Friday Feature: Pretty Deadly

I’ve briefly mentioned Pretty Deadly before on the blog, but it’s never been the subject of a Friday Feature. Part of my reasoning behind not featuring it until now was that I wasn’t certain about where it was going or how I felt about it.

Before issue #1 came out, Pretty Deadly had already experienced a higher-than-average hyping up. Part of this came from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, who was excited to be working with artist Emma Rios on an all-female creative team.

Who can really blame her? Female creatorship is still pretty rare in the industry and having a creative team that passes the Bechdel test is even more unusual than having a book that does.

But the other side of that coin is that a lot of the hype came for this book just based on her excitement to be working with another woman. Again, not a bad thing, but we didn’t really know anything about the story (unless you dug deep through comics journalism) until after the book debuted.

Plenty of people ordered the book just because of the creative team with no other information. I was one of them. I wanted to support these creators (and publishers that support their creators and let the creators keep ownership of their work).

But when I read issue #1, I was a bit confused at the end of it. I liked what I saw, but I didn’t really have a good idea of where the story was headed. Debut issues of new comic titles are difficult – you have to both sell the audience on a new story and end on a compelling enough cliffhanger that they feel like they’re going to get their money’s worth out of the next issue.

I’m not totally sure that Pretty Deadly #1 did that. But after finishing issue #5 this week, I’m certain that despite my early misgivings Pretty Deadly is a solid book that lives up to promises it made in issue #1 that I didn’t even realize it was making.

DeConnick and Rios create a new mythology of the wild west in Pretty Deadly. With characters like “the Mason,” his wife “Beauty,” Death and his Daughter, Molly Raven and Johnny Coyote – this book his strongly on prototypically mythological beats. Gods or godlike characters clash with one another in a cosmic drama that plays out before us, with ramifications on a human scale.

One of Pretty Deadly’s mythic story beats: Beauty asks Death for her freedom.

Pretty Deadly is still somewhat of an all-or-nothing book. Most people either love it or hate it. The haters out there are saying that not enough happens, the characters are too vague, or that DeConnick is trying to mask a lack of drama with poetic writing.

They’re outright wrong about not enough happening. The pace of the book is variable, but there’s never an issue when the plot doesn’t advance. As far as vague characters and poetic writing go, these are characteristics of mythologies. No one story can tell you everything about a deity, why should we know everything about Ginny (Death’s Daughter) after one comic arc.

The art of Pretty Deadly is unparalleled in the industry. One of its primary colors is orange – which paints beautiful sunsets and assigns color to the arid feel of the western plains. Aside from the use of color, Rios’ penciling is beautiful, detailed, and emotional.

All in all, I think Pretty Deadly is one of the best books on shelves these days – but it does appeal very strongly to my taste for the mythic. Many will think the art is worth the cover price, and I would agree there, but if you look for story in your comic book purchase, know what you’re getting into.

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Friday Feature: Wonder Woman (New 52)

For as many justified criticisms that can be levelled at DC in the past couple of years (their tendency to alienate fans, their seemingly arbitrary editing that alienates creators, their “event” cycle that tends to exhaust readers with crossovers, etc.) there are a few gems that really stand out in their line-up.

One of those is Wonder Woman. Since issue #1 of the New 52, almost every issue of Wonder Woman has been gold. With the exception of the occasional appearances of Orion (a character I don’t really get), writer Brian Azzarello has kept Diana largely separated from the rest of the DC universe. That’s actually a good thing for Wonder Woman’s character, since her story of Paradise Island, the Amazons, and Greek deities  can get pretty confusing when set in the middle of the science fiction world of Superman, Green Lantern, Batman, and Flash (and the whole gang).

But even though Diana’s stories don’t always play well in other settings, Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang have proven that a perplexing superhero, heavily modelled from Greek Mythology, can be updated in clever ways. Chiang draws the pantheon the twenty-first century needs, not the one it deserves. All of the gods and goddesses are given unique looks that suit both 2014 and the spirit of their characters. My personal favorite is Ares, who seems to have been modelled after Azzarello himself.

Left: Brian Azzarello. Right: Ares.

This current run of Wonder Woman isn’t without its flaws, but it’s also one of the best comics of the New 52. In the way that Star Wars is a fantasy space-opera, Wonder Woman is a sci-fi myth-opera. The best drama comes in the interplay between the constantly-feuding deities in the middle of which Diana or her friends are always finding themselves. If that appeals to you, then don’t miss your chance to read Wonder Woman. Volumes 1-3 are on sale now, with volume four showing up sometime this spring.

The cover of Volume 1. A very good place to start.