Just a Pilgrim: written by Garth Ennis; illustrated by Carlos Ezquerra (2001): Among Garth Ennis’s brutal comic-book characters, the protagonist of this one — known only as ‘the Pilgrim’ — is one of the five or six most brutal. Which is saying a lot, given Ennis characters like Saint of Killers, Hitman, and Bill Butcher. Ezquerra, a standout on Judge Dredd for years and occasional collaborator with Ennis on other projects (including the Saint of Killers miniseries, if memory serves), is in fine form here in this bloody post-apocalyptic tale.
In a near-future world in which the Sun suddenly went into its Red Giant phase hundreds of millions of years early, a small group of survivors seek refuge on a trek across the floor of the former Atlantic Ocean. Set upon by pirates led by Castenado, a blind psychic buccaneer with two peg legs and two hook hands, they’re rescued and eventually led by the mysterious Pilgrim, who quotes Bible verses and shoots dogs who “have the Devil in them.”
However, the Pilgrim’s violent efficiency causes most of the people, including the ten-year-old boy whose diary forms the narrative structure, to put their faith in the Pilgrim and God. Castenado won’t give up his pursuit. So on a devastated, emptied seafloor filled with dangerous, mutated creatures, the small band will make their way toward a reckoning with Castenado. Along the way, the Pilgrim’s origins in the pre-apocalyptic world will be revealed.
Like pretty much all of Ennis’s comic-book output, this is NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH. It does have some troubling, fascinating points to make about faith and a reliance on heroes that play out in other, longer Ennis works. The relationship between the Pilgrim and the boy plays with expectations caused by similar relationships in famous Westerns that include Shane, Pale Rider, and True Grit. Are we being set up? Ezquerra really is one of Ennis’s perfect collaborators, with an ease and skill at portraying action and the grotesque and the occasionally comic. Followed by at least one sequel. Recommended.