John Wayne and the Preacher

The world’s most famous cowboy, John Wayne, died 39 years ago today, but in the 1990s, his ghost was a recurring character in one of the most revered Vertigo comics of the time.

I’ve discussed PREACHER here a few times, both in its original incarnation as a VERTIGO/DC Comics series and in its recent turn as a TV series on AMC. But given today’s date, I thought it was time to revisit one of the quirkier aspects of the comic book series written by Garth Ennis.

The lead character of the series, Jesse Custer, was a principled man with a strong moral code that dictated a lot of what he did over 66 issues, for good or ill. That moral code was formed as a young kid, when his dad would take him to the movies to see whatever John Wayne film was playing at the time. Jesse’s love of The Duke stayed with him, even after his daddy was murdered and his mother disappeared. That love took on an odd form, though.

We learn early on that the ghost of John Wayne appears to Jesse in times of distress to give him advice or reassurance.

When Jesse became a preacher at the insistence of his gran’ma, John Wayne’s ghost disappeared for a while, not showing up again until the child of an angel and a demon merged with Jesse and gave him the power of the Word of God. The ghost resumed giving Jesse advice and leading him as Jesse continued his search to find God after learning the Almighty quit his post as Creator.

Before Jesse’s final showdown in San Antonio, John Wayne appeared to him one last time, to remind Jesse of the credo his father taught him before he died:

“Don’t take no shit off fools. And you judge a person by what’s in ’em, not how they look. And you do the right thing. You gotta be one of the good guys, son. Cause there’s way too many of the bad.”

Good words to live by, don’t you think?

The AMC series hasn’t really touched on Jesse’s bond with the ghost of the popular cowboy, which was a prominent part of the comics from the beginning. The show has had a penchant to be even crazier than the comic, so maybe John Wayne might make an appearance when it returns for a third season on June 24.