• Let's Review: Guardians of Harmony – Shining Armor

    I admit, that title loses some street cred when you realize there have only been two non-alicorn princesses in this series. But I'd say Amore could clean Platinum's clock!

    Yet we're not here to talk about a princess who long ago went to pieces over her job. We're here to talk about Shining Armor and how he fared in his chapter for Guardians of Harmony. 

    Check out the review after the break, if you're brave enough to enter the catacombs of the crystal spoilers!

    She royally screwed up at the end, but this comic does a lot for her history.

    Before diving into this chapter, I want to go over a reason this one stands out to me. My Little Pony is not a show where force wins the day. We've seen our equine heroines wipe the floor with Changelings or go hoof-to-hoof with Tirek in a magical battle, but in both cases force failed. It was emotional bonds that claimed victory. 

    This has made it hard for me to figure out a character who best expresses the Warrior archetype. Folks who watch my videos likely know I've taken an interest in these concepts and how they relate to our own development. I imagine some saying, "Silver, you typing trogon, just look at any show or movie aimed at males and you'll have plenty of warrior examples." I'd like to argue that's incorrect. There's ample examples of violence in entertainment, but that's not what makes a Warrior. 

    Guardians of Harmony is a chance to see how these characters handle things in a more physical battle approach, and I think Shining Armor can be an example of an emotionally-healthy warrior. Part of it depends on how he's drawn.

    Dead trees!
    With Pinkie Pie and Cheese Sandwich's chapter I said that Tony Fleec's work was a consistent rhythm. Nothing stood out for good or ill, just stable. This chapter is more diverse. The artwork for the Crystal Empire in this chapter is lovely, and there are some standout panels. I love how he renders the Empire. There's a lot of detail to stress the crystaline nature, including color streaks within the floor and glittering surfaces. Similar to Agnes Garbowska's style, there is a light texturing to the backgrounds, but the characters are drawn more solid and bold to stand out.

    This has the tradeoff the the few crystal pegsus guards we see don't really look like crystal ponies. I wonder how hard that is to render, given that the show itself seems to avoid featuring that effect. I think that's why, three seasons after the Empire's introduction, none of the named residents are actual crystal ponies.

    I don't think that one guard is saying, "Oh dear! We're being pestered!"

    Said Crystal Empire is getting a full-on Changeling attack. The very first panel shows the air guards outnumbered 2-to-1. Unfortunately, they're on their own as Shining Armor is not allowed to go outside.

    Yes, his wife has forbidden him to take part in the Empire's defense. As cynical as that sounds, there is some practicality. Cadance and Celestia agree that without knowing Chrysalis' location, there's too much uncertainty about carelessly entering battle. Changelings do operate by subterfuge and a large attack might just be a ploy to capture a member of the royal family. 

    I want to believe she's going to comfort other ponies.
    A cynical side of me expects her to go for a hooficure.

    Yet with there's an equal consideration. Cadance also states that her magic is protecting the castle from these "pests". An odd word choice, as the guards and Empire citizens wouldn't view them as so dismissive. Even if a good number of ponies relocated to the castle, there's bound to be stragglers. Plus there are definitely guards at risk outside.

    The confusion grows when I realize that the Empire is probably the best-equipped to handle this invasion. Cadance can control the Crystal Heart, and she and Shining Armor have repulsed a Changeling invasion before. The only reason I can think is that Cadance wants things to escalate so they can draw out Chrysalis. But she's setting the situation so that her own subjects are at risk while she keeps her family safe. 

    If anything, sending Shining Armor out might be the best way to expose Chrysalis, and Shining would be willing to do so. It's clear from the first panel that he's putting the safety of others first and foremost. That's the first sign of being a healthy Warrior archetype. His goal is not glory or satisfaction through combat. He wants to remove the threat so others can continue their lives. 

    Cadance says that doing something doesn't mean diving in horn-first. I agree, but inaction is not always wisdom. That is the last we see of Cadance. Shining Armor is more proactive. If he can't go outside and his wife will not use magic to repel the invasion, actual knowledge might give a third option. 

    I hear that last one has some great visuals
    but suffers from an unsympathetic protagonist.

    One plot-convenient book later, Shining Armor is down in the crystal catacombs, searching for a weapons cache from Cadance's predecessor.

    Okay, that's is hardcore.

    This is one of my favorite aspects about this chapter. We only really know Princess Amore from her terrible management of Sombra's growth back in Fiendship is Magic #1. This comic offers a glimpse that she was often the Empire's defender, driving back monsters and creating magical tools. She was smart enough to keep these out of easy reach, guarded by magics and creatures. It seems her greatest failure was being too passive with Sombra's upbringing. 

    Today on "Cooking with Amore."

    I love how Fleecs draws Amore. Though not an alicorn, her form has Celestia's elegance and a complex design. 

    Less enjoyable is the catacomb's setting. Much like in Friends Forever #37, where a violet background swallowed some of Rarity's look, Shining Armor is now in a blue environment. Though his white coat helps him stand out, the comic shifts to a less diverse palette. Thankfully, colorist Heather Breckel and Tony Fleec places Shining Armor against the darkest depths, often rendered near black. This helps keep him from being swallowed. 

    I wonder how the crystal ponies would feel
    knowing their home is built atop monster-populated caverns.

    We never see the magical beasts that guard the depths, but the magic does choose an interesting test. The fact that it chose to impersonate Fluttershy speaks volumes of her timidity. She is so delicate that even ancient magic knows she's the best one to call on others for help. Shining Armor answers that call, and looks like a panic-stricken fool doing so.

    Way to keep your composure, Shining!

    I'm not sure what it is about his character that invokes this. Even when Andy Price drew Siege of the Crystal Empire, Shining Armor didn't look all that impressive. This was him realizing that his beloved was in danger: 

    Whoa! The news scared the fetlocks off him!
    I think many people fear the idea of a warrior because it's often defined by violence. But any brute can exercise force towards an end. A Warrior is supposed to be balanced and know when to apply force and when to step aside. That's why I struggle to find great warrior examples. Often times we're presented with protagonists who rely so much on violence that their own lives fall out of control. 

    Shining Armor's moment does not lie in beating up Changelings. Rather, he stands firm to protect Fluttershy when it sounds like an entire swarm is coming towards them. It's clear from his expression that he knows he's about to get taken down... again. Shining Armor is willing to risk himself to save just one pony. This is arguably impractical but it speaks to a personality that cares for others, which invokes greater trust than a cold tactician. 

    However, this scenario is certainly familiar. Many stories have used this setup to show the hero's nobility and it's not a huge surprise that a remnant of Amore set up this test. His selflessness has earned Shining Armor entry into the secrete chamber, though Amore's location hasn't held up well over the centuries.

    I left behind another enchantment to make sure 
    no one touches my vinyl record collection.

    Only one vial of unknown magic remains. This is the most cliffhanger close to a chapter within the comic. It leaves the audience wondering and encourage them to turn the page and see what happens next.

    I would put this chapter as my second-favorite, but for surprising reasons. Shining Armor shows some of the better virtues of a Warrior not through combat, but through action, courage, and selflessness. The comic expands on the oft-neglected Crystal Empire and even gives Amore a better presentation than past comics. 

    Shining is perhaps too trusting.
    He never once wonders if this might be a Changeling.

    The only character who comes out the poorer is Cadance, who has a good idea but seems too passive. I think this story could have been enhanced by having Cadance lost in the catacombs and Shining Armor having to follow so they could reactivate the Crystal Heart. It could be Cadance's visage that distracted Shining Armor rather than Fluttershy. Although, this chapter cements Fluttershy as the most reoccurring character in the comic.

    How Good is the Sales Pitch?
    This is an interesting question because look at how Shining Armor is presented. He never goes on the attack. Never fires a magical beam. Never even dons the captain of the guard armor seen on his toy. This comic is all about him as a character and why he's not defined by violence. It's a mixed presentation but it's far more than his original introduction as a set piece alongside Cadance.

    I don't think that would make most folks want to rush out and buy this figure, but I do appreciate that this is showing Shining Armor's best traits that can serve him in battle and as a husband, father, brother, and hopefully leader. Good characters do make for better toy sales, so this is not a criticism but a surprise. 

    "And I'm sure your wife shows the same care and compassion."
    "Oh, cripes. She's a stay-in-the-tower princess, isn't she?"

    Some of Shining's expressions and poses in this chapter don't convey confidence. He seems more clumsy and less sure of himself. It's not a requirement that Warrior be perfect in motion and form all the time, but I still hope Shining Armor can show his best prowess down the line. 

    It's also funny to realize that the most violent image in this chapter is courtesy of a long-gone princess. 

    Tomorrow we shall talk about how Equestria's most proactive princess carried the day. Stay tuned for Shining Armor's sister and unexpected guest stars!

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!