Two Staple Gold: Just A Pilgrim

Jan 23, 2019

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It’s Super Blog Team-Up season! Not familiar? It’s a great community of comic book bloggers that get together annually and write about a shared topic. This year is all about: REDEMPTION.  I’ll get back to that in a bit and the roll call of my fellow Super Bloggers will be listed at the end of this column but before I dig in on my subject matter, big thanks to @CharltonHero for starting the project and having me aboard.

Luckily, it wasn’t difficult to select a story I wanted to discuss as part of this event. Fond memories flooded my mind of a series based around a no-good louse, looking to make good to pay for sins of the past. Plus, with the creative team of Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra, this must be a sign from the heavens to clear the cobwebs and give Just A Pilgrim a long overdue re-read.

In the early 2000’s, I wasn’t immune to Ennis fever. He had just wrapped up one of the greatest comic runs to ever see print with Preacher and in my eyes could do no wrong. Engaging scripts filled with raunchy yet compelling ideas. Who could ask for more? After a lifetime of capes, Ennis provided a different perspective. It didn’t hurt I was also in my formative years of  adulthood, so the humor was right up my alley. Give me more gore, gross gags and gobsmackery! Not sure if that last one there is really a word but damn, that era of material sure got me jazzed up.

Before I dive into the book itself, I’d like to take a moment to focus on the publisher. There’s rarely a fan in my age range that doesn’t have nostalgic fueled goosebumps when remembering Wizard Magazine. I specifically note “age range” as some of us old stumps collected in a time pre-internet. Way back, when one would have to look to friends or a publishers checklist to gauge what was worthy of  redistributing your lunch money for. So to have a magazine with interviews, humor, price guides and everything related to the love of comics…wowza!

There had been plenty of fanzines over the years with historical significance but for my generation Wizard was a game changer. Now, I don’t want to come off as elderly. We did have message boards and such by the time this series came out, but getting that copy of Wizard with your pull was something special. Alright, alright…I’ll get a room.

Wizard was so popular in fact, they broadened their horizons with other enterprises. One of which, Black Bull Entertainment, sought to bring in major talent and make some hay. There was a fair amount of hype at the onset but unlike, for example, Image Comics, it couldn’t maintain the momentum and crawled into the shadows. Now, in no way would I normally compare the two publishers as sales charts would make me look foolish but for my buck, Garth Ennis was a bigger draw than the star-studded artists that created Image. New publisher, new series with Ennis at the helm, where do I sign?

It was also a great physical product. The paper stock was gloss while also being sturdy and they saved all of the ads until the end of the book. Albeit those ads were nothing more than Wizard propaganda anyway. There were also pin-ups to close the stories out along with letter pages and creator bios. Nice package for $2.99 USD.

So what was it about? To be perfectly honest, you may want to calibrate your groan sensors. Post-apocalyptic warfare people! A trope more tired than a damsel tied to train tracks. Still, Ennis has shown a strong affection for westerns and war tales, so they were bound to be intertwined here as well, perhaps providing more depth.

The narrative is told by a little boy named Billy Shepard via the pages torn from his diary. They tell of how the Earth suffered a cataclysm called “The Burn” that has destroyed most of the surface areas and led the oceans to dry up. Billy along with his family and a wandering caravan found themselves under assault by pirates when a righteous stranger arrived in time to save them. When asked who he is, surrounded by fire and death, the mystery man raises his head revealing the shape of a cross seared into his face and responds “Just A Pilgrim.”

I mean, c’mon…it’s obvious this dude’s gonna be a serious badass. Unfortunately for anyone who’s read Preacher, the Pilgrim seems like a blatant Saint of Killers knockoff.  In many aspects there’s a solid argument there. One that I will make later. As for now, what you need to know is he’s a reluctant hero and a zealot. All of his actions are deemed to be God’s will and Pilgrim views every creature as a puzzle piece to serve that purpose. Even if that means fatal facial reconstruction.

Par the course for Ennis, all of the oddballs are on full display. The main villain, Castenado, is a blind amputee with a gift for gruesome gab. A member of Pilgrim’s party named Dirk gets impregnated by a pit monster, rendering him less than a personable pustule. Nearly two decades ago I’m sure all of this gave me a good chuckle. I was 21 years old and heavily into Bukowski and booze. Now, however I kind of meh at it. Not that all of the gags aren’t funny or could only be considered such, especially by an adolescent. I bet this will rib-tickle a bunch of folks but it just not as clever as I thought it was. Have I matured? Are dad jokes my new bread and butter? Probably.

I know require the most epic of drum rolls as it’s…redemption time! Or maybe more appropriately, what could be vaguely considered redemption for a man such as Pilgrim. A recurring theme throughout the first two issues had been Billy’s Mom getting a strange sense of generalization when  Pilgrim was around. Oh, there’s definitely a reason for that. If you had a sneaking suspicion his origin had anything to do with happiness or joy, lay off the grass. The cover image should provide enough of a hint that it’s about to get weird up in here.

Who was this nut job before he met the lord? A different sort of crazy. He was a special forces soldier and as he tells it, a sinner. He lived for murder, drinking and dames. After a mission went awry, Pilgrim and his men were stranded at sea on a lifeboat. With time turning to weeks and no rescue to be had, desperate men always turn to desperate measures. In this case, cannibalism. After over 100 days on that raft, he was finally found by a passing ship as the lone survivor. Barely clinging to life, his diet didn’t do his demeanor any favors.

The military gave him a psych discharge, considering no other members of his regiment would work with him. The Army was the only home he had ever known. Without it, Pilgrim decided it best to drink his life away. One night, after getting sloshed at a bar, he hit a hobo with his car. Pilgrim gazed upon the man he had just killed and rather than feeling remorse, he thought of a recipe. He discovered he still had cravings for flesh and human stew was on the menu. The authorities caught wind of people disappearing and Pilgrim got himself locked up.

While in the clink, he would get frequent visits from the prison chaplain. Pilgrim had no interest in buying what he was selling. Bible verses, the Lord’s guiding hand and all, wasn’t very appealing to a man who believed he could never be redeemed. Still, the priest persisted. He would visit his cell each and every week, speaking of religion while Pilgrim sat unimpressed. This continued for years. When finally it appeared Pilgrim had softened to the idea of accepting a larger power, that pesky Burn happened. The sun scorched the earth, killing everyone within its reach. The priest tried to free the prisoners but much like his experience on the raft, Pilgrim was the only one still alive. In a foolhardy attempt to reach a vehicle, the clergyman got himself cooked. We’ve already established Pilgrim is an unbalanced fella so of course, he would take a cross, melt his damned face and finally accept God.

I’m not here to spoil the remainder of this five issue series. Wanna read the rest? Up to you my friend. But wait there’s more! If you do dig it, there’s also a sequel named Just A Pilgrim: Garden Of Eden. Trying new comics is never a bad thing. Right now, I’d prefer to focus on that whole “carbon copy” bit I brought up earlier. For fans of  Preacher not only does Pilgrim have a similar look. The attitude also carries over. Pilgrim is more of a talker as he spouts out scripture in the middle of a massacre yet the strong but silent, movie westerns archetype is applicable to both. They’re also bad dudes who didn’t want redemption and would rather rot away, accepting that to be the fate of the wicked.

Aside from those two, there are even more glaring similarities at play here. Most notably, the villains.

I can imagine Garth Ennis looking over his shoulder while cashing his checks at the bank, in fear of getting caught for draining the well. I can’t blame him. His admirers, myself included, gobbled it up. Arguably, the most popular baddies he’s created, Herr Starr (Preacher) and Ma Gnucci (Punisher) had something very unique in common with the antagonist featured in this series. They were all dismembered. While Starr and Gnucci were put through the wringer for shock value and laughs, a distinct difference this time out was that Castenado lacked eyes, hands, and feet from the get-go. For some reason, Ennis didn’t devote the time to torture him as he did the others. Why did he decide losing limbs was a lovely way to depict the degenerates? That I can’t say. His garden must look terrible though.

You may have gathered I wouldn’t consider Just A Pilgrim to be Ennis’s finest hour. Even with excellent pacing, this yarn provides its fair share of yawns. However, it does have some noteworthy strengths that will appeal to many readers. The art by Carlos Ezquerra is outstanding and Paul Mounts kills it on colors. There’s also a TON of action to be had here which gives it a summer blockbuster quality. I could see this being adapted to other forms of media with success for that very reason. It’s no masterpiece like Preacher but if Garth’s gimmicks haven’t grown stale to you, give it a try.

Just A Pilgrim isn’t a sought out book making it easy to pick up on the cheap physically and it’s available for digital purchase in trade form.

See that? In the end, little Billy Shepard just wanted the same thing all bloggers do. So don’t wait! Check out all of these amazing Super Blog Team Up pages. Just click on the site name and away you go to truly incredible content!

 The Superhero Satellite: The Walking Dead: “Redeeming Negan”

Chris is on Infinite Earths: The Pied-Piper Reforms!  Flash (vol.2) #31

Longbox Review: Redemption of Nightwing

Coffee and Comics: Green Lantern #100

Comic Reviews by Walt: Redemption/Coming Home: Shredder

The Unspoken Decade: What If V2 #46 and 47

The Daily Rios: Thanos: Samaritan (Issues 7-12 2004)

The Retroist Via Vic Sage: The Redemption Of Magneto

Crapbox Son Of Cthulu: Iron Man: Demon In A Bottle

Between the Pages Blog: The Secret Origin Of Spider-Man

Black, White and Bronze: The Redemption of Red Sonja, Savage Sword of Conan #1

The Source Material Comics Podcast: Penance – The Redemption of Speedball

Comics Comics Blog: Elfquest Cutters Redemption 

In My Not So Humble Opinion: The Other Side of the Wind: The Redemption of Orson Welles

Special thanks to my pal Chris Sheehan for giving me a swift kick in the keister, propelling me back into the blogosphere. I would like to say this was a case of saving the best for last, but it was actually just an attempt to get him to read the whole thing. Excelsior! 

*All external links for Just A Pilgrim are intended for informational purposes. 

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