Book review: Red Thorn #1 by David Baillie and Meghan Hetrick

THE biggest hit from DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint has been Neil Gaiman’s fairy-filled Sandman, with the more recent Fables – another story of folklore types in the modern world – also gaining kudos and sales. Its latest offering looks to be targeting a similar market, but it’s less fey and set a little closer to home.

Super-sexy Thorn will delight cosplayers
Super-sexy Thorn will delight cosplayers

Red Thorn #1 by David Baillie and Meghan Hetrick | Vertigo, $3.99 monthly

Red Thorn #1 opens and closes in Glasgow’s Necropolis, with the in-between taking in Barrowlands, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut and a trip to the Borders. Young American Isla Mackintosh is in Scotland trying to find out what happened to her sister, who vanished before she was born. She’s spent a year retracing Lauren’s footsteps, talking to people who knew her. Hitting a dead end, she returns to Glasgow and meets a local guy, Alec, who might help her move on from the riddle that haunts her family, the idea that she’s nothing more than “a replacement kid”.

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It’s not that easy, though. Lauren was an artist and her sketchbook is disturbing. Isla draws too – and somehow, her creations come to life...

Which all sounds a bit like Peter Piper of The Sparky (“his magic pipes bring things to life”), but writer David Baillie and artist Meghan Hetrick’s craft and conviction sell the weirdness. Bar a rather clunky explanation for non-Brits of how to pronounce “Isla”, Glaswegian Baillie’s dialogue is cracking (“Rest your arse against yon radiator...”) and the central mystery has my attention. Isla is rather more relaxed with the danger of her gift than you might expect, but Red Thorn is a fantasy, so suspension of disbelief is a given.

American Hetrick is a superb storyteller, her artistic sensibility complementing Baillie’s mischievous script. Like Isla, her images have a life all their own. Redhead Isla is striking without being overly sexualised, while an unusual gentleman caller manages to be somewhere between daft and terrifying, a daring choice that works. Super-sexy demigod Thorn, who shows up at the end, looks set to inspire a thousand cosplayers.

Baillie has several years’ worth of story mapped out and Hetrick is committed to the series, so why not get in on the ground floor of what could become a modern graphic classic? n