Preaching in the hopes of converting

You know that feeling when you read something so ridiculously good that you want to make everyone you know read it too in the hopes of spreading it like a virus?  In the recent past friends have infected me with Bonk, and Russell Brand, but possibly the most virulent infection I’ve “suffered” in the last year would be the Preacher series of comics.

An English friend of mine mentioned Preacher to me several years ago.  He has a good handle on my taste so I checked to see if we held it at the library (we didn’t) and then promptly forgot about it.  Some time later another friend mentioned that she had the whole run at home and I thought I’d read the first one to see if I liked it.  In the following weeks I was to make frequent trips to her house, grabbing eight to ten issues at a time, lovingly removing them from and returning them to their mylar bags and generally becoming more and more enraptured by the unfolding tale of a preacher named Jesse Custer.

So what’s so great about Preacher?  For a start it’s penned by the irrascible, irreverent, and somewhat foul-mouthed Irishman Garth Ennis (with whom readers of Hellblazer may be familiar).  Believe me when I say that this ain’t a comic for kids or the easily offended.  Ennis’ characters drink, swear, get into fights, shoot their way out of sticky situations, have sex with the wrong people, and so on.  And the main character’s got a beef with God and is on a mission to call him out…John Wayne style.  So yeah, Preacher has attitude aplenty.

The story centres around Jesse Custer, a disillusioned preacher living in the backwater town of Annville who becomes possessed by an “entity” named Genesis that just happens to be the bastard offspring of an angel and a demon (of course).  As you can imagine “havoc ensues”.  Jesse is soon joined on his journey by his angry ex-girlfriend, Tulip O’Hare and an Irish vampire named Cassidy.

If Preacher were a movie (which it might be – Sam Mendes is rumoured to be directing), then it would be part Western, part Road movie, part Tarantino-esque ultra violence, drizzled with a liberal dosing of dark humour and a healthy disrespect for organised religion.

The entire 75 issue series is now available as a series of nine trade paperbacks so start with volume 1, “Gone to Texas” and just see if you don’t become a convert.

Here endeth the sermon.

Rugby league’s intriguing history

Many a workplace will be discussing the Kiwis’ gutsy display on Saturday night to down Australia and win the 2008 Rugby League World Cup. What a victory! It is the first time New Zealand has won the 54-year-old event, and comes 100 years after the first Māori professional team toured Australia and Great Britain. The tour was the beginning of the rugby league code in the southern hemisphere.

Throughout the history of the code in this part of the world, the contribution of Māori players has been significant and enduring. 100 Years: Māori rugby league 1908 – 2008 by John Coffey and Bernie Wood, charts the twists and turns of the history of league in Aotearoa with particular focus on the Māori teams and players who in the words of the authors have ‘followed in the sprig marks of Albert Asher and his men’.

A fascinating read, the book documents tour details, rule changes, and the on- and off-field wrangling that happened through the years. There’s plenty of recognisable names – George Nepia, Sorenson, Edwards, Kemp, Berryman, McGahan, Friend, Tamati – the list is long. But for me the joy of this book was in some of the little-known players and their stories: Riki Papakura, who played for Warrington in 1911, and Huatahi Turoa Brown Paki who was recruited by St George in 1922 and played for them in 1923. Paki’s brother George played in Sydney in subsequent years. More impressive was the career of Len Mason, who played 475 professional club games between 1927 and 1940, mostly on gluggy pitches in Wigan winters.

The photographs alone make this book worthwhile, but it is an intriguing read, and one that sheds a great deal of light on the history of league in New Zealand. It’s a sport where victory isn’t automatic and the wins are all the sweeter for it.