Thursday, June 19, 2008

58. Time of the Preacher / Long Time Gone

February 1998: While 2000 AD enjoys a face lift and some great stories including the first outing for the new-look Durham Red, along with guest artists Steve Yeowell on Sinister Dexter and Henry Flint on Nikolai Dante, the Mighty Megazine is undergoing the most radical, thus far, of its many reinventions. You may recall that the comic has had to accomodate some reprints along with new strips in order to continue, and that much of 1996-97 featured a rather fractious, combative relationship with its readers. The lengthy reprint of the Dredd adventure "Necropolis" had come to an end in vol. 3 # 35. For the next three issues, much of the page count was taken up with the three-part Predator vs. Judge Dredd, which was also published simultaneously as a three-part miniseries from Dark Horse. This proved to be among the weaker intercompany crossovers that featured Dredd, with uninspiring art by Enrique Alcatena and a surprisingly tame, beginners-level script by John Wagner. At one point early on, a perp whom Dredd has arrested protests that he has the right to a jury trial, to which Dredd has a snappy comeback. That might be considered a reasonable introduction to the judge system to those readers of Dark Horse's Predator comics who don't know the character or the concept, but honestly, the notion of anyone in Dredd's universe making such a protest when jury trials had been abolished at least thirty years previously is a bit weak.

Throughout these three issues, editor David Bishop had dropped strong hints about big changes coming to the Meg, but the revelation is nevertheless a massive surprise.

Preacher was the next project for Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon following their acclaimed run on Vertigo's Hellblazer in the early 1990s, some of which I plan to reread shortly. The series, which began in 1995, focussed on Jesse Custer, a small-town pastor who, shortly after a crisis of faith that ends with him chewing out most of his congregation while they're out at a bar, finds himself possessed by a creature called Genesis which had been imprisoned in Heaven. Genesis gives Custer the power to command absolute obedience of anyone who hears his spoken word. Custer and his associates decide to travel the country in an attempt to find God, who abandoned the throne of heaven at the moment Genesis was born, while pursued by the angel of death, the Saint of Killers, who has been assigned to kill Genesis.

I do not like Preacher. I almost like it, and I happily concede its cast of fantastic characters, especially the Saint and a bizarre, severely wounded dimwit called Arseface, are wonderful, but the story careens from one completely over-the-top episode of extreme no-holds-barred depictions of sex and violence to another with barely a pause for breath, and not an ounce of discretion or restraint. I am perhaps one of those fuddy-duddies who find situations a bit more dramatic when we're not shown every detail, and more comedic when the writer is forced to poke at convention, rather than ignoring it completely. This is probably why I just don't own very many Garth Ennis comics. Freed from restraint, his power to shock becomes, instead, the power to bore.

The Preacher reprints will run for 26 issues, covering the material (assuming Wikipedian accuracy) included in the first three (of nine) collected editions. Interestingly, I see that the fourth edition contains some Carlos Ezquerra artwork which I have not seen before; that sounds worth looking into! At any rate, there is no new material included in the Megazine's reprints, although the larger page size may be of interest to that title's fans, who'd like to see Steve Dillon's glorious artwork printed a little larger.

Along with Preacher, the new-look Meg includes a 17-page Dredd episode and one other reprint. For issues 39-41, this is Blackheart, a period crime piece by Robbie Morrison and Frank Quitely that previously appeared in a Dark Horse anthology. It will be followed by a Sin City story by Frank Miller before the slot is given over to reprints of the Daily Star's Judge Dredd newspaper strip.

As for me, this proved to be the time to stop ordering the Megazine. I have a nearly complete run of this period, almost all of which were obtained in lots for much less than the US price, which at the time was $5.99, but these are mostly issues that I picked up later. Even with the staff discount I enjoyed, this was, at the time, a real case of the value being lower than the cost. After all, I'd picked up the first three issues of Preacher back in 1995 and decided against continuing, and now I had the dubious pleasure of paying for it again at twice the US cost, in a magazine which would have fewer Dredd pages than Preacher pages. Blackheart at least had the appealing Frank Quitely artwork, but the announcement of Frank Miller reprints was what finally did me in, because I've always disliked that guy's stuff.

And so finally, after so many years of the Meg not being distributed in America, only sixteen months after I finally started getting it (with vol. 3 # 24, I believe), I said I'd had enough. Turns out there is too high a price to ask for Wagner-scripted Dredd episodes, and, for me, it was the price of Preacher.

The Hipster Children understand that Preacher is a mature-readers title and they're not to read the series. But that's okay, there's plenty of fun stuff with Sinister Dexter and Nikolai Dante over in the weekly to entertain them. More on those next time!

(Preacher images are © Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.)

No comments: