• Let's Review: Friends Forever #36

    Ah, we are approaching the sunset upon this series. Only three issues until the end.

    But let's not dwell on an ending. Let's talk about a story featuring two of Equestria's top fliers.

    Click for the review but watch out for spoiler updrafts!

    Oh? Are we getting a comic followup to Newbie Dash? Given the stir that episode caused amongst fans, this could either go really well or poorly. Let's find out!

    The art de jour comes courtesy of Tony Fleecs, who has steadily become one of my favorites. His artwork appears much more confident than earlier issues and he's definitely practiced at drawing theses characters plus some original designs. He also creates wonderfully detailed backgrounds. I've mentioned before that the show tends to put its own twist on how buildings and layouts appear while the comics usually favor straight lines and layouts that are more true to real life. This isn't a criticism, but rather a result of having to create new settings with less time and resources.

    The outpost is direct and functional. 
    It just needs more hearts and swirly marks!

    Yet it's the difference between the chilled winds of the Yaket Range and Jett Glider's outpost that highlights Heather Breckel's coloring. Much of the comic takes place out in the winter snow and thus there's a heavy blue tone. Even the snow is darker blues, showing how the first snow is blocking the sun. Contrast that against the interior of Jett's outpost and you get the sense it's a safe bubble in a chilly realm.

    Okay, what is Equestrian healthcare like these days?

    We start off in Ponyville, highlighting the Mane Six's various cold tolerances. Just measure how much they're covering themselves and you'll know which one can stand the cold the longest. I think I'll proclaim Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash the most hardcore members.

    Twilight and Rainbow Dash: Most Hardcore
    Applejack and Pinkie Pie: Very Hardcore
    Fluttershy and Rarity: Hardcore Adorable

    Spitfire makes a sudden entrance and issue Rainbow Dash a new mission: bring Soarin' back to the Wonderbolts. Apparently after a mess up at a show, Soarin' is putting himself in danger to prove he still has what it takes. Spitfire mentions her mistake in Rainbow Falls. Couple that with the references to "Rainbow Crash" and we're seeing the events from two episodes come together in a new conflict.

    Twilight is not wrong to be worried. Rainbow's own experience with making mistakes can make her sympathetic, but her own character can undermine her efforts. First off, Rainbow is not one for patience or winding routes, and so sending her to one of the most tumultuous areas in Equestria is asking for trouble. Second, Rainbow is fast, strong, and determined but empathy is lower on her skill list. Given that Rainbow has burst out laughing at others' misfortune, she might not be the best pony to council Soarin's wounded pride. Of course Twilight can't dissuade Rainbow from a Wonderbolts mission. I wouldn't have blamed Twilight for going over Rainbow's head.

    We get to enjoy Rainbow's journey, and the meticulous directions, thanks to a two-page spread. It's nice to see Fleecs play with the panel layout rather than follow a standard grid. We also get to play a game: "Spot the Thunder Gremlin". It's not a Tony Fleecs' issue without an appearance by one of the little scoundrels. No, I won't give it away. It's more fun if you find him yourself. Like a very angry Waldo.

    Soarin' fully appears on the 9th page, which is pretty far into the story. He's very upfront about why he's doing this: prove he's worthy as a Wonderbolt. This puts Dash at a disadvantage because she understands the action without questioning the motivation. Thus all she can do is wait it out as he makes dangerous delivery after delivery. Plus she drinks all the hot cider. But I understand her reasoning.

    You may live in a frozen deathtrap, but you haven't known true suffering 
    until Pinkie Pie takes all the cider!

    Given that words aren't Rainbow's strength, she's smart to join Soarin' on a dangerous and urgent delivery. We enjoy a second two-page spread highlighting the peril, including Rainbow having a near-fall if not for Soarin'. I enjoy this for the fact that it compliments Rainbow's rescuing Soarin' in Rainbow Falls. For a long time, the Wonderbolts seemed to mess up only for Rainbow to swoop in and save them. Soarin' in particular has been singled out from fumbling pies to nearly crashing. Seeing that Rainbow can count on her teammates is a very positive event.

    Without context, both screenshot and panel look a little disturbing.

    While the situation may not have been intended, it finally allows Soarin' the chance to explain his motives. I'm going to be a broken record and repeat that my favorite Friends Forever issues take unlikely duos and form a bond. Soarin' and Rainbow Dash might not seem like unexpected teammates, but their talk highlights the difference. This is a different kind of mismatch: same profession, different approaches.

    Soarin' is not jealous of Rainbow's natural talent, nor does he feel he needs to outperform her. Yet because he's had to practice harder to keep up, his confidence is more fragile. I enjoy this look at how different personalities and lifestyles form a team. Soarin' wants to prove to himself and others that he is a worthy teammate.

    I've often wondered why Soarin' has rings under his eyes.
    This comic gives a good idea why. Canon or no, I like it!

    I criticized Friends Forever #7 for leaning too heavily on jokes from the show. It was trying so hard to duplicate what worked on TV that it cost the comic some of its identity. This issue takes elements from the show and bundles them to move forward, fleshing out characters who haven't had much screen time. In this way I think the comic succeeds and is a very enjoyable adventure. The artwork and all the little details come together to create a very strong entry.

    I want to know the story behind these four!

    Of course, we should deal with the ship in the room. Yes, let's be honest about this. This guy, on the second to last page? He's totally head-over-hooves for that mare at the piano. And while she might be turned away, I think that smile hints that the affection's not one-way. Let's hear it for this comic's OTP!

    SoarinDash? What's that? You're just making up words.

    Okay, super-serious now. We're headed into February, which holds Singles Awareness Day Valentine's Day. I figure that's a good time to talk about why fans ship, but I do want to address one idea here.

    Shipping is something fun that some fans engage with as a bit of personal creativity. I've known from past fandoms how tempting it is to look for validation or confirmation, but that's not the real point. If you enjoy the idea of Rainbow and Soarin' as an item, you don't need this comic to justify it. Much like Rainbow and Soarin's career paths, fans can express the same idea in different ways. I think it's less fun if we try to say an episode or comic confirms the ship, because that's forfeiting imagination.

    Rainbow, without your sonic rainboom you'd be either a wounded soldier,
    dead, or a servant to an evil queen. Just count your blessings!

    I read this comic and I see two teammates who share a mutual respect though they come from different backgrounds. Whether or not it goes further is up a fan's own imagination. You certainly don't have to support the idea of this couple to enjoy the comic.

    Plus, this comic features the most hardcore postal pony in Equestria!

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!