Page to Screen: Comics I’d Love to See on My TV—Pretty Deadly

The Series: Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos.
The Heroes: A rag-tag group of sinners and mystical beings.
The Ideal Format: Live-action blended with CGI wizardry, prosthetics, or even animatronics and puppetry.

Once in a blue moon, something comes along that truly revolutionizes a genre. A story appears that challenges expectations and melds established tropes into something brand new and breathtaking.

I'm not being hyperbolic when I say Pretty Deadly is just such a story. It’s one of the greatest comics of the last ten years. Equal parts Western, mythic fairy tale, and supernatural adventure, it's something you just have to see to believe—and it would make one hell of a television series.

Narrated by Bunny (a skeletal rabbit who dies violently on the second page) and Butterfly (a seemingly normal insect), the story that unfolds is rife with Faustian bargains, tragic love, and a whole lotta blood.

It all starts when a selfish Mason marries a wild Beauty. Driven by jealousy, Mason locks Beauty away in a tower. But when the despairing Beauty begs Death to free her, he instead falls in love with her. Beauty finally gets her wish, but in dying, she births a half-mortal, half-god daughter—and a vicious cycle of pain and revenge.

Beauty asking Death for her freedom.

“Death and the Maiden” but in a Western setting—that alone would be worth the price of admission. But writer DeConnick and artist Ríos set out to top this poignant Hades/Persephone story by layering in apocalyptic prophecies, a heartbreaking father/daughter dynamic, and several tense gunfights and duels.

Our primary cast includes:

  • Deathface Ginny: the daughter of Death himself.
  • Sissy: the girl with mismatched eyes and a vulture cape.
  • Fox: a blinded oldster who has personal reasons for this quest.
  • Sarah: an older black woman who loves Fox and is a mean shot.
  • Johnny Coyote: a thief with a connection to the talking raven, Molly.
  • Alice: a simulacrum created by Death out of hundreds of butterflies.
  • Death himself: the skull-faced judge, jury, and executioner of the world.
  • Beauty: the woman Death loved, Fox killed, and the mother of Ginny.

This is wild, stirring stuff: a fairy tale the Grimm brothers would love, and a violent, samurai-tinged Western Sergio Leone would be proud of.

In true DeConnick fashion, the action and plot of Pretty Deadly is driven by powerful female characters who cover almost the full gamut of womanhood. Whereas traditional Westerns have primarily been the domain of rugged manly men—lone wolves with tragic pasts—that role is filled by Deathface Ginny, who fights on behalf of all those who have been wronged (especially women and children).

Though the lead male character, Fox, is given a tragic backstory connected to the death of a woman he loved, his driving motivation in the story is not to atone for what he did to Beauty—it's to protect his adopted daughter, Sissy. Even Beauty, who seems to be nothing more than a tragic victim, is more complex than she initially seems and has far more agency than you'd expect.

With all of this magic, battles between mortals and Death himself, and complicated, flawed characters, Pretty Deadly is practically begging for a live-action adaptation. Westworld may be premiering next month on HBO, and The Dark Tower (staring the utterly dreamy and incredibly badass Idris Elba) is coming next year, but there's always room for another Western series on the horizon—I've often thought it a downright shame that the genre has largely died out in recent decades.

Check out our Dark Tower reread, and make sure to check back as we cover HBO's Westworld!

Deathface Ginny
Pretty Deadly has the potential to become the next Deadwood, with vast story-telling possibilities and a thrilling, beautiful landscape. Focusing on Deathface Ginny would allow screenwriters to expand the world DeConnick and Ríos have developed—she could become a wanderer in the vein of Eastwood's Man with No Name, righting wrongs and fighting evil as she traveled from town to town. Each season could focus on a new quest and a new set of characters, with Ginny as the link tying the series together.

Western fans wouldn't be the only audience this would pull in; the dark supernatural elements of the story would also appeal to those who loved Penny Dreadful or Carnivale. With shorter, tightly-crafted seasons, a network like Starz, HBO, or Netflix could afford to invest more funds into the high-quality visual effects Pretty Deadly would need to come fully to life.

The predominantly female cast and the inclusion of people of color would also make Pretty Deadly a different sort of Western than we've previously seen. Since the characters move between life and death frequently, it also means people who have been killed off always have the potential to come back and impact the story; the audience would certainly be kept on their toes.

Kelly Sue DeConnick has been a personal hero of mine for some time; she and husband Matt Fraction are easily two of the greatest writers currently working in comics. With her most recent baby, Captain Marvel, getting the big screen treatment in a couple years, it would be amazing to see one of her wholly original projects fill the small screen where it could really grow and breathe. Pretty Deadly, with its multiple Eisner Awards, is a natural place to start.

So let's put Bunny and Butterfly in front of a camera and get this gun-slinging fable rolling.

See also: Page to Screen: Comics I'd Love to See on My TV—Mouse Guard

 


Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.

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