It may feel as though it’s just begun, but Pretty Deadly The Rat reached its dramatic conclusion earlier this month. The five issue mini-series published by Image Comics has been a magical journey through the depths of 1930’s Hollywood, blending reality with mythology using some of the most beautiful art work currently on the shelf.
It has been a story of tragedy, vengeance, and soul searching. Is this the end? In a way it is, but in an equally truthful way it isn’t. When it comes to Pretty Deadly, it isn’t about the endings, but the journeys.
In the final issue Ginny and Frank, the Conjure-Man, are within sight of their goal. Although they are in the clutches of the Reaper of Obsession they can see the end and an opportunity to free the lost Clara Fields.
A deal is made but a deal with any form of Reaper is never a good idea.
Kelly Sue DeConnick’s script is poetry in motion. Her words build a world of abstract images and emotional drama derived from the dreams and thoughts of her characters. The cast represents a number of concepts which are sometimes easy to understand, like the Reaper of Obsession, but often more complex. DeConnick’s writing is about picking those concepts apart and looking at them from a different view point.
In this final issue DeConnick brings the characters together and demonstrates how to move on in life, or in Clara’s case in death. The power of forgiveness is one of the strongest weapons that people possess which is why it features so strongly in the denouement of The Rat. A number of the speeches given by the characters resonant out of the pages; providing lessons for us all to learn. In these turbulent times, it is up to individuals to take control of their own lives. It is not easy and there are consequences, the fate of Ginny being one, but by standing up for herself and finding the confidence to rise above her mistakes, Clara is able to take the upper hand.
In places the narrative may feel unsatisfactory, as the reader isn’t getting what they want. This however, is part and parcel of mythological storytelling. The tale is told by the teller and the listener has no control. One of the aspects of Pretty Deadly is the storytelling framing device of the Bunny and the Butterfly.
These represent the creators of the comic and DeConnick uses them to speak directly to the reader. They are meta-fictional creations who don’t break the fourth wall as much as create it. They add an extra layer to the myth-building like a Bard, creating a story within a story. These characters act like conduits for the themes and meanings, creating a narrative bridge for the concepts to cross over from the comic to the reader.
The final issue of The Rat manages to draw in the narrative threads that were introduced in the first issue but also some of the story elements from previous Pretty Deadly comics. There is not a definitive ending for a number of characters and leaves a several story-lines hanging but as Bunny point’s out “This was Clara’s story. It is finished now,”
Drawing a Dream
The Rat is set near the beginning of the Golden Age of Hollywood but it’s story is far from the glitz and glamour. Emma Rios clearly draws inspiration from movies of the 1930’s but not necessarily those brightly lit Hollywood greats. Instead her imagery and style comes from European cinema, especially the German Expressionists. The abstract nature of her storytelling and the wild mix of unbelievable landscapes with intimate close ups, creates a world of wonder that is familiar but unrecognisable at the same time.
On the one hand Rios is telling the story of the central characters and their journey through a broken dream. On the other Rios is capturing emotional concepts and relaying them in a form of visual poetry. Individual panels may not make sense by themselves but that is not the way to read this comic. Each page is a stanza to the comics poem. The images loop backwards and forwards, in and out, producing an emotional experience.
Jordie Bellaire’s colors heighten this experience by creating verses in the narrative. The changes in color palettes from one section of the story to the next provide breaks that the reader can instantly recognise. As you turn a page your mood is instantly affected by the change in color and the tone of that stanza is set.
Inside all of this emotion are the characters who are given their voices partially by what they say but, in large part, by how they say it. To differentiate the characters and inject individualism into their speeches, Clayton Cowles makes all of the lettering different. He gives each character their own style, whether it’s font or color, and them manipulates this to produce tone and intention. The cast’s voices are as individual on the page as if they were actors on a soundtrack. Take away the visuals and leave the speech and you still know exactly who is talking.
Bringing all of these amazingly creative ideas together into one single comic has produced something sublime. This is the comic book equivalent of a Maya Deren film. The film Meshes of the Afternoon introduces the concept of a narrative into an Avant-guard movie using similar imagery and storytelling techniques that is used within the pages of Pretty Deadly.
The hopeful and the lost are often the same and The Rat focuses on contradiction of character and purpose. In the end this is a comic about the interaction of characters and ideas. The central story has a beginning, middle, and end but it becomes lost in the tales of others: just like in life. As one story ends, another starts.
Pretty Deadly The Rat is a beautiful work of visual poetry. The final issue has now been released and it proves to be an outstanding, one sitting read. If you have not picked this up then I highly recommend the collected volume when it is released in March this year. Each issue has been majestic but in totality, Pretty Deadly The Rat is a walk through a dream you will never forget.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, every aspect of this comic is outstanding.