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Briar #5
BOOM! Studios

Comic Books

‘Briar’ #5 returns from a rest with its sword a swingin’

Wake up, dummies: new ‘Briar’ just dropped.

Whether or not enough people knew it, Briar was a powerful slice of modern fantasy. Effectively “What if things turned out super poorly for Sleeping Beauty,” the book explored feminism, community, and ideas of fate and destiny with equal parts heart, humor, and harrowing adventure.

With a debut arc of just four issues (which seemingly featured minor delays with the final two issues), the story felt like there was still so much more to offer (even as the adventure itself easily and satisfyingly could’ve wrapped with April 2023’s issue #4). Luckily, writer Christopher Cantwell wasn’t yet done with Briar, and now we come to the long-awaited issue #5.

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And whether you’re welcoming its return, or joining the adventuring party for the first time, it’s issue #5 that will give Briar the due that this totally excellent book has fought for and earned.

But before the hows and whys, a recap of sorts. Without spoiling too much of the first arc (hopefully), Princess Briar Rose wakes up from her long, long nap into a medieval world she can hardly recognize. After setbacks and battles galore, she and her merry band of heroes — the Noorish warrior Spider, the wytch Roop, and the undead Captain Bly — set about to defeat Grendrid (Briar’s old fairy godmother and the person who put her on ice) to save the kingdom and deny Briar’s own destiny as (basically) this living apocalypse.

Issue #5, then, finds the gang hot on the trail of Grendrid, hatching a plan that’ll have them conquering a treacherous trail to wind up at her very front door. But first, there’s livestock to recover and maybe a town to save (sorta…) While the book hasn’t lost a bit of momentum over the last year or so, there’s no denying that there’s been some real changes that have impacted the future of Briar in some decidedly important ways.

Briar #5

BOOM! Studios

Perhaps the biggest change is the art team — gone are artist Germán García and colorist Mat Lopes, with artist Alex Lins and colorists Luis NCT and Mar Silvestre stepping up. Honestly, it’s a pretty solid development visually. The “old” team did a wonderful job in capturing the grit and madness of this world while balancing that fairy tale-style romance. The new squad, then, clearly stand on their own two feet — I think the world feels a bit more measured and robust overall even as they fully maintain the basic visual ideas and structures to foster much-needed alignment between the two arcs.

Perhaps there’s not as much overt fantasy energies floating about — i.e., slightly less beguiling and brain-melting moments where Grendrid’s magic creeps in — but I think this new team nails the inherent absurdity of the team while also adding more suffering and texture to show that they’re in a dire situation and the world itself is a touch more dark and foreboding. (Which is saying a lot given the way the world existed during that first arc.)

Briar #5

BOOM! Studios

My best compliment is that this new art team is a mostly lateral move — it’s a solid level of continuation with just enough arc-appropriate shifts and changes, and all of it exists together as this grander living mural of this incredibly interesting, perfectly layered fantasy world that’s familiar but also so much more bleak and brutal than anything else in the genre. It’s worth noting that one of the clear improvements is a greater sense of darkness and some interplay with light —again, wholly appropriate for the story’s development and yet also done to give it that extra individualized visual identity.

If there are even bigger, more significant changes (even as the art change does still feel important), it’s the way Cantwell approaches this story and his own writing. One of the “smaller” such changes is the dialogue — it seems like across the first arc, as Briar Rose was making her way deeper in this new world, she slowly relinquished some pomp and circumstance in her vocabulary. Now, as we get to issue #5, it felt like her immersion was nearly complete, and I think that continued shift was more noticeable in her interactions and her larger place in the world.

Briar #5

BOOM! Studios

Similarly, I think it made some of this book’s larger personality — the goofy, sometimes blue humor and the way people balance old and new ideas and behaviors — feel all the more impactful and zany in its scope. It’s a nice thread of lightness that’s always made the book’s more complicated thematic work feel important but also a touch more palatable for more casual readers.

And speaking of the thematic stuff, perhaps the most involved and/or significant change in this new arc is some of that core messaging. Or, at least what it means or tells us about Briar Rose. Specifically, the first arc was all about her growing pains and trying to stand up in this strange new world. This time around, she better understands her role, and there’s a sense that she’s accepted her lot and is trying to make the best of it in a way that honors some sense of goodness and her own mission of justice. The question becomes, then, who is Briar Rose really and truly? She’s heard across the first arc that she’s cursed and doomed and yadda yadda, but in this arc, she actually sees for the first time that she may have a dark power after all.

Briar

BOOM! Studios

And that realization isn’t just a powerful development, but a really important shift in the book’s thematic exploration and larger ideas. If the first book touched on ideas of male-female dynamics, the dangers of toxic masculinity, and how we deny women’s rights despite these prevailing fairy tales otherwise, this second arc looks to inject some darkness to give Briar Rose a sense of power and to see what happens when she’s no longer just a victim.

Will she be as bad as all those terrible men? Can she do something good with this newfound understanding of what she really is? How will her makeshift community help support or guide her? And will she lose her way entirely, or is Briar Rose keen to stop a culture of hate and violence with truth and love? I think these are key questions swirling at the book’s heart, and they give us some powerful contextual underpinnings as they also play into the larger nature/structure of fairy tales. It’s definitely recontextualized the scope of this book, and it’s where I think the whole title proves itself to be even more thoughtful, engaging, and relevant than ever before.

Mostly, I think this arc asks the bigger question of, “What happens when you get what you want?” For Briar Rose, that means power, a clear goal, and a path toward it all — but will she be the same person when she gets there, and does beating your foes really mean a happy ending? It’s that increasingly thoughtful bent, alongside just a really solid fantasy tale with jokes and sword fights galore, that truly makes Briar. I mean this with all of my heart: don’t you dare sleep on this one.

Briar #5
‘Briar’ #5 returns from a rest with its sword a swingin’
Briar #5
Despite a long-ish wait, 'Briar' roars back more funny, bloody, and motivated than ever before.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
A new art team manages to both break ground and honor the book's visual identity.
Tweaks to the story give us even bigger themes and ideas for exploration.
The story hasn’t lost a step as it treads into new and daring terrain.
If the first arc wasn't appealing, issue #5 might not be able to sway you.
8.5
Great
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