Review: More Mythos, Mystery and Death with Pretty Deadly #4

Picking up after issue #3’s unsettling revelation of Sissy’s birth, Pretty Deadly #4 immediately kicks into gear as the rogues and not-quite-heroes of this haunting western tale unite to save Sissy.  Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick delivers another air-tight script with this issue, brought to the page by artist Emily Rios and her beautiful sense of energy and space. Jordie Bellaire returns to round out this impressive creative team with her subtle color palettes, lending depth and softness to Rios’ otherworldly locales and delicate, fine-featured characters.

Opening the issue with Bones Bunny and Butterfly, Johnny and Molly arrive at the river’s edge to pull Sissy from the water. In a scene that continues to play with the idea of animal forms, switching back and forth between Molly and Johnny’s respective namesakes, he explains (in part) the story behind Death’s binder. As they set off, we see Alice return to the underworld in her butterfly form, finding Death none too pleased with her. She promises to ally herself with Ginny to deliver Sissy, the Ascendant, to him, and he warns her not to disappoint him again as he restores her body. Alone again, Ginny’s mother, Fox’s wife and Death’s prisoner in the underworld, appeals to him for her release. Too in love to let her go, he promises he will free the both of them instead once he has Sissy.

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Washing up after the flood, Fox wakes to find Ginny waiting for him, Sarah at her side. Ginny prepares to kill Fox, still seeking to avenge her mother, but Fox won’t die until he tells her of Death’s plans for Sissy. Accepting his fate at the end of her sword, he appeals to her to protect Sissy from her father. This emotional confrontation comes to brutal blows but Ginny agrees to Fox’s final request, and in the ends spares his life for Sissy’s sake. As the issue closes, Johnny and Molly deliver Sissy to them. Fox and Sissy are reunited as the cast bands together to stop Death, with Alice appearing on the horizon for her final showdown with Ginny.

With another strong issue under its belt, Pretty Deadly continues to be my favorite book on the shelf. The slow development of the last three issues pays off here as we approach the conclusion of the first arc, with tensions coming to a head in dramatic confrontations and bittersweet reunions. If you’ve been a little lost with the structure of the last three issues, rest assured the pacing and structure of the book has settled into something a little more linear, even as DeConnick still maintains that initial sense of magic and sorrow throughout the series. With the mythology of Ginny, Sissy and Death firmly rooted in this ghostly western world, this book continues to gain forward momentum toward the inevitable confrontation with Death himself. It’s all headed for a showdown, but we have to wait and see how it all shakes out for this surprising cast of characters.

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Books You Should Be Reading: Black Widow

It’s not often that I find myself unashamedly praising a mainstream superhero comic book, at least not outside of the safe and comfy perimeters of a superhero comic book blog. In a sea of creator-owned titles and indie comics more than worth the cover price, superhero books are mostly comfort food. While many titles out there are challenging genre convention, narrative structure, and the limitations of commercial art, superheroes, by and large, mostly stay the same. That’s okay: they’re supposed to stick with the standards, because that’s their function. The pages of the average cape book spill over with modern hero mythology, archetypes of classical fiction and folklore dusted off and repurposed every few years to have one more go around.

But sometimes you get a superhero book that does a little more, goes just a little bit further, and pulls off something great. Black Widow from Marvel Comics, helmed by writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Phil Noto, is one of those books. Fresh from the publisher’s successes with solo titles such as Hawkeye and Captain Marvel, Marvel’s applying a similar formula to this book. While Captain Marvel is a traditional hero book with a strong emotional center, about air force pilot turned crime fighter Carol Danvers, the offbeat Hawkeye, following the oft-depressing daily exploits of Avenger Clint Barton, is a little more genre-bending. Black Widow, to its advantage, follows the core principles of these titles with great effectiveness. It’s a superhero book, yes, but in name only, as this title firmly grounds itself in action, espionage, and one woman’s quest for atonement in the face of a blood and tragic past.


Noto and his stellar artwork and his soft, painterly colors create a beautiful balance with the energy and dynamism of his page layouts.

The title follows Natasha Romanov, known to even the most casual fans as Black Widow, a ruthless ex-KGB assassin, an efficient SHIELD agent, and a cool-as-ice Avenger. She is currently on a meteoric rise into the upper echelon of well-known Marvel properties, thanks to Scarlet Johansson’s portrayal in Iron Man 2, Avengers, and the upcoming Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. Natasha can also be found in numerous Marvel animated shows and films, and makes notable appearances in recent video games as well. While this book could have tried to play off of the character’s recent mainstream exposure, instead Edmondson and Noto craft a tighter, more personal narrative, focusing on Natasha and her very small circle of associates. If you’re looking for a star-studded supporting cast of Avengers alum, you’re not likely to find it anytime soon. This is actually one of the best parts about the book, as it is small and self-contained, and is carried by the strong partnership between Edmondson and Noto to some visually pleasing results.

There is no shortage of action and adventure in this series, in the same vein as The Bourne Identity or Mission Impossible, with slick and exciting fight sequences, daring escapes, and plenty of spy gadgets. This is the main draw, but I find Edmondson is most successful in that he still keeps the story grounded in Natasha’s personal quest. A former killer with a checkered past, Natasha spends her off-time making up for it, one job at a time. In the first issue she makes a point of telling her manager/accountant Isaiah that she’s not doing contract work for the money, insisting that he transfers her compensation to her network of trusts. Natasha never compromises her ideals in the pursuit of her cause, and is never portrayed as anything but a compelling and capable spy, remaining a very relatable and human character throughout.

As I’ve stated in my reviews of the first two issues, the real star of this book is Noto and his stellar artwork. His soft, painterly colors create a beautiful balance with the energy and dynamism of his page layouts. Moody palettes and lighting techniques establish locales with an effectiveness I don’t often see, creating a distinctive visual tone for the series. The softened filter that Noto applies throughout gives a delicate, gauzy emphasis to key panels, contrasting the brutal efficiency of the character with her inherent femininity. Black Widow is as beautiful as she is deadly, and Noto explores that through graphic narrative without coming off as patronizing or obvious, a feat I rarely see done effectively.

While it’s still early days for this title, Black Widow is a cool book that packs a punch. It’s visually pleasing and fun to read, successfully blending genre conventions to satisfying ends. If you’re not already following this book, I highly recommend that you start.

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The Return of a Marvel: Miracleman #1

One of the most transformative characters in comic book history makes his return to the page in Miracleman #1. Conceived in 1956 by writer-artist Mick Anglo, the previously-titled Marvelman was the United Kingdom’s substitute for DC’s Captain Marvel (not to be confused with Marvel’s various Captains Marvel) and was published by L. Miller & Son. Powered by atomic energy, young reporter Mickey Moran utters the magic word “Kimota” to become the blue-and-red-clad superhero Marvelman. Published until 1963, the original Marvelman series had a healthy run and was reprinted for sale in Italy, Australia and Brazil. Due to copyright issues, legal disputes and struggling sales of reprints, the character eventually disappeared from store shelves entirely.


As the decades passed, both Marvelman and his family of kid sidekicks faded away until 1982, when they were revived by Alan Moore, Gary Leach and Alan Davis. Appearing in the monthly British anthology Warrior, Marvelman became Miracleman, a dark deconstructionist work of superhero fiction. This new and different take on the character featured a very adult Michael Moran, plagued by migraines, domestic struggles and feverish dreams of flight, taking genre conventions of 50s and 60s superhero comics head-on. This book would later be taken over by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham, who took the story even further. However, falling again into legal limbo in the 1990s, Miracleman changed hands several times before being secured by Marvel Comics in 2009. As of 2010, Marvel has been reprinting various collected editions of Miracleman’s numerous iterations, and in January 2014 he returned to store shelves in Miracleman #1: A Dream of Flying.

This oversized issue features collected reprints, restored classic Marvelman comics, concept art, and an interview with Anglo. The artwork has been beautifully restored by Michael Kelleher and Gary Leach, with lush digital color work by Steve Oliff. Digicore’s crisp restoration of the classic comics will please nostalgic readers looking to revisit the hero’s early days. #1 opens up with Prologue: 1956 by Angelo and artist Don Lawrence from 1985’s Miracleman #1. On face value, this half-tone piece of 50s action comic nostalgia reads as a kitschy throwback for unfamiliar fans, but ends on a haunting note that paves the way for the stories of Moore and Gaiman. The final page, an unsettling and ever-advancing close-up of Miracleman’s face captioned by a quote from Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, is one of the eeriest and most satisfying pages I have ever seen in a comic.

Rounding out the issue is the first two collected stories by Moore and Leach from Warrior #1 and #2, Miracleman1featuring the rebirth of Miracleman as we know him today. …A Dream of Flying and its follow-up are dark and uncompromising, exploring Miracleman’s origins, his mysterious fall, and his eventual return from struggling journalist Michael Moran to the hero of his youth. These stories examine the strange and innocent world of 50s superheroes through the lens of modern cynicism and nuclear paranoia of the Cold War-era West. Whereas Anglo’s shiny gleam of scientific inquiry and magical fantasy painted Miracleman’s powers in broad and optimistic strokes, Moore’s vision of the nuclear-powered hero is far more jaded. Similar themes are strong elements in Moore’s later work such as Watchmen, and it is interesting to see how these ideas have developed in different books. In these issues, readers see their first glimpse of the corrupting sway these powers can have over heroes, as Johnny Bates, the original Kid Marvelman, survives into adulthood with his abilities but is rendered a sociopath.

This is an exciting book for fans of comics and comics history, reviving one of the most important characters of the last thirty years. Whether you’re new Miracleman, or you’ve been a longtime reader since his earlier iterations, this book is absolutely worth picking up. It’s an essential work that has informed comics creators for years.

Magen Cubed –

Review: More Mystery and Magic with Pretty Deadly #3

After two issues of enduring mystery, Pretty Deadly #3 finally offers some of the genesis behind this supernatural western fable. The dynamic creative team of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emily Rios continue to tease out their ethereal world of revenge and death, magic and symbolism with great success, shedding some much-needed light on Fox and Sissy. With little to go on in the first two issues, as readers we’ve been ambling along against the haunting backdrops of empty desert and fields populated by undead animal avatars, hoping for resolution. However, with great scripting from DeConnick and sumptuous artwork by Rios, brought to visceral fruition by Jordie Bellaire’s unearthly color palettes, readers get their first real tastes of the larger mythical world in this peculiar origin story.

Once again we’re joined by Bones Bunny and Butterfly, who open the story to pose playful and foreshadowing questions about the ephemeral nature of life and death. From there we meet Molly, the crow who serves as Johnny Coyote’s moral compass, and warns him about the consequences of Sissy destroying his stolen binder. The rest of the issue unfolds in an intriguing exchange between Ginny and Sarah that further plays with the title’s use of animals of representatives of characters. This tense exchange adds to the growing mythology of the series, and alludes to true nature of the frictions between Ginny and the rest of the cast.


It’s this confrontation that sets up the final act, culminating in Sissy’s true origin story and the truth of her quiet and tragic relationship with Fox. This is an unsettling and poignant sequence, and likely the most enduring of the series so far, tying up the questions surrounding Fox, Ginny and Sissy’s relations to one another. It beautifully utilizes the full breadth of the title’s unearthly visual language to establish Sissy’s place in the world and the larger mythology, closing on a flood that endangers the principle cast in a sorrowful cliffhanger.

Despite a somewhat cautious opening section of the arc, the story really feels to be kicking into another gear in this issue. The crux of the issue, the development of the Fox and Sissy backstory, was wonderfully executed and a successful use of the book’s inherently eerie tone. This telling underscores the tragedy of their lives as traveling storytellers and keepers of Ginny’s tale, and creates some much-needed context for their relationship to continue to unfold. All of this comes from the strength of DeConnick’s tense and understated scripting, carried out by Rios’ innovative page design and dramatic panel composition. Every fluid stroke feels meaningful, whether in the delicate character details or the uncanny world in which they inhabit, maintaining a haunting aesthetic that makes this book visually unique and emotionally resonant.

I find myself increasingly enjoying the use of animal symbolism in the book’s exploration of death. The introduction of the crow Molly as Johnny’s ethical guide is an interesting one, playing with the established reoccurring imagery of the rabbit, butterfly and the vulture. We are left to presume that Sissy’s symbol of the vulture is tied to her origin story, a bringer of death (in a very biblical sense) to balance Ginny’s role as an avenging spirit. Combined with Alice’s apparent death manifested in columns of butterflies and Ginny killing Bones Bunny in the first issue, these recurring visual allegories make for a more fascinating read. It accentuates the fairy tale-like quality of the world and invokes the aesthetic motifs of shamanistic lore, further grounding its unearthly ambiance.

This is another successful installment of a gorgeous and complicated story. It’s not for everyone, but hopefully people will stick with it to see where it goes from here. Pretty Deadly takes the conventions of supernatural and spaghetti western storytelling and reinvigorates them in new and intriguing ways. Definitely one of my favorite books on the shelves right now.

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