REVIEW: National Comics – Rose & Thorn #1

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Or – “Sometimes It’s Concept, Sometimes It’s The Hook.  But Sometimes, It’s All About The Name.”

Some DC concepts have been bouncing around looking for the perfect place to land for decades.  Properties like Hawkman, Supergirl and Starman have been through iteration after iteration, trying to isolate and deliver on the things that make the concepts cool.  In the case of Rose & Thorn, the various incarnations since the 1940s pretty much only have the name in common.  Will that high-concept title finally have its definitive incarnation?  Your Major Spoilers review awaits!

NATIONAL COMICS: ROSE & THORN #1
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Neil Googe
Colorist: Jim Charalampiois
Letterer: Patrick Brosseau
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously, in National Comics – Rose & Thorn:  Initially a Flash villain, the original Rose and her alternate personality, Thorn is/are probably best remembered as the mother(s) of Todd Rice & Jennie-Lynn Haden, aka Obsidian and Jade of Infinity, Inc.  As for the Silver Age version, I remember her as the character who played second banana in Lois Lane’s book in the 1970s, not exactly a recipe for legendary success.  A revamped version of that Silver Age Rose got a Gail-Simone-written miniseries a few years ago, but has never really risen above occasional guest-star status in her years on the scene.  So what’s the deal with this Rose?

A CUTE OPENING SEQUENCE…

I didn’t pick up the National Comics: Eternity one-shot, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this one-shot, but the first few pages are actually pretty cool.  We see young Rose Canton waking up in her bed, feeling like something is wrong.  She’s sleeping with her clothes on, came in through the window, the smoke alarm is going off and there’s a cigarette…  Wait, no.  That’s a song.  She IS sleeping in her clothes, her lower back hurts like hell, and she is inexplicably covered in blood.  That realization is the moment where the issue shifts for me, as the framing of the panel where she realizes that she’s covered in blood reads to me very much like she just got her period.  That’s shown not to be the case rather quickly, but I keep focusing on the revelatory panel, the whole page centered on Rose’s lower abdomen, and can’t help but wonder why the artist didn’t catch it.  This moment carries forward disturbingly as we find that Rose’s strange pain is a fresh tattoo, and she heads off to school in her very stereotypical schoolgirl outfit.  As the morning unfolds, Rose discovers that she got drunk, made out with a strange boy, got in good with the cool kids somehow, and even tried to seduce her best girlfriend, a series of events that leaves both her and me as the reader very disconcerted.

OKAY, HOW OLD ARE THESE CHILDREN SUPPOSED TO BE?

There’s an issue that I have with this story, in that Rose and her pal are seen dissecting a frog, something that I would associate with Freshman biology, making the characters seem to be fifteen-ish.  This makes the second half of the issue all squicky for me, as we find that her tattoo was custom-drawn by the father of the boy Rose was making out with, and that said father put the moves on Thorn.  The blood seen at the beginning of the issue is from Thorn torturing and permanently scarring him with his own tattoo needle, and he treats her as a dominant mistress, a very unsavory moment given Rose’s seeming age.  The clever bit of the issue comes in Thorn’s communications to Rose, done through social media, with video messaging and a series of photos that terrifyingly depict Thorn assaulting (seemingly even sexually assaulting) her erstwhile boyfriend’s father.  As the issue ends, we’re treated to the secret of Rose/Thorn’s deceased father, with Thorn offering her alter-ego a chance at revenge on the people who causes his death.

THE BOTTOM LINE: MORE DISTURBING THAN INTRIGUING…

There’s a lot of creepy going on in this comic book, much of which could have been at least mitigated with the simple explicit statement of Rose’s age.  That wouldn’t have made the story less unpleasant, but I think that I would have been more accepting of the material.  Double-standard or no double-standard, the story of a 19-year-old getting drunk, kinky and hyper-violent, while still morally troubling, would be easier to accept than a 15-year-old doing the same.  The mixing of elements here (the high-school setting with the dark underbelly of society) has elements that could be interesting, and if this series continues, there may be legs in the concept.  From a visual standpoint, Neil Googe reminds me a bit of a cartoonier Phillip Bond (who, now that I think of it, drew ‘Kill Your Boyfriend’, a title with a similar main character and story elements.)  The art is pretty well-handled throughout the issue, and is the stronger part of the narrative here, but still has moments where the storytelling is unclear, including the blood sequence.  National Comics: Rose & Thorn #1 hits some buttons for me, triggering unpleasant connections and connotations, with a main character who is alternately too innocent and/or too freaky, earning a troubling 2 out of 5 stars overall.  There was simply too much static in the channel for me to get fully engaged in the most enjoyable parts of this issue…

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Reader Rating

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