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Ash and Thorn #5 sees us cruising into this charming mini-series’ conclusion. For better or worse, five issues was both a little too much time — and not nearly enough. I could go into a plot synopsis here, but part of Ash and Thorn’s charm comes from the part where you already know the story. I’ve said that since the beginning. The series works best when playing with generic conventions, but that could also become a slippery slope when writer Mariah McCourt assumes you’ve read this story before.
That assumption comes into play in Ash and Thorn’s final chapter.
Like most issues of Ash and Thorn, artist Soo Lee likes to open the story with a dramatic splash page. We begin at the end. We see Lottie wiping her gore-spattered brow, surveying the ruins of her town, and sighing ruefully, “Well, that could’ve gone better.”
The final battle is a final battle — and can only be fought in a way that’s suited to this heroine. Lottie, Lauren, and Pickles bake some magical pastries to tempt Peruvia and her all-consuming demon paramour. Lottie attempts to reason with the demon — but that’s part of the plan. Using her experience and wit — and, of course, her baking skills — rather than her fighting prowess, Lottie proves you don’t have to be physically fit to take down one of the most evil demons in the galaxy.
I noted that the art in issues 3 and issue 4 of Ash and Thorn felt a bit…sketchy. That’s not the case this time around — Lee pulled out all the stops, with an emaciated Peruvia as one of the most chilling elements of this showdown. Even Pippa Bowland’s colors seem more vibrant as this creative team bids farewell to their characters.
The main critique here is that 5 issues just wasn’t enough time — not out of sentimentality, but because a lot of moments that should have been emotional were simply truncated. The final battle is one instance of this, but also a number of storylines that were hinted at but never resolved:
Where were the Guardians? Why didn’t Peruvia have any oversight? Why was she so easily tempted? Why wasn’t Lottie’s powers “activated” until she was older? Why was Lauren, a sixteen-year-old (which we only find out in this issue) hanging out with Lottie? Why was Lottie so committed to saving her town when as far as we could tell she was a loner? What was Pickle’s whole deal anyway?
Ultimately, Ash and Thorn needed more time to flesh these details out. It’s not enough to rely on the audience playing along with a conceit they’re familiar with: we needed to know what made this story different and special compared to Buffy.
With that being said, this final issue had some important themes to bring home. This story was meant to be published in April and didn’t make it to the world into July thanks to COVID. Yet in the final issue of Ash and Thorn, we see our heroes grappling with the end of everything they know — and concluding that maybe that’s a good thing. I suspect this dialogue was written sometime in June as protests against police brutality made international waves. However, on the precipice of the election, this moment is as prescient as ever.
Another delightful nugget from the Ash and Thorn — and all Ahoy Comics series — are the short fiction pieces in the back of the comic. Ahoy did not disappoint this time.
Robert Jeschonek’s “Surveying Mr. Nibbles” is a riotously hilarious use of Google Forms. There’s short fiction and then there’s this inventive, interactive piece. Brilliant.
Meanwhile, Richard Caldwell’s “American Antiques Roadshow Horror Story” is pretty much what it sounds like — a madcap vignette that would make the creators of both shows proud.
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Mariah McCourt — Twitter