On a Pale Horse

Right to business:

Pretty Deadly #1
Art by Emma Rios
Writing by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Published by Image

pretty-deadly-1

In its own way, Pretty Deadly gets Image Comics back to what got the publisher going in the first place: stylish, trend-bucking/setting artwork. On an objective scale, Rios shows stronger grasp of anatomy than the likes of Robert Liefeld, Jim Lee, and Erik Larsen (her women, especially, are proportionally figured), and she has more variety of faces and bodies than the gritted-teeth muscle artwork of 90s ‘extreme’ comics would ever accomplish. Yet, looking over its pages, Rios doesn’t really belong in the current crop of Image drawers–the formalism of Fatale‘s Sean Phillips or Velvet‘s Steve Epting, the sight-gag cartooning of Chew‘s Rob Guillory, and especially not the digital Impressionist landscapes of Saga‘s Fiona Staples. Those artists all tend towards minimalism or house style realism en vogue with mainstream publishers. Rios, on the other hand, is detailed without aping photographs, gritty without leaning heavily on inks to mire everything in cross-hatched shade (Jordie Bellaire’s harsh, violet/pink-hued coloring does wonders here). She deploys fragmented, aspect-to-aspect and moment-to-moment transitions (such as when Native American performer Sissy is accosted by an outlaw) which recall the lineage of Goseki Kojima to Frank Miller to Todd McFarlane: especially gripping in a shootout between blind gunslinger Foxy and a taunting posse. Rios cuts away to an anthropomorphized lizard in inset panels, seemingly tied to the blind man’s ability to shoot. Kelly Sue DeConnick’s script is filled with these magical realist touches–narration is given by a butterfly and a dead bunny, while Sissy and Foxy are introduced singing a song which summons Ginny–and in the best of that genre’s traditions, avoids explaining the supernatural in favor of inferring it. McFarlane’s inability to do this proved the downfall of his supernatural horror/superhero hybrid Spawn, but the Rios/DeConnick duo manage to improve upon it (with Ginny serving as a Western ancestor to hellspawn anti-heroes). Rios picks up where McFarlane left off: fever dream layouts and extreme closeups giving off a spooky vibe. When Sissy is posed behind a tearful child during her performance of the Deathface Ginny song, it has the same menace of the grim ‘n gritty era, yet not bound to its more reactionary elements. The Image Revolution comes full circle, renewed.

Dry County Chapter 12
Art and Writing by Rich Tommaso
Published by Study Group

dry-county

The latest serialized pages of what’s reading like “Noir for Nice Guys.” Tommaso up to this point has checked off the list for alt comix stereotypes: a self-pitying protagonist who finds everything vapid, the One Girl he truly loves (but ends up talking down to), judgmental narration (which includes the occasional bit of self-deprecation to assure readers the main character’s not possessing a superiority complex), all drawn in newspaper strip fashion (dots for eyes, sausage fingers, etc.; Tomasso’s use of pink adds the feel of Miami heat to what’s otherwise a drab black & white color scheme). Also, the lead character is a barely-read newspaper strip artist, for we cannot overlook a single cliche. The newest entry opens with the exciting news wet-blanket Lou has finished a comic strip and a film review before going out on a nightly search for his kidnapped love, ends with a cliffhanger revelation of a bunch of 18-year old girls partying, and everything else is Lou’s friend explaining how he found out about this. Even in context, it reads like one of Jonathan Hickman’s sci-fi comics, leaving out a complete idea in order to appear ‘mysterious,’ when really it’s drip-feeding story. The only image worth mentioning? A splash shot of an alligator lounging in a swamp, which establishes mystery and danger for what would otherwise read like a gag comic without a punchline. Unless the punchline is “some dude is getting pussy”?

Trillium #4
Art and Writing by Jeff Lemire
Published by Vertigo

trillium-4

The most telling moment in the halfway point of Trillium is how Jeff Lemire frames a torture scene. Space-time displaced explorer Clayton is beaten and threatened by future space explorers, even after his captors are made aware he doesn’t understand their language or what is happening. If Lemire’s doing this scene as some anti-torture message, it instead comes across like his future people are dysfunctional autistic, unable to distinguish what they want to learn from what they will learn. Certainly doesn’t help Lemire draws the primary antagonist of this scene as a black woman with dreads and facial tattoos, mirroring the ancient-aliens-worshiping Incans encountered by star-crossed lovers William and Nika. In both instances, Lemire conforms to white prejudice against “the Other” in the name of quirkiness and nerdiness, overlooking sense and storytelling (as he does in DC superbooks Justice League Dark and Constantine). His time-and-space plot pales in comparison to Malachi Ward’s The Scout, which portrayed existential angst by confronting the Scout with his nature and purpose in the universe. Lemire only offers halfhearted sentiment: both William and Nika take turns becoming infantilized–Lemire’s sole progressive act–when they’re confronted with “savages” (William begins to doubt existence) and…time travel, I guess? (Nika has a breakdown at briefly swapping places with Clayton), before teasing annihilation. Lemire defines incoherent.

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