• Let's Review: Friends Forever #2

    The Cutie Mark Crusaders and Discord. Which is the greater instrument of true chaos?

    We have the unstoppable force meeting the adorable objects in this issue. Let's talk things up!

    After you've read the issue, of course. Watch out for spoilers!

    Not gonna lie, this comic came close to shutting down my interest in the Friends Forever line. Not for anything it did wrong, but it was in a rough spot. Friends Forever #1 was so underwhelming that I remember being pretty gun-shy about this issue. If it worked, great. If not, I decided it would be my last issue.

    I've mentioned before that artist Tony Fleecs has grown more comfortable drawing ponies over time. Compare the artwork in Rainbow Dash's Micro issue against Friends Forever #33 and the difference is remarkable. This issue represents the transition. It features the line work in bolder, black tones that help the characters stand out, but there are times where a character's expression or proportions feels slightly off. Like the art is trying to match the show's look but keeps getting stretched in places. It's by no means bad. As we'll see, I think Fleecs had a lot of fun drawing these scenarios. Yet stepping back I think there's a strong case that he was refining his look.

    I think Spike's the weakest element in this panel. 
    He's proportionally too small and seems to be running at an angle, not parallel.

    This issue is from the bygone era of the mark-less Crusaders. In many ways, I'm glad we're past this phase. So many Crusader issues and episodes started with them on the hunt for cutie marks, often causing a deal of chaos. Poor Spike seems to get the worst of it this time.

    At least she didn't come in on him posing. That's reserved for Starlight!

    Having run through a complete list of everything they could think of, Sweetie Belle proposes trying to do things they can't imagine. That is simultaneous brilliant and absurd, and it sets the stage for their encounter with Discord. The spirit of chaos and maybe-disharmony, is on Sweet Apple Acres to make amends for that flood fiasco back in Keep Calm and Flutter On. He's changing the apples in the orchard into multi-flavored treats. Although he makes a snozberries reference, all I can think of is Bertie Bot's Every Flavor Beans. 

    Wait, what about the texture? Is it as soft as a mousse, because otherwise that'd be weird!

    I swear, if I ate an apple that tasted like vomit or earwax, I'd burn the whole orchard. 

    Because that's a sane reaction. 

    "At this point, I'm willing to consider a mark in world domination!"
    Speaking of pop-culture references, let's take a look at this comic's main presentation. Once the Crusaders recruit Discord into their plans, much of the comic becomes a series of references. Discord throws them into scenario after scenario. It starts simply with ice skating competitions and a football game. Yet past the comic's midpoint we swan dive into every TV and movie scenario one can imagine. Admit it, my fellow fans, you grinned at this panel: 

    That sound you hear?
    Thousands of Trekkie's squee-ing.

    Now, as a Tokusatsu and Power Rangers fan, I appreciated the comic addressing that age old question: why doesn't the monster attack while they're posing?

    There are ponies running at their feet screaming, "Ahh! Gummyzilla!"

    Much like Sweetie Belle's original idea, this story is a duality. Pop culture references alone don't create a story, yet the separate events are laid out in such a way that we see an escalation. As we see Discord employing more elaborate setups, we also see the Mane Six and Spike struggling to contain the expanding "chaos bubble". Side bonus, we get to see what Discord's alternate realities look like from the outside. 

    Speaking of bigger, AJ, you are HUGE compared to that fence.

    Here's where my uncertainty reached its peak. There's no question that these references were fun. Reference humor is like a secret language. Those who understand will laugh with you. I don't doubt that Tony Fleecs had some fun creating these alternate worlds for a few panels. Yet as I read this comic for the first time I wondered if that was all. This comic was asking for my time and attention, and while I enjoyed the visuals I wasn't sure it was worth the investment. 

    The last few pages changed my opinion. In fact, Jeremy Whitley sold me on what Friends Forever can represent. Sweetie Bell takes a moment to thank Discord, connecting with him over the idea of feeling excluded. The Crusaders have no idea on their futures in a culture that emphasizes fate and destiny. Discord has a different set of values than the ponies' views on harmony. They're not the same, yet that shared feeling forms a bridge between groups. 

    I think Sweetie Belle stands out the most among the Crusaders this issue.

    My favorite Friends Forever issues take two characters who normally don't interact and finds a way to forge a connection. Bonus points if they work in tandem towards a shared goal. This issue may not be the best of the best but it set the stage for more to follow. Though it's the second issue, I consider it the true start of the Friends Forever line, which in many ways has told more compelling stories than the main series. 

    So yes, I definitely hope folks will give this either a new read or a re-read. Because it's worth it.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!