• Let's Review: Friends Forever #29

    A Fresh Friends Forever has hit stores. I wonder which character is more excited? 

    Let's talk about Maud and Rarity's adventure after the break. Spoilers within!

    I’m a sucker for odd couples. Two polar opposite personalities interacting for various reasons. Both have motivation. Both have an opinion on their counterpart. Both bring out the best and worst in each other.

    Get the right chemistry going and even a plate of spaghetti linguini can become memorable:

    So the chance for Rarity and Maud to share an issue of Friends Forever is exciting. Setting a mutual problem before one of the most passionate and one of the most stoic ponies is bound to create a dynamic. Brenda Hickey renders the variety of expressions (and Maud’s monotone look) with great energy and Heather Breckel’s color choices for each setting carry a unique look. Depending on the local, tones will shift between earthy hallways to vivid green pastures and deep violet caverns. 

    Andy Price remains my favorite artist, but I consider Brenda Hickey a close peer. 

    Our story begins at EGGS, the Equestrian Geological and Gemological Society convention. Rarity's hunting for new gem ideas. Of course, the chance to learn more about rocks is something Maud wouldn’t take for granite. 

    I learned a new word today!

    Before you can say “shale and well-met!”, the two are hanging out despite Rarity’s note that Maud is a tough pony to read. Much of this story is told from Rarity’s point of view via her diary. This comic mixes the highs and lows for the Friends Forever line.

    The best issues for this series feature the lead characters working together start-to-finish. Celestia and Spike’s shared quest in issue #3 or Twilight and Shining Armor in #4. 

    This issue takes a similar approach as one of Maud’s teachers announces newly-discovered caves near the Crystal Empire. With encouragement from Rarity, Maud decides to be the one to explore these caves. Problem is, they’ve got to race Maud’s nemesis, Buried Treasure. Although Buried Treasure does her best to hinder the duo at ever turn, her on-panel appearances are limited. This is also a good tactic for Friends Forever issues, as additional characters can distract from the advertised pair. 

    You ever get that feeling that you're seeing a pop culture reference,
    but aren't getting it? That's how I feel about those two in the back. 
    I don't know if I'm too old or too young.

    Although, let’s take a moment to consider the setup here. Maud’s teacher encourages her uncertified, inexperienced students to go spelunking in unexplored caves. Many times I’ve criticized Celestia for her trial-by-fire approach. I suddenly wonder if this might be Equestrian education’s norm. 

    Cavern abysses aren’t the only pitfalls in this comic. Telling the story with Rarity’s narration risks pushing Maud out of focus. Throughout the journey, Maud appears to give half-hearted effort and then give up while Rarity pursues the goal with zeal. The balance between characters seems to shift. An expressive personality like Rarity’s can easily overshadow other characters, much as she did the Cakes in issue 19. 

    The comic’s low point comes when Rarity begins to critique Maud’s expression. To Rarity, the absence of expressions translates into an emotional deadzone. Granted, understanding another’s motives and feelings is one of the most difficult social aspects. Many people, myself included, would have a difficult time interacting with Maud. Yet telling someone “be more like me” isn’t good social coaching. The best tactic is to find a means of expression works for the individual.

    Maud does have this moment, after all seems lost. Many issues in Friends Forever have the second character show their best near the end. In this case, Maud allows Rarity insight by sharing her own diary. Maud’s emotional range is just as dynamic as Rarity’s, though I will admit that seeing Maud suddenly expressive is a surreal experience. 

    My world-view is breaking!

    All these expressions are what I would expect from a character like Rarity, but they are allusions to how she feels inside. The most important expression is the very real smile she offers.

    What's seldom is what's wonderful.
    And if Boulder ever wants a brother,
    that bat's too perfect!

    I don’t consider it to be a spoiler that Maud helps bridge the final challenge. That is the format that many Friends Forever issues tend to follow. Rarity is our lens for this issue. We see the world from her perspective and interpret events through her narration. Maud is a mystery and less involving as a consequence. 

    Going back to the odd couple aspect, there’s a difference in their interactions. In both Maud Pie and Gift of the Maud Pie, Rarity wanted something from Maud. To have a social exchange or to get feedback on potential gifts. When Maud unintentionally denies Rarity’s efforts, the frustration translates into humor. In this comic, Rarity wants something for Maud. She wants to see her friend succeed and Maud’s apparent unenthusiasm makes her seem detached from the story. It doesn’t work as well as in the show.

    Both cases show how well these two can work off one another.

    Odd couples work great when both characters push. I love Applejack and Rarity sharing time because of their conflicting egos. In this case Maud's goals are running parallel. This lessons the tension and weakens their dynamic. 

    And when Maud pushes, you know it.

    That’s not to say they aren’t fun to see in action. I still enjoy the polar reactions and their shared struggle. The comic is fun and keeps the focus on the duo, as it should. The reason I can’t hold it up as the best example of Friends Forever is that we seem to be re-treading the lesson Rarity learned when Maud first appeared. There isn’t anything new to these characters, though it does celebrate what makes them so enjoyable. 

    Though now that I think about it, they were in the Crystal Mountains. Not far from a certain Empire…

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