by Jarrod Jones. You don’t walk across all of Hell’s Creation alongside the likes of Jesse Custer, Tulip O’Hare, and a hard-living Irish vampire named Cassidy without getting sentimental about it.
Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher, the seminal Vertigo series from the mid-to-late 90s, is grand opera with true grit. If you’re a die-hard fan, you know how special and rare a comic book it actually was, and you’ve done your damndest to ensure everyone you’ve ever cared about has read it. Even if you’re a battle-hardened comic book enthusiast, if you haven’t read Preacher, there is still so much work to do. And if you haven’t, stop reading right here.
Because this list is going to spoil some things for you. Chiefly, it’s going to reveal five of the greatest moments that ever took place in this hard-assed/sweet-as-hell series. (And it will spoil one amazing Easter egg for those who just love stand-up comedy.) Go read Preacher. And then come back; you’ll see that all of a sudden there is so much to talk about.
JOHN CUSTER TELLS HIS SON ABOUT THE WORLD. (Preacher #9) There wasn’t much we knew about the Reverend Jesse Custer this early on in the series, but Ennis made sure to rectify that with a single visit to Angelville.
Captured by the heinous Gran’ma Marie L’angelle, Jesse has only a single night to explain his royally fucked upbringing to his estranged girlfriend, Tulip. In relating the story of how his parents met, Jesse proves himself an able narrator, focusing on the indelible moments that forged Reverend Custer into the steely man he is today. His road towards maturity was—to put it mildly—fraught with peril. Luckily, someone told Jesse the score before shit really went south.
That man was Jesse’s pop, John Custer, whose only crime in this world was loving his wide-eyed son and his beautiful wife, Christina. He was the man who first took Jesse to the movies. The man who showed Jesse what to do with fools who fucked with those he cared about. The man who taught Jesse one vital thing:
“I love you, Jesse. You’re my own son an’ I’m proud of you, an’ you brought your mom an’ me more happiness than I ever knew there was. You be good to her, an’ look after her.
“An’ you be a good guy, Jesse. You gotta be like John Wayne: You don’t take no shit off fools, an’ you judge a person by what’s in ’em, not how they look.
“You gotta be one of the good guys, son: ‘Cause there’s way too many of the bad.”
John would reappear (in flashback) a few more times throughout Preacher to provide Jesse perspective when the good reverend needed it most. But the best advice Jesse Custer—or anybody—ever received was what John Custer told his son the night before he died.
DOUBLE-BARRELED RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Preacher #12) The horrors of Angelville were the worst that Jesse and Tulip had ever endured. (Well, at least up to that point.) Facing down with Gran’ma Marie L’angelle and her small but vicious crew of T.C. and Jody (who might be the meanest sonuvabitch to ever walk across a comics panel) have put the former lovers through a personal hell that left most readers doubting that both would survive. (And witnessing Jody put a bullet through Tulip’s forehead all but confirmed that they wouldn’t.)
Enter: God. That’s right. The Alpha and Omega wakes Tulip up from an eternal sleep in a secluded bedroom on the Angelville estate to illustrate a single point. “You go to Jesse Custer, and you tell him this has been a warning,” The Anointed One tells Tulip, who’s been beaten, shot to death, lectured by a God that’s abandoned her, and above all else, been called a “cooze” by a backwater, chicken-fucking hick named T.C. Once the lights go back on in that beautiful dome of hers, Tulip’s had her fill of being pushed around and manipulated. It’s time for some serious vengeance.
As fire rains down on Angelville, Tulip wakes up right around the time Jesse’s already knocked T.C.’s nose well into his fool skull and locked Gran’ma in her burning home. And right around the time she finds her bearings, she finds a double-barrelled shotgun as well, and wouldn’t you know it; T.C.’s right around the corner, trying to worm his way to freedom.
“Do you remember when we first met, T.C.? Do you remember what you called me?” Tulip asks as she trains her gun at the worthless yokel’s head. The man she loves is just outside getting his hard-earned retribution. But before she can go to him, there’s one more rat bastard in Angelville that needs killing, and Tulip O’Hare is only too happy to oblige.
“NOW LET GO.” (Preacher #37) To be honest, the entirety of Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy’s disastrous showdown with the Grail and the Saint of Killers in the four-part saga “War in the Sun” (issues #34-37) should be on this list. It’s a beautiful example of Ennis and Dillon’s excellent storytelling given form: every single plotline in the series had converged on one of the United States’ most iconic landmarks (Utah’s Monument Valley) and things were about to change forever. Ennis and Dillon set the stage for what might have been the final reckoning for everyone involved. There was so much more to come, but it didn’t feel like it back then. Back then, it just felt like the end of the world.
Herr Starr has called in every resource available to the Grail. Monument Valley is overrun with artillery and military personnel. The Saint of Killers is looking to square accounts in the manner to which he is accustomed. Jesse wants to find the Lord and kick his ass all over half of Creation. And they are all finally met in the wide open skies of the desert, the scorching sun fixed on the just and the evil alike. (Save for Cassidy, who sits out on most of the action underneath a fire blanket, because sun and vampires.)
With an asshole like Herr Starr around things go to shit very quickly, as he calls in a stealth bomber to fire a nuclear warhead into the face of the Saint of Killers. (That goes over about as well as you’d expect.) But even all that isn’t why this moment made it to the list. It’s the seconds that occur just after the warhead detonates that hurt the most, because the world was about to change, and there was nothing anybody could do about it.
Using a private jet as a lifeboat, Tulip, Jesse, and Cassidy soar over the mushroom cloud that was once the Monument Valley, but the energy from the blast blows open the jet’s rear door… where Jesse had been tending to an injured Cass. Jesse is thrown out of the plane, and caught in the last second by the vampire, whose skin begins to burst into flames as he holds onto his best friend in the whole world. Gravity looks to claim both men in short order. So Jesse does his cowboy thing and forces Cass to do the unthinkable with the damnable power fate has given him.
“Cass! Tell her I love her!” are Custer’s only instructions as fire burns into Cassidy’s flesh. And then the preacher lets Genesis do the talking. “Now let go.“ What followed was the sound of your heart breaking. And then an entire month went by.
TULIP DOESN’T NEED THIS SHIT. (Preacher #51) Six months have passed since the Monument Valley showdown, and life for Tulip O’Hare has truly gone to seed.
Jesse Custer is gone, and in a very surprising (and frightening) turn of events, Tulip has taken up with the notorious shitheel Cassidy for an excursion out to California in order to cope with her grief. But Cassidy’s idea of a proper coping mechanism is a steady stream of vodka and Valium, both of which the vampire leaves lying around for Tulip to imbibe whenever her despair grows too deep.
For six long damning months, Tulip is held under Cassidy’s sway. The pills and the drink have nearly eroded all the fighting spirit Tulip has ever had inside of her. But the most reliable thing about a junkie is that they are entirely unreliable, and Cassidy makes the mistake of forgetting to replenish his poison. In an incredibly heartening moment of clarity, Tulip makes the decision to walk out on all this misery. Only thing standing in the way is Cassidy.
The needle-spiking vampire makes his bullshit case as to why Tulip needs to stay, but Ms. O’Hare ain’t having none of it: “You’ve been living life the way you like it, which is to lie on your drunk ass in some sleazepit until the owner complains about the smell. And you’ve been keeping me bombed out of my head so I won’t see how pathetic it all is. So you get to keep what you’ve wanted all along. Me.”
Truck keys in hand and a Desert Eagle in her purse, Tulip has finally seen the light. Now all she has to do is make sure that Cassidy (and a .50 Action Express round) do exactly the same.
THE DUKE SAYS GOODBYE. (Preacher #63) “Alamo” was only inevitable for Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy.
It was more than fitting that Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s thoughtful tale of cowboys and angels would bring its finale straight to the doorstep of the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, Texas. But before Jesse Custer could have a reckoning with his former best friend Cassidy, Jesse had to say goodbye to the one man who watched his back every step of the way.
It’s never confirmed if the apparition of John Wayne was an actual guardian angel meant for Jesse, or if he was just a figment of his emotionally traumatized imagination. But either way, the Duke stood by Custer and gave the man strength, spirit, and determination when things were at their worst. An ultimate end was right around the corner, however, and the legend of the silver screen knew he had to let his favorite pilgrim see it through himself.
Been watchin’ over ya a long time now, I guess. Tried ta help ya when I could, but… mostly just bin watchin’.
Saw ya learn ta follow yer heart, an’ not ta quit ner duck a fight. Saw ya learn ta be a man.
But there ain’t no more that I can tell ya. I gotta… go on now, leave ya ta finish it. This last thing ya gotta do alone.
So Jesse says goodbye to his childhood hero, his partner, the only way he knows how: With a handshake and thanks. “I want to thank you,” Jesse Custer says to Mr. Wayne, “For bein’ a goddamned hero.”
And with a tip of his weathered cowboy hat, John Wayne walks into the blinding white of eternity, but not before he says:
… This broke-down, wore-out ol’ cowboy wanted ya ta know:
HE’S PROUDA YA.
HONORABLE MENTION: JESSE MEETS BILL. It’s a moment that transcends popular culture, separates the young from the old, and singles out those with an impeccable sense of humor.
Of course, it’s the moment in Preacher (issue #31, to be precise) where Jesse Custer meets Bill Hicks.
It’s not, however, a moment that necessarily means anything to the wider scheme of the series, and it’s not necessarily even a moment that needs to be in the story at all—in fact, it almost trivializes why Reverend Custer went on a Truth Spree in the town of Annville in the first place (seen way back in Preacher #1): Once Jesse finds out Hicks passed on, he decides to get really real? Gimme a break.
And their exchange is pretty embarrassing too:
Hicks: “Thanks—holy shit, you’re a preacher!”
Jesse: “I guess that makes two of us.”
But it is a pretty sweet non-sequitur from the rest of the proceedings of Preacher, if for nothing else than to introduce another group of people to the really manic—and surprisingly affecting—ramblings of a comedian who was way ahead of his time.
Not only that, but it featured the single greatest interpretation of a Hicks bit in sequential art, possibly ever:
Agree? Disagree? What was your favorite moment in Ennis & Dillon’s Preacher? Let us know in the comments below.