• Let's Review: Guardians of Harmony (The Big Picture)

    No need for predictions of doom. We have the Guardians of Harmony to save the day!

    Let's take a pause from our Muffin Mare's special day to talk about the annual comic. This year's choice is a special tie in with the Guardians of Harmony toy line.

    Check after the break but watch out! There are no muffins, only spoilers!

    Well now, here's a daunting task. Six stories in this collection. Three artists. Multiple characters. I'd say that's a lot to go over and I don't think a mega-post covering all six stories at once would benefit anyone. So here's my game plan: today's post will cover the comic's general scope and over the next six days we'll take a closer look at each chapter. That should carry us through to next week, at which point you'll likely be sick of me.

    What's that? You're already sick of me? You cheeky devils!

    Always nice to have priorities sorted.

    The artist lineup for this comic features Andy Price, Tony Fleecs, and Jay Fosgitt. Looking at these three's past works I'd say this is a very practical choice. All of them have shown ponies in high energy situations. The perfect choice for a comic based around combat. However, I'm afraid Fosgitt style can feel like the odd one out. His exaggerated, hyper-cartoon proportions are a stark contrast the Price and Fleec's more familiar styles. This is not to say the artwork is bad, but the shift is jarring.

    There is also the concern that some designs appear be taken from fan artworks. More on that when we review the "Big Spike" chapter.

    Scenes like this could be playing out all across Equestria.
    Or at a Weird Al concert. Keep him safe!

    The sheer scope of this comic demands that each artist put forth a lot of locations. From the halls of Canterlot to the outskirts of the Crystal Empire and Ponyville's streets, this is a crisis that forces ponies to shift locations. I think each artist does an excellent job of rendering Equestria and the combat taking place between ponies and changelings. The ultimate question is how well each artist depicts the product.

    Make the kids want it, Twilight!

    So let's get the obvious out of the way: this is a toy sale comic. Each and every story is designed to promote some aspect of the Guardians of Harmony line. I'd originally written an editor on "Just a Toy Sale" back when I thought the digital release would take place back in November. The main idea I came away with is that a toy sale is not automatically terrible, but the question is how well the introduced elements work with the larger world.

    Someone please give Andy Price a "Not a Changeling" badge at the next convention!

    That larger world is under attack. Forgoing their usual subterfuge, the Changeling have launched a massive attack across Equestria. That's not to say there isn't guile to their plans. Several times they use stolen identities to throw the ponies off. Some are tasked with distracting key figures while other attacks might be designed to lure leaders into vulnerable locations.

    "Pests" is not the best word choice, given what's happening outside.

    Given the ending of season 6, I've no doubt some will be turned off to this Changeling invasion. However, I like to think of this as the Changeling's last hurrah. Unlike the current story arc, this comic is not trying to be a canon lead in to the episodes. I find that just accepting it as an adventure tale makes the experience more fun.

    Love the framing in this shot.

    On the pony side, the counter-offensive is much more disorganized. It's and interesting contrast to see how the Changeling seem to move as a single body, while the ponies are scrambling to figure out the next action. Yet despite the Changeling's disguise abilities, it's the ponies' unpredictability and unique skills that turn the tide. So in a larger sense this is a battle of conformity vs free will.

    The last several seasons lead me to believe otherwise, princesses!

    Not every pony comes out of this looking great. Except for Twilight, Equestria's princesses are once again relegated to the sidelines. A disappointing outcome as comics like Nightmare Rarity and Queen Chrysalis' Fiendship is Magic issue showed that the princesses can lead from the front, which earns greater respect. Then again, Chrysalis herself barely appears in this story, showing none of her usual evil delight.

    Also, Nightmare Moon is nowhere to be found. Not even a flashback.

    I'm going to have a fun time talking about Shining Armor's depiction.

    There are, however, elements that expand upon Equestria's history and mystery. Especially Shining Armor's trek into the Crystal Empire's history, and Twilight learning more secrets about her castle. I'm especially fond of that second idea because up until now it seems the castle's only role was the map. Seems like a waste of space if the map is the only secret.

    Sadly, because this comic is set outside the show's canon I can't say any of this opens the door to future ideas. Rather, I like that it can serve as an example. These are good ideas to pursue.

    Humor is still very much a factor. Fluttershy serves as a golden thread between several stories, delivering some very dry humor. Yay for Flutterdry! We also get returning characters like Sweetie Drops and Lyra Heartstrings, who are not central figures but nevertheless contribute. And Andy Price's works are never lacking for in-jokes.

    When KP and I talked about having some irredeemable villains, many fans pointed out that MLP is not a show about beating up the bad guy. If anything, their redemption and acceptance supports Friendship is Magic much better. While I'd still like to see some more resistant villains, I do understand this point. Thankfully, this comic is not only about combat. Several ponies are motivated by close friendships and the challenge they face is divided loyalties. How to save a nation without risking a friend? I like this conflict as it shows that friendship can still be a theme even when the story is more action-oriented.

    "This relationship." Every ship needs a refueling!

    As a final thought, let's talk about the sales pitch. Despite some big items like Giant Spike or Cheese Sandwich's party tank, the real draw here is the characters. As with any good story, this comic makes you want to root for the characters more than own the latest prop. In my eyes this does not diminish the marketability. A prop is good for one ore two stories. A character can be a party of many. I hopeful that Guardians of Harmony will have other chances to tell stories. I enjoy the large conflict with micro-tales all around. There are some questionable choices made by our heroines, but that is story specific.

    I'll follow up with you all tomorrow for Rainbow Dash vs the Shadow Bolts.

     We won't be long, Fluttershy.
    See you tomorrow!

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!