Sexy, sassy and intriguing, the opening issue of Red Thorn sees David Baillie and Meghan Hetrick put a 21st-century gloss on a classic Vertigo formula.
Here at Broken Frontier we’re never content to leave a good cliché unturned. So it gives us great pleasure to confirm that reports of Vertigo Comics’ death were greatly exaggerated.
In fact, the autumnal barrage of new titles currently hitting the shelves – 12 in total – in some ways represents a callback to what you might call the imprint’s golden age.
This week’s debut, Red Thorn, contains a dollop of the classic Vertigo DNA – the incursion of the supernatural upon a recognisable and relevant contemporary setting – but also bears the personal stamp of its creators: writer David Baillie’s feel for the mythology and reality of life in Scotland, and artist Meghan Hetrick’s lusty, full-blooded character work.
The protagonist of the book is Isla Mackintosh*, a young American woman who travels to Scotland to try and shed some light on the disappearance of her sister 25 years earlier. Ending up in the rainy streets of Glasgow, she finds herself looking for trouble with intriguing local Alec.
However, Isla has a startling gift of her own – one that opens up a world of possibilities and might tie her closer to the fate of her sister than she could ever have imagined.
There’s a lovely sense of control and pace to this opener: Baillie and Hetrick aren’t giving away too much, too early. The book opens with one mystery, then another blows up in your face, but the main engine driving the story only starts to make its presence really felt towards the end, stepping up the stakes significantly.
Amid all the recent hoo-haa about DC’s move to LA and the possible rendition of Vertigo as a content farm for TV and film, I read a report somewhere (Hmm, I wonder where…) suggesting that the imprint’s editors were restricted to green-lighting series set in New York or Los Angeles, to ease the path to TV adaptation.
However, Red Thorn is firmly rooted in the past and present lore of Glasgow: not the romantic fantasy yearned after by nth-generation ‘’Scottish-Americans”, but a solid living city with its own atmosphere, identity and cultural landmarks.**
As you’d have expected after Hetrick’s stint on Bodies, her artwork is inviting and attractive – helped in no small part by the strong colouring of Steve Oliff. As an American eager to claim some sort of Celtic kinship, there was probably never any doubt that Isla would have red hair. However, like a thumping bass line, her flaming barnet *** sets a strong foundation for the look of the book.
The current flurry of activity from Vertigo might mean that not every title is getting the attention it deserves, but Red Thorn warrants a look for its deft weaving together of fantasy and reality, life and death, past and present.
* Complete with a handy pronunciation tip for readers who didn’t grow up watching Larry Grayson’s Generation Game.
** It might take you a while to stumble across a Camus-reading hipster propping up the bar at a Nirvana tribute gig, but we’ll give Baillie and Hetrick the benefit of the doubt on that one. And, continuity-wise, is this the same Glasgow into which poor old Buddy Baker fell in Animal Man 25-26?
*** Cockney rhyming slang innit?
David Baillie (W), Meghan Hetrick (A), Steve Oliff (C) • DC/Vertigo Comics, $3.99