*This article contains minor spoilers for the Preacher graphic novels, which have been out nearly 20 years now so, y'know...*
The first trailer for AMC's newest comic book adaptation TV series, Preacher, dropped earlier this week. The first season will be a ten-episode run premiering sometime in 2016 and starring Dominic Cooper in the lead role. In case you missed it, the world premiere trailer is below:
The Source Material
What do you get when you combine a violent, disillusioned Reverend, a gun-slinging hit-woman, an alcoholic drug-addicted Irish vampire, a God-killing Saint, a mentally deficient inbred Messiah, a narcissistic God, a disfigured Kurt Cobain worshipper and mix it all up with the God-like offspring of an angel and a devil?
You get Preacher, the 90s cult classic comic book series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. Running from the mid 90s until 2000, Preacher garnered critical acclaim and criticism for it's sceptical, close-to-the-bone and explicitly violent representation of figures of Christianity.
Inspired largely by Ennis' previous work on Hellblazer and the character of John Constantine, Preacher explores the story of Reverend Jesse Custer, a small town priest from an abusive background whose soul becomes fused with that of Genesis: the powerful offspring of an angel and a demon. Though Jesse is essentially good at this core, believing in justice and basic kindness, he does not hesitate to take violent action against those who would harm the innocent. He's kind of like a modern version of old-testament God, all wrath and little forgiveness.
Why Has It Taken So Long For An Adaptation?
For want of a better word Preacher is a pretty fantastic series of graphic novels, but not quite everyone's cup of tea and certainly not for the faint-hearted. A film adaptation has been in the works since the late 90s, but was repeatedly scuppered by financing, largely due to the controversial religious content. Back in 2006 HBO, who have since proven that they can handle divisive content with their massively popular Game of Thrones, commissioned a Preacher series but it was eventually abandoned in 2008, again due to concerns over the dark religious themes.
This highlights perhaps one of the biggest divides between the ideology of film/TV and comic books. Up until the last decade or so comic books and graphic novels were considered largely a niche form of media and as a result writers in that medium had a much larger scope and freedom of reign because they were usually appealing to niche markets.
This is still true to an extent, but it's no secret that the market has opened up a lot in recent years due to successful adaptations both in Hollywood and on television. The massive success of Marvel and DC in adapting the superhero genre has opened up what was once a niche to a whole generation raised upon narratives that were once only known to those who specifically sought them out.
AMC's The Walking Dead is a good example of a successful adaptation of darker themed comics, though they do diverge significantly from the books and tone down the violence. Their previous success makes them a pretty excellent network upon which to finally adapt Preacher, and it's going to be quite exciting to see what they do with it.
Why Is It Such A Controversial Topic?
It's no secret that religion is a touchy subject in contemporary times; even as the status quo shifts religious dogma still seeps into almost every aspect of life and subversive media on the subject is still a pretty polarising issue.
Preacher doesn't even pretend to pull it's punches when it comes to the subject of religion. Lead character Jesse, imbued with the powers of Genesis, becomes able to use The Word Of God, a power that makes people bound to obey his commands. After his bonding with Genesis wipes out the population of his church Jesse sets off on a brutal mission of revenge against God; who himself is portrayed in a pretty poor light - selfish, narcissistic, prideful and cowardly. Not quite the God usually associated with Christianity.
Brutal means brutal in the world of Preacher; there's severed body parts, forced self-sodomy, suicide, self-induced deformity, cannibalism, mass murder... Oh, and God bites out Jesse's left eye, cause that's how the God of Preacher rolls; and the Messiah, the last descendant of Jesus, is a mentally retarded young man due to inbreeding designed to keep the bloodline pure. You can see why it's a touchy subject.
What Can We Expect From AMC's Preacher?
I have no doubt that the violence and religious themes will have to be toned down at least to an extent in order for broadcast, and even then I expect Preacher will prove to be a polarising show. But how watered down should it be? Is it dangerous that we're still so hesitant to critique religion, in a landscape where non-religious people make up the third largest "group" in the world? Why should we be so hesitant about controversial religious themes when one of the most popular shows on television features sex, violence, rape and incest on a regular basis?
Shows like the aforementioned Game of Thrones are important because they open up the ideological televised landscape for debate; hopefully Preacher will be able to achieve the same kind of success and help to open up this discussion even further without sacrificing too much of what made the graphic novels so great.
Preacher is set to premiere sometime in 2016, starring Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun, Elizabeth Perkins, W. Earl Brown and Ian Colletti.