It was over 10 years ago when the first issue of Garth Ennis and Steven Dillon’s Preacher #1 hit shelves, which marked the beginning of one of the most acclaimed comic runs of the decade. With so many comics making their way to TV and film, it was only a matter time before Preacher made its way to the airwaves, and after passing through the hands of many creators and distributors, the rights landed in the hands of comedy maestros Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Joining together with award-winning Breaking Bad scribe Sam Catlin, they created a piece of blood-soaked entertainment that, as of its first two episodes, keeps the soul of the comics while still giving fans something new to experience.
Translating Dillon and Ennis’ vision to celluloid isn’t an easy task, as its sacrilegious nature and gore are a bit much for even AMC to handle. From the first scene of the pilot, however, as an African priest literally explodes, it seems the creators won’t be pulling any punches with the material. The grotesqueries on display are toned down slightly from the book, since Dillon is famous for his gore, but they still keep the visual shock intact as best they can.
It’s clear from the early stages of Preacher that Rogen, Goldberg and Catlin are going to be taking a deliberate pace with the material. Much of the first two episodes are set up solely to get all of the characters into place, feeding viewers small bits of information without ever showing too much of their hand. While this could become infuriating to readers who are itching to experience some of the later and more wild parts of the comics, it’s a smart move for newcomers, as some of the more heady, bizarre concepts can seep in more slowly, allowing for better understanding.
Before introducing viewers to the titular subject, Preacher explores the world of the characters. A celestial force is roaring through the cosmos, making its way to earth, before landing in the body of an African priest, who, after being inhabited by the force, subsequently explodes. This is followed by a series of explosions across the globe, all involving priests of several different religions, including Satanism and even Scientology, leading to one of the best jokes of the show so far.
The pilot then introduces viewers to small-town preacher Jesse Custer, a stern man with a mysterious past, who sermonizes at a small church in the West Texas town of Annville. It’s obvious early on that he’s a bad fit for the job, as he can’t seem to keep his small congregation, or even himself, interested in the task at hand — a task he’s taken over from his father. It’s clear that he’s a devout man, and caring as well, but it’s also clear that he’s dangerous and volatile. By the end of the first episode, Jesse breaks a man’s arm — a signal that worse things are yet to come. Just before the credits role, an entity entity takes over his body, providing Jesse with an interesting new tool in his search for faith.
Complicating things further for Jesse is the appearance of Tulip, a women from his past that’s quick with a gun and short on patience. The expansion of Tulip’s character is one of the highlights of Preacher, as it gives viewers a touch of backstory not present in the comics. Indeed, one of the pilot’s strengths is that it provides a good picture of the characters in the early stages. For Tulip, this involves surprisingly effective action sequences, culminating in the creation, and use, of a bazooka made entirely from household objects. It’s conveyed early on that Tulip is not a girl to be messed with, and the rollicking performance from Ruth Negga promises more good things to come.
Rounding out the main trio is Cassidy, an Irish vampire played with sly sarcasm by Joseph Gilgun, who audiences may recognize from the British TV program Misfits. He first appears on a plane, serving drinks to a group of well-dressed men, who are revealed to be vampire hunters. Rogen and Goldberg show a surprising talent for creating visceral fight scenes, as every crack and snaps felt throughout, especially in an early scene between Cassidy and his pursuers. After the plane crashes and Cassidy regains his strength with the help of a passing cow, he meets Jesse in a bar, which soon explodes in violence as Custer and Cassidy are confronted by one of Jesse’s angry parishioners. What follows is a night in jail and a moment of bonding, which soon leads to a fast friendship between the two.
The second episode, “See”, pumps the brakes even more, providing a better picture of the mysterious villains who have been popping up throughout. As the episode begins, however, the narrative whisks back to 1881, where a silhouetted cowboy appears, roaming around and leaving only destruction in his wake. Little is revealed about the character, but comic fans know him all too well, as he’s one of the most celebrated villains in comics known only as “The Saint of Killers”. Though the character is only on screen for a few minutes, the introduction promises exciting things for future episodes.
The villains covered the most are a pair of nameless foreign figures, who appear in Texas after following strange happenings around the world. At each incident of exploding priests, the two can be seen in news footage or photographs, though the show gives no real clues as to who they might be. In the first confrontation with Jesse, they find him unconscious, due to previous events in the episode, and perform a strange ritual involving a coffee can, a crank-powered device, old folk tunes and eventually a chain saw.
Though the deliberate pacing may give some pause, Rogen, Goldberg and Catlin’s Preacher brings enough of the thrills and intrigue to the table to keep audiences interested. They’ve introduced plenty of mysteries, and one can only hope that they deliver answers to the questions they’re raising. As a reader of the comics, one thing I know for sure is that viewers are in for a few shocks once the book’s wilder moments begin to appear.
Ryan E. Johnson (@atxtheaterguy) is a theatre and film critic from Austin, TX. He enjoys the films of Sion Sono, Wong Kar-Wai, Ingmar Bergman and loves experiencing films told from bold, new perspectives.