Review: “Pretty Deadly Vol. I: The Shrike” by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios

Title: The Shrike
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: Emma Rios
Series: Pretty Deadly (Vol. I, issues #1-5)
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Image Comics, 2014

Ah. I’m really not sure what to say about this one. I picked it up from the library on a whim after the sticker on its spine screaming that it was a recent acquisition caught my eye and further investigation of the cover quotes revealed endorsements by the likes of Brian Michael Bendis (Marvel’s Civil War, Secret Invasion, and just about every other company-wide crossover from the last decade) and Warren Ellis (Planetary). Well, with recommendations like that, how can I refuse?

Welcome to DeConnick and Rios’s vision of the Old West. It’s a tale narrated by a butterfly and a skeletal rabbit (Yes, you read that right). It’s a tale where the line between people and animals is blurred, if it even exists at all. Sissy is a young girl with mismatched eyes who wears a vulture cloak. Together with Fox, an elderly blind man who can still kick your ass if need be, she travels from town to town, telling stories for coins and picking the pockets of those who earn her ire. Johnny Coyote’s pocket had something in it that she shouldn’t have taken. Johnny stole some sort of file from Death, and Death’s sent his agent Big Alice to collect it. This quest sets her on the tail of Fox and Sissy, and she’s not in a mood to talk…Now Fox and Sissy’s only hope lies with Death’s estranged daughter, Deathface Ginny. You don’t want to mess with Deathface Ginny….

Now don’t get me wrong, Pretty Deadly shows an ambitious vision that is rarely seen these days–comparisons to Gaiman’s Sandman are frequent, even among the negative reviews. The book is also visually stunning, with a stark attention to detail that serves the tale’s magical take on the Old West admirably. It’s a gritty tale, with no shortage of violence, but it also has something to say. I’m just not quite sure what….the story is incredibly confusing, and I had to read most of it twice before I figured out what was going on, turning back frequently for clarification. The book was fast paced, true–too fast, perhaps. It would have benefited greatly from more time to transition smoothly, explore characters, and even just figure out what the heck was happening. The art was pretty, but a lot of the action sequences got fairly confusing at times. The characters occasionally showed flashes of being interesting, but we never really got a chance to know them. The file Johnny stole is nothing but a MacGuffin, as we never find out what it has to say, and what purpose it has disappears once Alice and Ginny meet as Alice apparently forgets about it in favor of executing what I can only assume was a standing order that took precedence over her immediate mission. Everything builds to a climax that is over too quickly and which I’m still not entirely sure I grasped. Would I keep reading the series? Sure, if the library buys the next volume when it comes out. I’m curious, and want some clarification as to what just happened. I just hope it’s a little less frenetic, a little more streamlined, and that we get to actually explore the characters a bit more. And more Deathface Ginny would be cool, she intrigues me!

CONTENT: R-rated language throughout. Several sexually explicit scenes with Johnny and his prostitute girlfriend, plus a couple other random bits of nudity, both male and female. Strong, graphic violence, delivered both at the end of a gun and a sword. The whole thing is very otherworldly and occultic, with people transforming into animals at death (or apparently at other points in their lives as well, for that matter, if I interpret things aright. Actually, it may be more accurate to say that animals are walking about as humans, not that I think on it more….)

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