Over the last year or two, Image Comics has transformed itself. Originally the home for artist-driven trash and later the place where indie up-and-comers cut their teeth, it’s recently become the home of some of the mainstream’s most exciting series from some of the industry’s top talent. You could fill a best of 2013 list with Image books alone and it wouldn’t look like you’d tried *that* hard to ignore the big two. We could point to any number of series released this year that show just how original Image has become, but we keep coming back to this one as demanding special attention: Pretty Deadly, by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios and Jordie Bellaire.
Notionally, Pretty Deadly is the story of “Death’s Daughter”, an old west gunslinger named Ginny who rides a horse made of smoke and has a skull tattooed on her face. In execution, it’s a dark myth that marries Eastern storytelling with Western imagery. Narrated by a rabbit and a butterfly, it’s fair to say it’s not afraid to be ambitious and unconventional.
The ambition is probably what makes the book so compelling. In an era where many creator-owned titles are all about the high concept, Pretty Deadly is just as concerned about the poetry of its story. It’s as much mood as mechanics. You can imagine anyone turning the high concept of Pretty Deadly into a middling book ripe for adaptation into a shitty movie, but DeConnick and Rios have created something that’s powerfully, definitively, inseparably for the comics medium. Good luck to any screenwriter trying to wring three acts out of this.
It certainly helps to have an artist like Rios on board, a woman whose presence almost instantly raises the quality of a series (or have you forgotten that Spider-Island: Cloak and Dagger was one of the best looking books of 2011?) It’s hard to imagine how Pretty Deadly could work under anyone else. It needs the airy, expressive and ethereal visuals that Rios can provide, but it also needs her grit and texture. There’s a strong manga influence in the title, and a lot of that stems from Rios’ linework.
One caveat is that it’s fair to say that Pretty Deadly isn’t the easiest of reads. It’s complex and dreamlike and doesn’t want to patronise its readers. If you’ve ever accused a book of pretension for attempting to be lyrical or subtle or intentionally ambiguous, you’ll find all that here, and more. But the fact is that it looks and reads unlike anything else in the medium, and just three issues in it’s got the rare distinction of being at the bottom of my pile every time there’s a new issue released. Not because I want to put off reading it, but because I want to make sure I can give it the time and concentration it deserves. I don’t know about you, but that, to me, is what says great work.