I found myself yesterday in Megacity Comics (Candem, London). I came home with a comic I had already eyed out in Outland during my visit to Oslo, called Ragnarok: Last God Standing. And Pretty Deadly. It is no secret that I am a big fan of Image. I was pretty thrilled when they announced that Kelly Deconnick and Emma Rios were teaming up for this one. They are kickass; only something epic could come out of this union – yet I’d never guessed how this would be achieved. They had already worked together in Osborn (2010). Deconnick’s reputation working with Marvel precedes her, as well as her fabulous work in manga adaptation – and The Witching Hour which I love! Rios is a talented compatriot whose art amazes me – Spiderman and Runaways. So I knew things would go well. But this?… This was something different. Train time comes and I think to myself “got an hour to kill”. Rganarok was ticker so I grabbed the Image volume. I have a page and a half when the train got home…I did not stop reading until I was done.
The thing is, Pretty Deadly is a bit like Memento: if I tell you about the plot, there’s no point you reading it: it would be ruined. So I’ll limit myself to give you reasons as to why you should! For starters the art work is LUSH – SO Refreshing. The colours are so moody, and Emma Rios can draw, in such a way that even when drawing something disgusting, it is still beautiful. The landscape is relatively minimalistic, yet so effectively used. The composition of the pages shows synergies: touches of American style comics, with manga design and yet such a remarkable good taste for French BD at stages. In that sense it was like American Vampire meets Long John Silver and Vinland Saga.
The narrative is incredible. Fantastic use of several voices sometimes at he same time. Moving from first, third and even second person seems so natural. Flashbacks are classy and very fitting of this western/fantasy mix. They are not jumpy; they take place as part of the characters own discourse. Moreover, the story-telling is remarkable. The plot doesn’t begin at the beginning, neither does it start at the end, and it most certainly doesn’t start in the middle. Have you seen Zu Warriors? Or like the Legend of the Monkey King? It is a very different way of telling stories. It is mythical. By beginning the story with a seemingly random but ultimately crucial point of the narrative it allows you to set a degree of unexpectedness. Here the is no guessing the plot or the characters evolution, because you lack the understanding. You think you know them but you actually don’t; you have only been told what you needed to know thus far. You are instead introduced to a concept, and in fact that is that Pretty Deadly is a conceptual narrative. It’s not about emotions, although they play a part in the plot. It’s about ideas and the nature of things. But at the same time, it is a story of stories.
There is a narrative drive that reminds of medieval tapestries, where the main action would take place in the big scenes, but the borders will often contain animals and symbols that presented allegories and motives, which are intrinsically linked with the scenes above. And if you missed them, you will only be getting part of the picture. Bunny and Butterfly do this in a very modern way, which is beautiful and demonstrates such a mastery of these dynamics. How to use something seemingly unconnected to actually tell you what really is happening. That is the first story. Then you have the main narrative. Moreover, the plot and several characters at multiple stages refer to stories within their own to move the action forward. The degree of meta and self reference is only rivaled by folk legends. And that is what I was saying earlier, this is not something you find in modern times. It’s not linear, it’s not multilinear, it’s not a compilation of stories to add to the gran narrative. It is like the murmur of a river being whispered by the trees and that you only hear far away from the river, yet you know it is there. It’s a folk tale you should have always known, yet you didn’t.
I am trying really hard in here not to destroy this – so excuse me if my argument is not very tangible. Now there is one thing I will tell you in a bit more depth, because I think encapsulates the general spirit of the comic. One of the main characters in this tory is Death. But Death is nothing like you believe it to be, or maybe it is everything everyone thinks it is. Death is depicted wearing black robes but of rich textures like a lord would. There is nothing creepy about it, not even remotely. Represented with the skull of a long mouthed mammal, perhaps a wolf, it stands in glory, yet in the shadows. Almost, like Hades in Greek mythology, as lord of the underworld, something that should be revered. Death is capable of emotion, and his actions are driven by it but also forced by untimely fate. A fate he is aware of. I thought, in a way I wished this death to be like Sir Terry’s DEATH from a less loving and more romanticist yet clinical perspective, but that it such a trivialisation of the concept it just doesn’t justify it. Death has minions. Death has weapons – a blooming shotgun! Death thus stands there as a god, and unstoppable force of the universe…Yet, vulnerable.
Through twist and turn, construction and deconstruction, almost like the product of some shamanistic dark magic, Pretty Deadly is like nothing I’ve ever read. It truly is one of those stories that happen once in a million years. And it comes delivered by two amazing women. So much for being underrepresented, not involved, lacking and ignored. If Deconnick and Rios are to go by, then the future of the comic industry is going to see perhaps one of its greatest eras. And if being marginalised means creating volumes such as this, Bitch Planet, and being nominated for awards like the Eisner…Then so be it.