“All in the Family”

Ah, finally we come to the first ‘big’ storyline explored in Preacher: Jesse’s childhood. The arc that stands up and bellows “This title isn’t just tits and innards! Close, but not quite!” Let’s synopsise this important storyline:

Synopsis of Preacher #8-12:
(Most of the story is told in the wrong order and through flashbacks, so I’m going to attempt to synopsise chronologically. Bear with me here.)

Tulip reveals to Custer she is a hitwoman in the car on the way to see Custer’s Grandma, whom he has recently learnt has been looking for him. She explains how she was in dire straights after Custer left her, drifting through meagre jobs and turning to drink. She straightened herself after a while when she peed blood (usually a bad sign), forcing her to borrow money from a man named Macavoy to go to the hospital. Not wanting to fuck the man to pay her debt, she instead offered her services up as an assassin after demonstrating her considerable talent with firearms. This was the hit that Tulip explained about in Issue #1, in which she messed up royally and hitched a ride with Cassidy to getaway from. She realised as soon as he got there that there was no chance of her actually doing it. Well, until the man insulted her. Custer states that he’s going to tell Macavoy to shove his money up his ass, and they got to his office. Just as Custer is about to use The Word to make Macavoy (who strangely enough wasn’t keen on dropping Tulip’s debt) and his crew do something unequivocal, a man bursts in and shoots Macavoy’s crew. Jesse identifies him as Jody, the man who killed his father) and seems terrified of him. He insists Tulip not attempt to shoot him and uses The Word on him to disarm him instead, but nothing happens. Custer tries again but Jody just smiles. He orders them to get into his truck and Custer, realising he is powerless, tells Tulip to do as he says. In the truck, Custer gets reacquainted with Jody’s pal T.C. and tries to insist that Tulip is just a hitchhiker and means nothing to him, but T.C. and Jody remember that she was with him in Phoenix years ago, and thus means a lot to him.

Custer and Tulip are taken to the house Custer grew up in to meet his Grandma, Miss Marie L’Angell. They’re tied to the chairs, and Custer stresses that Tulip say nothing to her. Marie insults her and Tulip naturally argues back, which gets her knocked out by Jody. Marie informs Custer that the reason why she was still searching for him after he faked his death and why Jody is unaffected by The Word is because God is on her side. She knows all about Genesis, the Saint of Killers and everything else, and tells Jesse he can be with his “whore” until dawn when Jody will kill her. The L’Angell crew leave the pair alone. In another room God speaks with Marie, informing her that she may kill Tulip, but he wants to see the body afterwards. Back to Jesse, Tulip wakes up and asks if Custer would mind explaining about what happened, which takes us through the next issues via flashbacks.

The history of Jesse begins with how John Custer (Jesse’s father) first met Christina L’Angelle (Jesse’s mother) when she spat in his face after arriving home from Vietnam. She later realises she was wrong to do so and apologies to him, and they both fall in love. A few months later, Jesse is born. After a few years, Jody and T.C. rear their ugly heads attempting to take Christina back. But they find out that she has had a son and take her and John back to Marie’s. She forces them to marry and stay at the house and promises that they will die if they attempt to leave. John eventually attempts, and got shot for it. It’s then that Jesse decides he won’t cry anymore after Jody mocks him. Custer grows up with his best friend; the one-eyed inbred Billy-Bob and gets taught about God from his Grandma. I’m aware that this is reading like something horrid, but this part of the article is purely summary of something that’s a pin to summarise. One day Jesse’s dog (Duke) humps Jody’s leg, so he impales it, which causes Jesse to curse at him, which angers Grandma. When she decides he needs to be punished by being put in the coffin, Christina tries to stop her, but Grandma has just has her killed. Jesse is forced to watch his mother being taken away, and is then put into a coffin underwater for a week. Jesse starts to believe in the Lord and doing what Grandma tells him to without question.

Fast-forward a few years and Billy-Bob is soon to be wed. Well, he would have been if T.C. hadn’t killed him for being in the wrong place at the wrong time when T.C. had sex with a chicken. Jesse lashes out on T.C. and attempts to do the same to Jody, but Jody instead breaks Jesse’s arm so bad the bone comes out of the arm. Jesse does time in the coffin for a fortnight (weighted by Billy-Bob’s body, no less) and sneaks out to tell Billy-Bob’s family about what happened. Actually, he lies and says he lied and claimed Billy-Bob drowned, which they see through straight away. They blame him for it and Custer decides to never go back to Grandma’s house. He hitches a ride to town and ends up meeting Tulip in a bar, and they enjoy a few months together living the good life stealing cars and “screwing like bunnies”. It’s here Custer’s important line in response to Tulip’s question of “Do you love me?” is said: “I’ll love you until the end of the world.” Soon, Jesse gets her hopes up by saying that the both of them are going to California together and, unbeknownst to Tulip, Custer is going to ask her to marry him. But as she’s getting a beer for him, Jody and T.C. arrive and say that if he doesn’t come with them quietly they’re going to kill her. So he ups and leaves her, which is what she’s been angry with him for so long for. After being pummelled by Jody and doing a month in the coffin, Jesse is ready to start trusting in the Lord. He quickly (thanks to some intervention by Grandma) became a Minister for Annville, until he got drunken one night, events of the first issue etc etc etc.

After the flashbacks, Jody comes in and kills Tulip via shotgun. Jesse is so devastated that he is easily led to another room with no resistance. Jody openly remarks on hating Jesse because he wasn’t one of those who stuck by their own. John Wayne appears in Jesse’s room and agrees with Jody, seeing how he heard Jesse tell his childhood story to Tulip without mentioning him once. More flashbacks ensue with Wayne reminding Custer that he helped get him through his first visit to the coffin. Meanwhile, T.C. informs Grandma that he heard Jesse talking to himself and God resurrects Tulip in Grandma’s bedroom whilst at the same time giving Custer his powers back. Wayne manages, through yet more flashbacks, to revitalise Jesse into not quitting, despite everything that has happened, and Custer goes to sleep. T.C. wakes him up and Jesse is pleased to see that The Word works again. Custer disarms him of his shotgun and beats him nearly to death. He has a cigarette and promises he’ll never quit again to John Wayne and marches outside to deal with the rest of them.

God tries to convince Tulip to make Custer stay off his case, but Tulip had none of it and starts insulting God, who gets annoyed and leaves. Custer uses The Word to set alight all of Grandma’s helpers, but Jody manages to put himself out. Tulip kicks Grandma off her wheelchair, leaving her helpless as one of the burning helpers runs into the house, thus setting the house alight. Custer and Jody fight, Jesse getting an upper hand by shocking Jody when he tells him he’s just hammered T.C. At roughly the same time, Tulip kills the still-alive T.C. with a shotgun, the sound of which distracts Custer for Jody to get the upper-hand. Jody beats him enough to attempt to break his arm like last time, but Jesse counters by biting a chunk of Jody’s arm off. Jesse cripples Jody. His last words and expression are one of happiness though, as he remarks that he’s “Prouda you boy”. Jesse then strangles him to death. Grandma’s oxygen tank explodes, killing her and Jesse is happy. He recovers his father’s ‘Fuck Communism’ lighter and is happier. He sees that Tulip is alive and he is happiest.

Analysis of characters and story:
Let’s start with Jesse. After all, he is the main character. This arc marks the first time in the series in which Jesse truly feels helpless. Beforehand he has seemed invulnerable to every situation; whether it’s being held at gunpoint several times or standing face to face with the Angel of Death, he always has control of the situation. Even without his powers, Jesse has been quite capable of looking after himself, as witnessed by the bar brawls in Issues 2 and 5, but now there is no safety net for him to fall back on.

So when Custer gets that taken away from him in the first issue of this arc, the reader knows that the comic is going towards a different direction. There’s no Word, no Cassidy and no amount of self-defence that Custer knows that is going to stop this man with that gun.

When Custer is being brought back to his Grandma’s house, he isn’t just being brought there distance-wise, but back through time too. He’s in the same scenario as he was when he was a child: kept against his will and powerless to do anything about it without harming the ones he loves. Custer’s complete lack of control over the situation is best displayed when we first get to see Grandma, who is a decrepit old woman with “a face liked dried up shit”. She is wheelchair-bound and has a certain presence about her (mainly because Jody and T.C. do whatever she tells them), which compensates for having none of the physical dominance Custer is used to dealing with. So even though she looks like she’d turn into dust if she were punched softly, Custer knows that he’ll never be in a position to do so.

Throughout the flashbacks we learn a great deal about Custer and his influences, such as his Dad’s teachings about Jesse “Having to be one of the good guys, cos there’s way too many of the bad” and “You don’t take no shit from fools, an’ you judge a person by what’s in ‘em, not by how they look.” Custer lives by those rules, as the reader has seen. He initially dismisses Cassidy because he is disgusted by his vampiric nature, but he realises he was a good person underneath. (Actually this is contradicted by the fact that Cassidy, well, kills people. But that’s good in this comic, trust me.) Also by the way he stuck with Tulip despite her apparent kleptomania when she was a teenager. Oh, and the fact that she’s a hitwoman. Damnit! Well, the main thing is that they’re nice people at heart, despite the mass death they’re causing. Killing tendencies are something that is necessary to overlook in Ennis’ comics. Even the Saint of Killers had an emotional side to himself at one point, and he’s the Angel of Death.

Anyway, after everything gets straightened out between the two, they reunite as lovers. Tulip is seen to be a bit of a wild teenager during the flashbacks when her and Jesse mostly fucked and stole cars, sometimes at the same time. But we also get to see why Jesse thinks so highly of her, what with her being Custer’s first experience of not just sex, but the first experience with anybody outside of Grandma’s jurisdiction, making her a large part of his life and finally making the readers understand why he persisted with her for so long. They ruin this somewhat emotional moment in the next issue though.

Grandma represents plenty of the negative side of organized religion. She forces Jesse to read the Bible, she scares him into believing in him, and forces him to become a preacher. Part of me wants to write that Ennis’ disdain for religion is abundant here, but it’s so obvious I don’t think I’m going to bother. She’s basically pure evil because she locks kids in coffins underwater for extended periods of time, but that is of course not as terrible as her forcing Jesse to believe in God.

Jody is a character that has the rare advantage of the characters of Preacher along with Grandma to not be involved or say anything slightly humorous. When even deadly serious characters like the Saint get one-liners (after witnessing the aftermath of Custer’s destruction of the L’Angelle family, he remarks “Not bad for a beginner”), it shows how serious we are meant to take the character of Jody. Jody is Grandma’s power personified. He is more than willing to beat up Jesse and insult him from an early age, doing whatever Grandma asks. The only thing approaching humour is when Jesse’s dog humps his leg, and Jody deals with that in such a way it can never seem remotely amusing (see image). This feels like Ennis saying “You don’t laugh at this character.” Instead T.C.’s purpose is to hang around Jody and for the laughs to be directed at him and his animal-loving. Actually, I lie. He’s the one who kills Billy-bob, but that’s not dwelled on too much because T.C. isn’t a threat to Jesse. Straight after Billy-bob died, T.C. is knocked down easily by Jesse and more emphasis is placed on Jody’s fight with Jesse instead.

Speaking of poor old Billy-bob, he appears to just be a way of emphasising that Jesse has taken to heart what his Dad told him to be. But his role in the greater scheme of things (like fellow mirror-shatterer Arseface) is expanded later on in the story. So not much to say about him now, unfortunately. What a waste of time that was.

The main talking point when the story gets back to present day is when Custer gets his groove back after talking with John Wayne. He’s motivated enough to realise he shouldn’t be taking no crap from nobody, godammit. T.C. also makes his only useful contribution by being the first person Custer sees afterwards. As T.C. isn’t a physical threat to Custer (see the Billy-bob incident), Custer is certainly confident enough to try to use his powers on him despite his shotgun, and lo and behold! So John Wayne saved Custer.

Or did he? At the same time as this was happening, God appeared in the other room and told Tulip that he had given Custer his powers back, to which Tulip reckoned he only did because he’s scared of Custer. But this doesn’t make sense, intentionally or not: If God was that scared of Custer, why would he give him his powers back, especially as he had ordered the L’Angelle family to bring him back? It doesn’t seem a smart move to give someone you’re scared of his powers back. To which there are two answers: Either Ennis is having fun making God look like a tit, or he is demonstrating that he is a loving and forgiving God in the traditional Christian sense, so we know where he is coming from. Of course, both answers could be correct.

Or maybe John Wayne is God, after all.

To add more fire to this bonfire of deliberate ambiguity, Custer’s powers only seemingly ‘run out’ when he is confronting Jody. He can’t use them when he meets him in the beginning of the arc, and he decides to not use them when he fights him at the end. Is it just the overbearing presence of the “pure evil” that is Jody that makes Custer lose himself? His childhood would certainly support that. By beating Jody without the use of powers, he has both vanquished the enemy and done what his father could not do. But this is a completely crap look at it, as this would be like saying that Jody is like kryptonite to Custer, and I’m 110% sure that would be the very last intention Ennis was going for. But then, Superman is the only superhero Ennis seems to respect….aaaah, enough already, or else I won’t stop.

Well, if anybody else has any suggestions or comments regarding the situation I’d love to hear them. Not because I’m stuck, but I think that Ennis wants us to debate this, or at least make us wonder. Either way, any comments would be nice.

Well, that’s me spent. Unfortunately I cannot approximate when the next half-arsed article will arrive, as I’ve started University now. I’ll return though, no worries about that.

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Matthew Gregg lives in Bishop Auckland, United Kingdom.

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