This summer, comic book fans are getting their next adaptation of a gritty graphic novel in the form of AMC's Preacher. The graphic novel is one that even a few years ago wouldn't have been possible to adapt - the subject matter is too controversial, the content too adult, the violence too gruesome, the characters too strange.
But a lot has changed in the past few years, and audiences are much more open to darker fare these days. Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have taught us to not get too attached to our characters, as they tend to die, often horribly. Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy helped us wrap our heads around the premise of entire shows based on antiheroes and bad people doing doing morally questionable things. And Black Mirror has sent everyone who's ever watched it into a downward existential spiral. Simply put, we're on board with the fucked-up now. We even embrace it. Dare I say we're even desensitized to it?
Which is why Preacher is coming along at the perfect time, poised to be a monster hit for AMC. It's the next step along the path of what's possible with comic book and graphic novel adaptations, and lends itself to the increasing awareness of audiences that comic books aren't just capes and cowls, meant only for kids. Some of the most seminal works in the medium are very much adult fare, and a kid that picks up the latest Spider-Man or Batgirl comic book is one you absolutely wouldn't want reading Preacher - at least, not until she or he is much, much older.
There is a big difference between the $150 million dollar production budget for a single blockbuster film and the roughly $50 million budget for an entire season of, say, The Walking Dead. In a way that most tentpole movies can't afford to do, the most talked-about television shows don't have to pull punches or oversimplify themselves in order to cater to the broadest demographic possible. The result is that some of the best and edgiest writing in entertainment happens now on television. It's the medium in which the Preacher adaptation belongs in order to stay true to the explicit source material and adult concepts.
That's not to say that movies aren't slowly starting to come around to the idea that audiences are ready for more controversial and adult stories in their popcorn films. Deadpool just broke the box office and showed that a comic book film can have a hard R rating and be a wild success, but there is still a vast difference between Deadpool's gratuitous violence and sexual themes and Preacher's content. Deadpool's pegging scene, while surprising for a tentpole movie, is a far cry from the severed penis self-sodomy scene in the Preacher comics, for example. The fact that I just typed that sentence shows just how much audience tastes in entertainment has evolved over the past few years. What a time to be alive.
Beyond what audiences are now primed to embrace, Preacher is also coming along at the right time in AMC's programming. While its flagship show, The Walking Dead, is still going strong in both fan fervor and ratings, the reality is that it can't run forever. It's currently in its sixth season with a seventh season set to premiere in October, an impressive achievement for any show. But we can expect that it will wrap up some time in the next few seasons, leaving a void in entertainment for a gritty, violent, dusty Apocalyptic genre show - and Preacher is that show. There may not be walkers, but there are angels and demons, a cult hellbent on keeping the bloodline of the last descendant of Jesus pure, and one morally corrupt Irish vampire. And, as with Walking Dead, there are questions of morality, of good people doing bad things and bad people doing worse things, and lots and lots of violence. In other words, it will fill the void and then some.
Preacher will be the next step down the path that Walking Dead has set forth for AMC, the best example of the natural progression of genre entertainment. Consider it the start of Comic Book Shows 2.0, the series that will set the tone for the evolution of comic book adaptations for the next few years to come.
Preacher will premiere on AMC this summer.