So I have a pretty massive review of Pretty Deadly that I’m currently fixing up. It’s big enough that it made sense for me to break it into parts so it’s maybe easier to read. Once I get it all fixed up and posted though, I’ll post the full thing as one big long article (as god intended). This first part is mostly just my thesis for the rest of the article, the bulk of which is a meticulous breakdown of panels and pages. I even have a section on the lettering, which is a first for me. Anyways. This was a preface.
Pretty Deadly is a comic series put out by Image Comics with art by Emma Rios, Coloring by Jordie Bellaire, Script by Kelly Sue Deconnick, letters by Clayton Cowles, and edited by Sigrid Ellis. It is a supernatural western comic that nods to exploitation and pinky violence genre films. Issue #1 available now at where ever.
The above image is of Meiko Kaji, the actor who became famous for her ability to manifest vengeance and wrath on the screen. This is from her film series Female Convict 701: Scorpion. She is also famous for her performance in the series Lady Snowblood. Both series are based upon manga and involve a central female character being trapped within a prison, being hardened by the experience, and then forged into a weapon of vengeance against the ills of the surrounding world.
The Lady Snowblood series is perhaps the most interesting of the two because the central character, Yuki, is born from the mother who is the direct recipient of the rape and violence, that will shape her quest for vengeance. She is a tool of her mother’s vengeance, even though she did not directly witness or experience any of the wrongs herself. In this way, the film pivots from being about a singular trauma to being about the culture of trauma. She is not just avenging a singular rape, she is avenging the totality of rape and the way that it poisons for generations the surrounding wells. What Lady Snowblood is talking about is the construction of a transgenerational trauma from which Yuki may never fully escape. Both Lady Snowblood and Female Convict 701 are about engaging the ways in which these traumas imprison, but literally and figuratively, and both create a kind of horror in them, that as many people as are killed, and as much as the protagonists might struggle, there is no escape, and they can only fall farther and farther down their prison walls.
In the backmatter section of Pretty Deadly, Kelly Sue Deconnick relates a dream she had as a child where she and some friends are being chased through this dream house, and they keep running up and up, until they end up on the roof of this house, their pursuer hot on their heels. Her friends keep running though, and soon fly right off the roof off into the sky leaving Kelly behind on the roof because she is unable to fly. She has become trapped in space that is fast evaporating as she turns to face her pursuer.
It is this key motif of confinement, of retreating from space, into the constricted confines of one’s own inability to continue to run, that informs every level of Pretty Deadly.
Beginning first with the basic construction of the book, which is a frame narrative(though even within this frame, there are frames within frames, even within just this first issue) that acts to box the core story even further within the comic beyond the front and back cover. The interesting thing with the frame narrative device is that even as it constrains the core story within its boundaries it portends a much wider world than the one which we are exposed to and traps us without it. This theme is rife through Pretty Deadly, which has in it a vast world of old scores, strange oaths, and shaky alliances that shimmer no closer than the middle distance of the page, back-grounded behind the world’s primary focus. This serves to exacerbate the oppressive sense of enclosure that Pretty Deadly wars against. If you want to make a prison, you put tiny windows in the walls, because the worst thing about confinement is freedom. This world’s flesh is further constructed through the detailed hypertext of Emma Rios’ character designs, which evoke all kinds of different contexts and worlds parallel to the world of Pretty Deadly. Besides the Meiko Kaji references, we get things like Ginnys skull facepaint which links up with The Knife, Big Alice’s hulking McCabe and Mrs. Miller fur coat. Beyond that the designs themselves all hint at larger stories and mythos. Sissy’s vulture cloak and different colored eyes are at once as cool, as they are mysterious. These details both serve to characterize, and function to create a desire to see that which has been refused to us. These are windows in the cell walls.
The conscious interpolation of Pretty Deadly is significant to mention because it is the fundamental backbone on which the origin story of Ginny Deathface. Ginny’s mother represents the fairy tale Disney princess myth of the beautiful woman trapped in a tower awaiting her knight in shining armor. In a perverse twist by Deconnick, the knight in shining armor happens to be death. It is worth noting as well, that here Rios has drawn death with a skull mimicking the skull on the above Meiko Kaji Scorpion poster. And then as in Kauo Koike/Kazuo Kamimura’s Lady Snowblood the mother dies in childbirth leaving behind a child to be raised in hell, to walk a path toward vengeance. In this way, Ginny never really can leave the dark tower, because she is always tied to her vengeful blood. The tower is now where ever she is. This undercuts the knight in shining armor/prince motif–because even though the prince came, the trauma could not be taken away, and was instead then passed onto the next generation.