Full disclosure: I am predisposed to falling in love with the latest issue of Pretty Deadly
, which is technically #6, but feels more like a "new #1" than many of Marvel or DC's recent re-launches. Much like The Man With No Name trilogy, you won't be lost when watching For a Few Dollars More
if you don't remember exactly what happened in Fistful of Dollars
. I was an avid fan of the initial run of Pretty Deadly
, so ardent in fact that it spawned what will be a lifelong devotion to author Kelly-Sue Deconnick, and have read every issue she has done for Captain Marvel
, Bitch Planet
(also for Image), Ghost
from Dark Horse, and many of the various dips into the Avengers canon she has done. I have also followed the career of artist Emma Rios, who has spearheaded the exciting and singular monthly comic periodical Island
, a treasure trove of genre-bending short fiction and form-breaking experimentation. Rios' art always finds a balance between grace and power; between fantastical beauty and realistic detail. This penchant for experimentation combined with the ability to tell a meaningful narrative creates a perfect storm of talent in the partnership of Deconnick and Rios, and the resulting Pretty Deadly
is a gorgeous work of art and story.
This new arc of Pretty Deadly
takes place decades after the Old West tale of the first volume, now set in and around World War One. This is fitting for a story in which Death is a character, as few conflicts have made death so gruesome and unavoidable as the First World War, a dreadful set of circumstances that saw soldiers wallowing in mud-soaked trenches, victims of lunatic military strategies as much as they were victims of barb wire, disease, mustard gas, and gattling guns. The setting of the American West is still very much a part of Pretty Deadly
, even if the spectre and knowledge of the European conflict is present in every page, with the story shifting back and forth from the characters leftover (some much aged, some not) from the first story to newer ones active in the war.
Immortal beings and embodiments of noncorporeal concepts interact with everyday humans, which is a sure-fire method for creating disaster and tragedy. It's a theme all over mythologies ranging from the Greek to the Native American. It is also a way for Rios and Deconnick to do whatever they want with Pretty Deadly
, and the comic reads like a manifestation of their almighty artistic will. There is a linear story at the core, but it shifts from the literal to the metaphysical, from the land of the dead to the land of the living, and to manifestations of fables told over the course of centuries. When narration is done via a conversation between a sentient butterfly and an undead bunny skeleton, a unique tale is in store.
Various reviewers have compared Pretty Deadly
to titles ranging from Saga
(it's an indie book with an unconventional take on the fantasy genre concerning great distances traveled), Preacher
(a violent revisionist Western) to Sandman
(because every hard-to-pin-down fantasy title is compared to something Neil Gaiman). All of these are understandable but also misleading. Pretty Deadly
is a Western the way Blade Runner
is a detective story. Yes, they are those things, but they are also so much more, and so difficult to define. Reading Pretty Deadly
, even with its change in time and place and spiritual path, still feels like watching the most apocalyptic sections of Sergio Leone's The Good the Bad and the Ugly
. Like the world reached this desolate landscape of violence and gunpowder and its destiny is being rendered unto forces beyond our understanding. Pretty Deadly
also feels like the beginning of something, like watching the opening "Dawn of Man" sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey
with primitive humans beating each other to death with femurs, knowing that soon we would be travelling into space under our own power. But with Emma Rios' art and Deconnick's immediately accessible prose, the book has an impact that is instantaneous, resonant, and beautiful. Valkyries with glowing blades sit atop silver stallions, galloping across fields fallow of everything but corpses and broken trees. Teeth gnash, fires are lit, and even the scars across an old man's eyes are rendered with poetic beauty. This is why I read comics.
Five Pistols and Dawn out of Five (or is that swords at dusk?)