Today, Greg and Shelby are discussing Pretty Deadly 2, originally released November 27, 2013.
Greg: There’s a difference between something feeling “challenging” and “hard”. The way I visualize it – and be forewarned, this is going to be super dumb – a brain approaches a thing that’s “challenging” like a cocky knight approaching a dragon: he knows he will be tested, but he knows he can ultimately triumph based on his skills. Conversely, a brain approaches a thing that’s “hard” like a cocky knight approaching a titanium wall that goes on forever: try as he might, all he’s gonna be able to do is bash his head against the wall.
This issue of Pretty Deadly feels like a titanium wall. One that’s particularly pretty, mind you.
To perform a rudimentary plot summary feels besides the point, as I frankly have trouble parsing the fundamentals of time and space, cause and effect, and a sense of forward-moving narrative. In my defense, however, it seems like the characters themselves are having some trouble, too. When Johnny is asked why Sissy took the binder, he responds that he doesn’t know. When Alice tells Ginny it’s time for her to go back to her dad, she doesn’t respond. When Ginny kills Alice and gives a key to Sissy, we don’t find out why. It’s a lot of place-setting, a lot of whistle whetting, with not a lot of follow through. Every moment raises more questions than it answers, and it becomes taxing to read.
Despite my gripes, the issue is undoubtedly a triumph of visual craftsmanship. There’s lots of formally and aesthetically pleasing stuff going on here, particularly in Emma Rios’ artwork and Jordie Bellaire’s colors. Color palettes are well-defined and consistent, orienting the reader in each scene. Images are haunting, moving, and often striking; the first image of the skeleton bunny nearly knocked me out of my seat. And there is an ongoing fascination between shockingly graphic bursts of violence being rendered in a similarly beautiful way.
Perhaps this is implying that life’s most extreme moments, like sex or death, are still just a part of life, and should therefore be represented in the same way as any other part of life. It’s an interesting idea, yet what is the purpose of grandiose intellectual theses if the story driving them is so wispy, so threadbare, so full of ideas and hints with no clarity, no accessibility?
I offered an idea in my look at the last issue that Pretty Deadly explores and uses dream logic. In dreams, things do not make coherent sense, let alone narrative, but their abstract and surreal powers can often speak towards big, complicated ideas and truths. There’s a lovely story after the comic about an interaction between author Kelly Sue DeConnick and her son that suggests this might be what Pretty Deadly explores. “Fiction spaces are magical places, like dreams,” she writes, going on to say that Bones Bunny and Ginny are connected through the power of storytelling. It’s a thought that comforts her son, that makes his swirling, scary thoughts on causing unintentional pain and death seem easier. I wish I could say that reading issue 2 of Pretty Deadly had a similar effect on me. Instead, my thoughts are more swirled than ever. Maybe that’s the intent, and maybe they’ll be un-swirled later down the line, but for now, it’s a sense of disorientation I’m not fond of.
It took me a long time to write this article. I did a lot of sighing and staring at the ground. Ultimately, and I could be in the minority, this is all just too hard for me to care. This feels like the kind of title that is inherently love-it-or-hate-it. Either you drink the Kool-Aid or you don’t. And while the last line of the issue implies that I will have some answers soon enough, for me, it seems to be a flavor that’s just a little too hard.
How about you, Shelby? Are you jamming with this issue any more than me? Am I being over dramatic or impatient? Also, holy cow, look at the Dead Letters page, and our tweet about the first issue is listed!
Shelby: Greg, I think you are being neither overly dramatic nor impatient. I also think your analogy of the knight ramming into a wall is accurate. I don’t think this is a title that you can force your way through like that. Instead of trying to pound a hole in the wall, why not just follow it a while and see where it goes? DeConnick seems to be playing a long game, here. I understand your confusion and frustration; I felt the same when I first read through the first few issues of East of West. I kept with it because that title, like this one, is beautiful to look at, and only after going back and reading those first issues again did it click with me. I have learned my lesson, and as such do not try to figure this book out at all. My plan is to just take the story as it’s presented to me, and go along for the pretty, deadly ride. That’s easier said than done, of course. I like the idea that this is a story told like a dream. That explains the rawness of it, the way sex and death and pain and beauty are all presented side-by-side. I love the dark magic western vibe, and for me that is enough to keep me reading, but I get that a monthly serialized format is not the most ideal way to tell this kind of story.
For me, the linchpin of this title is Ginny, daughter of Death (literally). This is her story, and her story is told in the story. Much like East of West, this story fascinates me because Death is a tangible, human-like presence. Both stories feature Death falling in love with a human woman, both feature a child. Anytime death, an important part of the natural process, is personified as an individual human being, I love watching the role he (Death is always a he) plays. Almost always, Death is the villain, a creature to be stopped. We all know everyone has to die someday, is it possible Death is just misunderstood? Could he be hunting for Ginny because he misses his daughter? Why did she run away in the first place? According to her song, it seems that’s just what she does: acts as a spirit of vengeance wherever she is needed. “If you been wronged, just sing her song, Ginny rides for you on the wind, my child.” There are all sorts of mysteries swirling around in this title, but Ginny is the eye of the storm, and it’s her story I want to learn more about.
I think this title will turn out to be something really special. Rios and Bellaire’s art is beautiful, and DeConnick’s prose has the same kind of darkly delicate beauty to it. Greg, my advice to you with this title is to find that linchpin in the story, that one point that, for you, is what the story revolves around. Find that pin, and just hold on and enjoy the ride.
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?
I’m kinda with Greg on this one. As beautiful as this book is, I just don’t think it’s for me. I actually stopped reading this issue half-way through. I ended up skimming through the rest of it after reading this review, and I liked it much more when I wasn’t really reading the words and instead just looked at the art.
That said, I picked the book back up because of the letters pages you guys mentioned. You’re right; that story DeConnick tells about her son is beautiful and nearly moved me to tears. It’s worth the price of admission alone.
And I’m with Shelby–I am kind of digging the weirdly surreal, dreamlike quality of this, and I anticipate enjoying the ride. I bet in a collected volume without the monthly gap to slow the story progression this will be much easier to follow. But even so, I don’t really mind the slow unfolding and mystery in this–it adds to the dreamlike quality. Plus, I love the art, and think it is a great match to the story. The feel of this kind of reminds me of the movie “City of Lost Children,” which I loved, but one of friends said felt like a fever dream and found very unpleasant. So I suppose this could be a love it or hate it title. But so far I am firmly on the love side.
I don’t blame you for giving up on the issue. I think DeConnick has confused obtuse with intelligent. Not sure I can help sounding like an old greybeard when it comes to comics but a lot of todays writers need to stop trying to be clever and start trying to write good narrative. They are not smart or talented enough writer to go for this yet. Hickman suffers from this. A book that does this obtuse but engaging near perfectly is Prophet. It also puts a lot more focus on single issue stories.
Right now Pretty Deadly is not a good story. It has the components of a good story but none of them have been put into place well. Too much head up your own butting happening to make this a very engaging read. Also writing notions of a long game in a monthly medium are naive and selfish. If in two to four months of consuming a narrative your audience still has no footholds in the story you are failing as a comic book writer. It is fine if you are writing a graphic novel and the reader will be getting more of the story at once but published as a comic it does not work.
Also while I like Rios as an artist the colors in this book are horrible. Drab sepia toned mud washes make this book far uglier then it needs to be. Guess what: comics don’t need to look real. Strangely they realize this on some level since Rios’s grasp of anatomy is tossed out the window. So in that regard they will except stretching visual reality like taffy but when it comes to colors they think need a mud pallet or it won’t look western enough. The colorist needs to take a lesson from Black Science. The book is dark and gritty yet explodes with lovely colors. I know that limited mud tones and desaturation is the stock talent of most colorists in comics these days but we can get better. We deserve better.