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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cover Story - Top 12 Preacher Covers

So, AMC’s Preacher show premieres tomorrow.  It’s a pretty big deal, the first major comic adaptation by AMC after their phenomenally successful adaptation of Walking Dead.  Additionally, it represents the first time Seth Rogen has thrown his considerable weight behind a television series, no less an adaptation of one of the goriest and edgiest comic books to come out of DC Comics mature reader’s imprint Vertigo. 

Finally, this is the 2nd time someone has attempted to adapt a Verigo Comic to the small screen after the abysmal failure of last year’s Constantine, making this a second shot at success for the vast amount of properties at Vertigo.  Given all that, and that it’s another comic book show for me to leach hash tags off of, of course I’m going to celebrate it and what better to do that then with a look at the comics the show is based on.  So, let’s dive into the shallow end and get the cover story on Preacher’s 12 best covers.

If you don’t know anything about Preacher this cover is a pretty good introduction on what to expect.  The character at hand is Cassidy, an Irish vampire and the comic’s breakout favorite character.  That weird bend of ultra-violent gore with playfully gleeful irreverence is core to the enjoyment of Preacher.  The series is a lot like Deadpool in that regard only without the cartoony, tongue-in-cheek satirical elements that make Deadpool so joyous.  

Preacher has its funnier moments but it always come with a glint of insanity and a hard edge of cynicism.  They’re both key comics for representing the male adolescent psyche, both thoroughly aware that the entire world is a massive joke that’s being played on you, it’s just that Deadpool is willing to laugh along with everyone else while Preacher is just pissed off. 

Aside from embodying that aspect of the comic so well, this cover is just beautifully rendered.  Trying for this realistic style can be very hit or miss but the realization here is flawless.  The cover artist for all of these is Glenn Fabry and he absolutely owns the realism of this style.  There’s so much attention to detail in this cover it’s incredible.  The lines and cracks on Cassidy’s face and hands, the shading n the many folds of his jacket, even the way the blood splatters across his chest creates a real, convincing, photorealistic tint. 

One of the interesting elements of covers as art is that they manage to incorporate the title of the work directly into it, as is the case with this incredible cover.  Titles of work can easily be used to add greater meaning and depth and this cover is a superb example of that, taking what could be a bizarre and comedic image and elevating it with the simple application of the word “Crusaders.”  

If you don’t know anything about Preacher, it’s a book steeped in religious iconography, symbolism, and critique and that very much extends to the Vatican and the Catholic Church.  So, dropping a bomb like ‘Crusaders’ into the middle of all that is a great way to raise the stakes and signal to the reader how much nothing is off limits to this comic. 

There’s also that hint of comedic farce about the cover as well, which is also accomplished through the juxtaposition of the title.  The term “Crusaders” conjures up a lot of images but they tend to be epic in nature but not here.  These Crusaders all wear ridiculously goofy berets complete with feather horns and a nice dumb medallion.  Like I mentioned in the previous entry, that blend of genuine disdain with comedic dressing down is core to Preacher’s appeal.  Even though Preacher doesn’t really hold up reading it with mature eyes 20 years after initial publication there’s a genuine anger and a fire within the book that’s impossible to ignore.  

Remember when I said this comic had a lot in common with Deadpool?  Well, I wasn’t kidding, as this cover hopefully indicates.  As also mentioned, this character, Cassidy, is a vampire, which means that there’s only one to kill him and that’s sunlight.  As a result, Preacher always took full advantage of the fact that Cassidy could undergo the most heinous physical injury and goriest wounds well still recovering.  This is part of what I meant with the Deadpool comparison, who in turn draws some of his inspiration back to the original Mask comics.  

The whole thing is essentially a gory approach to the cartoon set-up of characters being able to shrug off extreme injury, which is itself a pretty subversive self-critique.  The idea of making one of the central jokes of your gritty, mature readers comic essentially on the same level as your average episode of Looney Tunes only with buckets of blood is a damn clever way to show how self-aware you are of your own nature as a piece of art.

Speaking of art, this is another cover where the level of detail Fabry is will to put into every piece he makes shines through.  The individual floor tile colors and the multitude of bullet holes covering Cassidy are a great example of just how in depth a visual we’re getting.  I especially like the bullet through Cassidy’s eye and the way his one leg is all twisted and broken.  It’s more gruesome than truly gory, which in turn makes it more impactful and the whole thing is smeared in a really great layer of grime. 

Even without any of the in-comic context for this image it’s an amazing cover, smothered in layers and layers of brilliant symbolism and the trademark detail we’ve come to expect from Fabry.  Just the rendering of the clouds alone in this image is incredible; the color gradient across the skyline to the cloudly ground is beautifully rendered and exudes a Renaissance quality that’s incredibly unique and evocative.  

Then there’s the actual content, with the mysterious cowboy preparing to draw his six-shooter on an advancing horde of angels.  Again, for those who haven’t read the comic, the figure at hand (pun intended) is the Saint of Killers, an unstoppable embodiment of death capable of killing anyone or anything.  If murder is an art, the Saint of Killers is its master; he’s also a cowboy buried under boot hill for generally unaccountable reason.  

Seriously, I’m not sure why the Saint of Killers is a cowboy (it’s been awhile since I last read these) but whatever the reason it makes for a great juxtaposition of American mythology and classical Judeo-Christian iconography.  The cowboy is one of the purest American archetypes, a perfect visual shorthand for the endemic violence that informed the slow American crawl towards full colonization of a continent.  They’re one of the core masculine idealizations of a generation, bringing civilization to the wilderness at the point of a gun.  Here, that image is reimagined to be bringing judgment against the natural world of heaven, their own creation finally turned loose upon them in righteous fury. 

Going back to that whole point about American symbolism, here’s an image that’s steeped in visual metaphor just on the surface level but has an added layer of meaning through the thoroughly American diction of Preacher’s visual lexicon.  

Obviously snakes hold a serious significance in the Judeo-Christian canon, often the form of Satan and associated with evil, here perched against the titular Preacher as he leans against a cross of skulls.  All of that is absolutely phenomenal stuff, a super creepy visual with a great bend on religious symbolism that literalizes the Preacher’s own identity as the product of a union between a demon and angel.

However, there’s additional meaning to be found in the rural American practice of snake handling.  This ties into how much Preacher was a product of the brief fascination with America’s South West (hence all the cowboy iconography) but in the American rural areas there’s a religious practice where preachers and their congregation will handle live venomous snakes.  

The thinking is that if the handler is truly virtuous God will keep the snakes from biting them.  It’s a screwy tradition but this image is definitely capitalizing on it.  The way the Preacher is adorned in snakes, not making any more to stop them, seemingly out of his body, it all speaks to the purity test.

This is probably the densest image I’ve yet showcased in this cover story, mainly thanks to the whole gaggle of on-lookers in the background there.  There’s just a lot more going on in this cover that requires Fabry’s exquisite approach to detail, especially with how prominent the three central figures are to the goings on.  

The flow of humanity here is very well rendered, especially in terms of the coloration on Preacher’s normal skin, Cassidy’s pale vampiric pallor, and then the reddish purple of the poor dope he’s strangling.  I also especially love the look of the background guy at the far right, complete with stupid hat and smiley face shirt.  Dude looks like he has no idea what’s happening right now and, in fairness, he probably doesn’t. 

Anyway, no real religious or symbolic reason why this cover made the list I just think it’s damn funny.  Amid all the Christian iconography, mythological creatures, and gritty human ugliness it’s easy to forget that Preacher is, in no small way, a comedy.  It’s a black comedy to be sure, very much informed by satirical dressing down of taboo subjects and a slapstick approach to violent ugliness, but we are still meant to laugh at parts of it.  Actually, maybe laugh is the wrong word, I think Preacher is more shooting for a sly, knowing smirk from the audience, which this achieves very well I’d say. 

Fun fact: this is Preacher’s fist cover, and what a cover it is.  We jump right back to the religious symbolism with this, with the titular Preacher framed in looming, ominous joy looking down on a burning church.  In many ways, this cover speaks to the entire premise of the comic and its core set-up, focusing on the righteous, destructive, all-consuming anger of a follower of a belief that’s proven so bafflingly backwards and wrong within the context of the comic.  That’s part of what I mean when I say Preacher is a quintessentially adolescent text as its core storytelling status quo is informed by a point of view very similar to that of adolescents, especially adolescent boys. 

There’s a stage that all boys reach around 13-15 where you become aware of cruelty, corruption, laziness, and backwards thinking in the structures that govern our world and the standard response to this fact is to get so angry you assume the entire world must be the same and should probably just be burned down for something better.  

Ideally people grow out of this phase, though not always, but Preacher captures that moment perfectly and transposes the experience to be more legitimate.  It makes the entire book into a bizarre adolescent fantasy but by the same token comic books have always lived by fantasy and there’s no reason adolescent don’t deserve their own wish-fulfillment story about being totally right about how broken everything is and also being able to do something about it. 

We now switch from religious symbolism to American iconography.  One of the weirder aspects of Preacher is that the main character has a quasi-imaginary friend who speaks with him in the form of John Wayne.  It’s unclear if John Wayne is just a product of Preacher’s subconscious or some form of entity that’s latched unto him but he’s a fun part of the story, a great bit of American identity, and makes a dynamite cover here.  

If you can’t tell what’s going on behind John here, it’s that someone’s coffin has been sunk to the bottom of the ocean and he’s sitting atop the coffin, perhaps riding it down to the seabed.  That idea of the cowboy riding something down a drop is pretty iconic in its own right, going back to Stanley Kubrik’s Dr. Strangelove and the visual of Slim Pickens Major Kong riding the atomic bomb down to end the world. 

However, this cover is most making use of John Wayne’s position in the comic as an ambiguous creature in Preacher’s mind.  His presence here speaks to isolation in the depths, being cut off from all help other than that from within.  It’s an interesting visual shorthand, drawing on the comic’s own lore and mythology rather than the exterior meaning of John Wayne and the cowboy as figures of American myth. 

Here’s another great example of American mythology and the incredibly detailed work of Glenn Fabry.  Before I dive into symbolism of the content let’s just talk about how beautifully rendered the central hand on this cover is.  This honestly looks like a photograph it’s that well realized.  The veins and wrinkles of the hand are beautifully shaded and incredibly persuasive, and the reflection in the lighter’s bronze is wonderfully rendered as well.  

The color work on the whole is just superb, creating this overarching sepia tone that exudes the sense of age and old photographs from times long past.  It’s a beautiful work of colored cohesion to exude a central mood and identity to the photo, one that’s bolstered by the split between background and foreground, with the hand and lighter adding a temporal split to the dynamic of the visual. 

If you aren’t familiar with American myth and history, what we’re seeing here is linked backed to Vietnam, as indicated most by the presence of military helicopters and the time scale of the comic.  Even though Preacher came out in the ‘90s the entire idea of Vietnam still lingered in the generation of comic creators that author Garth Ennis emerged out of in the form of it being “dad’s war,” and a bad war at that.  Combining that visual shorthand with the lighter and the Preacher’s reflection, and the cover creates a beautiful story of what fathers bring back from war and pass on to their sons without using a single word. 

Now we’re getting edgy.  Like I mentioned earlier, Preacher is, in no small way, a comedy comic and this is a great example of the kind of comedy it liked to pitch.  It’s not a “ha ha” funny but rather a smug, mocking dressing down of the many archaic institutions that prey upon society through ignorance and tradition and the KKK may be one of the best examples of that out there.  What’s so impressive about this cover, and why I love it to the point it’s honestly my favorite Preacher cover, is what a complete “screw you” it is to the “supremacy” part of “white supremacy.” 

That’s the joke of the actual issue as well but it’s perfectly summarized here in how the various members of the Klan and white supremacy are always the least impressive, most petty and physical incapable examples of humanity you can fid.  These guys aren’t superior to anyone, they’re little nebbishes and fat jerks looking to feel better about how terrible and pathetic they are by hurting everyone else.  

Yeah, it’s a pretty basic joke and I’m sure others have made it too but this cover sums it up in such a perfect single image it’d be wrong not to include it.  As I said, Preacher is black comedy with a cynical edge but this is one of its best punch lines aimed squarely at people who deserve to be punching bags. 

Well this image certainly a got a lot creepier in hindsight.  Actually, this image may well have been every bit as creepy today as it was back in the mid ‘90s given how soon after the Rodney King riots these issues were coming out (3 years.)  In any event, after nearly 3 years of what feels like non-stop stories of police brutality and criminal activity, it’s hard not to look at this image in a harsh new light.  This is part of how Preacher’s cynical edge makes it more than just smug detachment and actually elevates the work to a level that remains relevant. 

Given the oeuvre of the era it would’ve been easy for Preacher to simply wallow in the dregs of “whatever” detachment from social issues, aware enough to realize things are bad but also unwilling to actually invest enough to seem to care about it.  Preacher takes the opposite approach, always cranking its anger up to 11 and coming off incredibly angry about how bad things are because it’s aware things are probably even worse than we realize.  This cover’s a great visualization of that anger and willingness to strike at targets without hesitation or consideration for whether or not it’d be cool. 

Okay, not only is this the best Preacher cover, if someone asked me to sum up the entire Preacher comic series in one image it would have to be this image.  Again, for those who don’t know the comic, the character face we’re seeing melded with the surface of the Earth in this image is known as Ass-face, hey that adolescent identity doesn’t just cover gore, it extends to profanity as well.  

Anyway, Ass-Face was a stupid teen who was so much of a Kurt Cobain fan that, trigger warning, when Cobain killed himself he attempted to follow through but botched the job so badly he ended up horribly disfigured to the point his face looked like a part of the human anatomy.  The whole thing came early in Preacher’s storyline and boy does it show, though at the same time the whole concept is a pretty great satire of the trend of “be cool by not caring about anything” I was just talking. 

The reason I think this image sums up all of Preacher so perfectly comes down, as it always does, to metaphor and cynicism directed at the entire world and sweetened by a dash of comedy.  The visual of Ass-Face Planet is legitimately hilarious, even we are laughing at his deformity that’s essentially the whole point of the character, though not in the way you’d think.  

Ass-Face isn’t meant as a “ha, ha, he’s ugly, everyone laugh!” type character, but rather an excuse to mercilessly skewer and mock the sense that coolness comes from emulation and detachment.  That’s a pretty worthwhile subject for mockery but it’s turned up to 11 here, suggesting that maybe Ass-Face isn’t all that rare.  Maybe we live on a whole planet of sheeple so dedicated to the cult of celebrity that they’d be willing to shoot themselves in the face just because their idols did the same, because that’s the only way to be cool, and if that is the case then the only thing to do is laugh. 
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