Rescuing Strays is our new way of trying to call attention to comics that may have past you by. On this occasion I am looking at Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Pretty Deadly and Ed Brubaker’s Velvet.
First off the mark is Pretty Deadly. When I was presented with the two comics, this cover (the Thought Bubble 2013 variant) was the one that caught my eye. It mixes bright orange along with dark browns and blacks, but ultimately displays the main figure of the comic, Deathface Ginny, depicted in a style which reminded me of the Genndy Tartakovsky version Star Wars Clone Wars mixed with a restricted colour palette variation of his Samurai Jack.
Inside is a slightly different style of artwork, provided by Emma Rios and coloured by Jordie Bellaire. It's quite muted and is similar in its initial style to Five Ghosts, so another tick in my book. When you look deeper into it though there is a lot more detail in the frames, especially on the first page for instance, with the rabbit .
The story is akin to a precautionary tale for this issue. Rolling into a town from the Old West we meet a blind man and his young female companion. They travel the wilds visiting towns and cities to tell the torrid tale of how Deathface Ginny became to be. Her mother's beauty, her incarceration and finally her love affair with Death himself, with the product of their union being Deathface Ginny - a woman who was raised by Death as a reaper of vengeance and a hunter of men who have sinned.
Although she is not specifically in this issue (until the end where the final panel is a cracking shot of her) this really does set up the rest of the series for her to come into.
Velvet, by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, is a tale taking us back to the depths of the Cold War where spy versus spy is the norm. In contrast to Pretty Deadly, the artwork for this issue could be called luxurious. The opening page from the Parisian skyline and dinner jacketed killing are well-illustrated, smooth and sumptuously coloured to match. This then continues throughout the issue making it a really good looking read. The feeling, albeit a cleaner cut image, is akin to Brubaker's Fatale.
The reader is thrown right into the story from the very beginning with three murders in as many pages, which sets alarm bells ringing. It’s not a potential serial killer on the loose but more that the targets are specifically chosen and are all on a list of people who don’t officially exist. They are elite spies where every operation is a black op and their very existence is either not known about at all or simply just a rumour.
So who is killing them and why? This is the driving question for Velvet Templeton, a seemingly efficient but otherwise innocuous secretary in the patriarchal world of espionage in the Cold War. It transpires that she is far smarter and better trained than any of her co-workers and she has intelligence on a great deal of people who assumed far less of her than she really was. She begins her own investigation, but this does lead her into trouble, resulting in diving out of a window under gunfire from her own people at the end of the first issue.
Spy fiction is nothing new, but this is a character that will clearly challenge gender stereotypes then and now. It's a welcome take on the genre and the direction of this book is likely to change rapidly after this first issue, as we learn more about Velvet's mysterious past.
Whilst it may seem strange to compare these two different comics - one a western revenge title, the other a deceit and mystery-filled spy title - the common thread is the protagonist (and arguably the publisher). Both contain incredibly strong, motivated and powerful female characters – which given DeConnick is the writer isn’t too surprising for Pretty Deadly – and both play well into the idea of a femme fatale. It's further proof that the strongest, most progressive titles are coming out of Image these days, a commendable far cry from the large breasts and tiny waists that characterised the style of their early output.
If I were made to choose between to two I would have to say the winner for me was Velvet, due to it’s beautiful artwork but that does not make Pretty Deadly the loser by any stretch. I enjoyed both titles a lot and just simply found myself more involved with Velvet. Had I been given both titles on separate weeks then I would be gladly recommending them both for different reasons.
Matt Puddy is almost ready for Christmas!