I grew up watching westerns. Not by choice, really. My dad was obsessed with John Wayne. He named me after a John Wayne movie, for crying out loud. I never did get into The Duke myself, although The Searchers is now one of my all time favorites and I absolutely love a few others, like Rio Bravo, True Grit, and The Shootist. My real love of westerns came almost by accident. My dad being a John Wayne fan meant inevitably that I would skew against his tastes and end up a bigger fan of folks like Clint Eastwood. The spaghetti western spoke to me in ways that the usual “cowboys and indians” stuff my dad enjoyed simply couldn’t. It was the moral ambiguity, the dirt and the grime and the absurdity of those films that really got me searching out other westerns. I took in all the Leone westerns, my favorite being a tossup between Once Upon a Time In The West or The Good The Bad and The Ugly. I found the Django movies and Lee Van Cleef’s Sabata series. Latter day westerns like Unforgiven, Tombstone, and Open Range also made their way into my DVD collection.
I also happen to enjoy western comics. I have a complete run of Palmiotti and Gray’s Jonah Hex series from the pre-New 52 days in issue format. I think I was the only person in the store who had it on their pull-list at the time. I’m also still digging the hell out of All-Star Western, though that is so cross genre I’m not sure if it counts. I’ll say it does and beg you to read the trades if you haven’t already, as it’s an overlooked gem at DC. Remember Brian Azzarello’s Loveless? I Do, and I loved it enough to get it signed when I met him a few years back. I don’t know if all this has something to do with me being from Texas, but I’ll wager it is a factor. The genre simply speaks to me on a certain level, so when I heard that Kelly Sue DeConnick would be teaming with Emma Rios to write a western book for Image I got real excited real quick. Kelly Sue is one of the finest writers working right now. She’s getting a lot of respect for her work on Captain Marvel which is more than deserved as that book is just aces. DeConnick previously worked with Rios on their Osborne mini-series for Marvel, which was well written and filled with dark, emotive artwork. That team working together on a creator-owned western book was bound to pique my interest.
Issue one drops today and it is a stunning book. I’ve sung the praises of the creator-owned comic renaissance we seem to be in the middle of before when talking about Sex Criminals and Rocket Girl, this book certainly gives credence to my claims. Pretty Deadly is a book that defies genre expectations and utilizes every aspect of the graphic medium to tell a story that is intriguing, beautiful and unlike anything else on the stands. While it is most certainly a western book, elements of more whimsical and introspective genres creep into the text as well. The traveling “blind man” and the young girl evoke Eastern manga and film imagery from “Zatoichi” and “Lone Wolf and Cub.” Considering the history of Japanese and American culture borrowing from each other, with Seven Samurai becoming The Magnificent Seven and Unforgiven being turned into a samurai film called Yurusarezaru mono, this blending of genres feels organic and not at all like a forced mash-up. This also creates a very somber tone that puts it more in line with the modern cinematic western aesthetic of say, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but with the added twist of a supernatural element.
The closest model that I can reference for the tone of this book is Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. That melding of genres seems similar to what DeConnick and Rios are presenting here, although Pretty Deadly steers mostly clear of absurdity and stays more in line with a feeling of dark fantasy within a western setting. When I say there is nothing like it on the stands, I am not exaggerating. Pretty Deadly is an inventive, original title that deserves all the acclaim that it can handle. I had exceedingly high hopes for this book and they were met on every level. The narrative structure is well crafted and tells an inventive story that plays with genre tropes and conventions without getting trapped in them while the artwork is gorgeous, dark, and evocative of the exact mood this book requires. The creative team really hit the nail on the head.
All things considered, this is the definite pick of the week if not the pick of the month. Do yourself a favor and get your copy today.