As DC Comics continues to release its line of “National Comics” one-shots, which to date includes Jeff Lemire’s “Kid Eternity” and Ian Edginton’s “Looker,” writer Tom Taylor and artist Neil Googe tackle the next story, putting a new spin on the old DC character, Rose and Thorn.
Originally created in 1947, Rose and Thorn was a Golden Age antagonist to the Flash, transforming from the mild-mannered Rose into her evil split personality, Thorn. Eventually falling in love with Alan Scott and sacrificing herself to save her family, in 1970 a second Rose and Thorn appeared, Rhosyn “Rose” Forrest whose Thorn personality manifested as a vigilante, fighting The 100 — a criminal gang who killed her father.
Taylor, an Australian playwright, has based much of his comic book career on Dark Horse’s “Star Wars” line and his independent work, such as the all-ages comic book “The Deep” for Gestalt Comics. Taking on a new corner of the DC Universe with “Rose And Thorn” this September, Taylor spoke with CBR News about the specifics behind his “National Comics” issue and explained what makes his Rose and Thorn different from all the other split-personality duos who have come before.
CBR News: Considering most of your comics work is through Dark Horse and independent publishers, how did you hook up with DC Comics for your “Rose and Thorn” issue?
Tom Taylor: When I first visited the old Wildstorm offices in La Jolla, group editor Ben Abernathy said I could take whatever graphic novels I liked from his shelves. Being a consummate professional, I sat down on the floor of his office like a kid at Christmas, and filled (and broke) a Comic-Con bag with graphic novels.
Soon after this, Ben Abernathy surprisingly gave me my first gig at DC/Wildstorm writing one of my favorite titles in the world, “The Authority.” This run was cut short by the sad closure of the Wildstorm offices. Since then, I’ve written the two-part “Brainiac/Sinestro Corps War” in “DC Universe Online Legends,” a “Legends of the Dark Knight” story called “The Crime Never Committed” with my friend, and fellow Australian, Nicola Scott and now we’re up to “Rose and Thorn.”
I’ve made no secret of my love for the DC Universe. These were my heroes growing up. Superman remains my ultimate writing goal.
What appealed to you about the concept behind Rose and Thorn? Were you familiar with the character before writing your “National Comics” issue?
The concept is instantly appealing, a divided personality of light and dark, innocence and sin all wrapped up in one damaged high school girl. I was familiar with a few of the previous incarnations but the new Rose and Thorn is a long way removed from those.
As mentioned, DC has had more than one incarnation of Rose and Thorn, dating back to the Golden Age to Gail Simone’s 2004 miniseries which tweaked the Rhosyn Forrest version. With your take, are you influenced by or going back to any of the previous material?
I love Gail Simone’s writing but I decided not to read her most recent Rose and Thorn run as I didn’t want any preconceived notions. Our Rose is a completely new take.
What can you tell us about the story and characters?
Rose is a teenage girl who suffered a childhood trauma. She has spent years in an institution and is now trying to get back to normality. She’s going to school, trying to fit in and she’s trying to make friends. Things have been going okay — but lately, pieces have been going missing.
Rose is starting to black out. She’s waking up not knowing what’s happened the night before. On the morning she wakes up in our story, things are about as far from right as they get.
Should readers prepare to see The 100 or Flash appear in your story, or is this entirely focused on the titular character?
This is all Rose all the time. Having said that, if you’re a Flash fan, Flash could be in every panel but moving too fast for you to see. Feel free to read it as if that’s happening.
Is your one-shot an origin story or something similar?
They told me in one of my early briefs this wasn’t to be an “origin” story; rather, it’s supposed to be a great story right in the middle of an ongoing series. It’s a tricky balancing act between trying to keep the reader informed and just telling a good story, but I hope we’ve pulled it off. It’s a mystery and I think not knowing everything actually helps. Rose doesn’t know the full story, and neither does the reader. We start lost together and slowly find our way.
You mentioned Rose has been institutionalized and is getting back on her feet — how would you describe the tone of the issue?
It’s a creeping suspense story, which takes some very dark turns. Rose is witty, intelligent and quite innocent, Thorn not so much. I think Ryan Sook’s gorgeous cover sets the tone for the whole book — it’s equal parts light and dark, reflecting Rose and Thorn themselves.
Besides working in comics, you’re also an incredibly prolific and acclaimed playwright. Do you feel your playwriting influences how you tackle comic book characters — especially ones where you’re playing with split personalities and inner turmoil?
The day I was offered this job, I was complaining to my wife I wanted to write something a bit different. I’ve been writing “Star Wars” and my own all-ages series, “The Deep,” for years and I wanted to sink my teeth into something more grounded. I think landing my first mainstream comics gig on the “Star Wars” books typecast me a bit and people felt I was the “sci-fi guy.”
What they probably don’t realize is the comic which led to the job was “The Example,” a tense story about an unattended briefcase on a train platform and based on my award-winning (ooh, ahh) play. Most of my plays were in fact intimate little social justice pieces. As a playwright, I concentrated more on dialogue and characters than action and, with “Rose and Thorn,” I was able to really go back to this. There isn’t a lot of space on a stage for interstellar wars.
What does artist Neil Googe bring to the table in depicting the Jekyll/Hyde dynamic of Rose and Thorn?
Neil is a master of exaggerated expressions and, as a playwright, I absolutely love this. I love working with artists who can make the characters “act” on the page. Big expressions, anger, joy, sadness, are great but I love an artist who can show complex emotions.
Neil hasn’t just had to show a range of emotions in one character — he’s had to depict two separate people in the one body and he pulled it off fantastically. He’s captured the innocence and intelligence of Rose and the cruelty of Thorn.
To close, do you have any other comic book projects in the works at DC or elsewhere? Any hopes Rose and Thorn might get extended into its own series?
I would love for “Rose and Thorn” to have life beyond this one-shot, and I would absolutely stick my hand up to keep writing Rose’s story. I wouldn’t stick my hand up to keep writing Thorn’s story — she’d probably cut it off.
It looks like I’m doing something new and very exciting at DC with my old “Authority” editor, Jim Chadwick, which should roll around quite quickly. Jim and I get along like a house on fire (minus the screaming and burning) and I’m very much looking forward to working with him again. At Dark Horse, my “Boba Fett is Dead” miniseries has just wrapped up and I currently have the “Darth Maul: Death Sentence” miniseries coming out. My first story for “2000 AD,” titled “15,” is appearing in “Prog 1797” on August 22nd. IDW Publishing is releasing their next “Rocketeer Adventures” hardcover in September, which features my “Work To Do” story.
And finally, “The Vanishing Island,” the second volume of my Aurealis Award-winning series, “The Deep,” is hitting in October/November. I love this book. It tells the adventures of a multiethnic family of underwater explorers who live on a submarine and it’s as joyous as running with unicorns through a sun-drenched daisy field.
I’ve also finally finished making my time machine. Seriously, I’m currently just thinking this into Word 2047 while wearing Abraham Lincoln’s hat and riding a velociraptor. The time machine has taken a really long time to make, though. I don’t know why future Tom didn’t just travel back in time and give it to me.
“National Comics: Rose And Thorn” goes on sale September 26.