Now is the perfect time to catch up one of the biggest surprise hits of 2013: Kelly Sue DeConnick’s and Emma Rios’ Pretty Deadly. The series is currently on a hiatus after the completion of its first five issue story arc (#6 does not appear on the Image Comics solicitations for June, July or August, so hopefully its return will be made this September).
Pretty Deadly is a major work; the result of an equally phenomenal writer and artist duo coming together in perfect harmony to create a literary and visual experience unlike any you’ll get in other comics on the stands today. It’s difficult to imagine DeConnick’s enigmatic prose not accompanied by Rios’ exquisitely detailed illustrations as well as Bellaire’s washed out colours, and vice versa. To single out any creator on this comic as an MVP is to discredit the brilliant collaboration at play here. The parts that make up Pretty Deadly are rather excellent, but it’s the whole package that makes it one of the most impressive comics of the last year.
So what is Pretty Deadly about? Each issue opens with two friends, a butterfly and a bunny. They recount the narrative that makes up the bulk of the comic to the reader, while themselves appear to be on a journey. The story within a story is a common framing device in fiction, but the degree of supernatural at play here makes it a curious and appealing use of a common and old narrative device. The bunny’s mortal has been stripped away, and its physical state is reduced to skeleton. Each issue provides more insight into their lives and what exactly they mean in Pretty Deadly. As for the story the butterfly and bunny are telling one another; it’s setting is America 19th century. The Old West. A young girl named Sissy and an old blind man travel horseback against the American West, spreading cautionary tales of Death’s daughter, Ginny, a reaper of vengeance who murders sinful men. There are characters hunting down other characters, and to say much more would spoil the surprises this comic has in store.
The comic’s narrative has a nonlinear slant; that and DeConnick’s cryptic spaghetti-western-like dialogue makes this a comic that doesn’t initially “make sense”. It asks its readers for a little patience, and doesn’t sufficiently answer your questions until the fourth and fifth issues. That’s not to say the first three issues are difficult or unsatisfying to read, because anything could be further from the truth. Part western/fantasy/folklore, Pretty Deadly is an expertly crafted genre mashup. It borrows the mysticism of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman and Peter Milligan’s Shade, The Changing Man, and throws it against a filthy blood-stained western backdrop. This is a Bizarro-Wild West where swordplay is more common than gun fights, and there are plenty of Eastern influenced battle scenes, choreographed like out of a kung fu movie.
While DeConnick’s prose may challenge some readers, there’s nothing at all challenging in appreciating the aesthetics created by Rios and Bellaire. Rios’ lines are thin, and packs an enormous amount of detail in her drawings. Her panels are typically as wide as possible, stretching the entire width of the page, which is appropriate at creating a sort of Cinemascope-esque western image. The backgrounds are just as formally vital to her images as the foreground, creating a world your eyes want to bask in. Jordan Bellaire’s colour palette has wide range, with a leaning towards reds/oranges/beige. Arguably Bellaire’s most successful pages are the night set scenes, with reds and oranges clashing with blacks and blues; the eye-popping results are the work of alchemy; either that, or one of the most damn fine talented colourists working in comic books today.
Pretty Deadly has been a quiet success for Image Comics, and risks going unnoticed by the comic reading masses. While requiring a little more effort to follow than most comics, it may alienate some, but through the astonishing work put into it by DeConnick, Rios and Bellaire, Pretty Deadly is deserving of attention, and for many will be a rewarding experience.