When I first saw the solicitations for “Pretty Deadly” #1, my mind subconsciously tagged it as a female Jonah Hex book. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Rios completely bury that notion in the debut issue of their new Image Comics collaboration. This is no more a “female Jonah Hex” than the Josh Brolin movie was an accurate interpretation of the comic book character. “Pretty Deadly” #1 is different than Hex, presenting itself as part folklore, part fairy tale and part western.
There’s a lot of story here, opening with a conversation between a butterfly and a rabbit. DeConnick has made an interesting, uncommon choice that has vast potential. Readers quickly learn the rabbit is life-challenged, but the entire scope of the circumstances leading to that moment is not fully revealed. Pieces (like the moment of the rabbit’s death) are revealed, but DeConnick employs the odd couple to regale the reader in this opening chapter of prairie justice mixed with supernatural tales.
Through the rabbit and the butterfly, DeConnick checks in with a girl in a vulture cloak called Sissy and her adult traveling companion, a seemingly blind man named Foxy. The duo spread the legend of Deathface Ginny upon a sleepy Western town, running afoul of the locals before heading out under the stars for a night’s sleep. Their activity in town stirs up the attention of locals and beyond. DeConnick continues to expand the cast, adding Big Alice and Johnny Coyote before this issue wraps. There’s not much to work with or to hook into with these characters, but DeConnick does sell just a small tease as pieces are pulled out of the box and shown to the reader. Relationships between the characters remain to be seen, but the interactions DeConnick writes for “Pretty Deadly” #1 are sharp and entertaining, despite their harshness.
Emma Rios shows readers exactly why this project had to be a collaborative effort with DeConnick. With Jordie Bellaire’s smart, clean colors filling her artwork, Rios fills the pages with gritty detail and slick storytelling. Sissy’s tale of Deathface Ginny comes through like the darkest Disney princess song ever, as Rios plays the crowd and their reactions off of Sissy’s actions and words quite nicely. The duo of Rios and Bellaire establish distinct appearances for the characters, giving everyone a sense of individuality. Bellaire doesn’t over-color or run rampant on effects that would not do Rios’ lines justice, choosing instead to commit to the characters and their world, breathing vibrancy into “Pretty Deadly” #1. Bellaire finds moments to shine and lay down some effects, but her skill in determining the depth and scope of color is worthy of closer inspection and greater appreciation.
After reading “Pretty Deadly” #1 through a second time, the revelation occurred to me that this series is a Vertigo book that quit school early and moved out on its own. DeConnick and Rios fill this comic with mystery, adventure and uncertainty. What could be a straight-laced Western is instead unorthodox and surprisingly unexpected in content, but adventurously so, challenging and inviting readers along the way.