At first glance, Pretty Deadly #1 is probably one of the more confusing comic books I’ve had the pleasure to read. Filled with many drastic scene changes, mysterious characters, and vivid coloring and imagery, there is clearly a lot going on on this first issue of Kelly Sue Deconnick and Emma Rios’ book. Much of what is going on too, is under the surface, and as such, Pretty Deadly takes several read throughs, and several more issues to really delve into what is going on in the story. In fact, even in focusing on only issue one, it was very difficult to comprehend what was going on without reading an outside deconstruction of the first story arc (the first five issues) of the book to help inform with regards to the plot and some of the characters’ identities.
Pretty Deadly tells the story of several mysterious characters, set in a story that mixes classic themes of typical western and fantasy stories with new twists on these genres, as well as the characters we see in the story. Indeed, the fact that Pretty Deadly, even in issue one, clearly revolves around several female characters is a twist in and of itself, considering how male-centric westerns typically are. Even more interesting is how we are introduced to these three characters. The first of these three women, Deathface Ginny, is in fact the first person mentioned by the narrators, a bunny that has been shot by a then unknown girl, and a butterfly that was nearby when this occurred. At that point, they do not name Ginny. Rather they mention telling the story of a girl (Ginny), before quickly switching the topic to another young girl.
Sissy is the first major character we see when the story really starts. Almost immediately, she comes across as mysterious. She’s young, clearly a child, but the Vulture cloak she wears and her differently colored eyes; one blue and one brown, distinguish her as a person of interest, as does her behavior, which comes across as mature for her apparent age. She is working with an older man, Fox, and a mere two pages in, she begins to weave a story about a woman called Beauty, captured first by a mortal man, and then by Death itself, who fell in love with her, and with her, conceived a child named Ginny. This is the first time the mysterious Ginny (Deathface Ginny) is named, and although it is merely through a story told by a young girl for money, the reader becomes intrigued, and can come expect to hear more about the character. Indeed not only are the seemingly central characters of the story female, but so is the character who comes across most as a villain, Alice. Or at least, she comes across as a villain as much as this book allows for such a black and white look at characters. This considering the fact that the book is making clear efforts to distinguish itself from typical western and fantasy stories and their tropes.
The effort works. Certainly the characters provide more diversity than in a normal western or fantasy style comic book. Not only do the female characters take much of the focus of the book, but both Sissy as well as several side characters are people of color, and even further, they’re not in the roles one would expect a person of color to have in an old western story, with the other major woman of color, Sarah, successfully running her family’s country house, shotgun in hand, and not a husband in sight. The story itself, while including the expected tropes, does not rely on them; biting dialogue and unfolding action drawing the reader in while still keeping us much in the dark about the overarching story, as well as who these characters really are. Using all these techniques, Pretty Deadly #1 introduces the reader to an intriguing and mysterious world that both plays on old tropes and redefines them. The story manages to confuse the reader enough to warrant a re-read, and to warrant a desire for the next issue, without pushing them away from the story.