Friday, May 15, 2015

Pretty Deadly, Volume 1: The Shrike

Pretty Deadly defies easy categorization. It's a sort of mystical western, where fabled animals and reapers of death manifest as humans and have gun- and sword-fights. The overarching framework is that of a butterfly telling a skeletal rabbit a story. 

This story involves an aged, blind gunslinger named Fox escorting a young girl (Sissy) who dresses like a vulture across the west. She is exceptional for some reason, and she is being pursued by a couple of reapers, Deathfaced Ginnie and Big Alice, who have their own agendas.

Also, there is another guy named Johnny Coyote who seems to know a lot about what is happening and who also cavorts with prostitutes. As you can probably tell, there is a lot going on, and much of it takes on dimensions of both myth and spaghetti westerns. I am not going to pretend I caught everything on my first go-round with this book, because there is much to take in, but the tale was intriguing and the artwork gorgeous. Probably the worst thing I can say about this book is that it used montage as a storytelling technique a couple of times, and I found those particular layouts difficult to follow. Otherwise, this book was an enjoyable, brisk reading experience.

Many of the reviews I have seen about this book liken it to Sandman and/or Preacher, and I guess it does have some superficial similarities to both (as in it deals with myth, and it is a western). They also like to remark that this story is remarkable for how much it is not like other comic book narratives. But I think those comparisons and remarks damn this book with faint praise. It may not be like much out there now, but it is not entirely an original type of story. Nor is it exactly derivative of other books out there. It is a pretty original take on a familiar story, told in an interesting and complex way that demands to be revisited.

Pretty Deadly is the creation of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Ríos. Eisner Award nominee DeConnick has written a bunch of comics for various companies, though she is probably best known for her work on Marvel's Captain Marvel and her sci-fi women-in-prison series Bitch Planet. Ríos has done a bunch of work for Marvel as well and is known for the series Hexed. Both creators speak about their work on this series in these interviews (DeConnick, Ríos).

The reviews I have read of this volume have been largely positive. Keith Dooley wrote that they have created a "memorable mythology" that "has the capability to instill both wonder and horror." Phoebe Salzman-Cohen commented that the genre-mashing here was not always that successful though she is still "curious to see what happens in the second set of issues." Lina concluded that "this book just demands a re-read and doesn’t find itself wanting the second go around."

Pretty Deadly is published by Image Comics. These five issues collected here are the only ones out so far. You can read more about the series here.

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