• Let's Review: Friends Forever #4

    If the holidays are a time for friends and family, then let's take a look back at the adventure for Twilight and her BBBFF.

    Click below for the full review but be mindful that there are crystal-clear spoilers within!

    Shining Armor has enjoyed much better attention in the comics. Most of the time, that is... Some of the time.

    Okay, at this point I think he's breaking even. Comics like Siege of the Crystal Empire and Friends Forever #26 tend to follow the show's treatment. Shining Armor is a good fella, but he is set up to be ineffective so that the real stars can step in to save the day.

    Neigh Anything and this issue treat him with far greater respect. Plus we get to see an oft-neglected sibling dynamic.

    I find the sight of them roughhousing wonderful.

    Since this comic takes place in the Crystal Empire, I'm glad that Amy Mebberson and Heather Breckel tackled the artwork. Mebberson has a sharp, strong style that captures the look of the show well. The Crystal Empire is rendered in varied colors with highlights that really make it look like crystal. The same can be said of the Crystal Ponies. I don't expect them to be semi transparent like in the show but the presence of light points and a very subtle texture stresses that they're not the standard fair for ponies.

    This is how I think the Crystal Empire looks its best. Sharp contrast with some nice gradients.

    Heather Breckel faced a challenge in that much of the Crystal Empire and the catacombs below feature cool blues and violets. That means she had to figure out ways to add warmth and light to the panels the lead characters could stand out while still fitting into the scenery. 

    The one character who seems a little off visually is Twilight. Her mane often appears to be squished and for some reason the duotone stripe varies. I'm not sure what brings on this little shift but it stands out because so much else looks very true to the show.

    I could be wrong, but I think that book is crushing on her.

    The story begins in the long-lost Golden Oaks library as Spike reads Monster-Pedia. Which is 10 times better than Wikipedia because it's an actual book that can't be community edited. Unless it includes space for readers to jot down their own notes, but I digress!

    In a rare shift, Princess Cadance is away from the Crystal Empire and so Twilight is going to visit her big brother. The Monster-Pedia is a momento from their childhood when they adventured together. This is the first sign that the comic is going to focus more on their past than we've seen elsewhere.

    It did not, however, break Shining Armor's bad habit of failing to greet his sister at the train station. Within the show, I think he's 2 out of 6 for actually greeting her in person. This time around he can't come because he's mired in bureaucracy. Instead, he sent TV's Frank and Pearl from Mystery Science Theater 3000 to escort her.

    I would have sent Tom Servo and Crow. I'm betting they'd look very steampunk.

    There are not the only two references within the Empire. Including some background characters who stand out, we also see Dr Forester and the Mario Brothers as Crystal Ponies. The fanboy in me geeks out at seeing these callbacks, as I loved both games and show. Yet the Crystal Empire has remained so under-develop that I think, Good grief and good gravy, they had to take characters from other shows just to make this place look interesting? At least we can add the near-sighted librarian Lexicon to the Empire's population.

    Shining Armor wishes he had a shield spell to ward off boredom.

    More importantly is what this panel says for Shining Armor. It says so much with mostly visuals. I love it when stories explore what happens after "Happily Ever After" and rarely do I see how the handsome knight adapts to life as a royal. It's clear that Shining never wanted any of this. It's stressful, it's hostile, it sounds terribly boring, and demonstrates that leadership isn't all parades and praise.

    Unfortunately, this also puts him at odds with his sister. Not only does it cut into their time together, but when Twilight tries to remind him of "the Crystal Ghost", it aggravates the staff's superstition. Apparently there have been some unexplained events and Shining has to be strict just after Twilight has arrived.

    And stop balancing books on your head.
    It's making you look like a table top!

    This is where the comic really gains momentum. When this first came out, Twilight and Shining Armor's relationship was mostly defined as "We never had a fight". As the younger of two, I scratched my head at this because never having a fight seem to hint that they never pushed one another to be more. Siblings will drive you nuts but that push-pull relationship helps shape your life and outlook.

    Twilight dreams a flashback that shows how both siblings still pushed one another to go further without hostility. Shining Armor inspired her to be brave, and Twilight's enthusiasm encouraged him to go further. It's a nice dynamic and filly Twilight is freakin' adorable.

    It's like a mathematical equation. 
    The greater the hat's disproportion, the more adorable the pony.

    A lot of stories would feature Twilight solving Shining Armor's problems on his behalf. Instead, we see that he's endured through the tedium and is looking to make amends. Even bringing his own memento as an apology. The real adventure is the two of them working together to track down the Crystal Ghost that has been scaring the cameos.

    Maybe that net can help him recapture his internal monologue.

    The best Friends Forever issues give each character the chance to show their strengths, and we get to see that as the two navigate traps and mazes. Neither sibling weighs down the other and their combine talents help overcome the unknown. Plus Twilight and Shining acknowledge that they've both fallen behind in keeping in touch because of daily demands. That's something with which a lot of folks can empathize. I especially enjoy this since A Canterlot Wedding really put the blame on Shining Armor. It takes two to communicate so I'm glad Twilight is acknowledging how life can overwhelm her as well.

    This comic also paints an image for King Sombra that would later go against his presentation in Fiendship is Magic #1 and Siege of the Crystal Empire. The Sombra shown in some flashbacks is narcissistic, sadistic, and unhygienic. Probably a few other words ending in "-ic". I prefer Jeremy Whitley's take on Sombra, but this does help explain where there's a strange creature hiding under the castle and why it's afraid to be found.

    Smelly? Sombra, conquest and enslavement is one thing, 
    but there's no excusing poor hygiene!

    The resolution is nice and peaceful, with the introduction of a new character who has not yet made a return appearance. That's a little sad since new characters help make the Crystal Empire more interesting. The place needs more than just cameos from other shows. Regardless, this was never about defeating a ghost. This was a story about the bond between two siblings and how they inspire one another to be more. 

    And if you invite Flash Sentry, I'll return even faster!

    This issue is currently in my top 5 for Friends Forever issues. I point to this when people ask how the comics can improve a character's presentation. By showing Twilight and Shining Armor working together as equals, and acknowledging they both made mistakes in drifting apart, it makes Shining more real and helps us see how Twilight grew to be so exceptional. The key thing is that Shining Armor is proactive without taking away from Twilight.

    It does make me sorry that Shining Armor's next big role in Friends Forever would make him ineffective once again. I'm hoping he'll have another chance to shine either alongside his sister or with another friend.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!