So Fun You’ll Scream: There’s a scale I have for consuming pop culture. If it’s tepid or boring, I suck my teeth. If it’s average, I may just nod my head. If it’s pretty good or great, then I clap a little and smile bright.
But in the case of issue #4 of Pretty Deadly: The Rat, I yelped“Jesus Christ!” and walked away from my desk.
Best Buds!: First, a quick recap — The Rat is a five-part miniseries coming a few years after the last volume of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’ excellent post-modern Western extravaganza. Here, Deathface Ginny, the Reaper of Vengeance, teams with Frank (aka the Conjure-Man) to crack the mysterious death of his beloved niece, Clara. After some solid character- and world-building in issues #1 and #2, it was issue #3 where things really reached an apex. The real scope of the story became far more clear, and the narrative focused on the dynamic of Frank and Ginny in a really exciting and earnest way. But even that wasn’t meant to last forever.
The Greatest Bum-Out: I struggled momentarily with how much story to spoil in issue #3. But given how powerful of an issue this was, it’s important to speak openly (and gush with the giddy enthusiasm this series merits). So, without going overboard, we understand the root of Frank’s wild-eyed pursuit of Clara’s killer: the Reaper of Vengeance, who basically takes the form of a gnarly snake/dragon to ensnare Frank and drive him bonkers. It’s Ginny, though, who trades herself for Frank, freeing him of this burden and allowing him some sort of closure.
Unfortunately, he’s not any closer to understanding Clara’s death, or even what it all means on any sort of level, but then that’s the point. This is life, and there are no “happy” endings. The only thing we can perhaps hope for is to be OK with how things turned out, or to appreciate the good things for the time we got to hold onto them. Anything beyond that is unimaginable, and Frank perhaps understands the gift he’s been given. But, as with most things that Ginny takes on in this series, it’s not solely about helping others.
A Figure Emerges!: Ginny’s decision to stay with the Reaper of Obsession is ultimately a means to track down some much larger prey, Big Alice. It’s clear that, at least to some extent, there’s a connection between Big Alice’s dealings and Clara’s death (or is it just me?) Even if it isn’t quite as linear as that, there’s still a sense that it’s Alice who drives along this volume and the series-wide narrative, even if only by perception. But there’s still no refuting that Ginny’s act was a good one, a chance to offer a shred of decency to a man struggling dearly. Even if Frank doesn’t know why or how, it’s Ginny who showed him something elemental about the world, and that kind of gift is important. Like pain and death, morality isn’t as simplistic as we think it to be.
DeConnick frames the whole issue with this story of a coyote and badger, otherwise natural enemies, working together to hunt ground squirrels. Sometimes the coyote eats, and other times it’s the badger. We know who is who here, but the role of Ginny as coyote isn’t just about her nature as a predator. She recognizes that for Frank to “eat” this time, she has to lose, and that goes against her better nature (even if it works out for her in the long run). This whole narrative is a great way to expand the emotional range and mythos of Ginny, and to do so in a way that feels organic without proving needlessly safe. We see new depths of Ginny, and we can better understand that as “static” as she may appears, there’s so much more there.
Also, none of this is about making Frank appear like some plot device, either, and he’s still very much an essential part of this story. His “section” may be “finished” (heed those quotation marks!), but what that means for him and for Ginny remains a central thread of this issue and the much larger story. It’s about a sense of balance but also knowing the role each of these characters play in the grand scheme of it all.
More Like Gorgeous Deadly: It’s customary in my Pretty Deadly reviews that I pause and talk (sometimes even further gush) about Rios’ artwork. She’s definitely outdone herself in this entire volume, with lots of great panels that grab the readers by the eyelashes and even more quiet, subtle moments of grace. But issue #4 is a true masterclass, and Rios hits a whole different gear. She somehow manages to balance moments like Frank’s big breakdown in the early part of the issue, which is all about quiet desperation and the painful details, with Ginny’s interactions with her fellow reaper, which occur on the scale of a metaphysical blockbuster.
She’s able to blend the minimal and the expansive with her gorgeous lines, an intermittent attention to detail, the power of light and shadow, and a sense of romance that never feels hackneyed. I have said time and time again that Rios is as much an author as DeConnick, and she proves it here by expanding the story in such a way that the world pulsates with life and emotion. If you only looked over the art, you’d likely find a story just as beautiful and unsettling.
Wash Over Me: After I got up and took the Lord’s name in vain, I just wandered around my apartment for a bit. I was truly awash with emotions. Joy for Frank. Terror for Clara. Some mix of excitement and anxiety for Ginny. But I even felt some things solely for myself. That’s why I love this volume so much: you can’t help but fall into the story. These are your family and friends struggling to find meaning, and you laugh and weep and scream mightily right alongside them. This is your world as much as it is theirs; you want things to be OK even though you know it won’t. However The Rat ends, I’ll be there, wading in the fallout.