Pretty Deadly begins with a sudden blast of violence hinting at a larger and deeper story in Captain Marvel scribe Kelly Sue DeConnick’s series set in the Wild West. That story begins to unfold with a story that goes back to the past with a stage performance by Foxy and Sissy, a girl in a vulture cloak, who tell a captivating story about Death’s daughter. As the pair collect donations after the show, they’re interrupted by the ginger Johnny who picks up one of Sissy’s cloak feathers after she leaves.
Scenes follow various characters who interact with each other, furthering the plot down mysterious trails. Foxy and Sissy move on to the next town only to be shot at by would-be assassins who inexplicably join them at a later point. Back in town, Big Alice, a tall and imposing woman, finds Johnny in a whorehouse and threatens him for the feather he recovered.
It’s too late, Johnny tells her, “It’s done now.”
Alice takes her riders on a mission to find Sissy — possibly under the pretext that she’s stolen something valuable. By the issue’s end, Death’s daughter Ginny makes an appearance, called by someone who’s been wronged.
While its scenes and characters are compelling, what’s hidden underneath the surface of Pretty Deadly feels disparately distant. Besides the stage performance when Ginny’s origin is explained, there isn’t much explication for everything else. Readers are a dropped into the middle of a fantastic world without a hand to hold, and the daunting task of figuring out what’s going on isn’t helped by Emma Rios’ line art which creates its own sort of chaos in the panels. Everything seems to have the texture of hair, and while some faces get a very simple treatment, there’s a whole lot of scratchy shading going on with indistinct figures and forms that are difficult to distinguish.
The colors by Jordie Bellaire don’t help much, and the flat tones don’t have enough contrast in some panels to give the eye some immediate aid in recognizing what’s what. That’s not to say there are only negatives in Pretty Deadly — but it just feels so indeterminate, like eavesdropping on someone in the middle of a story filled with tremendous history and backstory. It’s a frustrating read that would be a total loss if it weren’t so deliberately intriguing.
In terms of perspective, Pretty Deadly will fare as well as it becomes open for digestion. Things are a little tight across the board with readers getting as much information as will fall between the creative team’s fingers. A scene like Big Alice’s meeting with Johnny shows what this book is capable of — for all of the dialogue stretching around unknown variables, there’s enough context to support any assumptions on the plot.
I’ve had the chance to sit on this issue for a few weeks before writing this review, and even now, I can see the art in both the writing and visuals, but I can’t help but feel like I’m peering through the space between two iron gates slowly opening.
Pretty Deadly #1 (2013)
Words: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art: Emma Rios
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Clayton Cowles