National Comics: Rose and Thorn
Despite its feminine perspective and literally flowery name Rose and Thorn is a horror comic through and through and terrifically it is a part of that rarest of sub-genre’s, body horror. To my mind Ginger Snaps is one of the most underrated movies of the past twenty years, so when the story of this National Comics one-shot started with its protagonist Rose rolling out of bed to find her lower body caked in blood I was hooked and where it went from there only pushed the point in deeper. If the purpose of this series is to determine interest in an ongoing series then mark me down as all for it.
As that opening image suggests Rose, like all potent body horror, is a story about going through puberty, about becoming an adult, losing the control of a child’s life, losing control of your body and in a nice modern twist, losing control of your social networking sites. This is the drama that faces all teenage girls but for Rose it is a largely literal one. It seems that she’s been acting very strangely since the death of her father – seducing friends and foes alike, taking slutty photo’s and something much, much worse that I won’t spoil – but Rose remembers none of this. To her it’s something that happened to a stranger.
If that story summary seems a little standard fare for the genre then fear not, for the real joy of the issue is in the way that Tom Taylor tells the tale. Like a twisted take on The Hangover Rose spends the day on a slow a loose sort loose scavenger hunt, slowly piecing together just what it was she did last night through the discovery of bread-crumbed clues like tattoo’s, tweets, teen gossip and the aforementioned gaudy Facebook photo’s. The use of technology in the story is so natural that not only does it avoid feeling like a gimmick but it actually makes the action it depicts seem more believable.
This is necessary because even in the space of this single issue Tom takes the book into some bloody, brutal and bleak places. While Rose may be cute and have a number of charmingly demure lines of dialogue her alter ego Thorn is taken straight from the pages of a Steig Larson story; she is both bad-ass and bad news. Given how authentic the book feels and how heartfelt the High School set scenes are you’d think that it would be an easy recommendation for girls of Rose’s age but given where it goes I fear that it may be too harrowing for them.
Artist Neil Goode and colorist Jim Charalampidis do a great job of handling the transitions between the two disparate tones, really tying the tale together with their work and creating one cohesive feeling comic. While I love the cover – sampled above – the interiors never stress the difference between the two characters that strongly; in fact there is no physical difference between the bodies of Rose and Thorn and yet you can tell them apart just as easily. Sometimes this is because the later wears her hair up and her shirt open, but often it is only the face that we are show and that alone is enough. The way that they handle Facebook, flashbacks and some of the stories other trickery is similarly smooth and striking.
As was the case with Lemire’s Kid Eternity this book’s biggest strength is also one of its major weaknesses; it does such a good job of sucking you into its world and selling you on its large scale story that you simply aren’t satisfied at the end; the story is so good that the thought of not seeing it again is a sad one. Rose and Thorn is a bit of a bi-polar book – it’s hilarious horror, cute and chilling, smart and simple, et cetera and etc. – but that is exactly what DC and comics as a whole need right now so I really hope that this pilot gets picked up. For both my sake and DC’s; I’ve now seen how Tom thinks and it might be safest if they just do what he says, lest another side come out.