February 4, 2015

Pretty Deadly Vol 1: The Shrike (2014)

The western genre collides with folklore and even light horror in Pretty Deadly, a new comic book by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Rios. It's an often-times thrilling read, and a has a lot within it to recommend. It's also maddeningly frustrating, sketchily illustrated and occasionally a little confusing. After reading this first volume The Shrike, which collects the first five monthly issues, I can't say my time was wasted. I can't say I'm in a rush to read a second volume.

A blind man goes on the run across the American west, a young girl in a vulture-feather cape named Sissy in tow. They're running from Death's daughter, a mysterious and deadly gunfighter with skull marks on her face and a penchant for violence. This is all told in retrospect by a rabbit and a butterfly.

The book's rich with magical realism and atmosphere, and certainly in this regard it excels. DeConnick has developed a very specific unsettling mood to the book, which does seem as if it could be rich with story potential. Sadly the story that's told feels too sparsely told, and in the end a little too rushed. It all seems like a pile of regrettable missed opportunities.

I suspect many will appreciate Emma Rios' artwork, but I personally found it a little too scratchy and haphazard. In some scenes it actually made the story a tiny bit difficult to follow, which is a kiss of death for a comic book as far as I'm concerned. Jordie Bellaire's colours lift it immensely, and it's easy to see why Bellaire is such an in-demand colourist. It's not enough to compensate for the art in general, though.

Image has been published a growing range of distinctive, high quality books across a whole range of widely neglected comic book genres. It's great to see DeConnick and Rios tackle a western; it's just a shame that, for me, it doesn't quite gel together. It all seems a dreadfully missed opportunity.

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