• Let's Review: MLP #44

    Why so serious, Luna? Could it be because you're up against the ponies that saved you?

    It's time to talk about Part 2 of The Ponies of Dark Water.

    Wanna know where I got these spoilers?

    My friend, The Illustrious Q, has set a goal to collect all available covers.
    I admit, I'm too intimidated to try.
    The middle of a multi-issue arc is always hard to cover. Ideally, it will build off the opening's momentum and raise the stakes for the conclusion. Yet what can be said about it as a stand-alone comic?

    The artwork remains impressive and I'd say this is one of the most visually active issues to date. Explosions, magical battles, and water balloon fights all create a spectacle. We see multiple locations rendered with some great lighting and coloring. I don't think there's a single boring panel in the issue. Ponyville's residents feature more prominently with some OC inserts. We also get some great expressions that give each character their own personality.

    The big point for this issue is escalation. Last issue, our magically-corrupted heroines were an inconvenience. They talked a big game, put on airs, but hadn't caused any major harm. Rainbow Dash was a noise pollution source and Applejack became the embodiment of Walmart, yet no one came to harm. This issue shows what happens when members of the Mane cast begin to take events to an extreme.

    Fluttershy is probably the oddest flip. Her empathy for other ponies is gone, yet she is still a devoted animal lover and even apologizes for poor word choice. Our Ivy-league villain is set on punishing any one who intrudes upon her forest, and she's corrupting the animals (except Angel). Yet Fluttershy is also an example of how continuity is a double-edged device.

    Does this look like the face of cuteness to you?

    One of the more frustrating aspects of the comics that there's little carryover between events. Ponies will go through tremendous ordeals but won't integrate aspects into future stories. Nightmare Rarity's impact, Fluttershy's knitting chamber, and Starswirl's library are a few examples. Consider the deer from Root of the Problem. They were as sentient as ponies, yet we see several deer featured in Fluttershy's growing army. Has she grown so powerful that even Everfree's residents are under her control, or did the staff suffer a miscommunication?

    I get the comics are equal parts adventure and comedy, 
    but banter while fleeing always seemed so forced to me.

    Rarity and Twilight step up their villainy. Both were arrogant in the first issue but seemed to be holding themselves back. Twilight has decided to take the shortcut to intelligence. Rather that work hard and study, she'll just leech the intelligence from others. So it's possible more than half of Ponyville can't help because they've become simpletons. Rarity is now on the warpath against any fashion she deems unacceptable. Given her extreme tastes, I'm betting half of Canterlot would become a smoking crater.

    Is this saying only stupid people like to work out?
    That's not a good lesson. Forget I said that!

    Most dangerous of all is Pinkie, though the threat level is backwards. Using explosives to herd ponies into a performance is dangerous, but the followup is flat. Without any care for others, Pinkie's need to perform takes on a different meaning. What happens when a comedian doesn't care if their audience laughs?

    Okay, bad example. Thing is that while Pinkie's humor is awkward (and despite Sweetie Drops' desire to go back to explosions), it's a drop in tension rather than an escalation. Thankfully, she recovers as she rains down corrupting water balloons.

    The other part of a bridging story line is how our protagonists handle themselves. The Crusaders are the connecting thread as they try to recruit Zecora while evading Fluttershy. In a sense, they're on rails. Run away or ask for help; those are their only two options. Then again, it's not their job to fix this problem. They're the helpers.

    Zecora is more proactive, though at this point in the franchise I view her as more a deus ex device than a fallible character. With the exception of a recent Friends Forever issue, she has a potion or powder for every event and seems to know the answers before asking questions. Case in point, she dismisses a very logical question about Spike's unaffected nature. There's a difference between wisdom and being written to have all the answers. I fear Zecora has been slipping into the latter category.

    While Zecora is right to a fault, Luna may be in the other extreme. I think Luna made a mistake after her encounter with Applejack. The moment she knew that the Mane Six were enhanced, she should have called Celestia for reinforcements. Instead, she battles Rarity head-on, causing greater damage to the town, triggering Pinkie Pie, and inciting Fluttershy's anger. One of the more interesting aspects is that Luna makes no appeal to Rarity's better nature. Apparently she's taken the confrontation with Applejack to heart and knows such attempts will fail.

    Dang it, Luna! What did we say about taking the
    "Mare of Steel" approach?

    What's more interesting is the word choice. The battle of the Tabitha St. Germain characters jokes about fashion, but features a lot of talk about context. Luna mentions a cyclical nature while Rarity tries to dismiss the past. I get the impression that Luna is fighting to prove she still has a role in modern times. She left Equestria 1,000 years ago and returned to a world where six friends are more active in saving the world than the Princesses. Now that the nation's heroines have fallen, Luna has the chance to show she can still save the day. This instead sets the stage for her apparent downfall, though I imagine there's a twist in store.

    You're both favorites of mine! Please don't make me choose!

    Which leads to the ultimate question about part 2: what's the setup? None of the Mane Six are contained at this point, though the most direct confrontation on the horizon is between magic wielders. Have we learned enough to envision the conclusion or are things so gray they can include a surprise?

    In some respects I can see the end coming. Doubtless Zecora will discover a cure thanks to Spike and I wouldn't be surprised if the crusaders employ water balloons or squirt guns. At this point I think it safe to assume that both Celestia and the town ponies will not be involved in the final confrontation. How that confrontation unfolds is more mysterious. There are many moving pieces in play and the threats outnumber the protagonists at least 2 to 1. I'm eager to see how this will conclude.

    Here's looking forward to the final part next month!

    Twitter: Silver Quill