Pullbox Reviews Ash & Thorn #1 – Demon slaying action… but first, a cup of tea

The apocalypse is nigh, the world needs a Champion, and the only heir to a sacred mystical lineage is… a little old lady? Meet Lottie Thorn, reluctant savior of the world, who would much rather be enjoying her retirement with a paintbrush and a cup of tea than splattering a demon’s brains to jelly with her trusty old cast iron skillet. But according to the paperwork in the Book of Guardians, it’s on her to save the world from almost certain doom—nevermind the fact she’s an old lady with a trick knee and no clue why she’s been tapped for this not-so-illustrious gig. With the help of her trainer Lady Peruvia Ashlington-Voss, Lottie juggles staving off the impending apocalypse with decoding the mystery that put her in this position in the first place—not to mention deciding what recipe she’s using for the pie competition next week.

Created by writer Mariah McCourt (True Blood, Stitched) and artist Soo Lee (Mine!, Charlie’s Angels vs. the Bionic Woman), with covers by Jill Thompson (Scary Godmother, Wonder Woman: True Amazon).

Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one…

Into every generation a Champion is born, she who will stand against the darkness, to battle the demonic forces trying to take over our world. She is the Chosen One.

How many fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer do we have here? I’m willing to bet there’s more than a few, so how ‘bout a show of hands? Yeah, I see you trying to be all sly, half raising your arm while you’re hiding behind the Scooby in the tie dyed shirt. Don’t be ashamed, BtVS was an outstanding show that was ahead of its time… comically ridiculous title notwithstanding.

So what if, and hear me out on this one… what if the Slayer hadn’t been called when she was in her energetic teenage years? What if the line of Champions had been all but wiped out by a demon lord in preparation for a push into this dimension, and there was only one left? A woman objectively past her prime, maybe someone for whom the phrase “fight smarter, not harder” represented a little more than just pretty words? Lottie Thorn is that woman, and she’s still got a couple scraps left in her.

Ash & Thorn is the kind of comic that some might take a pass on because of the concept. Who wants to watch an old person fighting demons? For one, that would be many of the same people who got a kick out of watching a cheerleader named Buffy staking vampires. For another, I would have to say that fans of action-packed, well written stories about unlikely heroes stepping up to do what needs doing will find a lot here to dig into.

Written & co-created by Mariah McCourt, Ash & Thorn is a sleeper hit waiting to happen, much like the Vampire Slayer herself (a mid-season replacement, no one expected Buffy & the Scooby gang to stick around for long). McCourt has given Lottie a lot to work with, as would be fitting for someone who’s lived a full life by the time the fight reaches her doorstep. She’s got grit & determination for days, and even though she’d like nothing better than to sit down with hot cup of tea, Lottie is willing to carry the burden & responsibility as Earth’s Champion.

Where Ash & Thorn shines is in the quieter moments between the sharp witted Lottie and her Guardian, prim & proper Peruvia. Described as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Golden Girls”, the series has a lot to live up to in order to meet fans’ expectations. Having read the first issue introducing the unlikely team of Lottie and Peruvia, McCourt has gotten off to a solid start. The series jumps into the thick of it with Lottie in action- wielding an iron skillet, no less- with a little magical help from Peruvia. In the middle pages of the issue, the ladies get a bit of down time as they mull over recent events and try to come up with how best to handle their situation. The dialogue is great, as the two very different women toss ideas back and forth.

Artist & co-creator Soo Lee doesn’t waste time trying to keep things tidy. Her action is frenzied, messy, and with all of the subtlety of… well, of an iron skillet to the face. More importantly, Lee isn’t glossing over the fact that Lottie Thorn is a woman well past her fiftieth birthday. Every line helps to tell Lottie’s story and establish her as a character who’s already developed into the person she was going to be. Lottie’s had her “life of discovery”, and Soo Lee’s efforts to show that on her face & posture work well. In the end, this isn’t a comic that’s going to look like every other and that’s as it should be. With the added benefit of Pippa Bowland’s work on colors, the unconventional visuals of Ash & Thorn are almost complete. The last touch comes from Rob Steen’s lettering. For the most part, his work is straight forward & without much embellishment. Every now and then, though, Steen is able to throw in a flourish in the sound effects. No, I don’t know what an exploding demon might sound like, but if I had to guess “SPLRCCCH” might be close.

I almost forgot the recipes! If interesting, left of center characters just weren’t enough to convince you, let’s not forget about the entries for “Pickle’s Pantry”… A character yet to be introduced by the end of the first issue, but mentioned in the afterward, Pickles is the sprite hanging out in Lottie’s kitchen and will be providing some baking ideas for readers. First up are recipes for “Prophetic Berry Pie” and “Apocalyptically Delicious Ginger Bread”.

I know, right?

The bottom line is that Ash & Thorn is the classic tale of reluctant hero joins zealous mentor to thwart the forces of evil. What it does with those tropes, turning them ever so slightly askew, brings something new to the genre and to comics. Come on, everyone’s made the jokes about Bea Arthur kicking ass (given her pre-acting military service, those jokes might have been pretty painful to the wrong party). Now we’ve got Lottie Thorn doing it. And in the age of representation, we who are beyond the range of our thirties & forties have a hero to admire.

Final Score: 9

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