Ash & Thorn (#1) – Mariah McCourt

2 out of 5

The punchline is so hilarious that you start laughing as soon as you utter the first line… and then forget to tell the joke.

Mariah McCourt’s “Ash & Thorn” suffers from elevator pitch disease – What if (usual scenario) was (usual scenario EXCEPT WITH THIS UNUSUAL ELEMENT)! – but eke’s out a sort of hokey-doke tone that makes it page-flippable, despite artist Soo Lee’s rather poor choreography. Unfortunately, after an initial setup, the first issue is all in a lather to get its lore in place, and so assumes that we automatically care and understand the stakes and world structure, landing with a thump on new character introductions and a “cliffhanger.”

Lottie Thorn is a witch-in-training; she’s being prepped to stave off the coming apocalypse by Lady Peruvia. (Yes, there’s an “Ash” nickname affixed to that, I assure you.) The UNUSUAL ELEMENT? They’re both old biddies! Hoo-haw, y’all, ’cause “I’m too old for this shit” jokes are the bee’s knees!

This does, as mentioned, kick off well enough, thanks to the way McCourt goes into it with a rather humble tone – you can make the most generic or silly or whatever of stories work if it’s written well – but we flash back from our en media res of sorcery battles to when Lottie is learning of her powers, and whether through poor script direction or Lee’s arting abilities, that humble tone is ground to dust by indecipherable panels that I think are supposed to be comical – like, whoops, I just exploded something with a witch ability I didn’t know I have, only I stared at the panel for a few minutes trying to understand what I was even looking at… Soo has a crunchy, line-heavy style that isn’t unappealing by any means, but you put Jill Thompson on covers and it throws a stark contrast on to an artist who maybe can’t flex that imaginatively; Lee works for conversation bits, but the fanciful stuff just doesn’t work in her hands.

And then, once we need the tone to pick back up, McCourt throws in another character – the youngster, fudging things up for our Aunties – and there has barely been room to set the stage for our leads, much less a humorous foible, so the best thing to do is now to switch over to our villain, who exposits some generic something-or-others about The Champion (Lottie, presumably) and apocalypses. None of this is very satisfying, alas, and the art and pacing hiccups collide in a last page that instills none of the intrigue for which I’m guessing it’s aiming.

AHOY – the publisher – ‘s extras: two recipes (because grandmas like cooking, I guess), which are pretty standard to me, but I do love that AHOY allows for this stuff, and it does give the book some character. Also a text piece from Dan Micklethwaite which tries to weave an imaginative concept – kinda / sorta marketing as done through nanobotted smoke released from cigarette-like components – but the emotional throughline (it’s not actually marketing – it’s people conjuring up “regrets”) connected very poorly for me, and the logic behind how these things “work” is fudged over a bit too obviously to be convincing.