Publisher: Vertigo Comics
Writer: David Baillie
Artwork: Megan Hetrick, Nick Filardi
Release Date: 27th July, 2016
After eight issues of establishing this wonderfully realised demon and magic-infused version of Scotland, complete with a diverse cast of characters and a fascinating interpretation of familiar Celtic folkore, it’s an interesting decision at this point to shift the perspective of the story to a completely new character. Writer David Baillie makes it work though, introducing strong-willed Amaka, a would-be reporter looking for the scoop of her career (Scotland don’t have Pulitzers, do they?), and who has a strong emotional tie to the whole sordid situation. It’s fascinating to be able to momentarily step outside of the bubble we’ve been in thus far, viewing the shocking events of the series through the eyes of a doggedly curious observer rather than a full-on participant.
Amaka’s investigation is juxtaposed with the predicament of Isla, who finds herself trapped in a straightjacket and muzzle, locked up in dingy asylum with seemingly no way to escape. As interesting and refreshing as Amaka’s story is, this is undoubtedly Isla’s issue through and through. Demigod Thorn himself actually takes a bit of a back seat here, which is probably a fairly wise decision on the part of Baillie. The ab-tacular one can sometimes be a bit of a dominating presence, so it’s refreshing here to let the story spotlight shine a little more brightly on Isla, who makes a quantum leap forwards in terms of character development.
Artist Meghan Hetrick continues to make Red Thorn one of the most visually striking books on the shelves today, with richly detailed backgrounds, fascinating use of perspective and pitch-perfect character design throughout. Her thick-lined approach gives her pages a pleasing sense of solidity, and while the bulk of this issue is fairly restrained, she does get an opportunity to cut loose with a jaw-dropping two-page sequence that, for my money, may be the best of the series so far. It’s also worth mentioning, even if it’s potentially a fairly minor detail to a non-Glaswegian, that Hetrick does an absolutely fantastic job of recreating the city itself, with familiar locales like Buchanan Street instantly recognisable.
With the conclusion of the series – if hopefully not the story as a whole – looming on the horizon, it’s refreshing that Baillie and Hetrick are managing to maintain their immaculate pacing here. There’s no sense of urgency or feeling like things are being rushed. Everything is unfolding exactly as planned, and it’s impressive to see such a varied, sprawling story being handled with this kind of confidence. Very few other titles could sustain the primary antagonist effectively skipping an issue, particularly at this advanced stage of the story, and it’s a testament to the strength of Baillie’s world building that the supporting cast – including brand new faces, no less – are able to sustain the narrative flow as impressively as they do here.
Since late 2015, I’ve been singing the praises of Vertigo’s recent output to anyone who’s willing to listen, and with books like Unfollow, Sheriff of Babylon, Clean Room, The Dark & Bloody and Suiciders: Kings of Hell.A in their arsenal, it’s safe to say that the iconic publisher is undergoing something of a renaissance in 2016. Of all their titles however, few have resonated with me as deeply as Red Thorn. Maybe it’s the Scot in me, but the heady blend of Celtic fantasy, human drama, sex, violence and debauchery flat-out appeals to me, and seeing two creators working in perfect synergy on a book that feels like a passion project for both makes for a truly captivating read.
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