Last Sunday, AMC unleashed Jesse Custer and The Word (of God) on an unsuspecting public. Preacher follows the foundering Reverend Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), his take-no-prisoners ex Tulip O'Hare (Ruth Negga), and Irish bloodsucker Cassidy (Joe Gilgun) on a profane romp to remake the heavens and the Earth in a more benevolent light. A culmination of years of teasing, plotting, and unsuccessful adaptions, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Sam Catlin finally managed to bring the outrageously blasphemous graphic novel to the screen.
However, in adapting the show for cable, the producers were forced to make some alterations to the beloved Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon Vertigo series. While the tone remained essentially the same, the TV version of Preacher offers some distinct variations from the comic book. Here are a few of the major alterations Rogen and company made to the classic comic book story.
Welcome to Annville: Population ?
In the comics, Preacher starts like a house afire. The entire backstory of Jesse Custer and Annville is little more than a blip revealed in flashbacks as the trio reminisces at a diner. With little more than a howdy, readers are deep in the middle of a whole mess of story: There's a crazy falling star creature who endows a faithless preacher the power to change his station, as well as the entire cosmos. There’s a psychotic Clint Eastwood-ringer in a trench coat who's an unstoppable killing machine. And to top all that off, there's a pair of angels and ruthless, covert religious organization with incredible financing and reach trying to stop the hapless trio.
While most television audiences don't mind an in-media-res entry into a series, a plot this convoluted deserves a little more of a set-up. Rogen, Goldberg, and Catlin were wise to deviate from the comic book’s opening in that respect. Instead of a pile of plot via talking points, we're treated to a lot of atmosphere – mostly West Texas (by way of Hollywood) and a good bit of backstory – not to mention Annville.
Originally, Jesse Custer was from Laredo, TX and later forcibly relocated in Angelville, LA. Tulip wasn’t from Annville, either, and Cassidy never made an appearance in the small town. The cable incarnation gives audiences a chance to meet and greet the less-than-saintly congregants of Custer's parish. Rogen and crew go out of their way to help us understand why Jesse Custer, after being overtaken by Genesis, suddenly wants to save the little town. Also, it would have tricky to meet Custer's flock in the comic series, since they were incinerated along with his church.
At this point, it remains to be seen how much impact the town has on the show. However, since Jesse and Tulip are supposedly from Annville, we’ll be likely be seeing a great deal more if it.
Nitpicker's note: Emily and her children weren't characters in the comics, nor was the mayor. Still, they do humanize the otherwise somewhat stereotypical hick cast well.
Preacher, Now with Less Blasphemy
In the Garth Ennis story line, we first meet Jesse and his rag-tag bunch after they left Annville in a hurry. He’s already rendezvoused with Tulip and Cass and is trying to find a wayward God. Still wearing his collar, Custer has nothing but contempt for religion at this point, something which writer Garth Ennis goes out of his way to highlight. Throughout 66 issues, in fact, Ennis dogs just about every tenet of organized religion its conventions, including spoofing the Catholic church by tying it to a ludicrous secret organization (The Grail), portraying angels who are far from angelic, and of course crafting an egotistical God who abandons his own creations.
Thus far, AMC’s Preacher hasn't been quite as critical regarding religion. Custer is shown genuinely wrestling with his duties and his conscience in the pilot episode. In addition, some of the good folk of Annville aren’t quite as one-dimensional as in the graphic novel. And while Rogen and Goldberg don’t shy away from the crisis of faith alluded to in the comics, only time will tell how close the series follows the deliciously blasphemous elements of its source material.
In addition, readers of the graphic novel may notice another conspicuous absence: cussing. The original story was a powder keg loaded to bear with F-bombs. However, due to the linguistic constraints of basic cable, AMC cleaned up a lot of the potty-mouthed source material. Some fans may find it expletive-neutering, but to be honest, the slightly cleaner language doesn't dramatically impact overall plot.
Nitpicker’s note: In the comics, Jesse’s congregation was the only one who suffered after Genesis found a host. The sequence of exploding preachers (including Tom Cruise) does start the show on a righteously sacrilegious note, as well as painting Jesse Custer as a heartier strain than most.
A More-Reverent Reverend
Since our first taste of Reverend Jesse Custer, at least two-dimensionally, comes from a series of flashbacks, viewers aren’t afforded a good deal of Jesse’s early days until later in the story. His flashbacks to Annville don’t amount to more than a handful moments spent with his clergy – mostly getting into a brawl at the bar after drunkenly calling attention to their faults. Our first taste of the preacher shows a caustic and flippant man exploding outwards from his recently abandoned faith.
In contrast, AMC introduces our holy man with a good deal more Annville, as well as a good deal more tenuousness. His fall from grace is shown in a progression, rather than a cut scene, letting the viewer witness Jesse's struggles with alcoholism, hypocrisy, and the general idiocy around his Parish. Although we’ll likely find out a good deal more of his origins later on, Rogen and Goldberg actually manage to do a great job of humanizing the soon-to-be demagogue before his wild journey begins.
Nitpicker’s note: Although Jesse and Cassidy spend plenty of time in bars (and bar brawls) together, their first meeting doesn’t take place in an Annville watering hole or jail cell (see Tulip). Also, the good reverend Custer wore a white suit along with his clerical collar.
A Tulip by Any Other Name…
Of course there's one obvious difference between comic Tulip and her television counterpart, but it's not really important and has already been covered. Suffice to say, Ruth Negga (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) nailed her role. Still, there are several interesting discrepancies between her TV and comic book backstory that are worth noting.
On the show, Tulip heads home to find her former flame and to invite him along on one last score. In the Vertigo comic, however, Tulip hasn’t seen Jesse in several years. She happens upon the Annville by accident while driving by (speaking more to destiny than her tenacity – for better or worse), discovering the good Reverend Custer in the wreckage of the church.
Also, similar to the pilot, she’s certainly shown running from some very bad people in the source material, but she never hides out with two kids on a farm. Nor does she fashion a bazooka from moonshine and coffee cans (which feels more cartoony than actual comic). TV Tulip certainly hasn't skipped a beat when it comes to being hardcore, though.
Nitpicker’s note: Tulip first makes Cassidy’s acquaintance after truck-jacking him in Dallas. Also, she has no Uncle Walter in the comics. It's possible he's a surrogate for Tulip's deceased father, who's status on the show is unknown.
Odin Quincannon Makes a Move
As often happens with translations from page to screen, Preacher offers a few venue changes. Just as Annville wasn't Jesse Custer’s home in the comic, Odin Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haley) and his meatpacking facilities also made a move.
In Garth Ennis’ original story, the perverted little meat baron doesn’t show up until about a third of the way through, during the “Salvation” story arc. Jesse Custer winds up in the podunk of Salvation, where the vehemently racist captain of industry holds the town hostage. In the show, however, Quincannon, or at least his meatpacking plant, makes an appearance in the very first episode. It’s also located right in Annville for the sake of convenience.
Since the subplot isn’t necessarily tied into the location as much as it is to the oddball characters, setting Quincannon Meats in Annville shouldn't muck up the storyline too much. In all hopes, we’ll still get to see other fun members of this arc, such as Deputy Cindy Dagget and "Jodie" (who will definitely show up sooner or later).
Nitpicker’s note: Odin Quincannon is only married to his meat in the comic books. However, he’ll gain a daughter (or wife?) who’s somehow connected to the Custers (perhaps in lieu of Quincannon’s peculiar lawyer, Miss Oatlash).
Getting to the Roots
Let’s start with a face: Arseface’s to be specific. Changing someone's features isn't usually a major issue in the long run, but in this case, it speaks to the aesthetic challenges of translating Preacher from a comic into a show. Arseface (Ian Colletti), as a beloved character, is as awkwardly charming as he is revolting in appearance. However, creating an accurate replica of his shotgun wound clearly proved a major challenge. Bringing Eugene Root to the screen required a workable prosthetic which allows the actor to conjure emotion – something which would be expressly difficult with a full prosthetic that looks like a B-grade horror movie monster.
Another departure is Sheriff Root (W. Earl Brown). On TV, he's actually kind of likeable. This is a distinct departure from the comics, where he comes across as an insufferable bigot who treats his teenage son like the used chewing gum stuck to his shoe. The Vertigo version beat his son and belittled him at every turn. Upon visiting his son in the hospital after his attempted suicide, the kindly father tells him that he "shoulda put the it [the shotgun] in your mouth, you dumb little f***.” A large reason for Eugene’s trademark look, at least in the source material, is his father.
It's interesting that Rogen and Goldberg chose to portray him as more sympathetic on the AMC incarnation. Naturally, he’s still a nutty redneck (heard muttering about extraterrestrial madness before Jesse visits Eugene). Overall, his TV counterpart seems far-less insufferable than its four-color iteration. Of course, Hugo Root and Arseface’s television origin tale has yet to be told, so it remains to be seen how ugly the underbelly of this southern sheriff actually is.
Nitpicker’s note: Arseface speaks through translated mumbles in the comic book. For the sake of simplicity, and allowing Mr. Colletti to emote, it's understandable that the producers gave Eugene a voice.
The Time of the Preacher
Despite the nagging fears of many comic book purists, the TV translation of Preacher managed to keep many of the nuances of Ennis’ beloved series. The actors, while still finding their voices, have managed to capture enough of the nuances from the Vertigo classic (Tulip and Cassidy are especially spot on).
With a wealth of manic storylines to choose from, as well as some deliciously sacrilegious angles, it will be interesting to see how Rogen, Goldberg, and Catlin adapt the controversial graphic novel for basic cable.
What do you think of Preacher so far? Is AMC’s adaption true to tone if not to story? Let us know in the comments.
Catch an encore presentation of the pilot episode of Preacher this Sunday @ 10pm on AMC. The second episode, ‘See,’ will air on Sunday June 5th.