Oh yeah, I’m gonna spoil some stuff on this one. If any of you are familiar with my reviews, then you know I analyze these books to within an inch of their life and Pretty Deadly is definitely a book that requires deeper analysis. This is the end of the first arc and there’s plenty to unpack, which makes someone like me delightfully giddy to dive into what is, in my opinion, one of the most ambitious and challenging works of literature I’ve read in a while. Which is also my way of saying that I’m smiling like an idiot as I write this because this is fun for me.
Right, you’ve been warned. Spoilers ahead!
In Pretty Deadly #5 Deathface Ginny, Fox, Sissy, Molly Raven, Johnny Coyote, and Sarah confront Big Alice at the entrance to the Underworld. Alice and Ginny have another go at each other before Johnny gets the better of Alice and scatters her butterfly form to the winds. Upon entering the Underworld, the group is confronted by the Shield Maids, the divided guards of Death’s realm who’re the last line of defense between the world of the living and the neglected garden where souls have passed under Death’s care. Ginny is denied passage, but Sissy asks to be let through. She’s the Ascendant, the one who will replace Death, and in accepting her role in the story, she unites the Shield Maids and rejuvenates the Soul of the World, which Death need only destroy in order to stop death from ever happening again. Death and some of his followers confront the group and everything seems lost, even for Ginny, until her mother, the great Beauty desired by Fox and Death, ends her captor’s existence and allows Sissy to assume her place as the new Master of Death’s Domain.
Like I said, there’s a lot to unpack here. Though Kelly Sue DeConnick often refers to Pretty Deadly as a “weird little book”, the themes of the story are as old as the genres of fantasy and the western. In the case of this story, those themes of love, obsession, defiance, sacrifice, and redemption are just steeped in a new mythology and symbols.
Death, in the world of Pretty Deadly, is not a single entity that rules for all eternity. In this world Death is a position taken on by someone so that the garden of souls is always maintained. It establishes that death is a part of the natural order of the world, but Death is a finite job, one that has a clear ending before someone else takes over. It’s implied that those who take on the role understand their place, but when Death falls in love with Beauty during her captivity by the Mason/Fox, he begins to warp the natural order. Like Fox, Death’s love turns to obsession and he puts a plan in motion to ensure that no one will ever die, including him, thus ensuring he’ll always be with the woman he loves.
It’s through Fox’s redemption, however, that the world is actually saved. Though his obsessive love ultimately led to Beauty’s death, his inability to keep his end of the bargain with Death to see his love one last time results in Sissy remaining alive, preventing Death from putting his plan into place. Fox is a man who sees the error of his ways and devotes the rest of his life to taking care of Sissy, knowing full well that his life is forfeit to Deathface Ginny when she comes to get her revenge on the man who destroyed her mother in life. But Fox doesn’t fight against his ultimate fate, instead he fights to remain alive so that Sissy can reestablish the natural order. Fox comes to terms with what he’s done and knows that what he did to Beauty was an unjust act, one that denied a woman her freedom all for his own pleasure. Death, however, takes his obsession to an entirely different level, if not a heightened parallel to Fox’s actions. He’s willing to defy nature and end death, all to be with Beauty for eternity, but at the cost of millions of souls who would still experience suffering and pain without the release of death to carry their souls to a final resting point.
But at the heart of this story are three women: Beauty, Ginny, and Sissy; each with their own role to play. Beauty is, for the most part, a passive character. She was a prisoner to the Mason’s obsession and remains a prisoner to Death because neither could let go of her. It isn’t until the end, when she stabs Death in the back, that she gets her revenge while also acting as a protective mother not just to Ginny but to Sissy. In freeing her own soul she saves the Soul of the World and ushers in a new Master of Death who respects the natural order, someone who has told her story her entire life and learned from it.
Ginny, on the other hand, is a woman dead set on avenging her mother. She’s a Reaper committed to revenge. At first, we believe her goal is to kill Fox, but as the story progresses, there’s more to Ginny’s vengeance than just killing the man who imprisoned her mother while she was alive. In the first issue, the opening sequence showed a young Ginny coming across a bunny and shooting it in the head. While the fear in her eyes is palpable, her actions seem to take on greater meaning within the context of the completed narrative. Yes, it sparks the story within a story between the dead Bunny and Butterfly, but was there more to what Ginny was doing than we realize? Is it purely coincidence that Ginny kills a rabbit and her father’s form as Death is the skull of a rabbit? One could interpret the scene as a child exerting their curiosity about death or it could be an angry young girl taking out her aggression on an animal that represents her father who has also imprisoned her mother’s soul.
Sissy is obviously the connecting thread as it’s her role as the Ascendant that ends Death’s reign and saves the Soul of the World. From the moment we meet her we know there’s something different about her. Her different colored eyes and vulture cloak immediately invoke other-worldliness as she bounds around telling the story of Beauty and Deathface Ginny. But she’s still a little girl, one who finds out her place in the world is much bigger than she ever thought. When she finally learns about her origin, she fears that she’s a “monster”, equating herself to the monstrosity that Death has become. It’s a child’s perspective of death as a concept, something to be feared, but by the end of the story Sissy has matured to the point that she understands how crucial her role is and what that means for the rest of the world. When she asks to be let through by the Shield Maids, she still fears becoming a monster, but sees that this commitment will give her purpose and a place to call home. For the first time, she accepts death as a concept and her lot in life.
Even with all of this analysis, it still feels like I’ve only scratched the surface of Pretty Deadly, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s the best thing you could ask for from a work of art. It forces you to think about things over and over again. DeConnick weaves a complex, and as I said before, ambitious story that still leaves us with questions yet to be answered. Ambitious, however, doesn’t begin to describe Emma Rios’ art. More like epic. The two-page spreads are as complex as they are beautiful with Rios flipping the art on certain pages as our heroes enter the Underworld, forcing the reader to either change the angle of the book or accept the altered reality on the page. Rios’ signature frenetic and flowing style seamlessly blends the story together as she defines the reality created by DeConnick. I especially love the way she draws Sissy, but all of the characters have a way of melding with the environment as if emphasizing the connection between them and the world they inhabit.
Rating – 10/10
Final Thoughts: Ginny in the world of the living might aim to misbehave. Can’t wait.
Previously published at Word of the Nerd.