Alex Mathews

Alex Mathews – writer, bared naked dude blah blah blah

Preacher

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I just finished Preacher, a 75 issue series by Garth Ennis (illustrated by Steve Dillon), and I wonder if I will ever find another series to match it in that hold-your-interest, make-you-want-to-rush-home-and-read quality. Oddly, it sat on my shelf for a few years. I left it there because I thought it just wasn’t my style. The cover art was weird, and the surface of the whole thing looked boring to me. A preacher from Texas goes on some sort of adventure. Why would I invest in a comic whose hero was a preacher? I mean come on. Not my style.

But for some reason (perhaps some notion that it would be a waste of money to have bought all the books in the series, only to never read them?), I decided to give it a chance. I think I was on some mission to complete something I started, which for me personally is like a weird trip I get on from time to time… So I read the first issue, just to see if I was wrong about my earlier assessment of the thing. And that was all it took.

It was completely irreverent. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, right in that first issue. A preacher who appeared to be a hard drinking badass, starts exposing the depraved sins of his parish members when they pop off to him in a bar. And I am not talking your run of the mill sins, either. Two rednecks raped a child years ago, thought nobody knew. The preacher remembered. Some local tramp did it with a horse. The preacher outs her right there in the saloon. At this point, I know this series is for me.

The premise is interesting, in that the Preacher, a guy named Jesse Custer (initials JC) finds himself imbued with a celestial being named Genesis, who is the progeny of an angel and a demon. When Genesis attaches to his soul, Jesse is empowered to speak with the Word of God, which of course makes people obey him. Jesse decides that he must find God and give him a piece of his mind, what for all the bad things that happen in the world under His watch, and he wants to make Him answer for it. He befriends a vampire, who is a hard drinking Irishman to take along on his quest, and of course his true love Tulip. And of course he is guided by the spirit of John Wayne.

Preacher deals with some very basic issues, and by basic I mean deep existential questions about the nature of God, spirituality, sin and redemption, free will, and all the Big Whys. In the world of Preacher, God exists. It is not a question of wondering, or why one needs faith. God is, and he’s on the run. He left heaven in shambles, and nobody can find him. If you are a god fearing whatever, Preacher is probably not for you, because it basically conceptualizes notions that would, to most sensible, god fearing whatevers, amount to blasphemy. But Garth Ennis uses these perhaps unholy ideas to explore spiritual questions, to challenge existing constructs, and rather breaks it all down literally by destroying everything just to see what is really built there in the first place. I am reminded of an exchange Jesse has about God with his psychotic, demented, evil grandmother, whose plan is to force him to become a preacher. She says to the young childhood Jesse, something to the effect of, ‘Now Jesse, God watches everything you do. Always. He wants you to love Him with all your heart, and He will be with you forever when you’re dead. Now doesn’t that make you feel better?’ To which Jesse whispers to himself, ‘No, Granma. That scares me.’ Perfect. A nail right in the collective heart.

What I also find interesting about Preacher, or maybe the genre of comics is general, is the effect circumstances have on people to essentially transform their characters, to actually make them who they are. In the world of comics, these kinds of things are simply made more explicitly obvious. A bayou scientist becomes an organic being by a chemical accident, and incarnates as Swamp Thing, for example. In Preacher, I cannot call the job of writing about it done unless I mention Arseface. While a minor character, Arseface becomes what he is because of his circumstance when he fails to see anything worth living for when Kurt Cobain shoots himself, so he decides to put a gun to his face. Of course he survives, only to look like, well, Arseface. Perhaps not as outwardly heroic as Swamp Thing, or Superman, but really, who in real life ever is? As I read the Arseface arcs, I felt something in my heart. It was true pity, or compassion, not sure which, but I know it because I felt it, right where real feelings live.

If you are a fan of rebellion, or enjoy mere perversion, like to think about the real meaning of life all at the same time, and want to see what could be so compelling about an Arseface, and want to see what Meatman does that is so incredibly disturbing, Preacher is ready for you.

The complete Preacher series available at Amazon:

Volume One: Gone to Texas

Volume Two: Until the End of the World

Volume Three: Proud Americans

Volume Four: Ancient History

Volume Five: Dixie Fried

Volume Six: War in the Sun

Volume Seven: Salvation

Volume Eight: All Hell’s A-Comin’

Volume Nine: Alamo

Wildcats Version 3.0

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As I was dealing with the fact that I can’t collect all the issues of Ex Machina as the series is still ongoing and on sale, I decided to explore some of the other graphic novels in my library, and I decided to have a look at Wildcats Version 3.0. I was not in the know about the original Wildcats or WildC.A.T.S., which always causes me anxiety from the point of view that I want to be completely up to date as to the complete story arcs, the history and origins of whatever I am reading. I also labor to discover how the TPB (trade paperbacks) are chronologically released, to make sure I know what I am doing. Sometimes this is more challenging than I want it to be. It makes me feel like I will never know the whole story, and that some comic geek in the back of the comic store will always know more about it than me.

But I did a bit of research and decided that Wildcats Version 3.0 could be read as a stand alone, without complete knowledge of the whole story from the origin. I began with the first TPB, Brand Building, and then read Full Disclosure, the two collections published covering the first twelve issues. The series only had 24 issues total, so I was left to collect the individual issues 13-24 as there were no TPB releases for them. Okay, so beyond the fact that with any comic series it seems that navigating the whole series can be complicated, the question remains as to the quality of the thing itself.

I found this series to be compelling. We have the original Wildacts characters set in this corporate world, where Spartan is the CEO of Halo, a company bound to change the world from within the broken structure of current paradigms. The comic exposes our culture in all its frailty, and devises a rather hopeful future, based on the infinite resources available to the Halo CEO as an alien superbot. The premise is strong, it seemed to me, until the publisher it seems decided to cancel the series early, which resulted in a weird inertia in the last few issues. This was really a disappointment to me, because the potential was there to keep going. The last issues dealt with an entirely different conflict with a group of assassins in Europe, and it was so obvious that the planned arc was destroyed by poor sales figures. This will be, I suppose, one of those comics that readers will express regret, which may actually add to the mystique of the series, and perhaps we will see a revival at some point in the future.

Ex Machina

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I recently rediscovered my desire to read comic books. In keeping with that I also discovered that anything that interests me becomes a weird addiction. With comics, it is this urge to collect. I need every issue from origin to present. I went to my shelves and found Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days, the first graphic novel in a series under DC’s Wildstorm imprint about a guy who is able to talk to machines because of a freak accident. The story begins as he decides to run for Mayor of New York in a post-911 climate. I recall that I had purchased all the issues from Volume 1 to Volume 5, and I decided I must have the rest. I ordered the rest and realized it is still being issued. That is actually bittersweet, because when you get into a comic you have to suffer the waiting for the next issue, whereas when you find a series that is complete you can collect them all and you have this sense of having a whole entity in your library.

Setting all that aside, I began to re-read the first volume to jog my memory, and then the next one, and the next.

The thing that strikes me is the medium of comics in itself. The art is so much more textured than what I remember from being a kid. The writing is mature, and the creativity of the whole genre nowadays is this electric thing that you hold in your hands.

The idea that heroism is kid’s play is not really the truth. It took me back to the imagination I seem to have left behind as an adult, and it makes me want to revive that child in me, where fantasy and yet the truth of the human struggle are all there, in incredible color and dreamlike frames. So graphic, so poignant.

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