Garth Ennis Loses ‘Preacher,’ Picks Up ‘The Boys’

I was never huge into comic books as a kid. There are several reasons for this, most of them related to my strict religious upbringing and complete inability to read or write. Over the years I did manage to sneak a peek at several of these illustrated books, and one series in particular caught my eye. That series was Preacher, and between the bright, breathing art of Steve Dillon and the sharp and hilarious writing of Garth Ennis (read and dramatized for me by the later Sister Hermina) I soon realized that this was the best comic book series of all time. With Preacher as my textbook, I learned the English language, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing, and went on to teach ESL and atheism to impoverished children throughout upstate New York and parts of Canada.

The Preacher comic book series ran from 1995 to 2000, and it followed the alternately serious and hysterical adventures of a preacher gifted with angelic powers, his gun-toting girlfriend, and his Irish vampire pal. It has been in Hollywood development hell for the past several years. Kevin Smith’s View Askew Productions held the rights for several years, and in 2006 HBO began a two-year struggle to serialize the books into hour-long episodes. It was announced this week that the cable channel has officially given up on the adaptation. Mark Steven Johnson, director of Ghost Rider and Daredevil, was the guiding force behind HBO’s efforts, and he broke the bad news in an interview with Comics Continuum.

“We were budgeting and everything and it was getting really close to going,” Johnson said. “But the new head of HBO felt it was just too dark and too violent and too controversial. Which, of course, is kind of the point! It was a very faithful adaptation of the first few books, nearly word for word. They offered me the chance to redevelop it but I refused… So I’m afraid it’s dead at HBO.”

While HBO would have been ideal for getting as close as possible to a perfect Preacher adaptation, all is not lost. “I’ve heard someone is in the process of getting the rights to turn it into a feature film,” Johnson added. Personally, I’d prefer to see Showtime pick up where HBO left off as they’ve proven they can do dark and edgy with series like Dexter and Californication.

Better news on the Ennis front came yesterday when it was announced his most recent comic book series, The Boys, had not only been optioned but already had writers assigned to script duties. The Hollywood Reporter says Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay will adapt the ongoing series into a feature film. Ennis and illustrator Darick Robertson created the series in 2006, and a trade softcover of the first six issues was released with a forward by Simon Pegg. The only bad news here can be found in Manfredi and Hay’s portfolio… Crazy/Beautiful, The Tuxedo, Aeon Flux

The Boys takes place in a world where irresponsible, hedonistic, and immoral superheroes exist and the secret government squad of the title is tasked with monitoring their activities. The books poke fun at Marvel and DC heroes but also push the boundaries of what to expect in a comic. Here’s a sample, per Wikipedia, of Billy Butcher’s (one of The Boys) motivation for joining the team, watching the heroes, and killing them when necessary…

“The cause of his campaign against superheroes stems from the rape and death of his wife, Becky. Butcher woke up to find his wife disemboweled on their bed, with her prematurely born, superpowered child crawling out of her. After it attacked Butcher with its heat vision, he killed it by beating it to death with a lampstand. After reading Becky’s diary he learned the identity of his wife’s rapist, who is described as ‘one of the big boys.'”

Add in political commentary, cunnilingus on a menstruating superheroine, celebrity satire, paraplegic fetishes, incredibly dark comedy, and hamsters in assholes, and I may have found my second favorite comic book series of all time. Now pardon me, I need to go read The Boys to some street urchins.

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