Pretty Violent is four issues into its run, a cartoon superhero strip full of madcap bloody violence and laughs. We’ve had plenty of blood and guts, and plenty of swears, but this issue it all falls just a bit flat.
The set-up to Pretty Violent is a perfectly simple thing, young superhero on the block wants to do the right thing and be great but keeps finding things way more difficult than she thinks. And her powers and recklessness seem to keep getting people killed in her super-heroing. Add in the complication that the hero, Gamma Rae, actually comes from a family of supervillains.
But, rather than being a straight superhero comic, the thing about Pretty Violent is that it’s set up as a manic comedy, full of ultra-violence and swears, a superhero comedy with as many adult overtones as the creators can put in there.
You can find reviews of the past issues here at Comicon (Issue 1, Issue 2, Issue 3), but effectively it was ridiculously fun for the first couple of issues and then they successfully added just a little familial depth to the mix. But, the problem with doing a comedy book is that you need to make it funny, issue after issue.
And here, because the comic’s concentrating so hard to develop a deeper plot, rather than the simple joy of the first couple of issues of insane violence, they’re playing a risky game, and it’s one that hasn’t worked here.
Yes, for the first time, it just fell flat, with this issue’s plot of Gamma Rae trying to get her comrade in arms in the super-team, Misty Meadows, to like her and ending up getting in hock to her brother…
The trouble with Pretty Violent #4 is that it can’t work out what it wants to be. There’s too much work going into making the plot move along and it means that the writers have taken their eye off the comedy ball.
And when you’d set up your comic as a comedy, with an emphasis on things being fast, furious, sweary, and full of the daft violence we’ve seen thus far, it’s not a good thing to lose sight of that.
So, for every panel with a great line like the librarian gag above, or the moment Misty brings in the dogs to fight the super-villain, much to Gamma Rae’s disgust, there’s page after page which ditches any attempt at comedy just to service the plot.
Of course, when it comes to any comedy comic, I’m subconsciously comparing this to my go-to examples of just how brilliant comedy comics can be. I’m thinking of the more than 100 issues of Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier’s Groo the Wanderer and Kyle Baker’s tragically short run on Plastic Man (2004-2005). Both comics managed to be hilarious issue after issue after issue by delivering self-contained storylines each issue. Frankly, if you’ve never read either of these titles, you owe it to yourself to get hold of them now.
But Pretty Violent has decided to go a different path to these, ditching the issue by issue self-contained stories packed with plot and comedy in favour of tying it all in to a bigger, longer plot across the issues. And in that, we’re more in the territory of a third classic comedy title, the famously funny reboot of the Justice League from 1987, by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire. Here, the comedy came through the characters, whilst there was still something of a plot going on alongside the comic stuff.
But again, Pretty Violent doesn’t cut the mustard there either, with the character-driven comedy falling flat this issue.
I’m tempted to conclude that what made Pretty Violent really work in the first issues was the all-out comedy violence, the sort of silly but fun stuff full of blood and guts as Gamma Rae screwed things up and acted like a spoilt child. Because here, when Hunter and Young change things up and deviate from that simplistic yet satisfying formula, it just doesn’t come off too well.
Pretty Violent #4, written by Derek Hunter and Jason Young, art by Derek Hunter, published 21 August by Image Comics.