Here It Comes: After four spellbinding chapters, we’ve reached the end of Pretty Deadly: The Rat. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions, as Deathface Ginny and Frank the Conjure-Man joined forces to solve the mystery of his niece Clara’s untimely demise. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Rios expertly established this volume with issues #1 and #2. Issue #3, then, saw the narrative come into focus while growing ever more expansive and amorphous. And issue #4 set the stage for a mesmerizing finale.
So, where does that leave us with issue #5? Why the most magical place to be, the end.
Our Magic Girl: After four issues, the finale finally gives us our first proper introduction to Clara. It’s here we get first-hand insights into her creative fire and boundless curiosity, and understand why and how she was shuffled loose this mortal coil. Turns out, it was her own search for an ending to her film/creative pursuits that lead to her demise, and in a way that was only really the beginning of a story (but more on that later).
In the lead up to finally reading this issue — I may have procrastinated out of reluctance — I thought hard about what it would be like to actually “meet” Clara. Would her presence cheapen some of the dynamic between Frank and Ginny? Is understanding how she died and why a way to mitigate her presence in this book? Should she have always remained silent as to preserve intrigue? As it turns out, knowing her was a beautiful parting gift. We spent the entire four issues trying to understand her, and now that we have a greater window, Clara’s story is deeply touching. She is a spirit obsessed with creation and stories, a perfect “protagonist” in a story obsessed with exploring those same concepts. Knowing her, and see how she is upon her death, makes you feel less afraid and more engaged with her than ever before. In this sense, Clara becomes more human than any time before, no longer a plot device but someone to care for truly and deeply. Her story may be “over” but it’s a tale worth telling again and again.
The Closing: As I mentioned before, this issue (and to a significant extent, the series in general) is about endings. Without spoiling too much, Clara joins Ginny on the other-side, and together the two meet Sissy (aka, Death) in what’s a gripping meditation on letting go and the power of forgiveness. The ending “battle” (yes but also no?) featuring the 3 is so deeply therapeutic that it not only helps resolve a lot of the larger story issues (like, why did Clara die, and is that OK?) while providing new insights and angles into Ginny going into the next two “chapters” of Pretty Deadly. In a book with zero qualms in getting uber metaphysical (which it totally does in this issues), this all still boils down to a powerful exploration of human stories, how and why they must end, and what that all ultimately means.
There is a kind of power attributed to embracing an end — not just as a new beginning, but that also a story doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t wrap up somehow. Clara gets to learn and understand all of these concepts, and rather than mourn her passing, we get to celebrate her as an avatar for our own journeys and the insight it takes to accept that all things will one day come to a close. Stories are like people in this sense: you turn a new page, and some grand new adventure remains to be written (just perhaps not by yourself). What keeps the tale going is that we’re all in search of our own “finale” and the larger contextual value. We are united one and all by this instinct to see what happens next, for better and worse.
Cheers To Our Heroes: I wanted to touch momentarily on the fates of Ginny and Frank. Ginny’s fate is sure to be explored in volumes 4 and 5, but at the end of this issue, we get some keen insights into what may lie ahead. As quick as Clara was to forgive and transcend, it’s made clear that Ginny doesn’t have the same capacity, and thus she remains locked in this cycle of vengeance. Could simply forgiving others and herself be a way to stop her suffering? Maybe. But I think DeConnick’s larger point is that, as Clara did for herself, it’s not enough to simply do a thing because it’ll make life easier. Instead, great stories have arcs, and Ginny must play her role and come to this conclusion in the proper context. Stories matter because of how they end, but they also matter because we’re locked into their narrative groove to suffer and transcend in ways that have real meaning.
If there’s anyone who receives a “happy” ending, it’d be Frank. We last see him looking over Clara’s grave (“She was kind. And she made interesting things.”) It’s not that he’s happy she’s at rest, but that this is a bit of finality that has to have occurred. By having something so definitive, there’s no more room for doubt and speculation for the Conjure-Man; what has happened is real and immutable, and he can find a certain peace within. He may not like it, but conclusions don’t work that way. The only joy we can definitely take from any ending is that it’s ours to accept and process as necessary. It may take time to come to terms with a death or similar event, but there’s a certain exuberance in knowing all the power lies in us to continue onward.
A Big, Beautiful World: In the past, I’ve always left a little space to talk about Rios’ art. This is in spite of the fact that so much of her work is central to the narrative and larger character development. But it dawned on me that separating the art from the “writing” in this case is essential as Rios’ artwork is a story in and of itself, and this issue is an especially powerful example of that. If you pulled out all of the dialogue and narration, you’d still be able to divine most of the story, which is a testament to the cohesion between Rios and DeConnick. And, yes, so much of the visuals also expand on the story (case in point, the back-and-forth between Sissy and Clara).
But I also mean that this whole time, Rios has been telling her own story. It’s more or less the same as the story proper, but there’s also a lot of emotional and story flourishes that don’t exist in the narrative proper. It’s less actual storyline threads and more feelings and hints of a direction that tell a different sort of tale. One that’s about longing and regret, spiritual violence, rebellion against the laws of the universe, the beauty of ugly things and the sheer ugliness of beauty, and even the small connections we all share. It’s subtle, and probably not even present for every reader. But Rios helps create something that’s utterly compelling and speaks the language of instinct over ideas.
Final Thoughts: Pretty Deadly: The Rat doesn’t so much tell a story, as it allows one to unveil slowly and earnestly. It’s a story of letting go and gaining from loss. It’s our story, and one everyone needs to hear it. The End.