Jesse Custer a.k.a Preacher
CREATED BY: GARTH ENNIS & STEVE DILLON
FIRST APPEARANCE: JESSE CUSTER – PREACHER #1 (1985)
This week on The Heroes, Villains and Sidekicks Show we’ll talking about one of my favorite characters in comics, Jesse Custer a small town preacher with a complicated past from Vertigo’s awesome comic from the 80’s Preacher. And yes, in this golden age of comic books brought to the small screen Jesse and his crew can been seen on a new AMC show that does take some liberties with the comic but is pretty cool overall. Like the episodes on Walking Dead characters, we’ll look at the similarities and differences between the comic and the show. We’ll start with his comic origins and then we’ll look at how the show differs.
So I want to start right at the beginning at talk about Jesse’s parents and the first years of his life because they really from the man that he becomes. Jesse’s parents, John Custer and Christina weren’t married at the time they had Jesse, but it didn’t matter to them. They really didn’t care about that kind of stuff. John was a good dad and loved taking his son to westerners, his favorite being John Wayne films. I love this aspect of the book, I’m always a sucker for father son themes in anything. But their happiness was shattered when Christina’s mother, Marie L’Angell, who is a crazy wizened crone that controls her family sends her other kids to bring to bring Christina back and kill Jesse. And these guys are pretty sick. They grab Christina and were about to blow John’s brains out when little Jesse peaks out and calls him daddy. At that moment, the plan changes and the boys bring Jesse and his parents back to the family homestead run by the crazy matriarch Marie L’Angell. Since she is crazy religious she makes them marry and tells them they have to stay on the plantation or John dies. This lasts about a year, then the three try to escape.
John wakes up Jesse and before they leave John tells Jesse that imparts some fatherly wisdom that will just rip your heart out, does it to me every time. And it’s really how Jesse Custer lives the rest of his life. John tells him, “You gotta be a good guy, Jesse. You gotta be like John Wayne: you don’t take no shit off fools, and’ you judge people by what’s in ’em, not how they look. An’ you do the right thing. You gotta be one of the good guys, son, ’cause there’s way too many of the bad.” It’s so perfect, every time I read it it chokes me up, especially knowing what happens next. They get about 2 miles away before they’re caught and this time, they kill John right in front of Jesse, shooting him right in the head. Jesse cried, but it would be the last time, he swore he’d never give anyone the satisfaction again.
Life from then on out for Jesse Custer was a living hell. His grandmother was a religious sadist who made him study the bible preach to him how God was everywhere, all powerful and watching. Just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse he was caught swearing by his grandmother and was put in timeout. But this was the mother of all time outs. He was put in an airtight coffin that had an air hose running into it and the coffin was submersed in the lake. His mother tried to stop it but she was hauled away, he believed to be killed. She and her boys kept Jesse there for a week. He came out terrified, starving and filthy. Before he was put in his mother tried to help and she was dragged away, not knowing if they killed her or not. This happened many times but Jesse wasn’t alone. He had a companion that was both his friend and moral compass, he had the Duke. One day when watching a John Wayne movie, the Duke starting to speak to him asking if he wanted to be friends. He reached his hand out from the screen and left the TV. From then on in when Jesse was really up against the wall the Duke would show up and help Jesse work through his dilemma. I remember loving this, Jesse’s dialogue with the Duke when he was feeling overwhelmed. It was just perfect, it was like he was talking to himself, his dad, and who he thought the Duke was as a character. So interesting.
The one benefit of his upbringing was he grew up learning some skills that would help in as he moved through the dumpster fire that his life becomes. I’ve mentioned Jesse’s Uncle, but man, they were brutal, ruthless and sadistic. Jody was the toughest and most brutal, but he did teach Jesse how to fight, fix just about anything and how to shoot. But after the loss of his parents and an especially disturbing event where Jody and T.C. killed one of Jesse’s childhood friends, Jesse now in his late teens, knew he had to hightail it and he finally escaped to begin his life.
And he made the most of that time using what he learned from his insane Uncles. And with those skills he traveled the country stealing and breaking hearts. The one day he met the woman that would change his life and become an integral character in the comic series. Jesse met Tulip O’Hare and the two just clicked and they along with another woman started there own business so to speak stealing high-end cars and selling them. Jesse was happy and in love, but that all ended when one day, out of the blue Jody and T.C showed up and told him if he didn’t go with them, say nothing to Tulip, and come home with them they would kill her. So he did, Tulip believing that Jesse just ditched her and it really crushed her. Now back with his crazy religious grandmother Jesse resigned himself to his fate and became, you guessed it, a Preacher. He then becomes a preacher in town to a bunch of people that he really does not care for, he knows their secrets through confession and knows what hypocrites most of them are. On day he has had enough and after seeing the comedian Bill Hicks on stage is spurred to just tell it like it is, like Hicks does on stage. So one night he goes into the local bar where his congregation frequents and starts spouting off all kinds of truths about his parishioners. They do no appreciate it at all and one customer beats Jesse unconscious with a pool cue.
Jesse wakes up and feels like crap and of course wants to make amends at the next service. So he gets up in front of them and is about to eat some crow, when a screaming spirit of a child roars through the sky and smashes into church and into Jesse. The power that is released from the merging of the entity and Jesse release so much power the people and church are just obliterated.
It’s at that moment that Tulip, who has hitched a ride from Cassidy, see what looks like a mushroom cloud on the horizon. They of course, go investigate. So there is an episode on Cassidy, to recap, Cassidy is a pretty old Vampire, drunk and not to be counted on when things get hard. And this is fairly a bit of luck that they happen to be driving by when this happens, but they all had to get together someway. And how things go from 0-1,000,000 in the next few issues it’s easy to forgive and forget it. So in the next few issues things rapidly fall in place as to what has happened to him and just what that flying baby head was.
It starts with Tulip finding Jesse in the rubble of the church and going from being surprised to super pissed. Remember, she believes he just left her high and dry. In the following issues we jump between Texas, Heaven and Hell. The entity that merged with Jesse is something new, something all powerful, it’s the offspring of an angel and a demon that has everyone in heaven scrambling. And I mean everyone, when he was conceived and then imprisoned God himself fled from Heaven fearing the entity called Genesis. And why, because Genesis is as powerful, if not more powerful than God himself. And this all-powerful entity is now merged with a human. We see angels in Heaven freaking out that Genesis has escaped and they send an Angel down to wake their most dangerous weapon, The Saint of Killers, and he is unstoppable and single-minded in his mission. At the same time, authorities have started to converge on the destroyed church and things are getting really chaotic. This all comes to a head when The Saint of Killers, the cops and an angel show up. Jesse is then able to force a information out of the angel present and this is where he, and we learn most of what’s going on. And he has also been able to stop The Saint of Killers from well, killing them all. How is he doing this? Well, now that Jesse is merged with such a power, he is able to speak the word of God. His eyes get red and the lettering changes a bit and if he tells you to do something, you do it. Period. And sometimes quite literally. For example, at one point he tells someone to go eff themselves and they do. A sheriff sticks his gun up his butt and goes to town. They don’t show it, but it’s definitely what happened. Jesse, when he learns what a mess Heaven is and how much God just does not care is pissed and decides he is going to make it his mission to find God and hold him accounted.
The gang take off on their new mission but don’t get really far before they Jesse and Tulip are captured by Jody again. This time Jody takes both of them using Tulip as way to control Jesse. They are of course taken back to the family’s home where Jody shoots and kills Tulip shooting her right through the head. Jesse is obviously distraught but what he doesn’t know is that God has resurrected Tulip telling her he wants her to talk Jesse into giving up the power of Genesis. She tells him where to go but keeps the gift. Jesse is then able to escape by using the word of God on T.C convincing him to drop his gun. Jesse then beats him to death. But then he has to get past Jody who for some reason, he can’t use the word on. It’s actually makes him even scarier than he was before. I mean the voice has controlled angels, unstable assassins and vampires. But not Jody. He just stares at him. It’s scary.
Well, Jody forgot something. He taught Jesse how to fight and now Jesse feels he has nothing to lose since he believe Tulip is dead. And man, it’s an amazingly choreographed fight. In the end Jesse kills Jody. He then looks up and sees Tulip alive and well.
Now they are back on the road and find they have a new enemy they must confront, The Grail. These guys are a super fanatical group of religious whack jobs that believe they are creating the new messiah by inbreeding someone who was supposed to be a direct descendent of Jesus. And of course, after a thousand years of inbreeding the man is an imbecile who throws his own feces. So the second in command Herr Starr hears about Jesse and thinks he can make him the new messiah and goes after him. This becomes a series long rivalry that ends in nothing but misery and destruction. The Grail in fact actually kidnapped Cassidy before Jesse and Tulip get taken back to Angeville. Jesse determines to get him back and infiltrates The Grails compound to rescue him and succeeds. But when they are escaping in a plane they stole but the plane is hit and is going down. Jesse is hanging out of the plane with Cassidy holding him, but it’s daylight and Cassidy’s arm is burning. Not wanting his friend to get hurt anymore than he is, Jesse uses the word to make Cassidy drop him. The plane crashes but Cassidy is alive if albeit in very very rough shape.
But like all things in this comic, Jesse is not dead. He wakes up, lying on his back in the desert in great shape but missing an eye. He has no memory of what happened but we, and he find out later. What happened was God saved him to show him that he loved him and to ask him to stop looking for him. He of course refused and go attacked him, biting his eye out. Very weird. But the attack is cut short when God hears The Saint of Killers approaching and takes off. Although he is missing an eye, Jesse is alive and also realizes that God himself is afraid of The Saint of Killers. And we are so doing a show on him.
Jesse Custer then wanders around until he finds a small town and settles down becoming the sheriff. While this is happening Tulip and Cassidy are mourning Jesse’s death in the worse possible way. Cassidy has always had a thing for Tulip and now he has her and he encourages and keeps up her drug and alcohol abuse she’s using to forget. It’s pretty gross. He’s using her grief to keep her. Tulip finally gets free of Cassidy’s grip and discovers that Jesse is alive. Tulip then tells Jesse how manipulative Cassidy was and the kind of man he is. When the two are reunited it’s tense and things do not go well, but that’s a whole other podcast but you can listen to that over at the site.
The trio united they make their final push against The Grail and it does not, like many things in this comic go well, but then pick up. Jesse and Cassidy are fighting outside of a Grail stronghold while Tulip is shooting guards by the dozen. By the end of their fight, Cassidy is dead and so is Jesse, being shot by a Grail sniper. Tulip survives but again mourns the loss of Jesse until she of course sees he actually alive. How? Well Cassidy made a deal with God saying that he could convince Jesse to get rid of Genesis as long as no matter what happens Jesse lives. And so, even though Cassidy’s plan didn’t work out, God kept up his end and Jesse lives. In the end Jesses and Tulip literally ride off into the sunset on a horse. I remember reading this and just thinking just of appropriate and cool it was. He was like the Duke. I loved it!
So like I mentioned, AMC has a Preacher show out now, the second season is just starting and they really haven’t given to much background on Jesse’s life before Genesis. Now they may have in the second season, I haven’t had a chance to watch it. But the TV Preacher is very much like his comic book version personality wise, but again we haven’t gotten a lot of background. One thing that I really loved about the show was how they introduced Genesis. He didn’t just merge with Jesse first, he tried a few other spiritual leaders on the planet with very bad results, they exploded. My favorite was something that happened in the background of a scene. During some scene you hear on the TV that while speaking at a Scientology event Tom Cruise exploded. It was hilarious. The show is pretty good and I’m really looking forward to seeing the second season.