• Let's Review: MLP #50

    50 issues! That's no small feat in the comic world.

    But this isn't just a numerical milestone. It's also the end of the Chaos Theory arc.

    Let's have a look at this issue. Watch out for spoilers after the break!

    My goodness, that's a mighty collection of covers. 50 issues in a comic series is nothing to dismiss. Props to IDW for carrying the main series so far in addition to Friends Forever, the Micro series, and Fiendship is Magic

    At this point there's little more I can say on Andy Price's artwork. Accord and his victims are only slightly less frightening than Price's depiction of Chrysalis' feral snarls. There's tremendous use of shading for dramatic moments. One curious note is that with a few exceptions, the characters seem to play with the panel layout less than previous issues. This might have to do with the serious tone as Accord whittles Equestria's defenders down to one.

    Let's talk about harmony for a moment. The best symbol for this idea for me has been the Chinese Tao, which represents a balance between opposing forces. Light and dark, water and fire, female and male, order and chaos. The list goes on. No one side is defined as good or evil; simply that without either the Tao is not complete.

    I think this issue and the conclusion to the Chaos Theory arc suffers a lack of harmony. Sadly, this dominates a great deal of the issue and so I have to start from the end.

    In a climactic debate with Accord, Starlight Glimmer asserts that real harmony is not the absence of chaos, but a compromise between it and the order Accord seeks. So the idea of duality is there, but it's not being represented by the story itself. Why not? Because Starlight's greatest ally ends up like this:

    I'd invest in the massage industry after this.
    Every pony in the land is going to need an appointment.

    Ted Anderson stated in an interview that he was very excited to contrast Starlight Glimmer against Accord. After all, both have tried to force their ideal of order upon the world. One is approaching this from a redeemed character who knows the danger, the other a zealot who thinks he can do no wrong.

    This is a good contrast but the goal of the story is not to have these two exist in harmonious balance. One has to go. It's Celestia who I think provides the other half to balance out Starlight's presentation, and sadly she's not having success.

    Celestia would go on to get a restraining order against her sister and pupil. 
    She kept seeing those expressions.

    Having been forced to flee Canterlot and abandon her brainwashed sister and student, Celestia is understandably shaken. We see just how hard the ponies have to struggle with Accord's legion while the Remane 5 divide their energies calming Canterlot's refugees.

    I'm betting Fluttershy wasn't doing well in the moral support department.
    That leaves just Starlight and Celestia to reflect. This is an enjoyable look back over the various MLP issues and episodes. Andy Price does a great job of drawing the mirror world's Celestia and taking everyone back through some of the previous comics' arcs. This is one instance where he draws the characters interacting with the panels. Pinkie Pie might complain about breaking the 4th wall without her, but I won't. It gives me a reason to post this:

    But it's when Celestia expresses doubt that the comic starts to weaken. Celestia claims that she and Luna have been trying to bring order to Equestria for years. I disagree with that view. From crashing the Grand Galloping Gala to small pranks on Ponyville bakers, Celestia has introduced chaotic elements since season 1. She more than any pony seems to understand the need for stability to ensure others' health but some unpredictable parts to nurture growth and adaptability.

    Just because you win a fight, it doesn't follow you are truly justified.

    So I think this comic gets Celestia wrong. Instead of using her experience to advise a uncertain Starlight, it's Glimmer who coaches Celestia. In doing so, Starlight comes across as more an expert than her teacher's teacher. This is unfortunate because I think Starlight Glimmer and Princess Celestia are a great pair to champion a free Equestria.

    I genuinely can't picture Celestia saying this.

    They do represent opposite forces. Celestia has saved the land from chaos and worked to ensure harmony for centuries. Starlight tried to impose order and is still doubting herself as she tries to fix her own life. Both have a history with Discord/Accord and both have a loved one to save. Aside from Luna, I can't think of a better pony to symbolize harmony alongside the Princess.

    After the train ride, the focus shifts to Celestia. The Remane 5 are there as wielders for the Elements of Harmony, but their individual characters blend into the background. Celestia reclaims the Elements from the Tree of Harmony and Accord's appearance sets the final showdown. I will say I got a thrill watching Celestia don the Element of Magic. 

    So much of Part 2 devoted energy to showing Celestia's world crumble. Her city, her family, her friend. This issue starts with her showing doubt. While I don't agree with the total presentation, this vulnerability did draw me to root for her.

    So it's thrilling to see her finally take point. A chance to show why she's Twilight's teacher and a role model to so many ponies. There was a genuine thrill as she an Twilight's friends unleashed a magical blast to save all that they love.

    Then they lose.

    Sorry, Princess, your victory is in another castle. It's not just Celestia who is brought low... again. This time, even the Elements of Harmony are maligned. Accord states that they're all about restoring order, and thus they helped him claim all of Equestria. Yet I have to point to Starlight's later statement that harmony is not pure order. So are we to understand that Starlight knows more about harmony than the Elements themselves?

    To be fair, Celestia does wonder if she can fully use the Elements now that Twilight is the Princess of Friendship, and Accord assumes the same. He might be projecting his own view on to the Elements than stating fact. But knowing that this is all to set the stage for Starlight Glimmer only heightens the feeling that Celestia and the Elements have been done a disservice.

    As a Luna fan, I know how a past mistake encourage the audience to empathize.
    The big question is "What does the character do next"?

    Yet why is my sympathy not transferring to Starlight, who is facing an impossible situation? She hasn't a friend to lean upon and no advice from either Twilight or Celestia. It seems she didn't need either. This is where the story's harmony breaks. It's a similar criticism I had of Toffee Truffle back in Friends Forever #1.

    Despite the rising danger, Starlight is never truly vulnerable. She hasn't had a misstep during this arc. She sees what others miss, knows exactly what to say, has all the right assertions, is able to shield herself from both Accord and the Elements. Though Accord has dismissed and monologued over every pony that protested, he decides to pay Starlight his full attention and hear her out.

    I could eliminate your free will in an instant, but I would miss your sass!

    I understand the goal of making Starlight appealing while set against a cast that has been active for several years. Starlight can bring a lot to this series, but how a character is employed really influences their reception.

    I rooted for Celestia because she was losing so much. I think most people connect with a character as they're struggling because we all know what it's like to lose. Starlight has arguably lost her friend Twilight, but I've never gotten the sense she's struggling. To not know what to do or to doubt if they're on the right side. How much more meaning would Starlight's success have if she had been the one to wonder if they were in the right, and Celestia offered her guidance? Then Starlight's victory would be a testament to both her learning and Celestia's wisdom.

    To phrase it a different way, it's a contradiction to talk about the need for diversity as only one pony wins the day.

    Many an Applejack fan would pay to hear those words.

    The resolution features a reconciliation on all parts, including Applejack apologizing to the restored Discord. I'm glad they addressed this as Applejack's criticism started this conflict. We also enjoy a detailed full page that features characters and creatives from almost every arc, plus some fan favorites and even a brief appearance by Flurry Heart.

    Hey, the renegotiation line starts after Celestia!

    Yet I come away from this story with some frustration. Starlight paid lip service to the idea of harmony, this final party didn't live up to that theme. Rather than viewing Starlight as awesome or empowered, I get the sense that she is divorced from the rest of the cast. The comics are a great chance to show Starlight interact with the cast, but that can't happen if she's presented as untouchable.

    Sadly, Celestia's victories remain off-page.

    Thankfully, we're not done yet. Celestia gets some love from a short by Jeremy Whitley and drawn by Jay Fosgitt. I think Fosgitt is getting more comfortable with the idea of drawing ponies as there are less cases of ponies moving like humans. Plus there are few awkward poses from Celestia during the brief period she looks like herself.

    This is Celestia's most human and surreal pose in the story. 
    Going to back to the topic of connecting through vulnerability, we get to see Celestia charming and caring for ponies, only to collapse from exhaustion having not gotten to enjoy her own birthday. That is until Discord gifts her with a day off. Resembling an ordinary pegasus and without her magic, Celestia has an entire day to be anyone other than a princess.

     Andy Price draws pegasi with insanely large wings.
    Jay Fosgitt draws them incredibly tiny.  

    The story makes for a short, fun romp. Nothing too deep. Celestia embraces this new freedom quickly, with maybe a mixed message thrown in there.

    I foresee much belching in Celestia's future.

    But we get to see her indulge. To lighten up. We see a pegasus, but we know that the character of Celestia is still intact and this is her more playful side. Discord, who was originally turning Celestia's world upside down, is now trying to keep up. I think we have a better harmonious showing than in the main story. It's a fun tale and a better showing for both characters. 

    Looking towards MLP #51, we might see an end to this continuity line. The comics are now going to blend more with the show's stories, leading into season 7. It's possible we may never get another reference to this arc or the ones that preceded. I'm not sure we'll get to see Starlight Glimmer as much, though that's a matter for the unfolding issues.

    For now, I think it's almost time to talk about this 3-part arc as a whole. Come back tomorrow for a full retrospective on Chaos Theory.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!