Ash & Thorn crackles with promise.
A gore-spattered black woman with dreadlocks covers her eyes.
“I can’t do this.”
The story, penned by Mariah McCourt (Angel, True Blood), is one you already know. Lottie Thorn is the Champion: tasked with saving the world from the coming apocalypse, mentored by Lady Peruvia Ashlington-Voss, who has a lot of book-learning but not much experience applying it. Here’s the catch: Lottie is in her 70s, has a trick knee, and had planned to spend her golden years painting and winning pie contests.
Instead, she’s fighting demons and bringing her painting tutor Sarah into the fold.
Meanwhile, an Entity stirs deep in the nether regions of Hell, served by oni-style minions with impeccable tailoring.
Remixing the Familiar
McCourt relies on your familiarity with urban fantasy stories like Buffy and True Blood to take things in stride. This works to an extent: we don’t need much buy-in here. The world is in peril. The demons are scary. Lottie is snarky and at one week in to their relationship, she and Peruvia have great chemistry.
But that also means some of the world-building gets left behind in the first issue. Who are the Champions? Who are the Guardians? Why haven’t they been keeping tabs on Lottie this whole time? Why are all these demons emerging now? If Lottie’s mother and grandmother were the last Champions, why wasn’t their demon-fighting knowledge preserved?
Or maybe there’s a reason Lottie’s in possession of her grandmother’s iron skillet: it’s great for splatting demons.
It’s the first issue in this five-issue miniseries, so I know that the world will get fleshed out. One thing I hope to see is how Lottie’s age will play into this story beyond being less spry than she’d like. Will she and Peruvia have a more egalitarian relationship since they are roughly the same age? How will her bond with Sarah impact her actions? Does she have family who will want to know why she has demon intestines hanging in her hair? Will wisdom she’s gained through life experience prove her to be more successful than her younger predecessors?
A Cozy, Demon-Filled World
While I await the answers to those questions, I’m more than happy to linger over Soo Lee and Pippa Boland’s art. Lee’s line work is graceful yet has a dense quality that is highlighted by her dramatic shading. The art suggests that these characters are rugged and ready for anything — from quietly painting to hurtling full-tilt at a spider demon armed with nothing but a frying pan. There’s something inherently naturalistic about the art: the lines suggest the strength and adaptability of nature.
Meanwhile, Bowland’s colors make the world feel lived-in and textured: comfy like a warm sweater. Her work on the first full-page spread is stunning: Lottie and Peruvia confront a portal of beasties in the midst of a remote canyon at sunset. There’s lots going on but even in the middle of the action Bowland invites us to take a look around and admire this brave new world.
Two of my favorite parts of the comic were actually the back matter: some delicious recipes of Lottie’s that are themed to this issue and look like they’ll be a regular feature.
The comic also includes a gorgeous short story by British fantasy writer Dan Micklethwaite. Describing the plot would give too much away but suffice to say that “No Smoke Without” is written in the second person with a lyricism you can taste on your tongue. If you’re like me and enjoy Neil Gaiman’s ideas but hate his pretentious affect, Micklethwaite is your new go-to.
The book’s first installment is a cozy peak into an exciting new universe — and even if there’s a lot left unsaid, I’m eager for the next slice.