We all know the story of a princess cursed to sleep eternally till she is awoken by true love's kiss from her Prince Charming...this isn't that story. This is the story of Briar Rose whose Prince was less than charming and so she slept forgotten for 100 years only to awaken in a dangerous world she does not recognize...
“I regret to inform you that the narrator of my fairy tale has died.”
The first line of this comic perfectly captures the tone that writer Christopher Cantwell and the rest of the team are aiming for as they cleverly twist the classic story of Sleeping Beauty in several ways and immediately the story you and I are familiar with takes a dark turn and catapults us 100 years past the story we all know into a dangerous future filled with darkness and peril for our awakened Briar Rose.
But let’s step back, Cantwell, artist German Garcia, and colorist Matheus Lopes open the book
with such a great contrast of image versus writing. In terms of the opening art pages from Garcia and Lopes, it’s bright, filled with smiling Princess images and fairy godmothers, and bathed in the golden light of a perfect life as a princess. The contrast comes from the narration that has a dark bent from the get-go (provided in the first person by our Briar Rose cause her narrator is dead remember) and while we get several pages easily identifiable by anyone who’s ever read or heard or seen the story of Sleeping Beauty, that dark vein Cantwell provides through Briar’s narration widens steadily until the golden light of Briar’s life is stained with darkness.
Cantwell’s dividing fork in the road and where the story veers away from the traditional is when ‘Prince Charming’ shows up and marries Briar except HE DOESNT BOTHER TO WAKE HER UP! so Briar sleeps while her husband and father make so much war that eventually they are conquered. The men in this opening issue are absolutely terrible. Things just get more bizarre from there as Briar finds herself awakened (rather mysteriously by an unknown shrouded figure) 100 years later in her fallen kingdom and having to deal with all sorts of horrors including giant mutant animals trying to kill her which is a clever twist on the traditional princess and animal trope, to being bundled up into slavery along with a strange blue northern creature who tries to help her. On top of all Briar’s troubles, she fears sleep (for obvious reasons) and there’s also some nasty prophecy that seems to indicate Briar is at the center of it.
What’s so striking about the story is how well thought out Cantwell’s divergence is, there is a
map that expands Briars the world into a whole magical series of countries or kingdoms, new
species, and environments. Cantwell and the creative team, completely immerse you in this world that is as unfamiliar to you as it is to Briar herself, and that works well to connect you with the character. Cantwell has opted for a type of ye olde fantasy folk dialect which is both fun and functional as it captures how out of time our princess is but also adds atmosphere to the script and character dialogue as Cantwell plays with it.
Then there’s Briar herself. She’s a marvelous contrast between a traditional princess and something else, she’s tough and loyal while still being stuck psychologically in the past that’s gone and having to cope with a reality she is totally unfamiliar with. Cantwell puts her through the wringer from the time her eyes open till the end of the issue. This is not a child’s fairy tale though with violence, misogyny, and swearing that would make a pirate blush so be warned, don’t give this to your seven year old to read.
German Garcia and Matt Lopez are tasked with bringing this twisted fairytale to life and the style is perfect as Garcia and Lopes start storybook traditional and then get to take that tradition and twist it with violence, blood, and subtle color tweaks that make it clear this is an adult spin on the story. Garcia’s wonderfully expressive style is perfect for this dark fantasy and at capturing Briar’s emotions as she negotiates this alien world she finds herself in. Garcia’s beautiful cartoonlike lineart is then enhanced by Lope’s colors which provide a layer of shade and depth that elevates the line art on almost every page. Garcia understands the power of an image and scale and several images, especially in the desert scenes in the later half of the book capture this understanding for deceptively simple-looking but incredibly striking imagery colored by Lopes’s matched palette tones. Andworld design provides excellently placed stylized lettering that is always aware of the image and so is always complementary and never detracts from the power of the image in the panel.
This is a strikingly beautiful comic with a smart script that takes the traditional fairytale idea in a distinctly more adult direction with some clever conceits and an immersive style and a healthy dollop of mystery that holds your attention from the get go.
BRIAR #1 is a pitch perfect opening that smartly twists the traditional fairytale we are familiar with into something much darker but deeply intriguing. Excellent character writing and beautiful stylized art wonderfully suited to the story being told elevate this first issue to the highest level possible. Its conceits are original and exciting and sink their hooks into you from the opening line. A genuinely fantastic first issue.
BRIAR #1: Happily Never After…
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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