Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Pondering About Pretty Deadly #7

Or a look at the relationship between disorientation and spatial context in Pretty Deadly #7
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

I have been trying to put my finger on just what I like about Pretty Deadly #7. There is something really cool about the way the comic is depicting the war blasted wasteland of WW1, that is kind of elusive and hard to articulate. I think it's that the depiction of trench warfare in the comic is somehow both nightmarishly indistinct while still grounded in an a relentless, granular sense of place. And I think a sequence in Pretty Deadly #7 is a great example of this.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Pretty Deadly #7 below.

The battlefields of the First World War have always stuck in my imagination as barren moonscapes.: sort of a brown-grey desolation filled with a kind of dreamy vagueness. And I think Pretty Deadly captures that sense by portraying a dark, open world devoid of life and vibrant colour. Which I think captures the sheer inhumanity of that war and a sense of how emotionally lost the protagonist of the story is. At the same time, Team Deadly has done a fantastic job building a discrete sense of place into this nebulous barren zone. Like, take the trench system on the left: it has the fine grained detail and subtle human touch that lend the broader nightmare wasteland a critical sense of realism that grounds the more fantastical aspects of the setting.

The tension between the nightmarey-vagueness of the battlefield setting and the granular realism of the comic, I think plays out spectacularly in the gas attack sequences. The page on the right devolves into a whirling cloud of toxic gas that the protagonist flees through in a swirling reading path without obvious reference. At first the character seems hopelessly mired and lost. But on a closer examination, the motions of the character within the page depict a clear set of motions which played against the previously viewed trenches reveals the character arming himself and moving to cover. It's the application of spatial storytelling to a chaotic anti-space.

And this page plays with same tension but in a wonderfully different way. Instead of having the character navigate an indistinct toxic cloudscape, the cloudscape effectively navigates around the protagonist's fixed perspective. The hook of the page is that the round panels are the restricted view of the character looking out of his gasmask. As such the comic has a clear implied sense of place: the area immediately around the character, but is still nightmarishly indistinct: the severely limited view of the character is just as disorienting as the thick smoke of the previous selection. It's a great, emotionally resonant effect.

I think this page, though, is my favourite. It is a wonderful example of the beautiful, brutal violence that I think characterizes Pretty Deadly and it showcases the clever page construction that allows the reader to quickly navigate through the key action on the page. This sequence also uses the same combination of disorienting setting with a really rigorous application of spatial positioning. This composition is, at first glance, spinning madness in an indistinct toxic cloudscape. The use of a perspective that wildly rotates around the protagonist lends the page a bewildering insanity that is punched up by the noxious red/green colour palette. It is pure feverish nightmare. But at the same time, the individual moments of action occur in a distinct spatial context. If you deconvolve the action and imagine each snapshot of violence depicted from a single, fixed perspective it all fits together perfectly. This page very much has an implied, mundane reality constructed into it that despite the madness inducing expressionism gives everything clarity and a realistic context. Which really makes this page a spectacular fusion of gritty realism and supernatural horror that is, I think, at the very core of what I love about Pretty Deadly.


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