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Briar #6
BOOM! Studios

Comic Books

‘Briar’ #6 slows things down with heart-smashing effectiveness

All you need is a mountain, great dialogue, and a ruined village.

There were heaps of reasons to adore the first arc of Briar. Writer Christopher Cantwell explored fantasy with a truly fresh perspective, imbuing it with deeper emotional and socio-political context to give us a truly robust adventure. And yet issue #5 really felt like a standout moment — few other creators could return after some 13 or so months to an exciting new arc and instantly turn their hero, Briar Rose, into a murderer.

So, how does Cantwell and the rest of the creative team follow-up the destruction of Shadow Village in issue #5? By earnestly and ruthlessly exploring the consequences and ramifications. And man oh man is it satisfying.

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In a lot of ways, this issue of Briar felt like a bottle episode (which makes sense since Cantwell made his name writing/producing for TV). It was a chance to put the whole crew in one place to get them to really think about what had happened and what it all meant. Of course, that focused primarily on Briar Rose, and how she’s wholly hesitant to believe something is wrong with her despite the clear and abundant signs. That certainly speaks to the journey of anyone undergoing some deeply personal transformation or overcoming trauma; Briar Rose is clearly a great stand-in for anyone of us who has to grapple between who they’ve been shaped to be and the person we want to become fighting it out.

But it’s not just about our hero, either. Spider deals with this tragedy by leaning into her people’s folklore, and trying to find some kind of redemption by caring for a sickly crane. That felt counter to her usual shtick in all the best ways, and a chance to see more sides of her as well as this larger process of grief. Roop had his most robust showing to date; in some ways, he was the voice of reason, trying to help his friends even as the Shadow Village “incident” clearly stirred issues of home and family in his own mind. It was a great time for Roop to really stand up, and his presence was a facilitator of some truly big ideas here. Even The Captain, who remained sort of numb and stoic, felt like a solid commentary about this entire episode.

Briar #6

BOOM! Studios

So, then, what exactly is that commentary? I mentioned earlier about overcoming cycles of trauma and grief, and it really feels like this whole arc could be about just that. If the first arc of Briar was about removing yourself from a culture of violence and denigration (for all of our leads, really), then this arc of Briar is about what comes next. How do you deal with your bedrock issues? How do you overcome the path of destruction you’ll undoubtedly face on your journey to a new self? Are you a bad person with good intentions, or a good person who hasn’t quite figured it all out? Can you ever ever truly “fix” your mistakes and find some kind of light? Will the dark things always control your life? All of these questions (and more) seem to be swirling about Briar, and it’s making for some deeply compelling storytelling.

For one, it’s a nice bit of commentary on the idea of storytelling and the hero’s journey (which is again extended by the bottle episode-esque structure of issue #6). But mostly it’s such a profound way to ground the book’s interests in feminism, generational trauma, community, and fate and destiny in a more sturdy way, with characters that are going through some -ish and we don’t know if they can make it through to the other side. We certainly hope so, but there’s still so much lush pain and story left ahead.

Briar #6

BOOM! Studios

I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak briefly about the use of language in this issue. In my review of #5, I noted how things felt more plain-spoken, which felt important in exploring Briar Rose’s ongoing immersion. But given the very dramatic scope of issue #6, we got more poetic dialogue (that occasionally “slipped” at times). What a wonderful way, then, to show us the emotional stakes, connect this process to the larger events of arc #1 and our heroes’ pasts, and make people really think about the personal and group dynamics at work here. It’s subtle, maybe to the point of being less significant, but it just shows the depths that Cantwell is exploring to tell a massively powerful story.

A story, of course, that was aided by the visuals. I’d previously mentioned that issue #5 was mostly a “lateral move” despite a new art team (now comprised of artist Alex Lins, colorists Luis NCT and Mar Silvestre, and letterer AndWorld Design). I didn’t mean that as some insult — rather, the visuals were meant to maintain that cohesion/familiarity as the story began to “morph” from the first arc. But I don’t think this “bottle episode” would have been nearly as effective if it weren’t for some especially significant visual choices/ideas.

Briar #6

BOOM! Studios

In some cases, it’s small things, like the way flashbacks/memories are layered into the ongoing narrative for maximum sting and efficiency. Or, the way the red of Shadow Village is balanced and/or contrasted with the blue of the mountains to show us the importance and individual scopes of these two places (and what to expect or maybe not expect as the crew has isolated themselves). Even the way that when Briar Rose dreams of the nasty Grendrid, that red nearly consumes the page and we see what might be at the root of all this and the way emotions can swing and explode with such profound violence. It’s also interesting that Grendrid gets her own color (purple) and what that might say about her role and how we’re meant to perceive her.

But even that extra powerful use of color wasn’t quite a match for this issue’s true visual achievement: the humanity and emotionality of it all. Making a bottle episode ain’t easy, and past issues of Briar have been packed with sword fights, heaps of magic, and some intriguing locales. But we got nearly the same kind of excitement and engagement with just the mere presence of our heroes. Like the slight tinge of mania on Briar Rose’s face when she thought magic might save her from herself. The solemn looks of Roop and how that spoke to his own struggle to help while dealing with those various issues. Even Spider’s body language, and how in times it almost seemed like she was happy (ain’t that just a touch creepy?)

Briar #6

BOOM! Studios

All of this emotion and humanity made this snow-covered terrain feel especially alive, and somehow even outdid the one minor-ish battle we got toward the issue’s end. If you’re going to keep them stuck in one area, emoting endlessly through big, uncomfortable (but always compelling) dialogue, it was the little displays and moments like these that gave us a better understanding of how these characters were developing and let us into this world at a time when our engagement seemed extra essential. It certainly seemed like the art team wasn’t just more comfortable, but are making decisions now to really make this “phase” of Briar entirely their own.

Despite my focus on little instances and the emotionality of this issue, big stuff certainly did happen. The crew have a new challenge ahead as they’re, let’s say, separated momentarily. And Grendrid’s appearance here has some interesting ramifications not only thematically but in making that character more of an actual presence.

Yet I can’t escape the idea that Briar #6 was a massive turn for this book into even deeper and more potent storytelling, and a chance to understand its true power in crafting this exploration of how we make it through life free and happy (and how that means struggle and blood-letting along the way). Consider this whole issue reason No. 77 as to why you should love Briar.

Briar #6
‘Briar’ #6 slows things down with heart-smashing effectiveness
Briar #6
This book continues to reach into the beating heart of fantasy and pull out an increasingly textured and compelling story of life and its many (mis-) adventures.
Reader Rating0 Votes
The writing and structure of this story continues to feel both inventive and gut-wrenchingly effective.
The art may be sturdy and solid but it's clearly capable of powerful flourishes and additions.
The scope and power of 'Briar' grows increasingly, wonderfully complicated with each new issue.
IDK, yo, I wanted longer sword fights?!
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