baker, the war buddy) are led straight into a death trap by an arrogant, incompetent sonuvabitch named Murphy. They end up killing Murphy, but it seems like the right thing to do.

Billy has this whole very touching monologue about the nature of war and having to be able to trust someone with everything you have, and of how no one who hasn’t been to war could possibly understand that. It tells us so much about Jesse’s dad, and shows us how Jesse has followed in his footsteps.

Paul: It’s a major piece of the theme of this series. As I’ve said before, amidst the themes of faith, redemption, religion, and responsibility, this series is actually an epic, possibly tragic (?) love story. It just so happens that the couple at the center of the love story are Jesse and Cassidy as much, if not more, than Jesse and Tulip. The idea of trust and friendship in the face of even the most apocalyptic odds is what this tale is really about. Billy Baker’s memories of the war and his relationship with Jesse’s dad is a microcosm of that idea.

AJ: I just have to say, the quote from Mark Baker’s Nam that closes out the issue, attributed to an anonymous soldier, got me all choked up. The last page, with Billy at the bar and the crinkled old war photo behind him, is beautiful. Dillon’s art is growing on me in general, and that was some particularly nice work.

Paul: And that touching moment brings us back into the insanity. Two renegade angels, DeBlanc and Fiorè, getting coked up and whorin’ around Vegas. Jesse and Tulip stealing cars in France on their way to rescue Cassidy from some unknown horror at The Grail’s HQ, Masada. Mega fat religious leaders. Genesis’ dad chained up in a basement. Inbred Jesus. Vampire testicles, and their tragic fate. And the Saint of Killers standing guard.

What did you think of this bit?

AJ: Despite being more epic, it didn’t have the same pull for me as the main arcs in the first two volumes. D’Aronique, the morbidly obese (to put it lightly) Allfather of the Grail, didn’t quite live up to the expectations set by Herr Starr’s repeated insistence that being tortured by him is the last thing you would ever want. Though he was kind of fascinating simply by virtue of how huge and grotesque he was. His bulimia was a nice, ironic touch, and the vomiting scene is one of the more unpleasant things I’ve encountered in the pages of a comic book. Still, I didn’t think his presence accomplished all that much.

Paul: The Grail has never been my favorite antagonist of the series. Herr Starr is the main villain…besides God, of course.

So while this storyline may have kind of stumbled, it did give us some brilliant moments. Tulip got another chance to have a big shootout. “Just how fast you reckon you can preach?” The true story of the angel and the demon lovers. (And note that in the end the demon was willing to run away with the angel and save their child’s life, while it was the angel that attempted to murder her and the child to cover it all up.) “Miss.” And, of course, the rescue of Cassidy: “Well He can shove his law up his ass, if just one word of it says I can’t stand by my friend.”

AJ: If Herr Starr is the main villain, and with the idiot Christ child being killed by a falling D’Aronique (that gave me a good chuckle), I’m assuming this is the last we’re seeing of the Grail. I love the concept of a shadowy international organization trying to safeguard Christ’s secret bloodline, but the execution wasn’t the best, so I won’t be sorry to move on if that’s so.

Oh, also. Two major coincidences in this volume. The first is that Jesse would just happen to sit next to Billy Baker at the bar, but I’m willing to let that one slide since it gave us such a powerful story. However, D’Aronique being Gran’ma’s nephew? Does that connection have some greater purpose I’m missing?

Paul: Not really. Sorry.

AJ: Oh well.

Like you said, though, this arc did give us some great moments. Jesse and Starr’s knife fight, with Starr trying to convince Jesse they should work together, was pretty damn intense. That it leads into the return of the Saint of Killers–only seen on one page in Vol. 2!–and Jesse’s interrogation of the angel is even better.

That interrogation, by the way, has maybe the funniest moment in Proud Americans. The angel is narrating Genesis’ secret origin with the kind of flowery prose we expect from highfalutin fantasy comics. Jesse cuts right through it: “Hey! How much more of this horseshit have I gotta listen to?” “But–” “We ain’t got time for a goddamn poetry recital. An’ your juices fell like rain on the inferno? What the fuck is that, is that from the letter you wrote to Penthouse?” I laughed. Hard.

The angel also reminded us that Genesis doesn’t just give Jesse the ability to command others with the Word. Deep down, Jesse knows everything that has ever occurred in Heaven, if only he could access that knowledge. Jesse is so formidable armed only with the Word that I’ll admit I had forgotten he has the potential to be even more powerful.

Paul: The two most telling applications of the Word we’ve seen so far have been “die” and “burn.” Now, if the Word was only the power to compel others, that would be potent enough. But Jesse caused Si to keel over dead with just one word, and he set Jody and the dickcheese posse on fire just by saying so. That’s something.

I feel it’s worth mentioning the “Jesse ditches Tulip” moment. I said before that all these characters are stubborn and flawed, and that that would cause problems. This is a taste of one of those problems. What did you think of Jesse’s decision to cut Tulip out of the operation like that? Was he justified? Did he go about it the right way? Should she kick his bollocks when she sees him again?

AJ: I found Jesse ditching Tulip interesting, but for a different reason than anyone else would. Specifically, I wrote a fantasy/horror screenplay a few years ago that features an almost identical moment, with the man reluctantly agreeing to let the woman go along on a dangerous battle, then the woman waking up the next morning only to find a note of apology. Mine was a little different, though; there was a baby involved.

Anyways. To answer your questions: I think it was a pig-headed decision; given that she’s proven her way with a pistol before, no, I don’t think the decision was justified; it wasn’t a great way to go about it, but at least he didn’t drug her or anything; and yes, she absolutely should kick him in the balls.

I understand why Jesse did what he did. He and Tulip had a whole conversation in Until the End of the World about his old-fashioned ideas clashing with “modern feminist ideology,” as Tulip calls it here. They have another little chat along those lines this time, right before they stop at the hotel and Jesse splits. He just can’t get over being the macho hero of the Western playing in his head. He’s going to have to be willing to cede more control of the relationship to Tulip or else this is only going to continue causing problems as life-or-death situations like this keep happening.

Paul: You’re fucking psychic.

AJ: Shh. That’s a secret.

Paul: Okay, let’s get to the money shot of this installment. Let’s talk about Proinsias Cassidy.

AJ: Those two issues are easily the best in the volume, maybe the best of the series thus far.

Paul: I get choked up reading Cassidy stuff in a way that is difficult for anyone who hasn’t read the series to understand. As is often the case with vampires, or any non-human protagonist in fiction, he is in many ways the most human and identifiable character in the series.

I can’t comment too much on Cassidy’s larger arc, obviously. But I will say that he is perhaps the most flawed of the three main cast members. I spent a significant period of my life feeling as though my every good intention blew the fuck up in my face. It was depressing and disheartening, and it’s a yoke around Cass’ neck for most of this series.

AJ: I think the reason non-human characters are often so identifiable is that they’re able to reflect on humanity in a way that human characters simply can’t. They exist outside of it, but they aspire to it and see it as something worth striving for and celebrating. We mere mortals are incapable of viewing humanity that way because we never had to fight for it and take it for granted. It’s an interesting contradiction.

Just as this volume opened with a trip to Vietnam, it closes with a look at another messy conflict: Ireland’s Easter Rising in 1916. It’s here we meet a human Cassidy, boyish and meek even with a gun in his hands. He cared so much about the Irish declaring their independence from the English that he lied about his edge to sign up for the fight. His brother joined just to keep an eye on him, which is a good thing, because as Cassidy later realizes, they were merely being used as cannon fodder by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Proinsias and Billy (hey look, there’s another Billy in a war story) manage to escape the bloodshed, only for Proinsias to be turned by a vampire. Nasty-lookin’ fucker, too. There are many, many interesting things in these last two issues, but one of the most interesting, at least from a mythology standpoint, is that Cass didn’t find any other vampires to show him the ropes or anything like that. He had to figure everything out for himself and chart his own course.

Paul: Y’know, this is probably my tenth reading of this book and I’ve never noticed the Billy thing before.

I kind of love the ambiguity of the vampire mythology in this series. Proinsias (best vampire name ever) is turned by a nameless Hag that he never sees again. There’s no explanation, no training, no apprenticeship. Cassidy is a self-made man. For better or worse.

The scene where he goes to the pub to try and take his leave of the group, only to stand across the street for five hours and watch his friends leave before walking away himself? Chokes me up. “I can never say goodbye, Jesse.”

AJ: Interview with the Vampire-style mentoring is such a big part of our vampire lore these days that Preacher‘s utter lack of a guiding figure or community for Cassidy comes as a shock. It makes for a compelling story, though. He figures out the hard way that he can’t go out in the daylight anymore, and goes around killing sheep until he gets a shotgun blast to the chest for it. He eventually has to leave Ireland because he gets recognized and wants to spare Billy and their parents the confusion and horror of his transformation. So where does a lowly Irish immigrant go in 1916? Why, to America, of course.

Cassidy says something to Jesse that comes as a surprise to us media-inundated 21st century folk. When he came to New York, he had no movies, no TV, no photographs to show him the immensity of the city. He only had stories. So when he sails into Ellis Island to look up and see “the most beautiful lady I’d ever seen in me life,” it’s overwhelming. It’s such a great portrayal of a poor immigrant’s journey to a land of seeming prosperity, and it’s in a fuckin’ insanely violent and over-the-top comic book.

Paul: That’s what I’m talking about, man. This book gets a lot of attention for being bloody and blasphemous. But it’s also an emotional powder keg, and among the most moving treatise on love and friendship ever.

“There was hundreds’ve the hooers, all armed to the bleedin’ teeth, an’ that dicklicker Starr was usin’ me as a trap to get yeh to come to him–an’ yeh didn’t give a fuck. Yeh just walked in anyway, all on yer own, and yeh risked yer life to save mine. An’ the last time anyone did a thing like that for me was me brother, an’ that was eighty years ago.”

AJ: I love Cass and Jesse. Can I ‘ship them?

I also love his final meeting with Mick MacCann all those years later. Kind of reminds me of Morpheus’ meetings with Hob in The Sandman.

Paul: Exactly!

AJ: As we wind down, it’s time yet again for me to hit you up for some cryptic teases. Whaddaya got for me this time, Paul?

Paul: Well, next volume is a bit weird, since it’s not actually part of the main series. It’s a collection of tie-ins and mini-series detailing backgrounds for some supporting characters. It adds flavor to the main story, but it’s not really essential.

As for cryptic teasers…Peckerhead. Arseface. “That’s a big fuckin’ snake.”

Next week: Preacher: Vol. 4 – Ancient History, collecting Preacher Special: Saint of Killers #1-4, Preacher Special: The Story of You-Know-Who, and Preacher Special: The Good Old Boys.

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