Welcome to week 7 of 9 in our discussion of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher. For more, read weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Paul: So this volume, Salvation, is kind of an intermission in the main story. We get to see what kind of man Jesse is removed from the quest and his group of friends. And as it turns out he’s just as much the Big Damn Hero in this smaller setting as when he’s hunting down God and facing off with saints and lunatics.
How did you feel about this step back from the bigger picture?
AJ: I loved it. It’s impressive how much I enjoyed Jesse’s exploits away from Cassidy, Tulip, Herr Starr, etc. It took me a second to realize that we weren’t going to see most of our old friends (excepting Jesse’s vision quest near the end), but once I adjusted to that, I found Salvation to be one of the most satisfying volumes yet.
Like you said, we get to see that Jesse Custer is a hero even when he’s isolated from the gang and taking a break from hunting down God. And most importantly, even when he isn’t necessarily trying to be. “I ain’t no hero, Gunther. Tried it once. But it didn’t take.” His whole High Noon/Mayberry act is a way for him to come to terms with what he needs to do, and to reclaim his mojo after becoming disillusioned by Cassidy kissing Tulip.
Paul: High Noon/Mayberry? That’s brilliant. Now I’m hearing the charming, bucolic whistling theme song, punctuated by gunshots!
AJ: Gary Cooper as Andy Taylor. Picture that for a second.
Paul: *mind blown*
So, new characters? Skeeter? Cindy? Gunther? Jodie? What did you think?
AJ: We met Skeeter last time, but he’s a good boy. I’ve got some thoughts and Cindy and Gunther, but the most important “new” character here is Jodie. For about half-a-second when I first saw her, I thought she was Jody-with-a-Y. Of course, I came to my senses, though I knew something was up with her deliberately patterning herself after the not so dear but definitely departed Jody. I didn’t, however, realize that she was actually Christina L’Angelle, Jesse’s dear but apparently not departed mother. In fact, on my first read-through, I thought there was some sort of sexual tension between them. Please don’t tell me I’m alone in that.
Paul: I don’t recall ever having that reaction. You might be on your own with that one. Perv.
AJ: Oh well. At least I’m no more of a perv than some of the characters in these pages.
Jesse’s realization that Jodie is his mom is one of those “Oh my God” moments, where you’re completely thrown for a loop and have no idea how to process it. Of course, their reunion and Christina’s recounting of how she escaped from Jody, wound up in a mental institution, and very very slowly began to piece together her past life, were heartbreakers.
Paul: Totally forgot to mention the return of Lorie Bobbs. I’ve always felt like Jesse’s cyclopeian buddy was one of the more cartoonish elements of the book. But Lorie is a sweet, humanizing touch in this chapter.
AJ: I didn’t mind poor Billy Bob, at least not in retrospect. Considering some of the things Ennis and Dillon have shown us, a one-eyed redneck seems pretty run-of-the-mill.
Paul: I think the “resurrection” of his mother lets a little bit of hope back into Jesse’s soul. His childhood was so beyond Shakespearean tragic that the realization he still has family, real family, and that she is the kind of woman that she is…I think that all allows for the breakthrough Jesse has in this story, as much or more than his ultimate vision quest.
AJ: The first time I read this volume, I was completely exhausted and was actually falling asleep towards the end (hence my re-reading it). As such, I could have sworn that Jesse’s mom was killed after he left town. Of course, I have no idea whether or not the reaper will come for her over the next two volumes, but I was so relieved that she was still alive when I read it again.
Paul: Well, no spoilers. But the reaper certainly came for some folk this time around, eh? Let’s talk first about the Meatman, Odin Quincannon. This series has no shortage of twisted, freakish villains. How did Quincannon get into your entrails and squirm?
AJ: He squirmed, all right. He’s far from the series’ most threatening villain–Jesse never took him too seriously, and neither did I–but there’s something about the way that Dillon draws him, as a short little fucker with thick-rimmed glasses and weird spiraling eyes. Couple that with his hillbilly speak and the way his voice sounds all squeaky and high-pitched in my head, and we’ve got one memorable sonuvabitch on our hands. “WORK THE SHAFT! CRADLE THE BALLS! SAY THE NAME!” I’m not sure the reveal of his big ol’ meat lady lived up to the build-up, as it’s already heavily implied he’s fucking meat in that there shed, but it’s a disturbing visual nonetheless.
Paul: Yeah, it’s revolting but not the most revolting thing we’ve seen at this point. Then again, let this sink in… People in Salvation buy their meat from that place.
AJ: Well…I mean…surely they don’t sell the meat he’s fucked…? *shudder*
Paul: Of all the fucked-up shit Ennis has included in this book, why would you think he’d show restraint on that point?
AJ: Jesus Christ. I am so fucking stupid that that didn’t even occur to me.
Paul: Enjoy your next Hot Pocket or meat pizza, my friend.
AJ: Just…just fuck you.
Paul: What about the Klan scene? It just never gets old watching Jesse verbally and physically beat the shit out of ignorant, evil, reprehensible fucktards. That only gets better when those ignorant, evil, reprehensible fucktards are sheet-wearing racists.
AJ: The Klan scene is genius. It gets off to a great start with one of the besheeted boys wondering whether or not Quincannon is too devoted to the idea of “hatin’ niggers,” to which another responds, “Ain’t that the point?” Then Jesse struts on in to kick their asses, and it’s glorious. “WHERE THE FUCK IS YOUR CHIN? I swear.” So much laughter.
Paul: “Why is it the greatest champions of the white race always turn out to be the worst examples of it?”
We haven’t mentioned his attorney, Ms. Oatlash. “Fuck me hard and call me Eva!”
AJ: Fuhrer of Love is my new punk band.
Paul: And of course that scene ends up with Jesse wearing a Nazi uniform, which is what he’s wearing when he breaks Quincannon’s neck beneath his boot heel. Sort of troubling imagery, especially considering the next character I wanna mention.
AJ: Gunther, I presume?
Paul: Yeah. So how did you feel about what happened with Gunther?
AJ: I’m conflicted. From all accounts, he’s been a good man for the many years he’s lived in Salvation. Of course, he “committed nightmares against humanity” decades ago as a Nazi. Gunther touches on the notion of redemption, though “cast[ing] the old world aside and rejoic[ing] in the new one” doesn’t sound very selfless to me. Then again, is that for us to decide? Is it up to Jesse to decide if this man should be forgiven for sins committed long, long ago? Jesse doesn’t use the Word on him, either, so he basically hangs himself of his own volition. He could have fled Salvation, because he sure as hell didn’t find any there.
Paul: Exactly. This one character is among the most troubling things in the series to me. Every time I read it, this is the thing that trips me up. It highlights one of Jesse’s less appealing traits: standing in judgement over others. The notion of redemption is important to me, and it doesn’t really seem to be served in this case. Particularly considering it’s set in a town called Salvation.
AJ: Even if we don’t necessarily like what happens, I do think it’s in-character for Jesse. Is there a marked difference between the way he treats the Klansmen and the way he treats Gunther? Granted, the Klan boys are shown to us in as negative a light as possible while we see the reformed Nazi as a good and kind man, but he brutally lays down the law to both. It seems he’s extra pissed at Gunther because he had the gall to go around pretending that he was anything other than what he was. Would I have liked Jesse to allow Gunther to continue savoring his second chance at life? Yes. But at the same time, I absolutely believe Jesse would show no remorse to a Nazi.
Paul: True enough. There are many things I like and respect about Jesse, but his moral rigidity (and perhaps hypocrisy?) isn’t always one of them.
Okay, is there anything else to explore in Salvation? I did want to say that the moment that got the biggest lump in my throat in this volume was Jesse’s farewell to Cindy. “You are pretty as the stars at evenin’.”
AJ: Let’s talk about Cindy, and what she represents, for a moment. It was inevitable that on Ennis’ twisted tour of America he would arrive at the country’s history of racism, here exploring it with the KKK, the Nazis, Cora and her group’s treatment of Hector, Salvation’s racial divide, etc. There’s even mention of Rodney King and Ms. Oatlash’s staunch denial of Hitler’s racism. With all of this floating around the volume, I think it was essential that a black person be one of the main characters, and Deputy Cindy Daggett was a great choice. Even though Bewley’s only keeping her around to “keep the local nigras happy,” that piece of shit, she has clearly managed to survive the rampant racism of Salvation with her dignity intact. She’s a strong, independent character, and her appointment as sheriff at the end was perfect.
Paul: There’s a part of me, possibly a large part, that always wanted her and Jesse to be together. She doesn’t get much “screen time” here, but she makes the most of the time she has. A standout for me was when she stopped Jesse from throwing Quincannon out the window. We never really see anyone do that anywhere else in the series, talking him out of killing (or seriously fucking up) someone Jesse righteously believes has got it coming. Of course it helped that she had a gun, but still.
AJ: You’re right. A romantic relationship with Cindy would have been much, much different than a relationship with Tulip. Tulip helps Jesse learn more about “female empowerment” and some such, but Cindy actually holds him accountable for his actions. Would have been a nice angle to explore. I’m not sure how likely it is, but I’d love to see her return before the series’ end.
Paul: So, we’ll leave the good folk of Salvation, Texas (including Jesse’s mom, still very much alive) and move on to the money shot of this volume. How did Reverend Custer survive his fall from the plane back in Monument Valley?
AJ: Divine intervention, yo.
Paul: But of course. The third example of God saving someone’s life to make a point.
AJ: Instead of, you know, saving someone’s life to save someone’s life.
Paul: Crazy, right?
“You would command your God, oh Man? You would stain His holy being with such ultimate blasphemy?! Repent, o sinner! Fall down before your master! Beg forgiveness! BEG! Believe in the loving God! Repent your sin before the loving God! Tremble at the might of the loving God! Accept me as your savior or be damned!!”
AJ: Desperate, ain’t he?
As an avowed fan of dream sequences and their surreal ilk, I loved the whole vision quest issue. Cassidy as a bloodsucking leech, Gran’ma giving Jesse CPR (what a fucking terrifying image!), a tarted-up Tulip shacking up with Jody. Good stuff. And, of course, getting to see Jesse’s tussle with an enraged God. The way it ends, with a panel of God looking absolutely fucking unhinged and shouting, “ANSWER OR BE–“, followed by a panel of God looking at his meekest and most timid, uttering a tiny “you,” is brilliant.
Paul: Yeah, we go from Red Hulk God sucking Jesse’s eyeball out of his skull to pissant little old man God slinking away when you know who shows up.
AJ: Aww, God’s afwaid of a widdle Saint. Just kidding, he has every reason to be. I’m still waiting for the Saint and Jesse to join forces and fuck God’s shit up.
Paul: Well, at least in his little dream sequence there, that’s exactly what Jesse seems to be thinking too.
We’re getting close to the end now. Pieces are starting to fall into place. Jesse is learning what he has to do to see this whole thing through. But shit is going to get much uglier before it gets better yet.
So after Jesse’s little exchange with the Saint, we venture back to more surreal territory, with Jesse’s dad killing Jody and T.C., and Gran’ma turning into a weird serpentine thing straight out of Evil Dead II. Then a Galactus-sized John Wayne crushes her under his heel. Just writing “Galactus-sized John Wayne” gives me a happy. Thanks, Garth and Steve.
Paul: “I’m comin’ for you, you son of a bitch. And Hell is ridin’ with me.”
AJ: Good. Stuff.
That brings us to the last issue in Salvation, a sequel to the story about Texas and the Spaceman from Proud Americans. Just as getting to know his mother lets hope back into Jesse’s soul, finding out what his father did to earn the Medal of Honor lets him know exactly what he has to measure up to and allows him to move on with his quest. I’m really glad we got to see Billy Baker again; I found this story just as touching as the one from Proud Americans, perhaps even more so. The bond between Texas and the Spaceman, and the idea that they would do anything for each other even in the face of death, reminds me of Jesse’s relationship with Cassidy and how badly I want for it to be mended.
Paul: I can’t believe the Texas/Spaceman and Jesse/Cassidy parallels have never occurred to me before. Gah! You’re so right. And you’re also right about how touching it was. The two of them pointing guns at each other in their desperation, exhaustion, and fear? Literally carrying each other, physically and spiritually, through the jungle? Powerful stuff.
And you’re also dead on about this being the next step after being rekindled by finding his mother alive, now reaffirming his sense of honor and duty by hearing one more time about the father he barely got to know.
AJ: The ending to this volume could not have been more lovely, with Jesse leaving his father’s Medal of Honor at the Vietnam War Memorial.
Then this, from the Spaceman, about the memorial’s statue: “An I ‘specially like how they got them three dudes in the trees over there, like they comin’ outta the boonies after some patrol, an’ they only just seen alla this–an’ they like, ‘MuthaFUCKA…someone remembered.'”
Paul: “So tell me somethin’. How come you shitheads never write?”
Both funny and really, really sad. I love Spaceman.
This volume also has some backmatter in the way of pin-ups by various artists. It was all good until I turned to the last page and saw the unmistakable style of Jim Lee. Turns out that guy was never actually good.
Paul: Heh, he was good at one very particular style, which worked for one very particular kind of property. For a while. But yeah, Preacher ain’t what he’s good at.
AJ: So, Paul. Next week we’ll be discussing the penultimate volume of Preacher. What’s in store for us?
Paul: A little girl with a big gun. A crazy fucking road trip. Ugly, ugly truths. And three million grains of sand.
Next: Preacher: Vol 8 – All Hell’s A-Coming, collecting issues #51-58 and Preacher Special: Tall in the Saddle.