Publisher: DC Comics
First Appearance: Flash Comics #89 (November 1947)
Created By: John Broome and Carmine Infantino
Rose Canton had an imaginary friend, “Thorn,” who she blamed for all the bad stuff she did. This fairly creepy childhood habit manifested in a worse way when she was studying biology on Tashmi Island as an adult. Exposure to the sap of a strange plant made the Thorn personality take over entirely – and also gave Thorn the ability to grow and manipulate plant life. She killed her professor, then reverted back to Rose and discovered, to her horror, what she’d done.
Back on the mainland, Thorn became one of the Flash’s rogues, Jay Garrick-style. She avoided jail – and, unfortunately, psychiatric help – by claiming, as Rose, that Thorn was her sister. Jay fell for this for a really embarrassingly long time before catching the snap. When he did, he had his good buddy Alan Scott fly poor Rose to Paradise Island, where the Amazons helped her suppress the Thorn persona. After a long, healing vacation, Alan flew Rose back home.
During those two flights, Rose fell in love with Alan, so she adopted yet another persona, dyeing her hair black and calling herself Alyx Florin. As Alyx, she wooed and eventually wed Alan – but Thorn reemerged on their honeymoon. Rose took over before Thorn could kill Alan, but fled, letting Alan think she’d died in a fire. When she turned out to be pregnant with twins, she gave them up for adoption, fearing Thorn would hurt them.
Eighteen years later, one of those twins, Jennie, found Rose back on Tashmi Island. By then, Rose had suppressed Thorn so well she seemed to be genuinely confused over whether Thorn existed or not. Jennie took pity on Rose, who she felt a deep connection with, and brought her back to Infinity, Inc. headquarters. Eventually, Thorn attacked Alan, Jennie, and her brother Todd, and the whole sordid story came out. Rose managed to wrest control back long enough to stab herself, saving her children’s lives.
Post-Crisis, it was revealed that Rose is also the mother of Mayflower, a plant-controlling member of the U.S. government-backed Force of July; Mayflower’s father is unknown. In the New 52, Rose is a teenager with a split personality seeking vengeance for her father’s death, a sort of combo of Rose Canton and Earth-1’s Rose Forrest.
So What’s So Great About Her?
On the face of it, Thorn has a lot of the appeal Poison Ivy does – a gorgeous, powerful woman in a bathing suit made of leaves, using vines to choke the crap out of jerks. While a lot of Ivy’s complexity comes from her righteousness and the fact that on a certain level, she does, in fact, have a point, Thorn’s villainy isn’t muddied with such gray areas – she’s really just a gleeful sociopath. And while I never want to meet any gleeful sociopaths, plant powers or no, they’re a lot of fun to read about.
There’s also something deliciously creepy about her origin. I mean, let’s be real: this portrayal of dissociative identity disorder only has a nodding acquaintance with anything in the DSM-IV, and comics in general have a lot to answer for when it comes to their portrayal of mental illness. Still, Rose’s habit of blaming her misdeeds on the unseen Thorn, and the way that excuse eventually takes over her adult life, has a thrill of Shining-esque terror to it, and I think the question of how culpable she is for her crimes, when she covers for her behavior with the “sister” excuse, is fascinating.
Mostly, though, I feel sorry for her. It’s clear that even when Thorn isn’t a factor, she’s got a lot of problems relating to the world in a healthy way; it wasn’t Thorn who decided to create an entirely new identity in order to be with Alan, after all. Her final breakdown, her desperate longing to believe that she isn’t Thorn, is done with genuine pathos along with the horror.
And in the end, Rose does turn out to be stronger than Thorn, and her love for her children and for Alan is stronger than her illness. I’d rather she’d gotten proper help for her problems and managed to put Thorn to rest for good, of course – but this is comics, and going out in a blaze of glory isn’t a bad alternative.
Flash Comics #89, 96
All-Star Comics #72-73
Infinity, Inc. v1 #13, 14, 16-18
Infinity, Inc. v1 Annual #1