If you’re a comics fan—especially a Marvel comics fan—then Kelly Sue DeConnick (Avengers Assemble, Captain Marvel, and Bitch Planet) is practically a household name.
And, if she’s not, then you’re doing something wrong.
So, when Pretty Deadly came out, I was intrigued and excited: here was an original, indie comic from a writer I adore and drawn by Emma Rios, an artist with an amazing style that wasn’t commonly seen in the comics that I had grown up with.
And, that’s the thing—there is nothing wrong with Pretty Deadly.
*LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONGS for it like a bungalow*
The story of Pretty Deadly, which is structured narratively in an almost Aesop’s fable sort of way with a (dead or is it Death?) rabbit telling a silly butterfly (so The Last Unicorn) about two little girls—one grown and deadly, the other young with mismatched eyes and a vulture crown—and stories-within-stories—the Mason and the Beauty, Death Falls in Love, and The Monster in the River—and the secrets behind every word.
Because, there are secrets on top of secrets on top of secrets, and despite Pretty Deadly having completed its initial arc, not all of our questions are answered.
Maybe they don’t even have answers. This is a story and place and space that exists in a liminality that reminds us that life can be simply prevarication.
And, because I know that some people are not the type to enjoy spoilers—and, because Pretty Deadly is currently a completed text—if you’re one of those, stop reading now and go read Pretty Deadly.
The rest of the conversation will be waiting for one you return from your journey.
The first storyarc of Pretty Deadly comprises 5 issues—all so visually lush and wonderful and visceral you’re gonna wonder how you lived without them—that follow, primarily, Fox and Sissy.
The Girl Who Wears The Vulture Crown.
And, it feels like this should be a story about a father-figure and his adopted daughter trying to get by in the Old West, telling tales and picking pockets—something raucous and ridiculous and almost opera-y—but it’s really about Sissy and how she’s the next iteration of Death and is going to set the world to rights and balance because the current Death—well.
The current Death was corrupted from loving a human woman, the Beauty who was locked in a Tower by her husband, the Mason, and Death has ceased tending the Garden of Life causing all sorts of problems for everyone.
But, Death doesn’t care because Beauty.
Beauty who comes to Death everyday and asks if she might be released into the Black, into Oblivion, into True Death.
The Reaper of Vengence.
Who spent her entire life hating and hunting Fox for what he’d done to her mum.
Who was set loose by Death to eradicate Fox because of Beauty and Ginny but mostly because of The Monster In The River: Sissy.
Who is reaper, god, and mortal all at once in a realm where gods and reapers can die a True Death, but mortals who have died can’t die again.
Who ends up standing against her father and standing with Sissy: the next Death, Death Who Wears The Vulture Crown.
It’s practically Homeric, and if you love Neil Gaiman, you’re gonna love this.
There are women—ALL THE WOMEN—characters: from Sissy and Ginny and Alice and Molly who are all supernaturally inclined to Lily and Sarah who are just, plain human, and each and every one of them is complicated and complex with flaws and valor and snark, and these are the women that you want to know.
Just—Sarah standing up and speaking straight fury to Ginny is brilliant.
The Scorpion lecturing a God.
There are people of color amongst the main cast of characters as well as in the backgrounds.
We have the dead walking the world, and gods hiding out because it’s safer to do so.
We have the Coyote and the Crow as twins—both still Tricksters but Tricksters who are neither frivolous nor faithless.
And, a little-girl!Death who paints the past that she doesn’t know is hers in tarot-card-like splendor and keeps secret and safe the key to the Garden of Life given to her by that other little girl who grew to be Deathface Ginny, with a sword that goes snicker-snack and a steady gun-hand.
Pretty Deadly is beautifully written, poetic, exquisitely rendered, and just about everything that I love rolled up into five near-perfect issues of Epic Quest and searingly gorgeous art that’s ephemeral and solid and contradictory all at once.
Because Pretty Deadly subverts so many expected narrative structures for the comic book industry to return to something that’s almost-not-quite oral tradition and the language of poetic epics, and in situating Pretty Deadly with the milieu of the Old West—where religious traditions were written upon mythological traditions written upon fairytales written upon history and hope and death—there’s just the right amount of spatial alterity that means anything can happen.
And, it will.
(And, it’s still going to be operatic.)