A dead bunny tells a story to a butterfly, a blind man and a girl in a vulture cloak perform the song of Death’s daughter, Ginny, and events are set in motion that bring Death’s daughter a callin’. Beneath the surface of Pretty Deadly is something more. It isn’t just a Western or a supernatural tale of revenge, it’s a nascent mythology of a time that has long since passed us by.
Where to begin? At the beginning, I suppose. Killed by a young girl running through the tall grass, Bunny is prompted by Butterfly to recall the story of the girl, but jumps ahead to start with the other girl, Sissy. Cavorting about in a cloak of vulture feathers in a small, unknown town out west, Sissy and her blind caretaker, Fox, tell the tale of Ginny, Death’s daughter, and the circumstances that led to her creation. A performance for the people, macabre and tragic enough to bring a little girl to tears, Sissy and Fox collect their money when a man named Johnny Coyote passes along something of import to a unknowing Sissy. When Fox learns of this, he’s quick to get their gang up and riding in a foolhardy attempt to escape Big Alice, the bounty hunter searching for the binder Johnny lost. Whatever the reason for Alice’s search, the importance of the binder is enough to bring the real Ginny out of Hell, riding on the wind to seek vengeance like the song says.
I feel like that synopsis doesn’t do the comic justice because to call Pretty Deadly a Western is only scratching the surface. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios are building a new mythology, but one that’s still steeped in the timeless conventions of storytelling. The book is full of animal imagery and symbolism. Our narrators are Bunny and Butterfly, one an animal associated with innocence, the other often considered a representation of the soul. Fitting, then, that Butterfly would want to know the story, as if it was asking Bunny to weave a tale before ushering it to the afterlife. Human characters like Fox and Dog bring to mind traits of the trickster and the loyal companion, though Fox also embodies the Wise Old Man and the Blind Man archetypes. He just swears more. Even Sissy invokes her familiar by wearing a cloak made of vulture feathers, a scavenger associated with death, which seems to fit her as well since she and Fox are travelers selling their song but are not above swiping what they need to survive. And, of course, a man with the last name Coyote brings to mind many a negative connotation.
The motifs of a Western are not to be ignored either, considering the setting. A revenge tale in the making, DeConnick and Rios play with the brutal romanticism of the genre while cleverly layering it with supernatural elements. At times it feels as though you’re looking at the comic book version of a John Ford movie complete with sweeping landscapes, but then the rug gets pulled out from under you and the book has suddenly become a Sergio Leone film. The gender swapped “Man in Black” illustrated by both Big Alice and Ginny leaves us with no clear hero or villain, just the opportunity to observe what will come to pass when the characters meet. Putting Sissy in the middle of it all, with her blue and brown eyes, speaks to her own position as a child caught between the worlds of the living and the dead. Though that may be speculation on my part.
The partnership of DeConnick and Rios is superb on all accounts. Though the pair previously worked together on Osborn: Evil Incarcerated and Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly shows their strongest collaboration to date. DeConnick perfectly captures the affected language we associate with the Old West, writing characters that have a cadence to their voices, but remain distinct not just because of how they’re drawn. Rios’ art is phenomenal. Her ability to capture movement in each panel matches the setting perfectly. Rios creates powerful images as well. The opening sequence feels like the beginning of a Western and I firmly believe it could stand on its own without any narration. The images are that provocative. Even the song Sissy performs is a haunting dirge depicted beautifully with the tarot card-like markers guiding the audience through the events of the song. DeConnick remarked at GeekGirlCon that this book has been a long time in the making and it was well worth the wait.
Final Thoughts: I’ve been singing the song since I finished the issue. Is it November yet?