Following Marvel’s Osborn: Evil Incarcerated, marking the first collaboration between writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Ríos, the two made the jump to Image Comics to create their creator-owned title, Pretty Deadly. Following much anticipation, Deadly was commercially successful during its initial printing. Based on the first ten issues alone, the comic is a fantasy mashup of the Western and War genres, presented in a combination of top-class artwork mixed with somewhat muddled storytelling.
The last volume was published in August 2016 and in typical Image fashion, the delay was so long that readers probably wouldn’t remember what happened. Prior to reading the long-awaited return, I had to go back to re-read the first two volumes — given the heavy-handed mythos from this comic, this is not an ideal start for first-time readers.
As before, told by a skeleton bunny to a butterfly, the story takes place in 1930s Hollywoodland, where Clara Fields is found dead. Desperate to solve her murder, her heartbroken Uncle Frank summons the Reaper of Vengeance, Ginny, who will aid him over the course of three days. Although this serves as a continuation with some characters who have spiritually been around in the days of the American Old West and the First World War, the new setting somewhat functions as a new storyline set within this world that mixes history and fantasy.
Taking place in a location where film-noir was a prominent genre to make during the 1930s, not only does it serve a suitable backdrop for the central murder-mystery, but also an extension to one of the main themes that goes back to the comic’s initial run. DeConnick has acknowledged her love for Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, a dark fantasy series that is about the art of storytelling, and that influence is throughout Pretty Deadly. Cinema is essentially another form of storytelling and the two creators make use of this art form in their comic book storytelling, from the use of noir genre tropes, to visually presenting flashbacks as rolls of actual film.
Amidst the great ideas that occur throughout the series, such as each of the Reapers representing human emotions from vengeance to obsession (which are cleverly expressed in the darkness of an industry that isn’t always glamorous), this volume falls into similar problems as before. The biggest issue is the fantasy of it all, with the aforementioned Bones Bunny and Butterfly discussing the cruelty of animal nature as a dark reflection of humanity itself, as well as a couple of pre-existing characters bantering with each other in a mystical garden. So much of the storytelling is about going from one place to the next — whether it is reality or fantasy, DeConnick doesn’t put much effort on a dramatic level and seems to let the art do the heavy lifting, leading to an anticlimactic resolution to the central narrative.
Speaking of the art, Emma Ríos remains the one true savior of the series. Her style adds a completely different presentation to early Hollywood, which isn’t about the glamorous cityscapes, but the drab streets with a muted color palette by Jordie Bellaire. Given her European sensibilities, Ríos also takes cues from Japanese shadow art, with many of the figures appearing as silhouettes. With so much of the book looking like obscure outsider art, the storytelling almost doesn’t matter. That may sound shallow, but Ríos has proved herself to be one of the most visually distinct artists in current comics.
After a long wait, Pretty Deadly returns with the same problems, but there is enough to like within its ideas and art. That said, after three volumes, I’m really hoping this title isn’t constantly repeating itself.