• Let's Review: The Ponies of Dark Water

    We've gone over the individual parts, so how about a look at the overall story to the most recent three-part arc?

    Check out the review and sound off in the comments after the break!

    When the previews came out and stated our lead heroines would go bad, I was worried. Plenty of stories have dealt with the concept of a champion falling into selfishness or hate. Yet the weaker versions have always featured that change being forced upon the character. Brainwashing, corruption, some force that's to blame so the character remains untarnished no matter what happens.

    If a character goes bad, it can serve as a cautionary tale. This comic likes to emphasize Luna's tragic past, conveniently forgetting the Nightmare Rarity arc's take. While a blow to my beloved continuity, I'm glad they left that out. I never liked the idea that Nightmare Moon is a mind parasite, and Luna's fall should be the result of her own poor choices and attitude. Having the Mane Six go evil because they bathed in a corrupted hot spring is the opposite. No matter what happens, it's not really their fault.

    To this comic's credit, it started out tackling the idea in a believable way. The Mane Six didn't just start cackling and swearing allegiance to the dark forces. They knew what they were good at and stopped caring about others. Instead of asking how they could help, it's about what they are owed.

    Apologies to the Nostalgia Critic. I could have passed this up, but chose not to.

    This is where Tony Fleecs and Heather Breckel's contributions shine. Throughout the story, their work on the characters and backgrounds makes it a visual treat. We see so many locals and action scenes, each rendered beautifully. In a lot of ways I view this story like a summer blockbuster. Big visuals, big fights, a lot of spectacle.

     Don't know what she's upset about. This is a typical Ponyville Tuesday.

    That's not to dismiss the story element, but as the situation escalates it becomes too cramped for a three-issue arc. The Evil Six start off as comical villains. Over-reacting, posturing, but causing little damage. During a chase scene, Spike notes that Applejack is getting worse, and indeed by the second issue we see the Evil Six assaulting ponies and damaging property. The most action-packed scene being Pinkie raining down corrupting water balloons.

    Yet it's during the height of this action that the story starts to lose focus. There have been consistent themes. No matter what her mental state, Pinkie insists in each issue that comedy is based on surprise, setting up for her outwitting Twilight. The Evil Six increase their aggression as they begin to overlap and get in one another's way. The water is apparently growing stronger as well, since ponies struck by a water balloon instantly become selfish. There is a clear escalation, culminating with Nightmare Moon's return.

    Nightmare Moon, however, becomes the story's unraveling. It's not just the question of why Luna transformed while the others did not. It's also her approach. Nightmare Moon claims to have been freed from Luna's shell, as if they are indeed separate beings. She says she's been a part of the darker side for centuries. Twilight later declares that Nightmare Moon was Luna's "better" self. But why? What's the appeal? The only answer I can think of is "because she's evil". So now our heroines really are cackling and saying how much they love being evil.

    Applejack was my favorite villainous interaction. Not because of action or menace. See Fluttershy and Rarity for that. No, Applejack was interesting because she acknowledged how she used to be and claimed she was better. No mention of evil or world domination. She just felt liberated and focused. There is the argument that giving care and attention to others might distract from our own personal achievements. One aspect that isn't explored is how empty that accomplishment can feel if one reaches it alone.

    Here I am, talking about the Evil Six. What about our heroines? Despite my love for Luna, I don't think this was her strongest showing. Awesome entrances aside.

    So awesome!

    Luna is the magical muscle. The force that goes up against the enhanced Evil Six and often gets thrown around to show their menace. Very little of her interactions go beyond a fight, though her dialog with Rarity did hint that Luna's greatest fear is being obsolete. I find it sad that Twilight was able to predict Celestia would send Luna. Has Equestria's sovereign grown so dependent on others that she won't directly intervene to save her friends?

    Or put you in the cross-hairs of a psycho pony with evil water balloons.
    But maybe I'm overthinking it.

    Zecora is much as she's become in the show. I don't doubt her wisdom, but her insight seems forced. She knows the answer right away, without trial and error. The odd thing is that this doesn't make her look smarter. Much like when she had that time-viewing alicorn potion in Princess Twilight, I get the sense that she's becoming less a real character and more a plot point.

    I also realize I just typed the words "time-viewing alicorn potion". This franchise does weird things to people.

    The protagonists I really cheer for are Spike and the Cutie Mark Crusaders. They haven't Zecora's knowledge or Luna's power, but they accomplish much. The CMC in particular run into several dangerous scenarios and show they've got impressive running skills. Yet this power difference makes them more sympathetic. It also adds to their success when they manage to out-think their sisters and restore them. Spike is likewise sincere and proactive, though his contribution is more about his dragon biology than his own virtue.

    The downside for the Crusaders is the lack of impact these events hold. While the fillies react with proper fear or confusion, they never seem to register what's happening. Their big sisters no longer love them. The family they knew might be gone for good. Nothing seems to hurt or worry them beyond the immediate, physical threat. I think the story would have had greater impact if we'd seen the positive ponies register what could be lost. 

    Of course we must discuss the ending. An invading animal army, a corrupted alicorn set loose, and a second plotting every outcome. There was so much at play with rising stakes, and it all ends with a rainstorm and water bucket. Given the progression, this feels like a letdown. I wonder how this might have played out with one more issue. Could we have seen the animals invade while Nightmare Moon, Twilight, and Rarity battled for dominance? Could the staff have taken it to an action-packed extreme? Given some of the darker humor or events we've seen in the past, I have a hard time believing they shied away just because this is a kid's comic.

    My favorite fight of the comic.

    The fact that it is aimed at the young makes the theme of good and evil more important. In some ways, this story works to show altruism vs selfishness. As Luna notes, the Evil Six would have been unstoppable had they'd worked together. The physically weaker individual ponies banded together to win, so I think you can mark that as a positive message.

    When the story goes in to flat-out "evil", that moral becomes lost. No matter how cruel the acts, people don't do something just because it's evil. They justify the action. They try to force it to make sense. To the individual, it seems like they're doing what's right for them. Telling kids that someone is doing something because they're evil sends the wrong message. There's no caution to watch out for our own vices because we tell ourselves that we could never be pure evil like those villains.

    My favorite villains are the ones that make us realize how easy it is to slip into selfishness. How their cruel actions can make sense. How we're all just one bad day away from...

    So weighing all the good and the bad, I think this is a fun story, but not an insightful one. There's plenty of action and rising tension if one can accept a rushed ending. It's always fun to see Luna and the CMC carried themselves well. Yet the running joke of Tony Fleecs and Tom Zahler's OC's debating philosophy highlights that the idea for a look at selfishness and cruelty is there, but never fully explored.
    I agree with Zahler-pony!

    We'll see how the next two-parter carries itself.

    Dang it, Bon Bon! Too soon!

    Twitter: Silver Quill