Book Review: Pretty Deadly, vol 1: The Shrike – Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

Reviewed by Michael Minneboo

Pretty Deadly is a western, but different from what you’ve read before. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Rios team up to bring a sort-of fairytale about Death’s daughter Ginny, a vengeful beauty with a face that bears the skull marks of her father, riding on a horse made of smoke.

Plenty of female heroes and villains in this one, so it is safe to say Pretty Deadly isn’t your typical Western with male gunslingers having a shoot-out at the climax of the story. Apart from guns being drawn, the protagonists are very capable with swords as well, bringing some samurai action within the setting of the old West.

Besides being a metaphysical Western, Pretty Deadly is also a story about storytelling. The tale is narrated to us by a butterfly and a dead rabbit, or rather a rabbit’s skeleton. Also, the comic begins with Sissy, a young girl dressed in a vulture cloak, and her blind companion Fox. They are beggars performing cantares de cego (“songs of the blind”) in the middle of town: a beggar song about Deathface Ginny – born from a woman who is kept prisoner by her husband, a Mason, because he is consumed with the idea that other men admire her. Feeling desperate, the woman prays for her death and when Death enters her prison, he falls in love with her. After he grants her her wish, Death is left with their daughter. He raises her in the world between the living and the dead, to be a spirit of vengeance, to punish those who would do wrong by the innocent.

Interestingly, Sissy and Fox tell the story aided by a banner filled with sequential images, like a comic, each panel introducing the main characters of their little tale. The banner is of course another storytelling device within the story.

After the performance they collect their money from the crowd and one viewer, by the name of Johnny Coyote, pulls Sissy towards him. He gives her some money and allows her to steal a very important piece of paper. This gets Alice on their trail: a female gunslinger/samurai who is anxious to get the binder back in her possession.

Later on we’ll discover there is a lot more to Sissy and Fox than meets the eye.

In the action sequences, artist Rios combines long shots with inserts of close ups, as if she takes her cues from fast-paced action sequences in films. In an interview with Paste Magazine she said she took a lot of inspiration from motion pictures and manga comics:

‘Yup, I watched and re-watched a western movie once per day for months. I also watched samurai films. My particular muses here were (Sergio) Leone and (Masaki) Kobayashi, because both of them work with very particular aesthetics and tempo, close to the oneiric. Also, books: classic European stuff like The Bouncer or Blueberry, recents like Gus & His Gang by Blain, or poetic manga like Matsumoto’s Takemitsu Zamurai or Igarashi’s Witches.’ (Source: Paste Magazine)

An original and interesting comic, with Rios’s great-looking artwork and DeConnick’s prose with its poetic quality, makes Pretty Deadly vol.1: The Shrike an even more enjoyable read.

Michael Minneboo is a journalist specialised in comic books and visual culture. Read more of his work on his website, www.michaelminneboo.nl.