JEFF: You know, Anna I don’t feel there’ve been a lot of interesting lead female characters in comics. The female characters that exist have tended to be offshoots of popular male superheroes, like Supergirl, Batgirl, and Catwoman, or part of a male dominated super group, like the Avengers or X-Men. When they took the lead, they were often depicted as a mélange of Barbie and Valerie Solanas – physically unrealistic man-haters (Wonder Woman, Amazon, Thundra, and Man-Killer). But despite some recent setbacks (DC’s unwillingness to let Batwoman marry her girlfriend) there has been an upsurge in female focused comics and graphic novels. Today’s Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Velvet (issue #1 out this month), Chris Ware’s Building Stories, and now Pretty Deadly, a new series from Image.
ANNA: True. But even within those comics and novels, Pretty Deadly immediately set itself apart, don’t you think? As it’s both written and drawn by women, Kelly Sue DeConnick (the author behind the new Captain Marvel) and Emma Rios (the artist for Dr. Strange and Osborne), it has a different, although not necessarily feminine feel.
J: Yeah. The story is rough and violent. But it is also immediately obvious that this is not your typical, male-centric comic or Western.
A: Exactly. For me, the best evidence of this is the portrayal of the female characters. Take the scene with the naked prostitute, as she bathes. There’s no heaving bosom, tiny waist, and come-hither mouth, as we might find in many other comics. Instead she has a round figure and a sad stare. That’s a huge contrast, and one which I really like.
J: But it’s not just Ms. Rios’ art that makes the difference. The three main characters (so far) are women whose stories Ms. DeConnick’s places into a traditionally male world. Our primary avenue into the story is through a small girl, Sissy, wearing a vulture carcass for a headdress and cape. Our apparent villain, Alice, dominates all the men with her and has a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. Our (presumed) protagonist is Deathface Ginny, the child of Death and a maiden, who does not even appear in the first issue.
A: I know. Actually, all we know about Deathface Ginny comes from Sissy in her sideshow storytelling. She tells us about Ginny and her father, who is, of course, Death. “He raised her a reaper of vengeance, a hunter of men who have sinned – if you’ve been wronged, say her name, sing this song, Ginny rides for you on the wind…”
J: Not really the manifesto of your typical Golden Age comic book hero.
A: Not at all! Nor is the language. Pretty Deadly operates in this lovely Gothic style, which feels appropriate given the Western setting. In comics you rely a great deal on the art to sketch out the story, the writing here really brings it all together and makes an intriguing package. We hear the origin story by watching the sideshow with the townsfolk, and never meet Ginny – but already we can sort of see her.
J: And that origin story takes just three pages. Must be a comic book record! After that, the book introduces a slew of characters and the mere sketches of a plot. We meet Sissy, who does a lot more than just sing the song of Deathface Ginny. Her blind companion, who apparently shares some similarities with Zatoichi. We meet Alice, tall, dark, and beautiful. Her hapless “ginger” Johnny. We meet a mother and her brood who make a living as dirt farmers out on the plains. All in all, Anna, it is a complicated Issue 1, creating a lot of potential but also a lot of ambiguity and confusion.
A: You’re right, Jeff. There are really only hints of who everyone is and how their stories will intertwine. All of the introductions of these primary characters are done in a very cinematic way, though. The traditional panel structure of comics is largely done away with, and there is a bit more flow than I’m used to. It’s really lovely, and is probably one of my favorite things about comics right now. There is so much to play with. Rios has only three or four panels on each page, drawing attention with smaller boxes, directing readers to what she thinks is most important for that scene. It makes these inclusions intensely dramatic.
J: I think your cinema comparison is perfect, Anna. In reading through the book what I noticed was how much it played like a well-made film. We get establishing shots, extreme close ups to build tension, and dialogue with a shot-reverse-shot format instead of the generic two talking heads in a single panel.
A: The page structure is loose and fluid and the action moves quickly, too. It’s not really until we get to the dirt farmer’s cabin that the traditional panel structure emerges. The pacing and layout changes, but it should – the characters are doing something else altogether. The characters are getting ready to sit down and have a drink, and the art organically follows the story. We’ve been really positive in this review, Jeff, so I’ll toss this criticism now: one thing I didn’t care for was the voiceover narration (particularly between a butterfly and a “life challenged” bunny, which seemed a bit silly).
J: Sure, but voiceover narration is a staple of the Western genre, even if narration by a dead bunny is not. Also, the voiceover is somewhat necessary since DeConnick keeps Deathface Ginny out of the first issue. I think we need to have an outsider direct the story and focus our attention. The dead bunny provides that, and hints at the supernatural aspect, which I think will be big later in the run.
A: All and all though, very promising. An excellent first issue. There is a broad cast of characters who I’m eager to find out more about. I’m ready for a story created by women about a collection of intriguing female characters inhabiting a world, both comic and Western, traditionally dominated by men.