Today, Scott and Greg are discussing Pretty Deadly 1, originally released October 23rd, 2013.
Scott: I tend to categorize the things I read. When you spend a good chunk of your time reviewing media like I do, it’s convenient to have have certain genre-descriptors at the ready. It’s not quite as simple as labeling something a drama, comedy, thriller or horror- most stories are more complex than that- but finding the combination of nouns to aptly describe the subject. Once in a while, however, something comes along that defies categorization entirely. Something that no combination of nouns can do justice. Something like Pretty Deadly. At first glance this comic looks like a Western, but the structure of this first issue says otherwise. I don’t know what to make of it. I can only categorize it as uncategorizable. As a reviewer, it’s a bit frustrating, but as a comic book reader, I love it.
Like any new comic, Pretty Deadly starts with a bunny telling a butterfly a story. It’s a story about a girl, but it begins with another girl- Sissy (AKA the “girl in the vulture cloak”)- and she’s telling a story about the first girl. (Confused yet?) Sissy and her partner, a blind man named Fox, are minstrels, performing on the street of an old western town. They tell the tale of Deathface Ginny, the daughter of Death himself. This story within a story is illustrated masterfully by the art/color duo of Emma Rios and Jordie Bellaire. Using Fox’s pointing stick as diegetic panel-breaks, they alternate between images of the performers and the characters in their story, applying a sepia quality to the story-world panels. For further clarification, the pages are punctuated with headshots of the major characters and events of the story.
Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick is quick to blur the lines of genre. Is this a Western or a fairy tale? Or is it a crazy fantasy from the perspective of a bunny? It’s quite possibly all of these things, and likely more. The story only gets harder to define from here, which reminds me, there’s a lot more story to cover!
As Sissy and Fox are packing up their act, Sissy is approached by a man named Johnny who tries to give something to Sissy, but she wants nothing to do with him and promptly hits the road. Johnny apparently keeps an important document in his pocket binder- something an imposing woman named Alice comes to collect later that night. But she’s too late- Sissy swiped the mysterious document during her brief encounter with Johnny. Fox, meanwhile, also learns of Sissy theft and immediately senses danger. He wakes up his whole gang and has them ride through the night to take shelter at the home of his old friend Sarah. It’s all he can do to stay one step ahead of Alice, and whoever else might be coming after Sissy.
This is all an elaborate set-up to the introduction of the series’ main character, the aforementioned Deathface Ginny. She rides in on the wind on the last page of the issue, and that’s about all the context she’s given. It’s a bit unorthodox for the lead character to be introduced at the end of an issue, but the story didn’t suffer for it. There’s more than enough intrigue surrounding the rest of the cast to make up for her absence. I’ve hardly mentioned Fox, but he’s a character who could easily carry his own title. Introduced as a blind street performer, he later reveals that he keeps his eyes covered because whatever he “sees” when he opens them causes him too much pain- a blessing and a curse, perhaps, which will surely have significance down the line. He also manages to shoot a member of his own gang at one point, in a bit of instant karma for an ill-advised prank.
This is a difficult issue to evaluate- it’s a mystery told in many layers that all seem to be converging. I understand next to nothing about any character’s motivation, but of course it’s unfair to nitpick about that after just one issue. If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that the art fricken’ rocks. Rios’ panels are incredibly detailed, and Bellaire’s slightly muted palette lends the pages a sense of timelessness. It has the look and feel of a Western without seeming like it’s trying to look old, and it doesn’t follow any stylistic trends that are likely to date this issue years from now. I love how each character is given a distinguishing characteristic, like Sissy’s mismatched irises, Fox’s blindfold, or Johnny’s bright red hair.
I often find it difficult to keep track of who’s who when reading a new comic, but these distinguishing features make it easy to keep track of the important characters. After just one issue I feel like I’m familiar with them.The arrival of Deathface Ginny will just add another dimension to an already compelling story, and I can’t wait to see where it’s headed. Greg, what are your first impressions of this debut issue. Do you have any idea what’s going on? I sure don’t, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the heck out of it. How about you?
Greg: You mentioned that this issue doesn’t give a lot of context, which means that all this intriguing imagery, colorful and well-applied genre dialogue, and mysticism amounts to lots of wispy atmosphere with not a lot of “why’s” answered. It felt to me like eating a hunk of cotton candy for dinner – it was immediately and viscerally sweet, yet after I consumed it all I couldn’t help but have a bit of a headache. Of course, this could just me being an impatient reader. As you rightly point out, it’s a bit unfair to nitpick about motivation after one issue. Perhaps the title will gradually reveal itself to be a full course meal that just happened to start with dessert.
I agree with your positive assessment of the artwork, particularly Bellaire’s brilliant usage of consistent and uniform color palettes, either highlighting stark differences or subtle similarities between scenes and settings. There’s also an almost Kubrickian usage of graphic match “cuts” between panels – however, for the life of me I have no idea what they signify. When one page ends with a close up of a feather framed against a harsh orange terrain, and the next page begins with a close up of a similarly framed lizard leg against a subdued blue terrain, my brain immediately recognizes these images as being similar, yet my heart cannot for the life of it figure out why they’re being presented as being similar.
Dreams often contain the sensation of seeing connections between dissimilar subjects without the understanding of why. Perhaps the artwork suggests a “dream logic” reading of the issue. However, you can only hear your friend tell you about his crazy dream for so long before you need something concrete.
While you call the work’s genre uncategorizable, I think your intersection of Western and fairy tale is right on the money. However, DeConnick’s usage of tropes and identifiers feel jammed together in a way that highlights their lack of harmony. The first image of the story, our pseudo narrator bunny being shot brutally, seems to be DeConnick’s artistic thesis in a nutshell: whimsical, poetic, and even childlike imagery and speech patterns shoved up against terse bursts of aggression and violence.
Intellectually, this jamming is interesting, and perhaps DeConnick is setting up a tale that’s fundamentally childhood versus adulthood; imagination versus reality; Sissy versus Deathface Ginny. Yet because I’m not seeing a sturdy table of a story structure for this thematic table cloth, it’s just… well, it’s a pretty cloth for sure, but there’s only so much one can do with a cloth.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?