Pretty Deadly, Pretty Cautious

Scan of Pretty Deadly: The Shrike issue two from Pretty Deadly: The Shrike vol. 1

I have loved Pretty Deadly since I first heard about it. The title, the creators, and the ideas fit everything I wanted from a new creator-owned series in 2014. And it has delivered. The Shrike, The Bear, and The Rat are awesome tales, combining the best parts of comics as a storytelling media. A wonderful essay series over at the MNT gives words to that in ways that I cannot. However, it was the end of issue #1 of The Rat that, for the first time, made me question choices in Pretty Deadly.

Like many comics there are extras at the end of The Rat issue 1. Usually in Kelly Sue DeConnick’s creator owned works these are essays or interviews pertaining to a theme from that issue. These pieces of back matter are there to incentivize getting the single issues. They add value to an increasingly expensive method of storytelling. Specifically, The Rat issue 1 had a piece from DeConnick explaining the creative process for the series.

It outlines where she and Emma Rios have been, where they are, and where they hope to go with Deathface Ginny and the rest of the crew. It was this future for the saga that made me pause. The fourth story of Pretty Deadly will focus on Big Alice, set 1000 years ago, during the Viking habitation of mainland North America. And I am not a fan.

One of the final scenes from the Shrike
Sissy Becomes Death in this scene and is one of the darker toned characters in the series but her ethnic heritage is unclear, image from issue 5 of The Shrike Art by Emma Rios colors by Jordie Bellaire

Why? Because Pretty Deadly as a series is predominantly set in the American West and has had minimal—if any—representation of Native American voices or people. With that in mind, DeConnick and Rios are choosing for their penultimate tale to tell the story of an early, temporary, European colony in North America.

As a fan and an archaeologist, stories centering Viking occupation cannot be untangled from the ways that white people in North America continue to co-opt Native identities. There is a historically violent and harmful component to “Vikings in North America” that cannot be ignored. Doubly so if creators like DeConnick want to acknowledge their position as settlers on the continent. Like dinosaurs, Vikings are appealing. They are distant enough to be romanticized so that creative license appears granted without issue. However, what does choosing that story say about the creators? Should creative license come at the expense of ignoring Native stories and voices in comics when we tell stories about the North American past?

I, like DeConnick, am a settler in North America. And of all professions, I chose to study archaeology, one of the most contested and historically harmful professions for Native peoples. However, part of healing that harm and moving the discipline past those methods is using my position to educate other settlers about what they can do to not perpetuate those hurts.

Therefore, I have to say that the Vikings are not just Vikings. In recent years, Vikings, their mythology, and the archaeology of their culture has been used to support white supremacy in North America and Europe. Before this, white supremacists and others have used the idea of a Solutrean “migration” from Europe to undercut Native American peoples stewardship of the continent. Before this, North American archaeology began with white settlers and European academics doing everything to dissociate the creations of Native American peoples from the people that still inhabit the continent. In light of this, using the Viking colony as a setting for a comic should not be used without significant consideration.

L'anse aux meadows reconstruction example
Recreation of habitation at L’anse aux meadows taken by Dylan Kereluk from White Rock, Canada / CC BY

We do not know how DeConnick and Rios will explore Vikings in North America. Especially as, besides Greenland, archaeologists confirm L’Anse aux Meadows as the sole viking settlement on the continent. An important part of DeConnick’s outline was that she acknowledged the evolution of the series. Meaning that the first idea is typically not the finished product. Instead, she and Rios wait until the story is right before moving forward. Considering Image published the first issue of The Shrike in April 2014 and The Rat finished publication in January of 2020, I believe her.

With that time in mind, I hope, should they choose to keep that setting, that the creators consider what kind of continent they are writing about. Is it the romanticized and historically erasive one, which ignores that settler North Americans live on stolen land? Will it be another story of a white person adopted by a Native American group that forefronts the experiences of that white person over Indigenous peoples themselves?

I hope not. I hope, after careful consideration of why the creators need Vikings coming to North America to tell Big Alice’s story, that it is a story that incorporates and celebrates Native voices. I want to read a series where the creators fill the back matter with works by Indigenous scholars, specifically ones from the Nations that most likely interacted with those Vikings. I hope that each issue outlines ways that comics fans can celebrate and support Native voices in comics and in other media. I hope that part of the proceeds go towards helping Native communities.

With finale of The Rat just released and the next series in the planning stages, I remain hopeful for Pretty Deadly. The pattern of publication give DeConnick and Rios time to consider their positions as non-Natives in North America and think about using this story as a way to uplift Indigenous voices in comics. Leading to the development of a story that carefully interweaves an early European colony and the voices of Indigenous peoples who have lived in North American for time immemorial and continue to live here and make comics, crafting a fourth installment of Pretty Deadly that uplifts rather than erases Indigenous history.

Paulina Przystupa

Paulina Przystupa

Paulina (aka @punuckish) is a Filipine-Polish archaeologist and anthropology graduate student who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and loves comics and pop culture. Her academic work focuses on how buildings and landscapes aid or impede the learning of culture by children. In general, she is an over-educated fan of things; primarily comics, comics-related properties, cartoons, science-fiction, and fantasy. This means she takes what she knows and uses it to critique what she loves. Recently, she has brought such discussions to the public by organizing and moderating panels at comic cons centered on anthropology/culture related topics.

One thought on “Pretty Deadly, Pretty Cautious

  1. Considering Ms. Deconnick’s past work with being socially aware and conscious of self-bias (co-creator of Bitch Planet, after all), I’m pretty sure that we’ll be in good hands. Then again, considering how EVERYTHING white people make regarding Indigenous people, to any degree, invariably seems to have SOMEthing insulting down to its core, regardless of the intent, effort, or consultation involved…just keep all of the fingers crossed, I guess.

Comments are closed.