“Forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils” -Roger Williams-
No matter who he is; no matter how far he has come or what he has accomplished; sometimes a man’s past can still haunt him. If he hasn’t dealt with it properly, it can control him in ways he could never have imagined. Despite having the powers of the Almighty himself, Jesse Custer finds himself face to face with his past and must use every ounce of will power he has to keep from letting it control and ultimately destroy him.
In the second trade paperback of the Preacher series, called Until the End of the World, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon show us more of Jesse Custer the man, and his dark and twisted history. Like the first volume, it contains two story arcs; however, unlike the first volume, both are very strong, making the book an incredible read. The first half of Until the End of the World is basically an origin story for Jesse Custer before his transformation. Much like the first half of Gone to Texas, the first half of this second book is told in a non-linear fashion, so it moves the plot forward as well as fills in the mystery of Jesse’s past. The second arc adds brand new elements to the story and begins to peel away more layers of Ennis’s strange universe. It is the first arc, however, that will be what the book is remembered for.
The first page is striking and violent. It is 1974 and a young Jessie is out in a field; a man is restraining his mother, and another man is holding a gun to Jessie’s father’s head. Before you can turn the page Jessie’s father is dead. Told mostly through flashbacks as Jessie and Tulip are tied up to chairs, the first arc is part origin story, part coming-of-age story, and part hero building.
Cassidy, the other member of the trio, has gone to San Francisco to deal with personal matters and Jessie has promised to help Tulip settle up some unfinished businesses in Dallas. Tulip finally comes clean to Jessie and admits she became a gun for hire to pay for a rather large debt to a criminal. While trying to take care of Tulip’s problem, Jessie’s past comes barging through the door with guns blazing. Jody and T.C., men who have a long history with Jesse, kill everyone in the room except Jessie and Tulip. This pretty much takes care of Tulip’s problem but begins a whole new world of hurt. Something is clearly different when Jesse’s Word of God doesn’t work on them. Jessie and Tulip are thrown in a van and taken to Louisiana.
Jesse narrates most of the story. He fills in a confused Tulip (and reader) on just what is going on. He tells her that his family is from a long line of religious fanatics, of which only he and his ridiculously old and cruel grandma remain. He tells her that his mother ran away from the iron fisted rule of his matriarchal grandmother. He tells her about how his dad and mom met, and how at first life seemed like it was alright. Then Jody and T.C. came looking for his mom and brought that to an end, and took the whole family to Louisiana to live with Grandma.
As Jessie talks about his childhood, he tells stories that all seem to have one tragic theme: loss. Every few pages, as Jessie grows up under the rule of his grandmother something he loves is ripped from his life in the most traumatic of ways. His father was shot in front of him, his beloved dog Duke nailed to a fence post by Jody, his mother dragged into the swamp never to be seen again, his best friend, Billy Bob, killed by T.C., and even Jesse’s own will and dignity robbed from him by his grandmother’s torture device, “the coffin.” Every story he tells ends with something he has lost.
He also finally comes clean with Tulip about why their young and fiery romance came to an inexplicability sudden end. Like his mom before him, Jesse ran away from his grandmother. Although he was pretty aimless at first, he found Tulip in Texas and that was all he needed. Yet, at the apex of their romance Jesse’s past, in the form of Jody and T.C. yet again, came to take Jessie back “home.” Dillon’s panel of Tulip lost and bewildered, looking at a park bench that should have Jesse on it is striking in its simplicity. Taking up an third of the page, her stunned face is set on a blank white background. The very next panel is almost the same image, only now the background is black and grey, and Tulip’s face is bruised and bloody, just as stunned but now looking at Jesse tired to a chair. It is one of my favorite parts of the book.
It would not be a Preacher book without tackling the topic of religion. In this volume the message seems to be less about religion itself and more about the harm it’s misguided earthily followers can inflict. Contemporary culture now understands that abuse can come from the hands of the religious and their figure heads. In the mid-nineties, maybe not so much.
Just three years before Preacher began its run, Sinead O’Connor tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live. The result was shock and an uproar of protests. In the context of the sex abuse scandals of the church, that display now seems more or less justified. Ennis focuses on the mental and physical abuse of Jesse as he grows up under his Grandmother. Although the allegory may seem wildly exaggerated at times, the protest against religious indoctrination of children is pretty clear and for its time rather stunning.
One sequence of panels stands out in particular. Grandma is teaching a very young Jesse about God, how he lives in his heart, sees everything, knows what he is thinking, and that he loves Jessie because he made him. When asked if that sounds nice to him, Jesse’s reply is that it sounded scary. Grandma’s response was a quick slap to his face.
Later Jesse has some rather telling insight, “When you’re beaten, when you haven’t an ounce of fight left in you, when you just can’t hack it by yourself anymore: you turn to Jesus or you stick a f@#!in’ gun in your mouth”
In Jesse’s case he has his own personal Jesus, John Wayne. John Wayne is pretty much a Christ-like figure just in the way Jesse talked about. Whenever Jesse is at his lowest point, John Wayne enters the story. In fact, they have a long history together, beginning with Jesse’s first stay in The Coffin as a boy. Wayne is there to rally Jesse and give him the strength to push on and overcome the obstacles in front of him. Of course only Jesse can see and hear him. To someone like T.C., he is just “sittin’ on his bed mumblin’ away like a fool. Damn words don’t even make sense…” The Biblical connection seems clear.
“And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;” -Mark 16:17 NIV-
“For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit.” -1 Corinthians 14:2 NIV-
It is Wayne that rallies Jesse to take command of his life and not be under the boot heel of his oppressive, lunatic family. Jesse’s vengeance is most satisfying.
I can’t talk about this arc without talking about what has happened to God. Jesse has been looking for him since the middle of the first trade and it turns out that he has been in Louisiana the whole time, hiding with Jesse’s grandma. Without going to deep in to the appearance of God, I will say it is a very interesting part of the story. It mostly raises more questions than answers, something that is not lost on Tulip whom he reveals himself to her. God’s reasons: “It is not for you to understand my ways…” It becomes clear to the reader and Tulip that God is afraid of Jesse. The implications of this are still unclear.
The second arc of this trade is seems to be the beginning of a larger arc in the Preacher story. Now that Jesse and Tulip have dealt with their major personal issues, they head to San Francisco to link up with Cassidy who has his own personal vendetta to take care of. His girlfriend has died of a heroin overdose and Cassidy wants to find the people that gave her the stuff. In the meantime, a new story thread is introduced. A shadowy group called the Grail is looking for Jesse. One of their agents, Herr Starr, is leading the investigation. It becomes clear very fast the Starr has his own motives for finding Jesse. He and two other agents of the Grail, Featherstone and Hoover, set out to find him. Most of this story arc builds toward the two groups finally crossing paths.
In typical Ennis fashion, their confrontation has to happen in someplace weird. Really weird. The trio and the Grail clash at the sex party of a San Franciscan, super rich deviant named “Lord” Jesus de Sade. Most of this arc is setup for the next book, but it’s really good setup. Unlike the last book in which the New York arc doesn’t go anywhere, this story in San Francisco does feel like it is driving toward something.
The best part about this plotline is that it ends with a cliff hanger, which makes the anticipation for volume three even higher. I think at this point I should note that currently Preacher is being released in larger books than trades. So the current Book 2 doesn’t have any such cliffhanger.
Over all, this trade paperback, Until the end of the World is a stellar read. It gives enough of the back story of Jesse and Tulip that readers start to better understand their actions. It also kicks off what will be the meat of the story coming down the line.
4 out of 5 Death Stars
– by Joseph DePaul