Red Thorn by David Baillie, Meghan Hetrick, Steve Pugh, & Steve Oliff

Before she was born, Isla Mackintosh’s sister went missing in Glasgow. Now, Isla is retracing her sister’s steps to uncover the truth about her disappearance.

Isla is not an ordinary artist. Her portraits come to life, and her artistic vision bends reality… often in unexpected and twisted ways. As she searches for her sister, she finds herself compelled to draw a mysterious pagan demigod who’s been imprisoned by the bones of dead gods for thousands of years.

Don’t go into Red Thorn expecting a romance. This is more of a dark, mythological fantasy that tiptoes near the line of horror but never quite comes close enough in tone. There’s plenty of violence and nudity depicted on-page in the comic, as well.

Red Thorn brings to mind the episode of Writing Excuses that differentiates between Main Character, Protagonist, and Hero. Despite us being first introduced to Isla and seeing much of the plot through her eyes, the heart of the story is the demigod Thorn’s war to reclaim Scotland from the traitorous god that imprisoned him. So Isla is the main character and Thorn is the protagonist. And frankly, neither of them are heroes. It’s easy to empathize with them at the start, but their decisions make that increasingly difficult later on.

The main selling point for me is the world and its mythology. Baillie, a native Scot, draws on Scottish geography, culture, language, and legend to create a vividly immersive experience. Bloodthirsty redcaps, a seductively deadly Loch Ness monster, and abundant use of the Scottish flag and dialect drew me in and gave the story a unique flavor.

The entire story is completed within two volumes, making for a very self-contained plot that never feels like it drags. My one minor complaint was that the plot felt like it was riding the brink of expanding out of control toward the end, but I was satisfied with the conclusion.

I’d have preferred to connect more with the characters, but given the scope and length of the story I didn’t mind. Overall, this was a quick and enjoyable read, as well as what felt like a crash course in parts of Scottish mythology.

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