DeConnick and Rios Evoke the Theater in Pretty Deadly #4

Pretty Deadly hasn't been an easy series so far. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios's western has been dense, confusing and with almost each issue so far, the opening recap page has seemed to clear up plot points that were never actually addressed in the previous issue itself. It's been tough and DeConnick and Rios don't appear to want to make it easy for the readers. Trumping the difficulties of the book have been the rewards of the story and artwork. Over the course of the first four issues, Kelly Sue Deconnick and Emma Rios introduced and revealed their characters in dribs and drabs.  They’ve been actually telling a meticulously paced story rather than doing a narrative dump of characters and plot points.  Reading Pretty Dedly #4 is more like watching theatre, we're everything is revealed by the choices of the actors rather than by the pen of the playwright.

By the end of the third issue, they've at least given us strong hints of who all of these characters are but I don't know how much we should trust the characters or the storytellers within the book, a butterfly and a skeletal rabbit. With all of the characters revealed though, DeConnick and Rios bring them together in this latest issue on their paths to confront Death, the patriarch of this comic. There is Death's daughter, his lover's husband, his replacement, his injenue and then there's the trickster, Johnny Coyote, who was the catalyst that brought all of these characters into play.  In this ballad that she's telling, each of the characters is a type and a metaphor, most easily recognized in the on-the-nose name Johnny Coyote. In the fourth issue, Johnny Coyote is one of the main characters but how much should we believe in his words and actions.  For that matter, how much should we believe what DeConnick and Rios are showing us?  There’s more happening here in Pretty Deadly #4 than the words or pictures would lead us to believe.

But more than just metaphors, DeConnick writes these western characters theatrically. Westerns are always great stories to have larger-than-life characters and DeConnick embraces that convention. Ginny, Death's daughter, is the Clint Eastwood character here. She's the taciturn wild card who has her own agenda that has yet to be revealed. Sissy is the girl who Death is afraid of. DeConnick plays with these characters as if they were elemental forces. These are men and women involved in a game with death but they are much more than that. Almost all of the characters reveal themselves to be some aspect of Death, even if it's as his opposite, Life.

This is a western taking place in familiar looking plains of a young, untamed country but Rios comfortably shifts from a very literal riverside where Coyote rescues Sissy from last issues revealing flood to Death’s flowery underworld.  Rios luscious artwork helps highlight the other-worldliness of the story.  Imagine what it would look like if Paul Pope drew an episode of Lone Wolf and Cub in the style of Goseki Kojima.  There’s a natural ease to Rios’ drawings as she uses her lines more to invoke a sensation rather than to literally depict an image.  With Jordie Bellaire’s deep, vibrant colors, Rios captures the movement of the world, from rushing waters to blowing grass to the rough violence of an old, blind man’s sword fight with Death’s daughter.  But she also captures the stillness of characters lost in thought, even one as inhuman as Death. Like Pope or Kojima, Rios is great at capturing the ebb and flow of the story and reflecting it in the artwork.

Pretty Deadly #4 is many things.  It’s lyrical; it’s mythological; it’s harsh and it’s tough.  It’s a story of fathers and daughters but DeConnick and Rios haven’t yet really shown us what that story is.  Is it going to be about cruelty or love?  So far as we see in this issue, it’s been about both as DeConnick and Rios’ ballad of Death and his daughters is still only in the opening verses and the creators are still keeping secrets from the characters and the readers.