• Let's Review: Friends Forever #3

    Two characters who haven't had a lot of interaction, but share a common friend. How would an adventure shape up between these two?

    Time for a look back at one of the earliest Friends Forever issues. Click for more but be mindful of spoilers!

    Season Six was pretty good to Spike. Minimal abusive slapstick, two very strong stories, showing him to be smart and helpful.

    Princess Celestia... well, let's hope for good things in season 7.

    Yet not long ago, both characters were even more neglected.  Friends Forever #3 came out in a time when neither character received much focus, and really set a standard. Looking back, it's a funny improvement across the first three issues. Issue #1 did not make an impact. Issue #2 was more fun, but didn't hint at the potential in this series until the last few pages. Issue #3 really showed what the Friends Forever line could do, though there are debatable elements.

    Love the contrast in appearances. 

    This issues' artwork comes courtesy of Agnes Garbowska. Her watercolor style can work very well depending on the setting. Celestia and Spike's journey takes from the halls of Canterlot to underneath mountain ranges and into a volcano's magma flow. In some cases the variety of color and the subtle texture from the shading enhances the looks. Canterlot looks great in this style and the rock textures feel more natural. In other cases, such as a crystal-speckled mountainside, the look can make elements blend together. It becomes hard to know what's really important to focus upon.

    The further away from show-canon locales, the more monochrome the settings. 

    Drawing the characters is also a mixture. Celestia in particular is one of the hardest characters to render. Garbowska does an excellent job drawing the pony princess. Celestia is drawn at angles we don't often witness yet it looks very natural. Her drawings of Spike are likewise well done but there are a few cases where is head seems compressed or elongated. These moments are exceptions to the norm. 

    There's something mystic about Celestia at these angles.
    Spike's head shapes sometimes seem more distorted.

    I've said before that Spike is at his best helping Twilight, but many comics make the mistake of separating them. This comic does a little of both. Spike will spend little time with Twilight, but his goal is to get her a new telescope. Of course, no fetch quest is complete without a perilous journey, so Spike must retrieve new lenses. Now is the time I would normally make a snarky comment about Celestia wishing him well on this perilous quest, but she decides to accompany him. Right of the bat, their dynamic is summarized in three panels.

    The changing landscape highlights how far they go in silence.

    Thinking back on the show, Celestia and Spike have had very little interaction. Mostly him serving a royal event, but no meaningful dialog. The awkward silence between these two sets up a nice dynamic. We want to see them become more comfortable. It is a little weird when Celestia tries to drop the royal titles because Spike is a dragon. He's a citizen of Equestria, so isn't he part of her stewardship?

    This awkward idea passes as they begin swapping stories. It's about this time in the fetch quest that something is supposed to block the path. Thus we meet the Rock Lobsters. I think these guys were inspired by the Quarry Eels of May the Best Pet Win. That episode aired November 19, 2011. This comic hit the scene on March 12, 2014. Plenty of time to draw inspiration, though I can't say with certainty. I get the humor behind the idea: marine life in the mountains. Yet while the Quarray Eels were sleek and colorful, I'm afraid these guys are less visually interesting. The accents don't help much either.

    "Mook" was first used in 1930 by Douglas Rushkoff in an episode of PBS's "Frontline" entitled "The Merchants of Cool." 
    There, I've made my attempt at being educational!

    Their threat is short-lived as Spike figures out a key intimidation tactic, then realizes that Celestia could have solved the problem. It's here that we get the main point of this comic: Celestia's teaching methods. Celestia asserts that yes, she could have taken care of many of the threats facing Twilight. She held herself back because her role is a teacher and thus she has to let Twilight do in order to learn. This topic has always been an argued point among fans. Some think Celestia incompetent for allowing things to go so far, others think her a grand chess master who spins danger into lessons. Yet running alongside this debate, I think the comic makes a misstep.

    "Like that time I made an infant Twilight care for you while attending school?
    Totally necessary delegation of duties!" 

    I have no idea if Ted Anderson was aware of the Trollestia memes when he wrote this, but I'm going to assume that is the case. I think it a mistake to allow the audience to define the subject. By acknowledging the idea that all these lessons could be pranks, the focus narrows to one criticism. Celestia talks more about being a teacher than being a troll, yet the latter subject is in the audience's forefront thoughts. There's also the question of whether or not Celestia could have handled all the enemies Twilight and company overcame. 

    What I enjoyed most about this discussion is how Celestia and Spike connected over a shared frustration. Both care for Twilight and would rather be proactive in helping her. It's an interesting look at how the world appears to the supporting characters. Nature decides to test their mettle as a volcano leads to an action scene. It's interesting that Celestia relies on her wings more than her magic to navigate the danger while Spike holds to the prized lenses. We also get to see Celestia's "Go Time!" face.

    It's ON!

    By journey's end, both have had the chance to contribute and forge a connection. We get to witness a friendship tempered by a shared experience and made strong by success. This comic defined how the Friends Forever line could explore character interactions normally left vague. Though the topic of Celestia's teaching methods continues to be debated, I enjoyed this look at the frustration she keeps hidden and how she and Spike grew comfortable enough to connect.

    Behold my flawless Photoshoping!

    As far as I'm concerned, Friends Forever really started with issue 2 and found its stride in issue 3. This is a comic well worth a read and one of my favorites in the series. Have a look and see how this unlikely duo won the day!