My journey this fall through the weird worlds of Vertigo has taken me to some strange corners of the comics world and I couldn’t be happier about it. This time around I tackled another volume in the proto-Vertigo post-Grant Morrison Animal Man saga and also made my way through a series based on Scottish mythology that was fun and bloody.
I don’t know about you, fair reader, but I find myself unable to read monthly comics anymore. The whole publishing system seems antiquated, but that’s where we’re at. For me, it’s a matter of being able to keep a whole story in my head at one time. I’m also cheap and prefer to get what I can from my local library system. But, I do still enjoy making the trek to New Paltz and looking through the stacks at October Country, though I’m bummed they seem to have gotten rid of their dollar books! Before they did that, though, I found myself perusing the “mature” section and stumbled upon Red Thorn, a series written by Brit David Baillie and drawn by Meghan Hetrick with assists by Ryan Kelly and a fill-in by Vertigo all-star Steve Pugh (more of him in a few graphs).
This 13 issue series came out from Vertigo between 2016 and 2017 and takes its cues from Scottish mythology. The proceedings kick off with American Isla Mackintosh traveling to Scotland in search of sister Lauren who had gone missing before she was even born. In the first issue we learn that some of Isla’s drawings come to life and that supernatural creatures exist. The latter becomes clear when a gloppy, bridge dweller brings her Lauren’s old sketchbook!
Isla’s presence in the realm also woke up a mysterious — and often shirtless — godthing called Thorn who controls a group of troll-like beings. He’s got beef with another god called Belatucadros, which motivates Thorn to recruit others with unique abilities, both human and superhuman. From there, you get a twisty-turny confrontation between the two that deals not only in all-out warfare, but also subterfuge all around.
I love the world that Baillie and Hetrick build in Red Thorn. I knew NOTHING about Scottish mythology going into this series and, while I’m far from an expert, I was able to wade right in and pick up what they were laying down. That’s a testament to both of these creators. Baillie’s story is spot on and Hetrick’s art is always clear and bold and beautiful, thanks in part to colorists Steve Oliff and Nick Filardi. The art reminded me a bit of Freddie Williams III with it’s somewhat cartoony nature, but it’s also super expressive and bloody when needed.
Red Thorn was a great, complex series that I would definitely recommend you check out if you’re into mythology or stories where gods return in the modern era, bringing their ages-old problems with them. It’s got big drama and big action, but is also dense and layered enough that I’m looking forward to eventually circling back around and giving it another read down the line.
I also made my through the second collection of post-Morrison Animal Man collecting #38-50 which came out between 1991-1992. Unlike the previous volume, this one was fully written by Tom Veitch and actually finishes up his run. The glorious Steve Dillion also returned, but was bolstered by Tom Mandrake, David Klein, Brett Ewins and Steve Pugh (there he is again, also on a fill-in issue!).
Veitch carries on directly from the previous volume which makes his entire run feel like a nicely constructed season of TV. Life is still rough for Buddy Baker as his wife Ellen takes their daughter Maxine to stay with her mother across the country and their son Cliff decides to run away after setting an abandoned house on fire! Animal Man hardly has time to worry about all that, though, because his powers continue to be a problem and a mysterious Native American man called Stone That Cracked Open The Earth Like An Egg who keeps calling to him.
Buddy goes on a road trip to get back to his wife and daughter thinking that Cliff, had already left on his own to do the same. He ran into all manner of trouble, including a call back to Swamp Thing #37-39, a tale that Alan Moore wrote, but Veitch drew the first installment of. Our hero eventually reunites with the female members of his family, but is immediately approached by Stone. Meanwhile, his old pal from the previous book Travis, winds up working for a nut at STAR Labs by the name of Buck Samson who plans on using technology to turn himself into a superman of sorts.
All of these threads get woven together into an incredibly bizarre tapestry that involves Animal Man working with the likes of B’Wana Beast, Vixen and others to stop an ancient destructive power from destroying…everything. I found this to be a hugely satisfying conclusion to a fantastic run of comics.
One of my favorite parts of this book is that issue #40 is supposed to be a tie-in to that year’s event, War of the Gods. So how did Veitch and Dillon handle that? He had Phantom Stranger and Dr. Fate waiting for Buddy at a gas station. They try to get him to fight in the confrontation against Circe, but he blows them off because he’s got his own problems to deal with. It’s three pages and it’s glorious. Also, I had no idea that I wanted to see Dillon draw the female Dr. Fate and Phantom Stranger, but I’m damn glad he did!
I’m equally glad that I pushed myself to read through these huge volumes! Swamp Thing and Hellblazer get a lot of attention when it comes to talking about formative Vertigo titles, but Animal Man should be right up there (it officially becomes a Vertigo title with #57 in the following collection). So far, across three different writers and a number of artists, this series has taken a classic hero and put him through the ringer, but always in ways that feel organic and based in some form of reality. The art is all over the board, but as a whole feels fitting for the out-there stories contained therein. This might actually be the best possible Vertigo starter book for super hero fans because of all that! I’m excited to move on to the next book which passes writing duties over to Jamie Delano, a super dark writer!