Answers come faster than a flash flood in the third issue of "Pretty Deadly" -- and it's about time. I've enjoyed the past two issues for their atmosphere and eerie artistry, but the lack of answers or clear character stories had made it difficult to invest in anyone's fate. Issue #3, however, offers enough story to ground the narrative without losing too much of the mystery that's made this series such a strange pleasure.
Bunny and butterfly, the "narrators" of the tale, grow on me with each use. While two pages is a lot of space to dedicate to them -- since they don't seem to move the plot -- the use of undead, inhuman storytellers in a series about mythmaking and Death's daughter is very appealing. Plus, they bring some lightness.
The other characters are also developing more personality and power, and DeConnick reveals the backstory subtly when she can afford to, and creatively when she can't. The concluding half weaves Foxy's history into both Sissy's painting and an approaching storm, dropping utterly incongruous panels beside one another and somehow still clearly conveying the three separate actions. It's a credit to DeConnick's plotting, Rios' drawing, and Bellaire's deft coloring.
However, the success of the third issue does make me question the confusing approach of the first two. DeConnick is still able to achieve the same wonderfully weird quality without leaving the reader so far out of the loop. New questions still arise -- what are you doing here, Molly? What role is Sarah going to play? Who are the Shield Maids? -- but they feel more grounded in a world the reader generally understands.
(That said, the initial approach still kept me reading, so something must've been working.)
Rios' art also tends to avoid the familiarly linear. Her pages are most often constructed as a series of smaller, tightly zeroed-in panels layered over a background of larger scope. It's a strange way to create confusion, because it doesn't leave anything out; the reader does see both the parts and the whole -- just not the clear, spatial connection between the two. It's intentionally obfuscating the flow of the action, condensing and compartmentalizing everything into moments and details. One might expect a book about Death and his daughter to aim for a sense of the grand and epic; DeConnick and Rios instead make their violence feel intimately brutal.
These constructions aren't the only way that Rios is a treasure here. Her work with skeletons throughout the book is phenomenal, from Bunny's endearing lope to Death's toothy, caverned skull. It's fitting for a book about Death and the Old West.
(Side note: while the wraparound covers are a cool concept, I sincerely hope it doesn't cause any readers to miss Rios' vulture this month. If you haven't yet, turn to the back cover of your issue now and look at that monstrous, knowing death-bird. It's remarkable.)
I'm far more hooked on the series now. If my understanding of the world can continue to grow deeper this way, I'm sure I'll only become more and more impressed. Adding a more knowable story to its involving atmosphere, Issue #3 has taken "Pretty Deadly" from interesting to compelling.