Vernita Green: “That’s being more rational than Bill led me to believe you were capable of.”
Beatrix Kiddo: “It’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness I lack. Not rationality.”
~ Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003)
By Ashley Leckwold
Despite most people knowing me for my Captain Marvel fandom, Pretty Deadly was actually the first comic book I read that was written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. While it is undeniably a dense work, I fell in love with the book starting with issue #2. Issue #1 does a great job of setting up most of the major players for The Shrike as well as understanding that Sissy has stumbled into something that is literally a life or death situation, but so much of the story gets into high gear in issue #2.
Quite literally. Most of the issue is an extended fight scene between reapers, with this being the reader’s first formal introduction to Deathface Ginny, the reaper of vengeance and the daughter of Death himself whose backstory was told in the beginning of issue #1. After Fox and Sissy go running from Sarah’s homestead in the wake of Sissy burning the binder, Big Alice confronts her. Sarah tries to convince her to leave, but being the reaper of cruelty, Alice won’t leave until she’s burned down Sarah’s home and killed her boys. It’s easy to imagine that she would have succeeded if Sissy hadn’t taught Cyrus the song of Deathface Ginny.
It’s also easy to imagine that Alice also accounted for that, with the way she tells Ginny her daddy has sent Alice to find her.
DeConnick has labeled each of the volumes of Pretty Deadly with a “why” question. For Volume 1, it’s “Why Death?” For Volume 2, “Why Luck?” However, luck seems to be a low-key reoccuring feature in The Shrike as well. Johnny puts himself in the position to let Sissy take the binder. Everything else remains up to everyone involved to put into place and depends on a lot to get the characters where they need to go. Alice expects that this journey will bring Ginny out to serve her role as the reaper of vengeance, but whether it’s a happy coincidence it comes with burning Sarah’s farm or a premeditated attempt to summon her, it’s hard to tell. Knowing her and her role, Alice could have easily burned down the entire prairie to find Sissy and Ginny.
The reapers in Pretty Deadly tend to be such particular characters to write about, especially Alice and Ginny. They certainly live up to their titles of Cruelty and Vengeance, but there’s such a calculated way they go about things amongst the chaos. These are titles after all. Alice might enjoy burning down Sarah’s home, but there is still a job she has to do. Ginny is resistance to her father, but she still serves her role as a servant of vengeance. They may lack empathy, but the way you see two characters who deal with death constantly approach it is so telling of how this story functions.
While a lot of this issue puts key pieces into place for the rest of the series, it’s also where the series really earns its title with the extended swordfight between Ginny and Alice. Emma Rios has a certain way with bodies and motion that makes the fight extra grotesque and beautiful in a way. The way one of Alice’s minions nearly cuts into Sarah’s cheek. The way Ginny pops out his eyeball with a “SLURT” before cutting her way through the rest of the pack. The way Alice uses Ginny’s blade to cut into her own cheeks while Ginny doesn’t bat an eyelash. Part spaghetti western, part 90s anime action scene, and just as bloody and violent as the both of them.
The denouement of Ginny reversing Alice’s attack and using her own lost sword to pierce Alice’s skull, sending Alice back to Death as a swarm of butterflies though… That is what has stuck with me with Rios’ artwork since I first read this series in 2013. It’s the way she makes this fantastical world seem so real and palpable. I can feel the dust and the heat on my face with every sword movement, but it still feels like an intense fever dream at the same time.
Definitely one of the unsung heroes of this issue if not the entire series though is Jordie Bellaire on colors. Bellaire works with Rios in such a way that it’s almost hard to imagine one without the other, even though I have seen their works in other realms. Bellaire in this issue in particular plays a lot with the color orange. Orange of warm light and warm bodies as Johnny fornicates with Jasmine in the opening scenes of the issue, but mostly orange of a raging fire that overtakes the blues of night that fell upon Sarah’s homestead. Even in the fight scene, the heat of the orange feels different than Sissy’s memory of meeting Ginny only a few years before. In fact, Sissy’s memory feels more red than anything else, as if it has had time to crystallize and cool down versus the very current present of Ginny trying to one up Alice as a fire rages on behind them.
Even after rereading this issue a million times in six years, everything about it just seems to click perfectly. The writing, the art, the color… While all the aspects of the story aren’t fully in the clear yet at this point, the issue spends its time laying out two of its major players in a beautiful and violent way that certainly lives up to the book’s title. To spend most of the issue in a terse conversation built into a swordfight in the middle of a fire shows why Pretty Deadly is such a strong and strange series.
Pretty Deadly asks many “why” questions. Why Death? Why Luck? Why Art? These feel like questions not just for the reader, but that the characters ask the creative team as well. They are not easily answerable questions from any angle, especially in an issue like this one, but #2 spends time threading that needle and lets the reader begin to ponder why we tell these stories and ask these questions of characters that don’t often give a straight answer.
Pretty Deadly #2
Script by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Emma Rios
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Edited by Sigrid Ellis
Ashley Leckwold is a former ATLien now living in Chattanooga. Along with being a reviewer of comics for Graphic Policy, The Rainbow Hub, PopOptiq and The Outhouse, she has written comics for Red Stylo, Dirty Diamonds, Kayfabe Anthology, and herself. Comics and pro-wrestling are her favorite things. You can find her online at @misskittyf or at ashleyleckwold.wordpress.com.