THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘ASH & THORN’ CONTAINS SPOILERS.
[A version of this review originally appeared in the DoomRocket publisher feature, HOT PRESS. — Ed.]
by Jarrod Jones. Ash & Thorn addresses an issue at AHOY Comics that’s come up over the last couple years: Where are the headlining women creators? Mariah McCourt, Soo Lee, and Pippa Bowland take the helm of AHOY’s latest title and direct the publisher towards a truer north.
This debut issue doesn’t waste time cutting to the heart of its premise. A first-page introduction of our hero, Lottie Thorn, sees her taking a moment to find her bearings after some sort of grueling trial, a gore-splattered hand placed on her weary brow. Next we see a double-page spread that reveals a pictaresque view of a sun at dusk, the skies gold and purple. It’s an exquisite metaphor for the final chapter in the life of a weary warrior, a hard-won end, and… holy hannah the sky is breaking. The membrane to this world rips open and an armada of giant beetle-beasts come tearing through. And we watch as Lottie—who is over seventy years-old, by the way—leap into the air and trounce the would-be invaders.
Ash & Thorn is a sharp-tongued, good-natured entry in a heartening new trend I’ve seen rise up in comics of late and what I’m tenuously going to refer to as “The Elder Champions.” A strong-willed (and often strong-armed) senior-aged female character taking charge against seemingly insurmountable and monstrous odds. (See BOOM! Studios’ Once & Future and Dark Horse Comics’ Crone for more examples.) Only Ash & Thorn has no intention of treating its lead character as a gimmick; it’s a foward-thinking besting of ageist concepts that would otherwise dictate what a leading action hero should be.
And, for a debut, that’s largely what this issue has to offer. The debut of Ash & Thorn spends most of its time with Lottie and Peruvia, a textbook-hugging guardian who’s here to help finesse Lottie’s burgeoning powers, yet that’s about all we come to learn about either character. There are gestures towards a deeper understanding of who Lottie is and what her ancestry holds in store for her, but it appears we’ll have to sit tight to discover these things and hope there’s a richer story waiting behind the curtain.
Soo Lee, whose work I first noticed in Chapterhouse’s equally eldritch Fantomah, is in charge of leading Lottie from her rustic kitchen setting towards a darker realm. For the most part, Lee succeeds; the transitions from the story’s more recognizable down-home trappings to a sanity-stripping realm of ancient evil are tight, and Lee’s mastery of shadow is put to proper use. Pippa Bowland does a bit of atmospheric heavy lifting; her shades of detail during a dining room scene provides some necessary dramatic heft, and later Bowland’s work lends McCourt’s villainous tentacled trespassers an appropriately uncanny effect.
The moment when Ash & Thorn truly comes alive is when Lottie—still learning how to wield her powers, still learning how to decimate all the foul things coming her way—pulls out Gram’s old iron skillet and begins to swing it like Mjolnir. It’s a fleeting moment, and an encouraging one for what’s to come.
So, is this AHOY debut seaworthy?
Still finding its sea legs. Considering the company it keeps in the AHOY annals, Ash & Thorn isn’t a comedy book in the strictest sense; it’s not funny in the ironic way that other AHOY titles have been funny. It doesn’t have a mean streak or wants to take the piss out of some well-deserved societal target (like influencer culture in Hashtag: Danger! or the pathetic wealth worship found in Billionaire Island). The humor that exists in this issue lies in the ridiculousness of Lottie’s new-found situation—though even that isn’t ridiculous, not really, at least not in the context of your typical comic book magical mystery tour. Though, lurking beyond its initial premise are dark forces looking to further disrupt Lottie’s piano lessons—and McCourt’s fascination with the Lovecraftian may reap sinister rewards. Woe betide those who would come between Lottie Thorn and her latest pie recipe.
AHOY Comics / $3.99
Written by Mariah McCourt.
Art by Soo Lee.
Colors by Pippa Bowland.
Letters by Rob Steen.
6.5 out of 10
‘Ash & Thorn’ #1 hits stores June 24.