A Fluid Approach: In the Chinese Zodiac, “The Rat” is often associated with water. It’s that phase of matter without form or shape, where meaning and truth are hidden just underneath the surface.
It’s fitting, then, that the latest volume of Pretty Deadly is named The Rat: its meaning is ours to explore as we delve into each new issue of this five-part series. Chapter one introduced the setting (1930s Hollywood) and the narrative (Frank, the Conjure-Man, teams with Deathface Ginny to solve the death of his dear niece, Clara). Chapter two, meanwhile, further outlined the overarching story, and we got a chance to better understand Clara and the Frank-Ginny dynamic. Now, we reach the series’ mid-point, and truth and context have never been more amorphous.
What’s The Deal?!: Issue #3 feels sort of like an episode of Seinfeld. On the surface, not much really happens. Ginny and Frank make their way to Ginny’s old acquaintance, the Reaper of Thirst, who reveals that Clara actually visited seeking out her uncle. And…. that’s really it; it’s an important piece of the story, but as far as revelations are concerned, it’s right up there with a dinner party or puffy shirt in flash. Yet the real value, as with some of the best hijinks of Jerry and the gang, is the value readers choose to assign. In the case of issue #3, this was among the most poignant and impactful moments, a raw and genuine chance to better understand the relationship between Clara and Frank. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick doesn’t give us a lot to go on, but then that’s always the fun. We’re presented with a tidbit of info, and from that we can piece together some semblance of their backstory, to dance around a perceived past and try to understand this family bond and what went wrong. That’s a series hallmark, and the wide-open narrative approach creates a far more intriguing universe to explore.
Oxygen’s Gone: OK, you got me, there’s at least one other semi-important revelation, and without spoiling too much, it hints at why Clara came to the Reaper of Thirst in the first place. That mystery will continue into issue #4, but it’s birth at the end of #3 is, quite literally, a breathtaking moment. The sort of quiet, almost non-existent reveal that will suck the air right out of the reader. It’s that very subtlety, that blink and you almost miss it-ness, that makes this such a great moment in the story. On the one hand, you’re allowed to wildly speculate again about who was the fiend who may have startled Clara so deeply. (Could it be director Jack Kaufman from issue #2? Or is it Reaper-based given what what didn’t happen in the Garden?) It’s also rather fitting with the book’s larger approach and skill set — not bashing the reader with knowledge or other happenings but rather snaking these tidbits in through the ear canal when least expected. It’s a powerful moment because it renders the story malleable without foregoing things like structure and intent. It’s quite rare to be fully and completely disarmed like this, and DeConnick knows how to leave the reader dumb and waiting for more as the moment washes over.
Bestest of Friends: I remarked in my review of issue #2 that I’d hoped for more interactions between the budding detective duo of Frank and Ginny. I’m happy to report that issue #3 delivers and then some. They’re not exactly on the same page this time (if they ever were), and their seems to be some sort of static between the pair (Frank’s likely frustrated, and Ginny mostly wants to move on). That “energy” colors their conversation with the Reaper of Thirst, and it becomes a very physically and emotionally uncomfortable interrogation (Ginny takes a knife to the Reaper’s long, gross tongue, which was so powerful it wiped all my memories of 2nd grade). But in those instances, we get to see new sides of both Ginny and Frank. His frustration portrays Frank as scared and confused, and his reaction to the Reaper’s news helps show a sadder side of Frank and his bond with his niece. Even though Ginny is clearly playing bored, knife-happy cop, there’s something human — something we’ve seen in past volumes — as she helps this man she barely knows. Ginny’s humanity isn’t always apparent, or the most nuanced, but when it emerges it’s another truly gripping moment for the reader to sit with. I have little clue where this partnership is headed in issues #4 and #5, but every new moment feels like an slow-burning revelation.
The Bigger Picture: Because of the structure of issue #3, with lots of “flashbacks” and a dream sequence from Frank, artist Emma Ríos gets a greater chance to go nuts here artistically. It’s these moments that take an already deeply ethereal aesthetic and ramp it up a few notches. The story from the Reaper especially is as beautiful as it is haunting and unsettling, a kind of keen insight into Clara’s inner self that should leave you weeping and shuddering in equal parts. Frank’s dream, meanwhile, feels somehow sinister in its scope, and while we better understand the tension and torment he’s experiencing, it also leaves us feeling somehow scared or uneasy with Frank and our larger perception of this man. I’ve said the art is important to the series a few times, and these pages drive home just how much value Ríos has in pushing and enhancing the emotional content while showing us layers even DeConnick could barely hint at. Also, big ups to colorist Jordie Bellaire, who manages to make the unimportant vivid and the truly important almost all-consuming in nature.
A True Haymaker: Part of me wishes the story could stop here, and that Frank and Ginny might leave well enough alone. But then, of course, we all have to soldier onward, for truth, for closure, and for justice. Even if there is no real “closure” in the final two issues, issue #3 alone proves that the gift of this volume is the powerful narrative and boundless emotional depth.
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