It looks like the AMC adaptation of Preacher is actually going ahead, with Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg at the helm.
Like the rest of the Internet, I’m excited but wary.
It’s not because we’ve been burned by screen adaptations of DC, although Watchmen was an all-slo-mo-and-no-substance travesty and Constantine missed the major driving themes of its source material (a post-Thatcher sense of betrayal and socioeconomic destruction on a national scale) to a spectacular degree. As a TV series, this adaptation will have much more room to develop, so there’s a chance we’ll see the characters and narratives fully fleshed out in a way that also works on the screen.
It’s because I’m concerned about how the cultural history behind Preacher will translate in the hands of US creators.
Reassuringly, Rogen seems to be a huge fan of the series. On Twitter, he implicitly described Preacher as “one of my favourite stories ever”, hinted that he’d be working on a project relating to “Arseface. John Wayne, The Saint of Killers”, and said that this project was “seven years of hard work” finally paying off. So he’s familiar with its narratives and characters, and has spent a lot of time with them in a writerly capacity.
However, despite its roots in the American genre of the Western, Preacher’s sensibility appears to have been formed in writer Garth Ennis’s home country of Northern Ireland: a country where organized Christian religion permeates everyday life to a degree that it hasn’t in the US. The evangelical right wing may dominate public policy, but there are still many, many people who aren’t familiar with the most basic stories in the Bible, such as the Garden of Eden.
Rather than depicting religion as a hollow institution by arguing that God doesn’t exist, Preacher suggests that organized religion is dangerous because the atrocities committed in its name are actually in accordance with the nature of God. Its primary religious organization, the Grail, regularly plots, tortures, and murders to further its mission; similarly, the series depicts God as a scheming, vengeful being who seeks to protect his position of power.
For all this to work, we have to accept that God exists, at least in the narrative. The question is not whether God is real, but how the characters (and by extension, the readers) react to that reality.
And in a country with a fair amount of choice when it comes to religion – there are so many different types of denominations and styles of worship in Protestant Christianity alone, and there’s Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Santeria, and all the other belief systems that are brought over by different cultures or created by L. Ron Hubbard – I’m not sure that question is easy to understand.
On the other hand, Ennis has endorsed the adaptation, reporting that he and artist Steve Dillon have been “included in the conversation” and that the show creators “understand Preacher fully”. So it’s possible that the transition from Northern Ireland to the US and from page to screen might work.
And on the off chance Rogen, Goldberg, and Catlin are reading this: Domhnall Gleeson would be perfect to play Cassidy. You know it’s true.