Preacher vol. 3: Proud Americans TPB – Garth Ennis

3 out of 5

Revisiting Preacher has been, and probably will continue to be, a trip.  Like many, Preacher was one of my first dips into the wider world of What Comics Have to Offer, and it was a revelation at the time.  I had dabbled in comics on and off along the way, but not much outside of TMNT / Marvel / DC, so seeing that comics could directly grapple with the type of concepts and characters touched on within Preacher changed my reading expectations thereafter.

It still remains an important gateway comic and newbie recommendation for the way it blends camp, crass, and contemplative story-telling, giving a lot of readers a blend of what they want and what they didn’t know they wanted until after tearing through the pages.

But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect, and with many years of reading hence (yes, I’m guilty of buying the trades and only using them to loan to others after having read them once or maybe twice, i.e. I haven’t read them in a long time) – including much Ennis stuff – the story-telling cracks begin to show.  A lot of the padding of which Ennis is often guilty, in Preacher, wraps back around to make the character twists incredibly effective; and ironically, this style of construction is so against the grain from hero books that it’s one of the main entrancing attributes for when you first read it.  You come to know and love the characters.  It sticks out as rather inorganic upon a reread, though.

Proud Americans mostly focuses on Jesse’s rescuing of Cassidy from the Grail, filling in plenty of details on the organization along the way.  Before and after we get the aforementioned padding – a war flashback for Jesse’s dad (a requisite if you’re familiar with Garth) and then Cassidy’s vampire origins.  What makes these padding – and a little sneaky – is that the bits relevant to the story are minimal, but we swallow the stories because Ennis bounces between gags, bromancing and exposition expertly, years before his fuddy-duddyness would have him indulging in that latter bit way too much in titles like Boys.  Dillon, also, illustrates with such straight-ahead confidence – nothing flashy – that you can dig in and absorb character nuance without having to break to marvel at his linework.  This is a backhanded compliment, but Steve’s consistency is part of what, I think, makes this book work for a lot of readers, similar to Gibbons’ more detailed but similarly tunnel-visioned style on Watchmen.  But, again, once you’re over the spell, these flashbacks are mostly extras, things Garth wanted to include about wartime brotherhood, or the pointlessness of the Irish Protestant / Catholic battles in the case of Cassidy.  True, you can trace these themes of Fight For What’s Right back to the thrust of the title, but that’s the needle in the plotty haystack, or rather, it’s something that can come out of these stories but doesn’t feel like the actual main focus.

In the middle of the trade, when we’re filling in the Grail backstory, there are some details that still crack me up and are inspired; the overall plan of the organization is intriguing, and D’Aronique and the charge under his care are hilarious.  The fight for Cassidy, though, dips into the wish fulfillment stuff found in volume one.  I realize it’s maybe silly to criticize a comic for that, but Jesse’s purposeful avoidance of using the word lets him, apparently, take on armed special forces dudes three at a time, and Cassidy’s fate in the meanwhile never quite rings as threateningly as it should, even though it’s a sensible approach.

In this sense, in the same way that the flashbacks add to the character but are excuses for Garth’s indulgences, the Grail bit is somewhat of an info dump of What / Why / Who, covering up the boring bits with action montages.  And what feels like a cheap deus ex machina which provides the delaying means for the duo’s final escape.

Preacher volume 3 imparts tons of useful story info, so it can’t be skipped.  And it’s undeniably entertaining.  But once you know the general beats and are more familiar with the writer, it also becomes clear that it litters a lot of delaying tactics across its collected 9 issues.