• Let's Review: Twilight Sparkle's Micro

    No new IDW comics this week? Pish posh! One can always curl up with a good comic. 

    Let's have a look back at the first of the Micro series. If you haven't read them yet, mind the spoilers!

    Let’s set the stage. It’s February 20th, 2013. Magical Mystery Cure aired a scant four days prior and many fans are still fuming. Here comes the first in a series of micro comics meant to focus on the Mane Six’s individual adventures. Both the show and comics have been criticized for featuring characters not out of purpose but rather obligation.

    So the first adventure had a lot to face. Fans resistant to alicorn-Twilight want to point to this as an example of how unicorn-Twilight is better, and IDW comics are still riding the high off the finale of The Return of Queen Chrysalis.

    Given the context, this comic seems lucky to have gotten off with a general “meh” reaction. Personally, I think its lukewarm reception was unfair. There’s a lot to praise in its presentation.

    The artwork, unfortunately, is not the strongest aspect. Thomas Zahler took on the impressive feat of being story writer, artist, and letterer. An image hosted on his own website shows early line work before Hasbro requested revisions. It’s interesting to compare the before-and-after images, especially in relation to Celestia.

    I view Celestia as the hardest character to draw.
    Which one strikes your fancy?

    Colorist Ronda Pattison then added pastel hues to the line work for a more show-accurate feel. Yet there are panels where a head is disproportionate to the body or set too far back. Something subtle enough to throw the reader off. The pastel line art highlights this disconnect, even if we don’t recognize it. I wonder if bolder, dark lines would have helped give the comic its own identity.

    The story begins with Twilight doing what she does best: worrying. It’s time for an exam but Celestia asks that Twilight instead focus her efforts on helping the royal archivist. Summer Mane suffered a bad fall and needs some help while recovering. At Celestia’s urging, Twilight tackles this solo and immediately has to lie just to get in the front door. Summer Mane is reclusive and hostile, intentionally getting Twilight’s name wrong.

    I only recently resolved to re-watch Fight Club.
    Truly, my life follows themes. 

    While I did criticize the presentation of the ponies, the backgrounds for the royal archives are impressive. It’s a much more traditional layout with standard bookshelves, but Zahler made an effort to stress the curve of the combined shelves and the circular rooms. This creates a greater sense of scale and keeps the panels from looking flat.

    Getting neck stain just looking at this panel.

    The tepid reception to this comic originally had to do a lot with the low stakes. Twilight doesn’t have to rely on her magic beyond basic levitation. There is no big bad for her to battle. Much of comic features her working under Summer Mane’s sour attitude while trying not to get swept up in all the books. The enigmatic author, Jade Singer, comes up in the conversation more than once. Yet Twilight’s thirst for knowledge and her sincerity starts to reach Summer Mane, to the point where they start to have conversations about their favorite authors.

    You two, stop triggering the Fallout Equestria fans!

    Wait a minute! An older pony who suffered a bad fall, is initially hostile towards her young assistant, but slowly warms up to friendship? Suddenly, Friends Forever #27 feels like it trotted familiar ground.

    Oh, it's on!

    Jade Singer comes up often, and anyone who is a little familiar with tropes will think they see the twist coming. Twilight’s eagerness to learn backfires as she invades Summer Mane’s private office and is exiled. The kinda-surprise: Summer Mane is really Jade Singer! If you didn’t see that coming, you’re likely young or very trusting. Either way, I admire you. ;)

    Yet here’s where the double-twist comes in: Twilight figured that out early on. The hints were there and it’s implied that Twilight steered the conversation towards Jade Singer on purpose. She didn’t address it directly out of respect for privacy, though her eagerness to learn did undermine her restraint.

    It’s here that the comic makes its point: Twilight is more than just magical power. She is an avid reader, a sharp mind, a big heart, and a pony who understands demands. Jade Singer feared she’d hit a high point in her career too early. As Celestia’s personal student, Twilight empathizes with the idea of having to prove oneself time and again. And I appreciate any story that stresses that lofty positions come with demands. In fact, Twilight’s ascension to princesshood put a special emphasis on this part.

    Twilight’s micro doesn’t feature a lot of big moments or grand scale. It’s a focused, local story that relies on Twilight showing her best. For many, that wasn’t enough to leave an impression as we’d just finished a 4-part adventure arc and were wondering about the show’s future. Yet reading it again I appreciate how it didn’t reduce Twilight to her magical traits or her Element of Harmony status. The reason I enjoy Twilight as a character is because of her personality, and this comic does celebrate it.

    The fandom’s traveled further paths since this comic first published. Give it a read and see if your views on it might have changed. I think it’s worth a second look.

    Twitter: Silver Quill