• Let's Review: Friends Forever #1

    If I didn't care about Team Brooding or Team Shirtless, then I certainly won't ask you to choose between Team Cake and Team Pie.

    What I do care about is whether or not this comic was a good introduction to the Friends Forever line.

    Let's talk about the issue after the break. Watch out for Team Spoilers!

    Let's address the elephant in the bakery first. Friends Forever #33 accidentally came out early online. There is something about October and early releases for both the comics and show...

    I debated tackling this issue, but because hard copies have not yet hit stores I've decided to hold off. The review will be up on the official release date. For now, we're going to talk about the comic that launched this series.

    Friends Forever #1 has a dubious distinction in my collection. It is the only pony comic in IDW's franchise I opted to not buy upon release. Even I find that odd, as I think there have been more disappointing stories. I went ahead with those stories to see where the they would go, or the enticing artwork make it worth a purchase. What do you do when the story is a one-shot letdown and the artwork doesn't draw you in? (Pun intended). Short answer: you wait until the trade paperback collection.

    This issue features the combo of Alex De Campi, Carla Speed McNeil, Jenn Manley Lee, and Bill Mudrow. As far as I can recall, this is the only time they've worked on the pony comics. We'll talk art in a moment but let's dive into the story first.

    The cover can be misleading, but I can't hold that against a comic. How many issues have I seen where the main character is defeated, dead, or is in a situation that never occurs within the pages? Comic covers are meant to entice you to read, not give away the story.

    I call it "Sugar Surplus Survey".

    Yet set aside any thoughts of Pinkie Pie and Applejack directly competing. Pinkie Pie is participating in the Equestria Super Chef Competition. Grand prize: 50,000 bits. Given that I've never been able to nail down the value of a bit compared to the U.S. dollar, I'm going to assume that's a lot.

    Applejack is... there. To deliver a pie to the backstage crew. Doesn't really inspire confidence for the on-air Canterlot talent when you have order in a pie from Ponyville. Regardless, a mix up causes Applejack to be mistaken for Marine Sandwich. It is a classic switcheroo comedy, which could easily be resolved if Applejack just said she's not the real Marine Sandwich. Oh, wait...

    Yeah. This only works because the competition staff are incredibly dense. They don't even recognize the right contestant. Marine Sandwich's design is nothing to celebrate, as it's a direct Fluttershy recolor. Perhaps a funny contrast, but at least if she were an Applejack look-alike the confusion would be more believable.

    "Hi Kettle, I'm Pot. You're a bad recolor!"

    Having talked about the recolor aspect, let's talk about the artwork. The contest's unnamed host is the best example. Much of the colors in this comic feel imbalanced. The line work is too bright or the ponies over-saturated. The end result is a very bright but also hard to view comic.

    A ham bone cutie mark. 
    For an herbivore species, that's gotta be awkward.

    I get the sense that the art is trying to match the show's look, but the poses are often slightly off. By trying so hard to match the show's look, the comic ends up not having its own identity. Worse still is the over-reliance on gradients. There are almost no backgrounds in the issue and those that appear are so simplified they become indistinct.

    The characters' expressions feel unfocused. It's hard to convey how an artist puts life into characters on a still page. Yet when the ponies look at one another, their eyes seem off-focus enough to get the sense that they're not really seeing one another. These are just lines on a page, lacking the spark I see in other issues.

    That's not say there aren't enjoyable elements to the story. The three judges for this contest include a pony featuring a bindi, which at least implies some cultural diversity. Another judge is a griffon who is much more polite than most. Last but not least is a buffalo who has a very friendly tone. It was refreshing to see other species or different cultural representations.

    The rival chefs are parodies of actual chefs or absurdists that can be funny in small doses. Unfortunately, these characters are set within a flawed system. Applejack wins the first round with a pie she did not bake in-studio and still no one recognizes she is not the famous Marine Sandwich, who is vowing revenge. If you think this is the start of the rivalry promised on the cover, the next panel lays those ideas to rest.

    I think that sob represents fans who wanted these two to compete. 
    It's then we find the real conflict of this story. A comic-exclusive character named Toffee Truffle is having a mental breakdown. Too scared to perform properly and needing the money to reopen a restaurant, Truffle confides in both mane characters before going off. To their credit, Pinkie and Applejack don't think twice about helping her out. Money was never Pinkie's motive and Applejack isn't even supposed to be here. So they plan to throw the competition.

    Many problems with this idea. First and foremost, it doesn't account for the remaining chefs, Summer Van Der Hoof and Blade Sparxx, who could easily steal the spotlight and claim the money. It doesn't factor that Applejack is already in the lead, and so the best course would be for her to win and simply give the money to Toffee. Finally, their attempt to throw the match involves having the judges eat worms and ingredients fished from the garbage. Because nothing says friendship like food poisoning.

    Have fun in the hospital!

    Instead of a lawsuit, the second round goes to Pinkie. Toffee gives a talk about wanting to win fair and square. Normally, I enjoy comic-exclusive characters. They're new, they're variable factors, and you can't say they're OOC because there is no precedent. Yet Toffee Truffle is my least favorite to date because of how she's presented.

    "I also want fan art of me because I'm an awesome character!"

    Despite her tears, she is never in a state of vulnerability. She has a breakdown, and two of her opponents instantly swear to throw the match her way. This then gives her the position to lecture them and claim the moral high ground. Even when sad, she is in control of the situation. It's a shortcut to making the character look good. This has always had an inverse affect on me. If a character can only look good by having others brought low, then is that character really so impressive? 

    The final round is interrupted by Marine Sandwich, who has gone mad and become a super villain. She's trapping everyone in frosting, which is transparent. Apparently, Tirek, Chrysalis, Sombra, and any other villains had the wrong idea. You don't need dark magic to defeat Twilight Sparkle and company. Just a lot of icing.

    There is such a thing as gel frosting, but transparent icing?

    Speaking of Twilight, she is supposedly an alicorn. The staff dodged this issue by having only her head poking into view on two panels.

    By comic's end, Marine Sandwich is defeated not by the duo of Pinkie Pie and Applejack, but rather Pinkie and Toffee Truffle. This is another case where I feel that Toffee is being put on a pedestal while undermining the comic's core theme. With Toffee claiming victory in the third round, she somehow wins the monetary prize. Just because.

    So we have each character winning a round, but no tie breaker. I wonder if it's because the staff didn't think kids could handle the idea of competition. That sometimes friends do compete for a single prize, and it's a test of their friendship to see how they behave. There's nothing wrong with having a winner and a loser. In fact, showing a gracious winner and a respectful "loser" is one of the best examples one can present a young audience.

    There have been worse stories in the comics line. Stories that undermined characters we know and enjoy. Yet those stories demanded a reaction from the audience. They motivated fans to declare their frustration because they like these characters. This issue does nothing to undermine Pinkie Pie or Applejack, but it doesn't celebrate them either. Even Toffee, the real focus of this comic, is so poorly developed that I have no opinion on her except frustration at how she's presented. Events happen without reason or structure, making the whole story feel like a checklist.

    If by chance you haven't yet read this, don't worry about it. This was a poor way to launch a series that has had some excellent entries. Thankfully, not all first impressions are lasting.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!