In Review: Red Thorn #1

If you like fantasy, especially dark fantasy, this is for you.

The cover: Against the reverse silhouette of a Scottish castle, Thorn looks at the reader thoughtfully, as if considering whether to let the reader walk away or bloody his hands further. He looks like someone definitely not to be trifled with. Excellent image of the title character by Meghan Hetrick with colors by Steve Oliff. Welcome to the Vertigo Universe, Thorn. Overall grade: A

The story: Being the first issue, there’s a bit of setup, with no resolutions for any plot points. However, there’s more than enough to find enjoyable about this premiere issue, written by David Baillie. The issue opens with Isla Mackintosh standing in a graveyard in Glasgow, tearing pictures from her missing sister’s sketchbook and tossing them into the wind. Far below her is the frail body of a human, if it’s still alive, chained to a wall and covered in tattoos. Only the character’s shock of hair brings any life to its surroundings. With a turn of a page it’s one year earlier, as Isla makes her way through Scotland trying to find her missing sister Lauren. The woman has been gone for over twenty-five years, before Isla was born. She’s not having much success in locating her, instead learning snippets of her life: she loved to draw, she was pretty, studied architecture, and was always slim. These bits of information are momentarily interrupted by a flashback to Isla’s past where her drawing abilities become something all their own with horrific results. In the present, she meets a man and they strike up a friendship, but not before something comes out of the water looking for her. There’s a nice mix of dark mystery simmering under Isla’s search for her sister, though nothing is explained. Thorn makes his only appearance on the final page and it’s designed to create questions rather than solve them. Isla is nicely rounded character in this first issue and I admit to wanting to see how she’s going to react after coming into contact with something supernatural, though I wish there was more of the supernatural in this opening. Overall grade: B+

The art: Vertigo comics are renowned for having exceptional visuals, and this book can be part of that canon with the work of Meghan Hetrick. The first page focuses more on the settings than the characters, so readers might be wondering if Hetrick can draw. A turn of the page shows she can indeed, making her first page being a good example of an artist teasing a reader, rather than showing a reader — Well done! Isla looks fantastic. I was so glad to see that she’s got a normal person’s build and isn’t just another svelte woman running about in a comic book. The double-paged splash on 4 and 5 is an excellent way to have the story told, using her sister’s artwork, yet including other characters commenting on the missing woman. When the story has a two page flashback of Isla in school, where she has some supernatural abilities revealed, it nicely captures high school life, as well as the horror that is unleashed. And something must also be said about the female character that Isla brings to life: as a high school teacher I can confidently say that I’ve seen a similar looking character appear on students’ work, so that style is completely in sync with what students draw in their leisure. Maggie Mooney’s is a terrific setting, with lots of atmosphere and a spectacularly crowded dance floor. Page 14’s final panel contains a mature moment captured and I’m impressed with the way Hetrick pulls it off: the action is evident, but it’s not done in a gratuitous manner. The full page splash on 16 fully shows a character that was shown briefly earlier, and it’s got enough elements in it to look familiar to something a reader might know of (but hopefully hasn’t seen), yet is a new creation. This tells readers that they have a lot to look forward to when Hetrick has to draw other fanciful characters. The final page, 20, introduces Thorn into the tale. He is the perfect mix of good looks and threat. I can’t wait to see what Hetrick does with him. Overall grade: A

The colors: The colors by Steve Oliff on this book are outstanding. The opening page has the expected darkness that a rainstorm in Scotland would produce, and the bottom panel of a cave interior is equal drab, though the stark shock of red hair hints of life in the, seeming, corpse. The explosion of colors from a year earlier on the next page are beautiful. The interiors are wonderfully warm, and Isla is a stand out with her orange hair and green scarf. The cool blue of the double-paged splash on 4 and 5 highlight the mauve colors of Lauren’s sketchbook. The two pages set in Isla’s high school are joyously bright in yellow, which serve as an excellent background for the shocking event that occurs. The club is perfection in violet, suggesting darkness, but still allowing readers to see what’s going on. The final page has the best colors of the book as Thorn radiates power and passion. Oliff is hitting a home run on this book. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Narration, gravestone credits, scene settings, dialogue, a band description, sounds, whispers, a unique character’s dialogue, and a character’s name comprise Todd Klein’s work on this book. The opening gravestone credits are wonderful, with three separate markers having their own font, capturing the uniqueness of the graves, while informing the reader of who did what. The font for this book seems bigger than other books, but doesn’t once overwhelm or step on the art; Klein knows exactly what he’s doing. I am so happy that the fantastical character has its own font, making the individual even more separated from humanity by the way its speech looks. And special attention must be given to the script used for scene settings, making even the modern settings seem magical. Klein is working magic. Overall grade: A+

The final line: An excellent first issue that introduces several new characters involved in the fantastic. If you like fantasy, especially dark fantasy, this is for you. Overall grade: A

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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