With Thistlebone Book 2 beginning it’s run this month in 2000AD, Rebellion have wisely decided to release a collected edition of Book 1. It’s beautiful and terrifying and one of the best strips 2000AD has published in years
Gothic horror and folklore have long cast a dark shadow over popular culture, most strikingly with 1973’s film The Wicker Man. Thistlebone takes that film’s mix of the ordinary and the horrifying and turns it into a genuinely creepy tale with an unsettling ending. Although 2000AD is no stranger to comic strips featuring dark magic and old gods (hello Slaine, Nemesis the Warlock and the ABC Warriors, Pat Mills being the link between all of these of course) it’s unusual to find such stories set in present day England. Thistlebone tells the story of reporter Seema Choudry and her decision to take cult survivor Avril Eason back to the place she was held captive. Seema is writing a book about this cult, the worshippers of Thistlebone, who make the Manson family seem like the Brady Bunch.
Avril is haunted by her memories of the night twenty years previously when she narrowly escaped from being ritually sacrificed but Avril might not be what she seems. The pills that she takes to help her cope with the trauma might be causing her to hallucinate making it difficult for Seema, and the reader, to trust her. The night that Seema and Avril arrive in the village of Harrowvale where the where cult were based the bodies of militated animals are found in the woods and a child goes missing. And what exactly is that taxidermist doing in his shop after dark?
Regular Dredd and Megazine scribe Eglington gives us grounded characters in a compelling story. Neither of the central characters are particularly likeable. Journalist Seema is well aware that she might well be taking advantage of Avril’s precarious mental state to get material for her book. Avril herself is untrustworthy and violent. She is also however a traumatised victim of abuse whose sense of what is real and what is not is shaky to say the least. And lurking behind everything is the mysterious presence of Thistlebone. Is he real, imaginary or perhaps a little of both?
Simon Davis’ painted artwork is wonderful, both realistic and impressionistic at the same time, his unique style one that long-time readers of Sinister Dexter will be familiar with. Avril for example is rendered in an almost photo-realistic way but her chalk white skin and blue hair give her an unworldly presence that fits the mood of the story perfectly.
Thistlebone will no doubt divide opinion amongst some readers, especially if they are expecting the futuristic sci-fi and satirical humour that 2000AD is famous for. I think it’s all the better for that. It shows that after 40 years in print the prog is still prepared to take risks. Here’s to Book 2 and more of the same in the future!