Bones Bunny and Butterfly return to regale you with more Pretty Deadly tales from the creative minds of Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles. Released by Image Comics on 4 September, The Rat is the third volume in the Pretty Deadly series and moves the action to 1930’s Hollywoodland.
As the rain falls hard upon Hollywoodland, the body of Clara Fields is found in the mountains. The police trace the next of kin, her uncle Frank: The Conjure-Man, and so begins a murder mystery attended to by Death herself.
This new volume of Pretty Deadly has the same framing elements as the previous two arcs. The mystical characters, Bones Bunny and Butterfly, lead the reader back into DeConnick’s magical-realist world. The opening pages bleed in to the main story, setting the tone and preparing the reader for the adventure that is to follow.
Each volume of Pretty Deadly is drawn from a particular genre, the first was a western and the second was a war comic. This third volume comes out of the expressionist movies of the 1920’s and the influence that they had on American noir movies of later decades.
DeConnick’s narrative pacing follows the structure of an early crime movie; the body, the investigation, and the need for revenge. She uses the tragedy of Clara Fields, who the reader knows nothing about at the start, to introduce the other characters into the plot. The grief and anger that Frank feels is evident in his speech but also his desperate actions. These actions lead the reader through the darkness of Hollywoodland as DeConnick slowly reveals Clara’s character via the debris of her life left behind.
There are stories within stories with linking themes weaving through them all. It is a highly complex and poetic tale unfolding in front of the reader. DeConnick gives the story a theatrical essence from the opening and this is followed up throughout. The reader sits and watches this magical tale play out, lost in time with these characters.
Emma Rios’ art is perfect for this type of story. She creates magical images even out of the most mundane or grotesque things. Her fluid drawing style and highly detailed images produce a total immersive experience for the reader. It is impossible not to fall into this world completely. The beauty and horror are mixed together with no visible joins so that it becomes difficult to separate the two. This is the visual equivalent of Frankenstein, a gothic/romantic horror.
The influence of 1920’s movies is evident on each page. The abstract nature of some of the panel layouts and the metaphorical use of imagery creates a magical world similar to a Fritz Lang movie. Rios manipulates the standard notions of comic book layouts, breaking the rules as often as she can to produce extraordinary visuals. Gutters break into the panels helping to establish mood; collections of images are stacked to produce complex representations of characters; The very boarders of the panels shatter to break the wall between worlds.
All of this outstanding art work is colored beautifully by Jordie Bellaire, proving why she is one of the best in the business. The depression of the era flows through the muted colors surrounding Frank as he investigates his niece’s death. As Clara’s life is revealed to the reader, Bellaire floods the pages with brightness and life. The dreams and stories take on a life of their own, so much larger than the reality of Franks existence. Scenes of passion are expressed with red washes, while greed and obsession have their own hues.
Leading the reader through this dreamland is Clayton Cowles lettering, holding it all together. The change in fonts and caption box design signpost to the reader which part of the many realities the action is taking place in.
The narrative flow is controlled by the sweeping lines of the artwork and the smart placement of the lettering. The character’s emotional states are also displayed in the same way. Frank’s arrogance, grief and finally anger is there in his speech, the words, the text and the balloons all working together to create an emotional state. Broken speech balloons, balloons that are small and cramped with only a few words, and large balloons with heavy boarders and bold text, give the comic it’s drama and creates the character’s stage presence.
Pretty Deadly is a spectacular read. It’s like sitting in a theatre and disappearing into a magical, dramatic world. The narrative flows thanks to clever writing and beautiful artwork that breaks conventional comic book rules. Everything from the opening page to the stunning final moments of this issue are mind blowing. It is the best entry so far in this planned five volume collection.
If you are a fan of The Sandman Universe or classic experimental Hollywood movies, then Pretty Deadly is for you. It is magical realism realised in the most exemplary fashion. If Pretty Deadly doesn’t stimulate your imagination, then nothing will.