• Let's Review: Friends Forever #31

    Thanks for indulging my flippant factual foolery. Now let's do this for real!

    You still have to click "Read more >>" to see the words. Some things are absolute.

    My favorite Friends Forever issues usually involve unexpected character pairs. This issue isn't totally unexpected because Rainbow Dash and Little Strong Heart formed a bond during Over a Barrel, but I'm more amazed to be seeing the swift little buffalo once again. Yes, I'm going to use the term "buffalo" to avoid confusion, even though it should be "bison".

    It defies all logic, yet I can't help but be impressed.
    I don't know enough about cultures like the Arapaho, the Onondaga, the Navajo, or any other group to notice authenticity. The best I can offer is "smoke signals don't work like that!" Yet given the push back against the the buffalo's role in Over a Barrel, I'm impressed that the comic would include Strong Heart; and glad for it.

    "Uh, I already met him."

    In addition to his first foray into writing for MLP, Tony Fleecs tackled the artwork for the comic's majority. His work has improved a lot in my view. Comparing this against the Fluttershy Micro, he seems to have become more comfortable drawing the characters.

    A tale of two Pegasi.

    Heather Breckel continues to make great use of tones to convey the environment. From the light off a fire playing on the characters' coats to the chilled violets of a snowscape, I'm a sucker for the coloring. 

    Oooh, Little Strong Sass.

    Yet the highlight comes from the Rainbow Crow's lore, illustrated by Sara Richard. The whole layout sings. Richard is able to convey a multi-event story on one page without relying on panel blocks, and her artwork has such beautiful detail. The colors and shapes create a boundary without truly dividing the image. The Rainbow Crow's brilliant colors help emphasize its sacrifice. An especially important fact as it sets the tone for Rainbow and Strong Heart's trek.

    The story of the Rainbow Crow/Great Crow features a lot of themes. Courage, generosity, humility, self-control, sacrifice, remembrance. Just by looking at this story, we get a sense of what this journey demands of both heroines.

    Though it is weird to know this isn't a creation myth, but rather a historical account. It makes some sense, given Equestria's fantasy setting. Yet between this, Daring Do, and other stories-proven-fact, I wonder if the ponies have any fictional parables.

    So Rainbow and Strong Heart must gain more feathers from the Great Crow, and their journey mimics the legendary account. The length of their travels is made obvious, but the two together represent the Crow's self-mastery. While carrying the sun's fire, the Crow could not fly too fast and ruin its efforts, nor too slow and kill itself. Rainbow pushes for speed, not realizing she's rushing headlong into danger. Little Strong Heart wants to take the traditional paths, but doesn't seem to acknowledge her tribe's plea to hurry so they can plant crops. 

    All this is established by their actions, even before the main conflict begins. Rainbow Dash is so impatient that she starts recommending other ponies to fix the problem before understanding. This leads to a tangent that I'm sure will in no way cause an uncomfortable situation...

    Only in Equestria could you commit this faux pas and not get arrested.
    Little Strong Heart's views are not necessarily practical. That smoke signal did the job, but consider how much she took for granted. It seems unreliable compared to going to a nearby pony town and asking them to send word.

    Both characters are strong-willed and opinionated, and they trade dominance throughout the story. I never get the sense that one character is the focus while the other a tag-along. This is the kind of balance that makes a Friends Forever issue enjoyable.

    The pacing in this comic is swift but even. We move between several locals in quick order and don't get bogged down in any single location. The journey to the crow's nest takes six pages. Not a small amount in a twenty-page story, but combine that with the setup, the lore, the climax, and resolution and it's impressive they could include so much. Often the formula is two panels to set up the leg of a journey, followed by one payoff panel. This gives us just enough info to imagine the peril.

    The violet elephant with the blonde hair was the fallback.
    IDW couldn't afford the pink elephants.

    And still that little thunder imp makes an appearance. Fleecs really loves that little guy!

    The flip side to this is that we can feel too rushed. There isn't a lot of time to ground these characters as they move from A to B to C to D.It isn't until we near the end that the story focuses more on character conflict than physical challenges.

    Because both characters are strong willed and vocal, it's natural they'd come to an argument. Rainbow Dash is the best action-oriented pony, but she left sensitivity behind long ago. So it may seem justified when Strong Heart–a being without digits–finds a way to give Rainbow the double deuce. Yet I think this says more to Strong Heart's flaws than any victory. 

    Here's the thing, that's good characterization. Much like Rainbow's insensitivity, Strong Heart's pride makes her a more dynamic character. She commits mistakes, and her views can create tension with others. That makes for more interesting stories. We often want characters to be presented in a positive way so we can like them, but the best characters are a mixture of positive and negative elements. 

    The only uncertainty is the sacrifice. Like the Crow before her, Rainbow Dash gives up a part of her identity, albeit ceremonial. It doubles as a gift to the Crow, much like the song the Crow traded for the sun's fire. At first I wasn't sure what Strong Heart gave up. Then it hit me: the need for control. Having set the path most of the way, she had to trust this last stretch to someone else. There were dozens of ways Rainbow could have failed, and Strong Heart was willing to let her make an effort. No lecture on how Rainbow should present herself. No rules. Just some surprise at how Rainbow didn't hesitate.

    I can't say this adventure taught Rainbow the value of tradition. Nor can I say that it gave Little Strong Heart a chance to lighten up. It's more that they built upon a mutual respect. Thus we have a happy ending for all, except maybe two.

    This issue is in my top 5 for Friends Forever. Were it a part of the main series, I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been a two-parter. Yet I think that the staff used each panel to convey the most story and delivered a stronger punch. It took a one-shot character and made her more interesting, provided a good journey with humor, and the artwork is gorgeous. If you haven't jumped on board the comic train for a while, this is a good place to start. 

    Twitter: Silver Quill