• Let's Review: Guardians of Harmony – Shadow Bolts


    A rather violent suggestion, I admit. But we're about to talk about a pony of action!

    Let's have a look at Rainbow Dash's chapter in Guardians of Harmony.

    Click for more but beware a right-hook from spoilers!

    I think it'd be a mistake to call this the start of Guardians of Harmony. It is the first chapter in the comic but I don't view these as a strictly linear set. There is a flow to the events but some are concurrent and so this is but one event happening alongside several others. Reading these, I do think back to old comics like He-Man and Wheeled Warriors, which featured introductory comics.  

    Rainbow Dash hardly needs any introduction but this is story has a very self-contained feel to it, despite the attempted cliffhanger.

    As I write "this chapter is drawn by Andy Price" I feel like I've already given my opinion. My favorite comic artist and, as of this collection, possible Changeling. It's not just the way he renders the characters. There are liberties taken, especially with the size of the pegasi's wings. Yet it's how he arranges the panels that impresses me. Every panel leads the eye to a focal point or indications the action's direction. Price is a personal guide through the story, pointing out moments of interest just by setting each piece just so. My favorite panel in this chapter is a prime example:

    Everything about this panel works. It divides the visuals into three sets
    and keeps the focus on the central diamond.

    At first I was going to say that this chapter was light on his usual visual references, but I would be wrong. There is a double-reference to both a famous detective and a certain Disney movie all rolled into one panel. I don't want to give it away so I will challenge the sharp-eyed to give the comic a read and spot it.

    The humor in this chapter mostly comes from Fluttershy. She's thrilled to have a moment of tranquility with her oldest friend, when Applejack comes knocking with a warning.

    Most ponies dream of adventure.
    Fluttershy just wishes those villains would stay off her lawn!

    It's Fluttershy's fatigue that sells the humor. A "this is my life now" attitude. What to call this? Fatigushy? Flutteresigned? Doesn't quite roll off the tongue... but I digress.

    See you in a couple chapters, 'Shy!

    Rainbow's at the other end of the spectrum, thrilled to have a new crisis where she and the Wonderbolts can shine. So she's off and away until ambushed by two mystery figures. Again, Price shows his skill at creating some frightening images.

    This is actually Rainbow's attempt at an Owlicious impersonation.

    I said that Nightmare Moon didn't appear in this comic, but does a reference count? I'm going to say "no", but she is at least referenced. The Shadow Bolts return and are not just hallucinations. Rainbow Dash is suddenly placed in the same quandary Discord presented in The Return of Harmony Part 1. She is needed at the Crystal Empire and yet Ponyville needs her as well.

    I wasn't sure of what went through Rianbow's head back when Discord messed with her, but it's nice to see her choose to protect her home. She is setting aside the chance for glory for the sake of others. "Those with the greatest power... protect those without" as Charles Xavier might say.

    She does make a passing comment about being the Element of Loyalty, but that didn't do her much good the last time. This is a choice that speaks to her character rather than any power. 

    "Come do the dark side. We have cake."
    "So does Pinkie Pie!" 
    "Oh... shoot. I got nothing."  

    It's here that I come back to my violent question. Why not deck these two and have done? Well, the Shadow Bolts do know what to say to get Rainbow's ego back in play. Her choice was for others, but how she handles the problem is all about herself.

    Turns out there's a special treat that gives you that glint.

    The action is well drawn and feels like the race that originally caused filly Rainbow to cast that fateful sonic rainboom. So I think it better just to cut to the chase: they're Changelings. In fact, seeing her whoop these two reminds me that Rainbow's got a thing for combating Changelings. I hope Thorax never learns about her dreams.

    Turns out that's Thorax's cousin, Roger.

    But here's the thing about the Changelings: this was very smart. The goal was to delay Rainbow long enough to keep her from the Wonderbolts and diminish the counter-offensive. They did so by appealing to her ego and using figures from her past. The fact they even knew about the Shadow Bolts suggests that they've done their homework.

    For a while now, fans have debated if Chrysalis' poor impersonation of Cadance was intentional. That she was trying to force that confrontation with Twilight. After To Where and Back Again I tend to think that it's really just Changelings being awful at impersonations. Yet this comic shows them knowing their target and playing some mind games. It's one of the best Changeling plays to date.

    There are some contradictions. Rainbow departs saying she's got to get to Canterlot fast, but when we next see her she's doubled back to Ponyville. The Changelings also suggest that Chrysalis is at the Crystal Empire, but we'll see her attack Ponyville.  

    It's possible that the Changelings were lying as another form of misdirection, and perhaps Rainbow wised up and realized that there might be more than just those two nearby. This is purely speculation so another answer might just be a plot hole. For now I want to focus on the key question for every chapter.

    How Good is the Sales Pitch?
    Let's just tackle this head-on. The goal here is to advertise the Rainbow Dash figure and the Shadow Bolt figure. How does that go in terms of making them a part of the world? 

    Well, Rainbow Dash requires no pitch. What kid wouldn't want to have the most action-oriented of the team in a toy line centered around action and adventure? Add in that she comes bundled with Tank (briefly featured in this comic) and it's an easy win.

    I can't say the same for the Shadow Bolt. Despite multiple references across both My Little Pony and Equestria Girls, the actual Shadow Bolts are still illusions. They are single-event pieces that appear and then disappear back into nothingness. That's a harder sell for a toy. Oddly, the cockatrice that comes with the Shadow Bolt is a more lasting feature to Equestria.

    I'm still holding out for Lightning Dust and Wind Rider to create a rival team. Best hope!

    If ranking the stories within Guardians of Harmony I would put this chapter at #3. It's a fun tale with some nice moments for Rainbow, though it doesn't really hit us with anything unexpected.

    Come back tomorrow as we talk about Pinkie Pie and Cheese Sandwich's adventure.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!