If you’re looking for something different – a little more mature but still steeped in mystery and magic, a grim fairy tale of a western – then look no further than Pretty Deadly #1. The much-anticipated passion project of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emily Rios, a pair readers will remember from their collaboration on inaugural arc of Marvel Comics’ Captain Marvel, this title takes the well-traveled path of supernatural westerns and does something unique and engaging. Don’t look for any grizzled old cowboys, vampires or zombies populating the desert here, because you won’t find anything of the sort. This book is a peculiar mix of folklore and fable, western and mystery, centered on the legend of Deathface Ginny. While it plays within the familiar framework of these genres, it successfully lays down the foundations of the strange and alluring world where Death rides on the wind as an avenging spirit. Whatever you were expecting of this book, set that aside and simply enjoy what DeConnick and Rios have to offer.
DeConnick opens the first issue on the interchange between a rabbit and a butterfly, as the rabbit meets its death at the hands of a little girl with a handgun. Serving as our narrators, the rabbit and the butterfly unfold the story of Sissy, a young girl in a vulture cloak. She and her adult companion, a seemingly blind and well-grizzled western archetype by the name of Fox, are traveling performers of sorts. Arriving in a quiet town, they set up stage to tell gathering townsfolk the tale of Deathface Ginny, the daughter of Death. After Sissy’s uncomfortable encounter with a man by the name of Johnny Coyote, she pick-pockets him for a piece of paper that puts her and Fox in the sights of Big Alice. On the run, Fox and Sissy have to rely on old friends as Big Alice and her men close in to collect whatever Johnny owed her, and Sissy clings to Ginny’s tale.
Just what Big Alice wants with Sissy and Fox, and how this ties into the legend of Ginny, remains unclear. The issue doesn’t give the reader much context or history to grasp onto as the story begins, but DeConnick is very clever in developing these characters through intriguing scenes and well-scripted dialogue. The dynamics between her characters are tinged with subtle intimacies, despite the gruffness of their circumstances, which make their brief appearances feel very meaningful. Using the butterfly and rabbit as narrators was a fascinating choice as they hover in the peripheral of the story, introducing the fundamental mysteries of the opening issues without giving anything away yet. They create a deeper sense of mythology, really grounding the fairy tale-like quality of the plot. Also, be sure to read all the way to the back cover. DeConnick’s personal writing, as well as a one-page short story about Johnny Coyote, at the back of the issue help to provide a deeper emotional context to the premise and tease future development.
Rios’ artwork is a stunning complement to DeConnick’s scripting, carrying the book through engaging page design and the strength of her panel composition. The wispy, barely-there quality of her lines affects a distinct dreaminess to the settings and characters, and reinforces the supernatural spirit of their world. Her sense of scope and movement is really lovely and inviting, making the most of little details such as the wind blowing in Ginny’s hair or the feathers falling from Sissy’s cloak. She also does a phenomenal job of balancing this almost ethereal presentation with the realistic detail of the animals in the book, from the rabbit and butterfly to the vulture head of the cloak. It strikes an eerie chord and sets up a lot of attractive imagery throughout. Combined with Jordie Bellaire’s understated color palettes, this book is a visual treat.
Lovely and strange, Pretty Deadly is an intriguing title with an aura of mystery and magic. How the legend of Deathface Ginny plays into Sissy’s life is unclear, but DeConnick and Rios still have a lot up their sleeves. This is a title to watch out for.