Pretty Deadly #1
Script: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art & Cover: Emma Rios
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Review by Joey Braccino
Pretty Deadly #1 is one hell of a comic book. It’s a tough, surreal read that masks its complexity and eccentricity with a coating of Western genre tropes. The book both demands and invites multiple readings, which is a rare pleasure in this day of serialized sequential comics storytelling. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios tell us the story of Ginny, the Daughter of Death, without actually introducing us to Ginny; instead, as is often the case in these Western epics, we’re strung along through hearsay, rumors, and tumbleweeds.
The book opens with a conversation between a butterfly and a rabbit. The dreamlike narrative then weaves (violently) into the bus-and-truck lyrical street performance of Sissy and Fox—a girl in a crow-hood and a blind man respectively—that tells the story of the Daughter of Death. From there, we embark on a series of phantasmagoric sequences that introduce characters like Big Alice and Johnny Coyote. Needless to say, Pretty Deadly is a tough cookie to crack—more interested in setting the macabre mood than providing any substantial exposition (aside from the unsettling lyrical poem), Kelly Sue DeConnick wants us to feel Pretty Deadly rather than simply read for plot. And feel it you will; this comic is an experiment in whimsy and dread unlike any I’ve read in recent months. Not since Casanova really have I been so utterly confused and yet so extraordinarily enthralled by a debut issue.
Emma Rios is definitely a large part of the storytelling excellence in Pretty Deadly. It takes a certain talent to be able to capture a surreal script. From the very first page (the aforementioned Butterfly/Bunny Rabbit conversation), Rios plays with perspective, focus, and sequencing to push and pull the reader between the idiosyncrasies of DeConnick’s script and characters. The stand-out sequence is the lyrical performance, in which the language (“Attend the song of Deathface Ginny, and how she come to be / A wraith of rage for men who’d cage and harm what should be free”) is captioned off between visual representations of tarot cards, hell and damnation, and the utterly macabre. Rios also subtly works in the reaction shots of the crowd watching the performance, mirroring the discomfit of the reader I’m sure. Rios’ wavy surrealism is expertly colored by Jordie Bellaire, who digs into her pastels and sepias for the Western setting. Aside from the sheer unorthodoxy of the narrative, Pretty Deadly also provides a unique visual experience from start to finish.
Read it. Pretty Deadly is innovative comics storytelling at its best: genre-bending, visually stunning, and enthusiastically peculiar. If anything, I’m just so damn curious about this book I can’t wait for the next issue!