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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