‘Preacher’ brings controversial questions to niche series

by RYAN FITZGERALD//Staff Writer

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Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer – Preacher _ Season 1, Pilot – Photo Credit: Lewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures Television/AMC

Pulling from comics and graphic novels as source material for new television series and movies has reached an all-time high.

Film-goers will recognize several titles associated with the more famous properties of the comic world, which span the past two decades, including 1994’s “The Crow,” the “Blade” trilogy, and newly-depicted origin stories of several Marvel and DC staples such as “Daredevil,” “Elektra,” “Ghost Rider,” “Hellboy,” “Green Lantern,” “Hulk,” the “Punisher” and, of course, “Batman,” “Superman” and their affiliated adversaries.

During the past several years, cable networks such as AMC and the CW have begun taking hold of rights to a new mature, independent string of characters and properties to work into their future lineup of shows.  AMC, most notably, locked down “The Walking Dead” first, bringing the original 2003 comic series to life in 2010 and making the title one of the most watched series in the history of television.

Following the success of “The Walking Dead,” the CW and Warner Bros. Television established its stake in this new adaptation of comic-centric television by bringing a collection of superhero series focused around several of DC Comics’ more underdeveloped characters, such as the Flash, Green Arrow and Supergirl. Still, these shows are designed to appeal to a larger national audience, as they don’t feature the more gruesome, and arguably, more memorable storyline associated with “The Walking Dead.”

More recently, AMC has reached deep into their bag of purchased material to bring a new, uncanny and unearthly adaptation of a classic graphic novel to television audiences.

The first season of “Preacher” was introduced last year, bringing the same adult-themed content that viewers have come to expect from AMC.

“Preacher” began its run in the comic world under the Vertigo imprint in 1993. Vertigo was created by DC Comics as an outlet to publish new stories that contained more graphic content, explicit violence, profanity and other controversial subjects – all of which did not fit into the restrictions originally set forth by the Comics Code Authority (CCA), which attempted to self-censor the industry. Thankfully, publishers broke with the CCA’s regulation of comic books and their related materials in the late 2000s.

“Preacher” chronicles the story of smalltown Texas preacher, Jesse Custer. He is a man of questioning faith and troubled beliefs who is trying to make good on life by saving the fictional, yet eerily relatable, West Texas town of Annville from Odin Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haley), the demented corporate nut job who undoubtedly suffers from the most severe and violent case of Napoleon syndrome known to man.

But what makes the series (and graphic novel, for that matter) so intriguing, is that at the beginning of the series, as Jesse is stumbling in his faith of God, he becomes possessed by a supernatural creature named Genesis.

Genesis is an otherworldly offspring of the coupling of an angel and a demon…a love child of sorts.  Genesis, as an entity, has no individual will but is composed of goodness and evil, a power that rivals only God himself. It makes Jesse the most powerful individual to walk the Earth.

Upon housing Genesis within his body, Jesse is serendipitously granted a holy tongue, with which he garners the ability to command others, using his words. To complicate matters, upon the creation of Genesis, God has abandoned heaven. The series sets up Custer’s journey across the United States to literally find God and help Jesse overcome the internal paradox of angel and devil, believer of God and lover of sin. He attempts to settle the confliction he feels between follower and apostate.

Throughout the season, viewers are introduced to a plethora of interesting characters, including Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), the wild, party-friendly, Irish vampire, and Tulip, Jesse’s former lover and partner in crime from a past life that Jesse is continually fighting to forget.

“Preacher” was brilliantly delivered by creators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Both producers, who have been longtime fans of the original series, initially considered an unwavering, faithful translation of the source material, but was talked out of that idea by original writer, Garth Ennis – who preferred an approach that was faithful to, and in the spirit of, the original series that would include the best elements of the 1990s run of the comic, yet translate to a television adaptation that would contain fresh and various storylines.

Despite exceptional writing and a narrative that can’t help but drag you into the story head first, the cast is truly what sets this show apart.  Dominic Cooper brings a sense of grizzled charm, with the right balance of bad boy, to the screen to keep viewers vested in his spiritual struggles. Ruth Negga (now an Academy Award-nominated actress thanks to her performance in ‘Loving’), brings grit and spunk to the reckless spitfire that is the character of Tulip.  Other characters from the series make their appearances, including the gay angels, Fiore and DeBlanc, Sheriff Hugo Root and his disfigured son, Eugene (known as Arseface).

Overall, the series will continue with its second season in June, as Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy set out to answer the question set up through everything that happened during the first season: If these is no God, does life have meaning? The end of the first season, and presumably beginning this June, the quest to find God and get answers for the big man’s abandonment of heaven and his supernatural responsibilities will finally begin.

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