Thursday, June 19, 2014

Come on, four issues is standard, people: Just a Pilgrim.

Garth Ennis was pretty well represented in my comicon haul, with two Hitman trades, and his 2001 series with Carles Esquerra, Just a Pilgrim. Well, most of the series: I found four issues, and didn't realize until the end of the fourth that it was a five-issue series. So frustrating.

Fortunately, I was able to pick up #5 from the Comic Book Shop pretty easily. That issue got dark fast though, and that's for a Garth Ennis book.

The series was set after "the Burn," when the sun expanded, briefly flaring up and burning most of the life and civilization off the planet, and drying the oceans. (In the letter column of #2, Ennis mentions loving the idea of walking the ocean floors after seeing a map of it as a kid.) Survivors loot supplies from shipwrecks, but they're facing stiff competition from pirates and sea creatures mutated by radiation into horrible monsters. Tellingly for this type of apocalyptic story, it wasn't a nuclear disaster or man-made epidemic that caused it, but a natural disaster--an act of God, if you will.

Enter the Pilgrim, who strides into the scene in the finest Clint Eastwood tradition, saving a hapless caravan from pirates. Although the book's narrator, ten-year old Billy, has a serious case of hero-worship from the start; other characters notice he's a little bit off. He's a serious badass made all the more terrifying by seemingly being a little too into the Bible, knowing a little bit too much about cannibalism off the top of his head, and Billy's mom feels like she recognizes him from something, pre-Burn. Turns out, she's right.

The second issue features, as Ennis puts it, "possibly the most dreadful thing I've ever inflicted on a character." Of course, this was several years before he wrote Crossed; so even though it's a horrible fate; it's mostly played for laughs and it's a merry little cakewalk compared to anything in that book. (If you haven't read's like Ennis skimmed a couple issues of the Walking Dead and thought, ah, he could do better. Instead of mere zombies, the infected in the book are still intelligent, cunning, and psychotically driven to every evil thought they've ever had. I haven't read a ton of it, because I enjoy occasionally being able to sleep at night...)

Mind, there are plenty of times reading Ennis that I laugh completely inappropriately...

The third issue is the Pilgrim's origin: he had been a hard-drinking, hard-fighting, tough-as-hell soldier, and a godless heathen. He and his team were flying over the Pacific when their plane went down, leaving them stranded on a liferaft. Eventually, they were forced to resort to cannibalism, and after over a hundred days only he remained. This earned him a psychiatric discharge, which left him in worse mental health, and he continued drinking until one night he ran over a bum. And found him...underdone. Completely around the bend now, he killed and ate over a dozen before being arrested. In prison, a priest was his only visitor, eventually bringing him around to the word of God over the course of several years. (When he compares believing in God and having faith to being in the army and following orders, you can see the word start to take root...)

When the Burn happened, the priest saved him, then died in the fire. The man that would become the Pilgrim takes the priest's cross, red-hot, and scars himself; then begins to do the Lord's work as best he can. Of course, he continues using the skills he had, namely soldiering. After the Pilgrim tells his story to the caravan, they continue on, eventually reaching the wreck of the Titanic. Somewhat uncharitably, he calls it "built with pride in defiance o' the Lord. Doomed from the beginnin'." With the pirates still on their trail, the caravan is faced with a choice: scatter, and hope some manage to escape. Or, as the Pilgrim suggests, making their stand there. Although Billy's father tries to persuade them otherwise, they choose to make a stand.

That's where for me, the book gets really dark: up to that point, it had been, well, if not a lark, in the same vein as classic action stories as Judge Dredd's the Cursed Earth. (Which is somewhat intentional, since he's working with Ezquerra, Dredd's co-creator.) But the Pilgrim does something I couldn't see Dredd or the Punisher or Jesse Custer doing. It didn't ruin the book...but it leaves a bad taste. In another issue's letter column, a writer praises Ennis's attempt to write a character that "truly believes in his faith." I wonder how that writer felt at the end of the series...

This book was the first I've read from Black Bull, Wizard Entertainment's brief foray into comics publishing. It's only briefly mentioned on Wizard Entertainment's Wikipedia page but seemingly trails off, not unlike the line itself. Ennis and Esquerra did have a second limited, Just a Pilgrim: Garden of Eden. Oh, look, that's a four issue one. And Ennis and Ezquerra did two Adventures in the Rifle Brigade mini-series, and they were both three-issues! Could've saved me a bit of running around...


SallyP said...

I am a huge Garth Ennis fan, but I just couldn't get into this series.

Dale Bagwell said...

I'd heard of this series in wizard magazine back then. Seemed like a decent read, but never picked it up.

If it's as dark as u say, I'm gonna have to wiki/google the ending.

Never quite saw the connection before, but yeah, the comparison between religion and the army isn't that far off probably. Interesting point.

Susan said...

I enjoyed both "Just a Pilgrim" minis for the most part, but there are some scenes that really test my mettle. Still and all, damn fine work.