Of all the new wave of Vertigo titles, Red Thorn, written by David Baillie and drawn by Meghan Hetrick, has become my favorite. It’s not the most complicated or ambitious (Sheriff of Babylon) or the scariest (Clean Room) but it does feature the most charming protagonist of the bunch: Thorn.
Thorn is a freed demigod of…well, that’s not clear. Sex, certainly, and charm, and cleverness. Perhaps he’s a friend of humanity. Perhaps not. Issue number three is entilted “My Beloved Monster,” and that about covers it.
Take this exchange between Thorn and our other protagonist, Isla, the heroine who can literally draw things into existence.
“Did ye know you’ve been a slave your whole life?”
Except the side-eye in the comic panel indicates that Thorn may be playing her.
My co-partner in reviewing of DC titles, Ray Goldfield, said this about the series to me:
On the surface, the Scottish fantasy setting is exciting and colorful, filled with original mythical creatures and a very original vibe. It reminds me of a mash-up of some of my favorite titles in recent years, including Fables and Rat Queens. This issue definitely increases the Rat Queens vibe, as our charismatic Demigod Thorn helps our heroine out by setting her up with a pair of ill-tempered Orcs to aid her on her quest to find out what happened to her sister.
This title has the best combination of the real and the surreal that I’ve seen in some time. The issue also begins to expand its world, with a story set in Morocco that begins to intersect with Thorn’s quest in the cliffhanger. The new wave of Vertigo books have had a lot of hits and a few misses, but for me, this is one of the best books that’s slipping under the radar a bit. Give it a chance, you won’t be disappointed.
Ray and I don’t always agree (see: anything involving the Joker or Green Lanterns) but in this case, he’s right. Let’s not forget the artwork, which handles everything from Orcs to orgies. I particular love the stitches on Thorn’s arms and legs, which suggest they’ve been sewn back on. It’s a great touch and shows the serious attention to detail that is evident throughout.
The story so far: Isla has traveled to Scotland to search for her much older sister, who’s been missing for years. This seems like a normal quest, until Isla’s ability to bring drawings to life is revealed, in creepy fashion, as one of her creations turns deadly. Thorn, meantime, is only a background presence in the first issue but when he’s freed from his prison by Isla’s abilities, he takes center stage. Thankfully, it takes only one issue for the pair to meet and all the fantasy elements come to life.
But is Isla our heroine or something more dangerous? Is Thorn on humanity’s side, as he claimed or is there another reason he was imprisoned for centuries? I suspect part of the reason this has become my favorite is that it’s a more straightforward story than the other Vertigo titles. Clean Room, Sheriff of Babylon, Lucifer, Unfollow, Twilight Children and Survivor’s Club feature obviously ambitious story arcs with large casts of characters. They’re great in their own right.
But Red Thorn centers its narrative energy on Thorn and Isla, protagonists who know what they want and go after it, making it a refreshing change of pace. Plus, Thorn might just give Lucifer a run for his money in the charming devil category. As Ray said, give this title a chance.
P.S. I keep seeing this as a television series, though where they’ll find an actor to embody a real-life Thorn, I have no idea.