Review by Frank Plowright
Over two previous volumes a story is told by a skeletal rabbit to a butterfly about Sissy who became Death and inherited a mission to restore a garden by returning Death’s helpers, the Reapers. They’re on Earth, and connected to a woman named Sarah, now dead, and her children.
That synopsis tells you Pretty Deadly is anything but straightforward, and Kelly Sue DeConnick has hardly prioritised reader-friendliness, but that changes with The Rat. The previous volume, The Bear, took place during the trench warfare of World War I, and this skips forward twenty years to Hollywood in the 1930s for one of two narrative threads. When the body of production designer Clara Field is discovered her Uncle Frank investigates what may have happened, following any possible clues she left, with DeConnick and Emma Rios combining several artistic forms. Noir crime is creatively mixed with shadow puppet theatre and silent film to reveal Clara’s story. The other narrative, framing that story, continues to follow Sissy and the garden, her conversations with people and creatures within, the stories merging for the final chapter. The connecting points between the two are the Reapers, and it’s the Reaper of Vengeance who assists Frank Fields, his name unfortunately similar to a long-standing member of the British Parliament.
As in both previous volumes, the art Emma Rios produces is stunning, all the more so for requiring the shift between two very different locations, and different forms of storytelling. There’s a delicacy to her well-defined people, a supernatural necessity to Sissy’s garden, and an imaginative beauty to the shadow puppet sequences, which doubles as a motif throughout. Jordie Bellaire’s colouring adds a decorative sheen to the glorious spreads and exquisitely designed montages.
The sequences in the garden retain their mystique, but DeConnick deciding greater clarification is the way forward does wonders for Pretty Deadly, making The Rat the most readable of the series by a considerable distance. It’s still a complex investigation of several themes, but intrigues instead of confounding and mysteries remain. Pretty Deadly’s production schedule is sporadic, and it’s planned that two further stories follow.