Death in The Family: Last month, after roughly a three-year hiatus, the latest volume of the excellent Pretty Deadly debuted. The Rat finds Deathface Ginny and Co. operating in 1930s Hollywood, as Frank (aka The Conjure-Man) teams up with everyone’s favorite angsty reaper to track down the killer of his beloved niece, Clara. Issue #1 not only laid the groundwork for a potentially compelling story, but also hinted at other layers and subtexts, like this profound musing on the nature of art. With issue #2, the story and the context build further, cementing certain elements while kicking the door open for whatever might come next.
The Big Shakedown: Issue #2 begins with more metaphysical goodness, as Foxy and The Gardener meander through the latter’s lush garden to discuss, among other things, the balance of life and death and the inherent value of understanding one’s unique POV. From there, we get into the meat and potatoes of it all as Ginny and Frank track down their first lead, director Jack Kaufman, who was using Clara to bolster his faded star as a Tinsel Town legend. Without spoiling too much, Kaufman’s confession leads the duo to the next bread crumb, namely another reaper who may have more insight into Clara’s untimely shuffling loose of this mortal coil.
Yeah See, A Story, See: It’s easy to read this series and feel like writer Kelly Sue DeConnick reached into your head and spun your cerebellum around (but in the best way possible). Yet under all this philosophy and abstract meditations on reality, the series, especially this latest volume, is pretty straightforward. The Rat is just a good old fashioned whodunit, something that has the slightly grimy quality (fostered by the setting) of old hard-boiled detective novels — sort of like an art-house version of James M. Cain or Horace McCoy. In this case, Ginny’s the bad cop (she’s not afraid to use drowning as a way to obtain information) and Frank’s the good cop (this well-meaning fella forced into scenarios he’s growing increasingly comfortable with). DeConnick nails the setting in a way to help further the story and provide a specific ambiance while maintaining what makes the larger series feel special. And in a book narrated by a butterfly and rabbit skeleton, the story is paced in the same nuanced way to string readers along and facilitate a real sense of mystery and intrigue.
One and One: It’s that dynamic between Ginny and Frank that I hope remains as the centerpiece of this five-issue series. On the one hand, it’s the sort of relationship built to fuel the very specific aesthetic and overarching story (‘30s pulp novel). But to leave it at that ignores some of the context, which is this book is all about. I mentioned earlier the framework provided by Foxy and The Gardener; their back-and-forth actually reflects that of Frank and Ginny. Both of these duos represent the blending of unique backgrounds, and people who are (at least on the surface) diametrically opposed. Life and death, order and chaos, love and revenge; these two duos are a great reflection on how these ideals balance one another in our world. Perhaps it’s not the most obvious connection, or even one that’s necessarily right. But that’s what this book does so well: invite readers to explore and make connections on their own, filling in the story to help them achieve whatever goals they’ve outlined beforehand.
A Moment in Time: Emma Ríos’ art has always been a huge part of this series’ success; not only does it effortlessly build the setting and overall tone but it enhances those qualities with grace and subtlety. Sometimes, though, that art gets lost in the story’s unfolding, but issue #2 features a really great moment. It’s when Kaufman is talking about Clara, and we see a little into their dynamic. This “flashback” is done in this really vivid green/yellow, and it stands out in the book as an engaging moment that pulls in the eyes thanks to a mix of effective line work and new-meets-old aesthetics. The 4-ish pages are a great way to delve into what made Clara unique but also further blur the line between fantasy and reality. That obfuscation’s not only in line with the book but makes clear the depths of this story, and the larger stakes that this mysterious tale just might contain. On a side note, ‘30s Ginny is my favorite version thus far, and that bob cut and skull-like face drive home a lot of the book’s unique vibe (Vintage Glam Goth?)
Take it Easy, Peasy: The thing about a great mystery is that it’s not about who done did it, but ultimately why they did the deed. That speaks not only for the larger series but The Rat as well, hinting at this idea that what we see (or don’t, for that matter) is only part of the story. The larger truth is generally harder to get at, but every step and moment of pondering gets us closer to something meaningful. This volume may be a so-called “bridge,” one between stories but also larger themes and narrative goals, but it’s this delightful thing for such meandering.