Preacher Reading Guide

Preacher Reading Guide
Oh look, it's another one of those Comixology sales where the entirety of a brilliant series is going super-cheap. It's not really possible to pick out individual issues or arcs from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's late '90s Vertigo series Preacher and recommend them over others - the series as a whole is a sprawling epic that really needs to be followed through from the beginning rather than dipping in and buying bits of it. But because of the handful of spinoff, character-background-filling-in miniseries that were released alongside it, and the fact that different trade editions have collected some things in slightly different orders, it's useful to put together an arc-by-arc reading guide for if you do end up buying it in this single-issue form. And at the same time I'll give a quick précis of each arc and where I think it stands in the great scheme of things.

If you're somehow not at all familiar with Preacher, it's ostensibly a violent supernatural action thriller about a one-time preacher from Texas who unwittingly gets granted the power of a force potentially greater than that of God himself, and what happens when said preacher (along with his ex-girlfriend and an Irish vampire) decides to hunt down the mysteriously absent deity. It's heavily rooted in themes of Americana (and in particular the "American Dream") and the usual Garth Ennis notions of friendship and loyalty. It also draws significantly from American movie history, primarily (but not limited to) the Western genre.

Its levels of violence, swearing and sex and its twisted sense of humour mean it's not necessarily everybody's cup of tea - but it is one of the best-told and most influential comics series of the golden Vertigo era, and (Ennis being Ennis) it ultimately ends up having a lot more heart than might seem apparent from the surface trappings. So unless you're put off by its graphic nature (or its religious themes), I recommend it in its entirety almost without reservation. But as for the specifics, here's an overview of the 66 issues and assorted specials...
Gone To Texas (#1-4)

Also the title of the trade collecting the first seven issues, but the initial story arc actually only runs for four. This is obviously a good starting-point to test the waters, and it sets up the premise of the series neatly as well as introducing us to the majority of its main players. The style is still a little loose and rough at this stage, but the potential for what the series would become is clearly there.

Naked City (#5-7)

After establishing the setup, this is a three-issue storyline that gives the character interplay between Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy a bit more of a chance to breathe, without really having much of a major effect on the wider series as a whole (although there's a thematic call-back to one element of it much, much later in the run). It's tempting to call it skippable, but it's an entertainingly grisly little tale.
Until The End Of The World (#8-12)

Or: where it gets really, REALLY good. An explosive story arc that fills us in on Jesse's own background as well as taking some shocking twists and turns. This is basically where the series finds its voice, establishing its characters, tone and style in a way that would carry through to the end.

Hunters (#13-17)

A year into the run, we finally meet the series' major antagonists - Herr Starr and the Grail - and the main long-running through-story begins. The second half of this arc is given over to some of the series' most controversial material - with Ennis getting a little immature when it comes to scenes set in and around LA's sex party scene - but it does set up some significant grudges that pay off later.
Texas and the Spaceman (#18)

The first of two standalone issues telling flashback stories about Jesse's father in Vietnam. As it's Garth Ennis doing a war comic, it's unsurprising that these are therefore among the very best single issues the series has to offer.

Crusaders (#19-24)

Another of the best overall arcs, this focuses predominantly on the conflict between Jesse and the Grail - and the internal conflict within the organisation itself. It's a breakneck, thrill-ride of an arc that ups the drama quotient significantly.

Cry Blood, Cry Erin (#25) and To The Streets of Manhattan... (#26)

A two-parter - although each individual issue is relatively self-contained in its own right - dealing with Cassidy's backstory, first in his native Ireland, and then his earliest days in New York. The second part in particular is lovely, and it's an important moment in the relationship between Jesse and Cassidy.
Saint of Killers #1-4

Round about now is a good time to drop in some of the various backstory-filling specials - indeed, in the original trade order, most of them are collected in the fourth book (Ancient History), immediately after the third, Proud Americans, had collected #18-26.

First up is the Saint of Killers four-part miniseries, which needs to be read before the next major arc. What it tells you about the Saint's background is effectively summarised later on, so if you wanted to skip it you could - but I recommend reading his story in this expanded form, as it's a brilliant, albeit thoroughly unpleasant, Western murder-and-revenge story. Terrific art by both Steve Pugh and Carlos Ezquerra, too.

The Story of You-Know-Who

This was the first one-shot to be published, and although it gives us the backstory of Arseface, it otherwise doesn't really fit in with the style or tone of the series at all. That's not to say it's not good - in fact, it's a really great standalone read - but it doesn't even feel like it lines up character-wise with the Arseface we later know. The art by Richard Case, while excellent, also doesn't really fit in with the rest of the series. So, definitely read it, but don't really think of it as a Preacher story as such.

The Good Old Boys

Again, this doesn't fit into the actual series story or themes at all - it's simply a flashback story featuring Jody and T.C. - but it's Ennis having a ridiculous amount of fun with throwing stupid '90s action movie tropes into the grim and twisted Deep South world he'd earlier created. And it's drawn by Ezquerra, so it looks terrific.
Cassidy: Blood and Whiskey

Collected as part of the Dixie Fried arc (below), this is a Cassidy flashback story that feeds into it - it's not an essential read as such (the events that occur in it are referred back to in Dixie Fried in a way that gives you enough information if you didn't read it), but it's reasonably entertaining, and ends up proving more consequential than first seems.

Dixie Fried (#27-33)

Things start to go a bit pear-shaped for the characters in an arc that I've never been the keenest on - but it's an important one in shaping a lot of things that follow. It's basically, though, the first point at which you realise the story of these three friends might not have a happy ending (that's if you didn't realise it already from the words "Garth Ennis" on the cover).
War In The Sun (#34-37)

The Saint of Killers returns, which means things go nuclear (er, literally). An absolutely explosive arc (er, literally) which may be shorter than some of the other major storylines, but is no less significant in how it shuffles up the series' status quo.

War In The Sun aftermath (#38-40)

Three essentially one-shot issues dealing with the fallout (er, literally) of the previous arc, following the characters as they hit various low points. Pretty depressing all around, but there's still some good material here. Although "Arsefaced World" (#40) is just absolutely weird and mental for no good reason.

Salvation (#41-48)

Among most fans of the book this arc is seen as a pretty major blip, but it's not without its strong points. Pacing is its biggest problem - it's a deliberate shift down a gear for both the lead character and the story, but it perhaps goes on that little bit too long. It does, however, contain an extremely important (and surprising/shocking) character reveal that's worth sticking around for.
All Hell's A-Coming (#49-58)

Rather than one arc, essentially a series of shorter stories that either fill in remaining character background (in one case, to devastating effect) or bring the players together in anticipation of the finale.

"First Contact" (#49) fills in the blanks of what happened in the immediate aftermath of "War in the Sun", before "The Land of Bad Things" (#50) is another touching return to the John Custer flashbacks. #51 and #52 shift focus to Tulip, giving us her background in detail for the first time. "Too Dumb For New York City And Too Ugly For L.A." (#53) is a brilliant road-trip story centred back on Jesse, and perhaps the last moment of proper light relief the series gets. Then #54 through to #58 see the beginning of the end for the Grail's armageddon plan, while also - in #56 and #57 - giving us the previously untold more horrific elements of Cassidy's history.

Alamo (#59-66)

Where it ends. A straight-down-the-line run to the finish, with Ennis generally doing one of his better jobs of tying up most things in a satisfying way. There are a couple of elements of the ending that don't quite sit right, but overall, the series regains some of its best form at just the right time.
Preacher is available at $0.99/£0.69 per issue until the end of 17th June, so move quickly if you want to snap it up. $75/£52 might seem like a pretty hefty investment, but you'll never get this cheap an opportunity to read the thing in its entirety, so if you've never done so, now is the time.