National Comics #1: Rose and Thorn review

Teenager Rose Canton wakes one morning covered in blood – and it’s not her own. There’s a spiky rose freshly tattooed on her back, along with the word ‘Thorn’. She has missing memories, and the boy she was with the previous night, Troy, doesn’t show up at school. Having recently rejoined the community after time in an institution, Rose fears for what she might have done. She goes to the boy’s house where she finds that a night-time, darker version of herself, calling herself Thorn, has indeed done something awful – but not to Troy.

You want Gilmore Girls meets Teen Wolf? Then this is the comic for you. The apparent stupidity of Rose in a) not turning to her cool Auntie Cate when she finds herself covered in blood and b) not going to the police the minute she fears for Troy, can be excused by her fragile mental state. But given said emotional brittleness, what the heck is this girl doing going to regular school? Either some psychotherapist is lousy, or they’ve deliberately put her where she can make trouble for who knows what reason.

Thorn’s motives are revenge. She wants to hurt the people responsible for killing her father, while getting answers as to why he died. By the end of this one-off opening instalment, the premise is laid out, with questions enough to supply plenty of plots for any continuation.

If this is sounding familiar, you likely know the Seventies Rose and the Thorn strip from Lois Lane, or read the 2004 mini whose logo this borrows. Both focused on split personality Rose Forrest, hunting down her father/parents’ killers as the unpredictable Thorn. Both are a lot more enjoyable than this effort, though National Comics does at least attempt to appeal to a wide constituency – fans of blood-soaked young girls in their smalls, and sweaty fat guys with their pants down.


Being an old fart fan, I liked that writer Tom Taylor borrowed the Rose Canton name from the Golden Age Flash villain, but having read this issue I reckon he should give it back. I don’t think the original Rose, as a Forties gal, would wish to be associated with this comic. Today’s Rose and Thorn is very much a modern girl, passing messages to herself via ‘Facelook’, making a pass at her girlfriend and getting a tattoo. There are a few funny lines. There’s a good moment in which something of Thorn seeps into Rose’s science lesson. But overall, this just leaves a nasty taste in my mouth – imagine Jennifer Blood Goes To Sweet Valley High.

The art by Neil Googe really isn’t my cup of tea. Rose is so skinny as to seem anorexic, the kids at school are lollipop-headed weirdos and the faces … it’s not just that they’re inconsistent, there are panels in which features appear to be trying to escape their surrounds (left). One character laughs and her mouth could give the Joker a run for his money. And Googe does this weird thing with noses that makes it look as if folk are pressing against glass.

There are some good visual moments, such as Rose’s mate, Melinda, playing the Bond villain, and the compositions aren’t at all bad. The animation of the bodies is terrific at times. Some of the faces actually look fine, especially where profiles are involved. But the cod Manga approach – Thorn even dresses a la Japanese schoolgirls – detracts from the good stuff.

I understand the National Comics series of ‘pilot’ issues come from DC’s West Coast division. Maybe that’s why we get such repetitive notes as Rose’s rotten school life (see Amethyst) and the quest for revenge (Phantom Lady). But while this issue is technically outside the New 52 DC Universe, it fits wonderfully well with the main line’s all-pervading spirit of ‘edginess’. Maybe there’s an audience for tales of young folk cutting people up – DC certainly thinks so – but I’m not it.

Ryan Sook’s cover illustration is outstanding for what it it – I like the Adam Hughes finish on Thorn – but the characters are far removed from their interior selves.

One big plus this issue of National Comics does have is something last month’s Looker entry had too – a splendid pet (actually, there’s a frog too, but he doesn’t get much love). At this rate we’ll get Captain Carrot back any month now …

11 thoughts on “National Comics #1: Rose and Thorn review

  1. Martin, as one that is getting tired of all this 'edginess' as well might I suggest you check out the Flash? I've picked up the past couple and they seem to be thankfully lacking that (at least coming from the main character).


  2. Apologies – seem to have deleted my original comment, but it was this:

    “My problems with this stems from the deliberate and intentional sexualising of children – the character is only seen wearing a school uniform or semi/fully naked and the plot is about her using sex in one form or another to get her way. It's all a bit dodgy, really.”

    I did like that when Rose sees the word “mine” appear over the frog, and then we see it from behind but for some reason we can still read it (it isn't backwards). It's sort of charmingly incompetent in a way.


  3. Funnily enough, I'd just read it as your post came in – I did enjoy it lots (review's up!), but its not escaped New 52 darkening … Remember when Barry's parents were a happily married old couple?


  4. Very fair points, Brigonos – covered in blood on her bed in her knickers, having the tattoo discovered in the shower – it's not exactly subtle stuff.

    And if you've found some charm, can we send it over to the Shazam strip in Justice League?


  5. I haven't read the zero issue of Flash yet (or your review of it, but I will for both), I was referring to the past couple of issues, and the main character himself. But it was neat that the review went up like that!


  6. Hey There.

    I'd just like to say thank you for the review of the book and the art. I don't usually read reviews for a number of reasons, mostly because I know other artists that have become obsessed with what people say about their art, devastated at bad reviews, becoming obsessed with finding the good. Another reason is because any review, especially a bad review on art usually, isn't that constructive. Most people go no further than “Didn't like this art, Googe sucks” which doesn't really help with improving in anyway and its just sloppy reviewing.

    I came across your review purely by accident, i was actually looking for coloured rose / thorn artwork on line and was surprised to see the panel you've used come up (as its one of my least favourite also 😉 and so thought I'd give it a read.

    So i would just like to say i do appreciate you taking the time to explain what you disliked about the art as well as what you liked, this definitely gives me something to look at and work toward. I would also like to say I whole heartedly agree with all your criticisms on the work, some of which was issues i was already working on changing after the book was released.

    Anyway, thanks again for the considered review, as whether a review comes out good, bad, or somewhere in between, its always helpful to read something where the person has taken the time to highlight the strengths or weaknesses in someones craft…

    Keep up the good work, all the best



  7. Neil, thanks for being such a gentleman, and for giving us some terrific insight. I try to be fair, and hate the idea I might dampen a creator's day with an unfairly negative criticism. Heck, it's not like I can draw a darn. I try to bear in mind that deadlines can be madly tight, someone can be having an off-day … anyway, cheers. With luck I'll see you at a UK con this year, buy you a drink!


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