The father/son relationship in fiction tends to be complicated. There is often a sense of competition between the two, of the new versus the old, of one’s ability to live up to the other’s expectations or lack thereof, of an emotional connection lost and needing to be rebuilt. This can also extend beyond the literal father and into the realm of the father figure. Perhaps one of the darkest father figures is Jody, from the comic series Preacher.
Jody is the chief enforcer of Marie L’Angelle, a vicious religious zealot and owner of the Angelville Estate. Jody himself is particularly suited to the job, as he is a deadly hand-to-hand fighter, a crack shot, highly intelligent, and completely without conscience. Our first image of Jody is him looking into the eyes of four-year-old Jesse Custer, and, with a smile on his face all the while, shooting the boy’s father through the head. After this, Jody takes Jesse under his wing, in his own dark, twisted way. He teaches him to fight and shoot, to ride horses and fix engines. He also nails Jesse’s dog to a fence when it annoys him, shoots his mother and leaves her for dead, breaks his arm and jaw for swearing, and says at one point that if Jesse had been his son, Jody would have beaten him regularly. In Jody’s mind, this is teaching Jesse to be strong, to be a man. He perceives any sentiment as weakness, and because Jesse holds onto his actual father’s words about compassion and decency, Jody considers him a weakling. A very disturbing philosophy, but it’s understandable that someone like Jody would see this sort of cruelty as instruction on how the world works, and how he would have treated a child of his own had there been a child so unlucky.
What has always made Jody particularly scary to me is just how little most other people mean to him. While in some cases he does take joy in killing, most of the time his face while doing so is so expressionless he might as well be painting a fence or putting gas in his car. Jody could murder an entire family, and in his mind it wouldn’t even be the most interesting thing that happened to him in the course of the day. No amount of pleading or reasoning will change his mind, and if you aren’t strong enough to stop him, he will not be stopped. While Jody does appear to be a “good ol’ boy” from the deep South, he is far from ignorant or backwards (he is pretty racist, but again, his lack of regard for human life crosses all boundaries). There isn’t much an average or even exceptional person could do against Jody, and out in the isolated communities in which he lives, the law would never find him.
For all his lack of morals, Jody does have a strong sense of loyalty. In particular, he has said that he is willing to die for Ms. L’Angelle, and he does seem to care about his friend T.C., though the two of them mainly seem to bond over people they’ve killed. A large part of the reason Jody hates Jesse as much as he does is because Jesse refuses to listen to his grandmother Marie. It doesn’t matter to Jody that she ordered the deaths of both Jesse’s parents, or had him locked in a coffin underwater on multiple occasions; she’s his grandmother, and if he can’t accept her “kindness,” he isn’t worth much. When Jesse finally does defeat Jody in a fight, Jody accepts his loss and, oddly enough, tells Jesse that he is proud of him. So, despite all, Jody also has a sense of loyalty to Jesse as well, seeing him as a protegee, and perhaps a son to some degree, and sees Jesse’s victory over him as a victory on his own part. This does not stop Jesse from choking the life out of him, however.
Jody works well as a villain because he is someone who could easily exist in the real world. He’s the sort of person who still believes might makes right, and has enough might to make it very difficult for others to disabuse him of that belief. For all our enlightenment and civilization, people like Jody could squash most of us rather easily if they were so inclined, and it is perhaps only luck and proximity that keep them from doing so. Even worse is imagining what it must be like to be raised by someone like Jody, constantly reminded that they could and would take away everything we love in the hopes of making us more like them.