Preacher written by Garth Ennis, with art from Steve Dillon and covers by Glenn Fabry which were originally published via Vertigo Comics 1995 – 2000. A kentucky fried road trip across America centred around preacher Jesse Custer who has lost his faith , his fiery gun toting ex Tulip and a hard drinking Irish vampire named Cassidy. Custer, the preacher for small Texas town Annville, soon becomes the host for an entity named Genesis (the offspring of an angel and a demon which has escaped from Heaven) which gives him a terrifying new power, The Word, allowing him to make people do whatever he wants. Custer wants answers so sets out to find God. Literally.
The comic became notorious for its black humour, bad taste and general misanthropy and offensiveness, along with its particularly anti-religious story. Preacher also featured great characters though including one of the best antagonists in American comics in The Saint of Killers and underneath it all it’s an engrossing story about faith or lack thereof, love, friendship and family.
Now after years of being the subject of numerous attempts to turn Preacher into a film or a TV series now AMC (the home of the smash hit The Walking Dead based on the comic by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard) has actually done the previously thought impossible and made Preacher into a TV series…………………….sort of.
The result of a collaboration between Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg the series features Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer, Ruth Negga as Tulip and Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy.
Films or TV shows based on source material like a book or comic are a distinctly tricky thing to get right. TV and film is a different medium to prose or comic book panels but at the same time changing too much can alienate the fans you’re trying to win over and also dilute what makes the source material so good in the first place. There’s some extraneous material in the 70+ issues of Preacher, some of which could easily be excised without really effecting the main story and some of it is undeniably dated given it was written 20 or so years ago so changes are inevitable when bringing it to life on screen.
A good example of a TV adaptation is The 100 based on the book series by Kass Morgan. The show takes the core premise but runs with it in an impressive manner quickly jettisoning its cliched teen love triangle subplots for far meatier fare . The recently ending third series of the hit show barely resembling the first due to well written character arcs and narrative. Less good examples being Lucifer and iZombie (both also based on Vertigo comics) which barely resemble their source material and not in a good way.
AMC’s Preacher seems tonally confused though, as though it’s not really sure what it wants to be.
Gilgun and Negga are excellent as Cassidy and Tulip. One being introduced in a frenetic bloody fight in a plane 30,000 feet up in the air, whilst the other in an intense claustrophobic fight in a car ploughing through a cornfield. These scenes could easily be straight out of the comic, they’re well shot, raucous and unafraid to get bloody, especially in Cassidy’s case. Negga’s Tulip in particular stands out as being a feisty, defiantly independent and capable and will likely be winning scores of fans. Where the show stumbles is in how it presents Jesse and his life in Annville.
Cooper’s Jesse doesn’t really get a whole lot to do besides mope around dealing with his parishioners, listening to the mindnumbing minutiae of their lives, and do a little verbal jousting with the local Sheriff Hugo Root (played by W. Earl Brown), a character who has been majorly toned down from the comic where he is a belligerent hard ass racist. The only thing of note is a bar fight he gets into with the father of a child he tries (but fails) to help. Whilst trying to establish Annville and Custer as a preacher before everything goes crazy is understandable, it’s just not done very well and it really doesn’t make for interesting viewing at all. Especially in contrast to the intensity of the scenes featuring Tulip and Cassidy. Cooper definitely seems like he might grow into the part but going by the first episode he definitely comes across as the least interesting character of the three which is a bit of a problem since Jesse Custer is supposed to be every bit the badass that Cassidy and Tulip are.
Whilst AMC’s Preacher isn’t as awful as it could’ve been compared to the likes of Lucifer at the same time it’s not exactly great either. There’s a feeling that Rogen and Goldberg may have filed the sharp edges off Ennis’ story a little too much in their endeavour to get the show made. One of the things that really stands out is the way it’s heavily implied that the thing that eventually bonds with Jesse is of alien origin, which would fundamentally change the whole story but explain how they managed to actually get the show greenlit on a network that has a problem with profanity, so Preacher’s outright blasphemous view of religion (especially Christianity) surviving seems highly unlikely but if you take that away you have a completely and utterly different story.