Today, Drew and Greg are discussing Pretty Deadly 4, originally released January 22nd, 2013.
Drew: One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received was from our very own Patrick Ehlers: exposition doesn’t feel like exposition if the audience wants that information. He may not have been the first writer to observe that, but I certainly wasn’t the last who needed to hear it. Narratives should draw us in, not simply parade across our consciousness. One of the most direct ways to make the audience curious is to pose a question — it can be as central to the story as wanting to know who killed Laura Palmer, or as inconsequential as wanting to know who’s supposed to call whom Ishmael. Of course, it’s possible to overdo it with the questions — if there are too many the story stops being mysteriously alluring and starts becoming frustratingly confusing. Pretty Deadly has spent a significant time in that latter category, and while issue 4 may not fully succeed in changing that, it certainly takes some steps in the right direction.
This issue finds Johnny Coyote pulling Sissy out of the river, where they become oddly fast friends. Meanwhile, Ginny discovers Fox, and the two fight until Fox can finally explain himself: he needs Ginny to protect Sissy, or Sissy will become some kind of manifestation of biblical wrath. It’s not entirely clear what that means, but it’s enough to call an uneasy truce between Fox and Ginny. The two reunite with Sissy and Coyote, and then head together to Death’s palace.
It’s that last bit that really confuses me — what I think is going on is that Sissy is meant to replace Death. That tidbit is courtesy of a scene between Death and Beauty, where Death suggests that he hopes to stop death altogether.
That would explain why Death wanted Fox to kill Sissy, all those years ago, but it still doesn’t explain why Fox and Ginny would bring Sissy to her doorstep. Indeed, they seem committed now to keeping her happy and healthy — perhaps also in a bid to curtail death on Earth. Maybe they want to make a deal: they’ll keep Ginny from becoming Death if he stops trying to kill her.
Only, isn’t nobody dying supposed to be the worst thing ever? It’s a classic monkey’s paw be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenario, where people with grievous injuries live on in agony, and the world quickly overpopulates. Maybe they’re trying to convince Death to stop trying to kill Sissy so that she can become death, but then why would it be important that she not know suffering? Wouldn’t that be her job?
My problem continues to be that I don’t understand enough of what’s going on to be able to have any kind of investment in its outcome. That confusion comes both on a storytelling front (I don’t always understand what’s going on moment-to-moment), and on a mythological front (I don’t understand enough about the rules of this mythology to have any sense of what any character’s motivations are), which combine to utterly hobble my emotional connection the narrative. I don’t even know what these characters are capable of, let alone what it means to them to do any of the things that they do.
That’s not to say this issue is a total loss. As usual, artist Emma Rios delivers a moody, ethereal world, full of texture and motion. More importantly, we’ve lived enough in this world by now to at least understand who these people are to each other, so there’s fewer straight up “huh?” moments in this issue. My favorite part, though, has to be the Bones Bunny and Butterfly sequences, which find deceptively simple parallels to the story Bones Bunny is telling. Here, it’s a butterfly that they encounter, and Butterfly simply can’t understand how it struggles through the rain.
It sets up a parallel to basically every character’s struggles in this issue, but not in an overly manicured way. It’s a messy moment where art imitates life (or maybe it’s the other way around), giving us the power to draw our own conclusions. That’s an attitude after my own heart, making me reevaluate the value of all of the stories-within-stories that this series has featured.
Greg, the last time you wrote about this series, you were struggling with its density — I believe you compared attempting to decipher it with smashing your head into a wall — but I’m curious if you found more to grab onto here. It seems like at least some of what’s going on is starting to clear up. Does that justify three largely-impenetrable issues, or is this too little, too late?
Greg: There’s a quote in one of the pictures you chose that I wish, deep down, exactly applied to how I feel about Pretty Deadly, confusion and frustration-wise. “The cycle is ending, yes. Soon you will be free. We will all be.”
What I wish this had a secondary meaning for, not just to make this a neat article but also for my own sanity, is the lessening of narrative fog. I wish it was a meta-commentary on the cycle of lack of orientation ending, of some big a-ha moment that will reveal everything to be part of a grand design. Don’t worry, dear readers, soon we’ll all be free!
Unfortunately, it just kinda isn’t. I’m more-or-less still as baffled by, as you mention, moment-to-moment choices as I am to any sense of symbolic points being made. And what’s quite aggravating to me is that, with its purposefully dense and stylized dialogue is that it seems to want to make some kind of statement. It seems too heavy, too fraught with philosophical musings on life and death to just mean nothing. It seems like Kelly Sue DeConnick is desperately trying to tell me something, particularly based on her lovely, candid piece on her husband and the issues of self-expression (seriously, the record of the comic versus the essays are overwhelmingly in the latter’s favor). But what the heck is it? What am I doing wrong?
Now this moment absolutely works for me as a meta-textual comment, one that made me laugh quite a bit. When you’re this deep into it, no, the next strange thing that happens kinda isn’t strange anymore. I, like Ginny, have become desensitized to strangeness for the sake of strangeness; yet I, like Ginny, do think the whole thing would be more fun if someone, anyone, gave a straight answer.
Oddly, this issue started to make me think of Martin Scorsese’s latest picture, The Wolf Of Wall Street. That film, like this title, is jammed to the gills with formal craftsmanship — Rodrigo Prieto’s virtuoso camera movements; Rios and Jordie Bellaire’s beautiful imagery — and digressionary flights of fancy that, at the least, provoke a visceral reaction — Leonardo DiCaprio’s quaalude slapstick; the tale of the hummingbird in the rain. Yet both works are also shapeless, formless, and almost structureless. And if all I have to hang my hat on are these aforementioned elements and moments… I hate to callback to my own writing, but it’s cotton candy versus a nice meal.
Drew, I think your critiques of such deliberate mythological and character ambiguity to the point of lack of investment are spot on, and on a personal note, make me feel better. If I’m gonna smash my head into a wall, might as well be with a buddy.
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