• Let's Review: Friends Forever #30

    Well, that might be the most depressing image I've drawn thus far. Don't really want to try to top that.

    30 issues of Friends Forever and Princess Cadance gets her first chance as central figure. Let's see how she does. Expect spoilers after the break!

    Well... this is awkward. I find myself reviewing a very meta comic about Princess Cadance. I've never been a huge Cadance fan. I define my view as "inclined towards disappointment." I get the sense she could be more, but is trapped by the need to market princesshood. She's often presented as the most "fairy tale" of the princesses, which leaves little room for her to be herself.

    In a comic that tries to give Cadance a sense of greater depth, it's important that the artwork add a visual punch. Agnes Garbowska fills the roll of both artist and colorist with some assistance from Lauren Perry. Although I enjoy their softer coloring style, the Crystal Empire is a poor subject. Garbowska renders everything in pastels that match the show and handles the line work for the hard-angled crystals nicely, but there isn't a lot of impact. Crystals are meant to be flashy and draw the eye. Cadance needs to stand out with sharp expressions. The artwork in this issue feels too soft to stand out in memory, which weakens Cadance's presentation.

    Consider Cadance's low point. Everything in this image is distinct with some nice details, but where is my eye supposed to be drawn? 
    I can focus on Cadance with some effort, but nothing is making her stand out. 

    You might note that I'm talking a whole lot about Cadance. Despite the covers, Twilight isn't big factor. She's the viewer's proxy. As she sees Cadance's struggle, so do we. Which leads to the first story-based weakness for this comic: it's not a mutual effort.

    Many Friends Forever issues feature a goal shared between characters. Get gems to create a lens. Earn cutie marks. Attend a school reunion. Save the pigasus. A few have featured one character with the problem and the other tagging along. I have to stretch my memory to remember which because they didn't leave much of an impression. Such is the case here where Twilight, once again visiting her brother and sister-in-law, joins Cadance incognito in a visit to the Crystal Shops. Methinks Princess Cadance might be a fan of Princess Jasmine.

    They definitely look surprised, but there's not as much energy to it.

    This section of the comic is one of the most self-aware commentaries. Each shop is selling unofficial princess merchandise. Costumes, toys, probably a collector's mug or two. At first it all seems equally superficial. One owner states that Cadance's merchandise is a big sell point. I've commented before that raising and lowering the sun and moon are the least of Celestia and Luna's duties. So why Cadance becomes upset at being called "the pretty princess" didn't originally make sense.

    Meh. I'll see better cosplays at Bronycon. :)

    Upon reflection, it's more that Cadance is being identified by her looks and relationships than any personal virtue. We witness a filly say she wants a Cadance and Shining Armor set so they can live happily ever after. A filly playing with Celestia or Luna toys can enact any number of conflicts, and a Twilight toy is synonymous with adventure. But a Cadance and Shining Armor set can only get married once. Unless the filly's been watching too much Springer...

    I don't care if this is a cheap visual gag. I would watch this crossover. 

    There's a dual meta-critique here. Looking at actual MLP merchandise, Cadance really is marketed as a pretty pink princess. There isn't much invitation to imagine her as an adventurer or champion. Her first toy was for her wedding, and her life is pure privilege. Jewels, comb sets, carriages. Remember when one mini-toy described her as "loves tiaras"? Of course, that can be as hardcore as you want.

    Bless you, Egophiliac. Your hardcore artwork saves the day!

    While Twilight's journey has been one of self-discovery and maturation, Cadance seems stuck. I've heard many fans say that her growth is complete as of her wedding day. That leads the larger cultural critique: we view marriage as an ending. Many stories feature that in the resolution.  It's meant to be a celebration after struggle, though in reality it's the start of a new life. Rarely do we want to talk about the adventures that come after.

    So Cadance's self-esteem issues have more merit than I saw on first reading. She wants to know she's had more an impact on the world than just looking pretty and getting married. Yet how she handles this doesn't speak well. In her self-pity, she shuts down. She only attempts to settle two disputes and immediately defers to her husband and sister-in-law. She cancels tea with a group of fillies. Because what kind of role model demeans herself with tea parties?

    Oh. Right.

    Cadance wants to re-define herself, but takes no action. Her conflict becomes a loss of happiness and physical beauty. She keeps waiting for someone to affirm her rather than taking steps to strengthen herself. The comic loops into its own self-critique. Even the resolution features a pep-talk from Twilight rather than any accomplishment I can credit to Cadance.

    Ultimately, Cadance's appeal seems to come from her past 
    with Twilight rather than any current virtue.

    Which leads to the second big issue with this... um... issue. Cadance and Twilight have a long history, but the comic is playing it too safe. For a storyline that seeks to offer a new interpretation for Cadance, it's not willing to have her step outside the royal family comfort zone. My view of Celestia shot up immensely from her adventure with Spike, and I enjoyed her connection with Pinkie Pie. Luna and Discord shared an excellent story together.

    These new connections have meaning because they can forge unexpected bonds. Cadance and Twilight have been on multiple adventures and so there's less innovation to offer. I hope Cadance could have other chances to share adventures. 

    So ultimately we have a story that calls attention to Cadance's limited presentation, but does not offer an alternative. We're assured that she does offer leadership and inspiration, but witness her fail at both. We see a hint that she wants to grow, yet by the end we've been assured for the status quo. Despite this comic's efforts, I can't say she's evolved beyond the image of a pretty, popular, pink princess.

    Which is unfortunate. I want to like Cadance. I want to cheer for her as she tackles new phases in life. Yet I keep hitting the roadblock that she's presented as perfection and doesn't try to be more. It's not fun to read about a character that can't grow and I imagine it's hard to write one as well. I'll salute this comic's attempt but can't say it's memorable.

    So please sound off in the comments! What are some challenges Cadance can face at this point in her life, and what's the best way to show her rising to the occasion? 

    One last thought: Princess Luna became Nightmare Moon due to envy and pride taking over. Would an alicorn like Cadance succumb to a similar fate if she gave into the sadness and self-pity?

    Twitter: Silver Quill