• Let's Review: Friendship is Magic #23

    Last week I referenced MLP FiM #23, so I think it only fair to give the comic itself a review.

    This comic featured an unlikely set of protagonists and certainly left its mark upon the fandom.

    Check out the review after the break but watch out for spoilers!

    I would dearly love to read this comic's original script. How did this minimal-dialog story take shape? Did Jeremy Whitley lay out every symbol or did he give Amy Mebberson a sense of direction and left it up to her artistic talent?

    Angel. Bunny of a thousand questions.

    Whatever the answer, the end result was very entertaining and provides a unique challenge. I can talk about the quality of the artwork easily enough. Mebberson's art is solid with plenty of detail. In a comic so spartan with words the visuals must make up the difference. Even when the comic features a gradient background there is always some physical object present to ground the viewer. No character is left alone in a void. I'm especially impress with how Mebberson rendered Cassie the Kelpie, a mythical being that has not made an appearance within the show, but look at her fins and the elements that look to be lifted from aquatic life, her design looks like she truly belongs in the ocean.

    The poisonous green around the music hints at its intent.

    The real challenge here is how well can you tell a story without relying on words. That's not to say that letters aren't in play. Sound effects are rendered phonetically. Letters might be used to display a sleeping character. Yet until the last three pages one can go through this story without having to really combine letters into a language.The one exception being a poster that sets the stage and hints at something sinister.

    It's easy to miss that flyer on the first read-through. Cooler colors contrasted against the brighter daylight. 
    Far right, when the reader's attention is tapering.

    Angel Bunny is the first to notice and he more than any other creature is the most proactive here. Perhaps this is why he's Fluttershy's true companion despite all the animals who live with her. While they are content to play or panic from Fluttershy's absence, Angel is the most determined to seek answers. He is speaking to the other animals, but the comic makes a unique choice.

    I've had more than a few mornings like that.

    Iconography has several definitions:
    1. Pictorial material relating to or illustrating a subject.
    2. The traditional or conventional images or symbols associated with a subject and especially a religious or legendary subject.
    3. The imagery or symbolism of a work of art, an artist, or a body of art.
    There is another element that is not listed in the definition but I think is an important aspect. Throughout this comic, animal speech is conveyed using icons in combination with punctuation. I get the sense that the comic is trying to act as a median. The animals' speech makes sense to them, but not to we the readers. So the symbols act as translators, giving us the gist of conversation. Take a look at what Angel is doing as he speaks about a hat:

    By Jove, Holmes! You've cracked the case!

    If I say "Detective", is that hat the first thing you imagine? Maybe you think of Sherlock Holmes, Matlock, Murder She Wrote or other things associated with it. On its own that symbol might lose some meaning. But couple it with the magnifying glass Angel is holding. In some ways the magnifying glass is a more universal symbol for investigation, and it gives the audience a hint as to what Angel is really saying. Let's take another look later one when Angel is seeking out Fluttershy's friends:

    I thought Owliscious was the smartest of the bunch. 
    Why is he just sitting there?

    Taken alone, would you know that flame was supposed to symbolize spike? It's not the same color as his magical fire. It hasn't any color scheme to hint at the little violet dragon. Yet it's spoken within context. Twilight's cutie mark is well-recognized by any fan and this took place before the Golden Oaks Library got blown apart. So the reader doesn't have to stretch to connect the elements and draw a conclusion. All of this is iconography: recognizing both the symbol and its meaning based on cultural context. Even within a sub-culture we rely on context.

    The one time I think the thumbs-down icon might have some merit.

    Here's the element that is missing from the definition but I think is very important: trust. Whitely and Mebberson laid all this out for the reader with the trust that a viewer could connect the dots and understand. By contrast, MLP #54 often featured little-to-no backgrounds. Without this context, I wonder if either Rob Anderson or Jay Fosgitt realized there wasn't enough for them to trust others to understand. So the mental imagery had to feature explicit wording.

    Without much visual context, I'm not sure there is any saving the message.

    I guess this why I prefer the earlier issue #23 more. I enjoy this implied trust and feel some satisfaction when I pull together the meaning. I also take enjoyment at seeing Angel interact with the other pets, albeit briefly. There's a heirarchy to their actions. Angel is the most focused and active, seeking answers. Owliscious is next-highest as he seems aware of the situation and is the strongest support, but he seems too worried to act. Tank and Winona are mostly oblivous, driven by their loyalty to Rainbow and Applejack. Gummy is... Gummy.

    Rollin', rollin', rollin'. Keep them Gummies rollin'!

    The only pet who is actually counter-productive is Opal, whose selfishness is on full display. After Angel discovers the town has been brainwashed into destroying a dam and putting all their lives at risk, Opal actually seems pleased with the idea until she realizes this would be a threat to her.

    Hundreds dead and she purrs like a kitten. A bath and she freaks.
    Rarity has one messed up pet.

    What I find funny is that this setup didn't receive the same backlash as whenever the Mane Six need Starlight Glimmer's help. Perhaps it's because we know it's a one-shot. Or maybe its that we get to see the Mane Six and other ponies (along with Trixie, Coco Pommel, and Zecora) working in their mentally enslaved state. Somehow seeing the ponies, even in this vulnerable state, allows the reader to know they're still a part of the story.

    I'd feel more sorry if it weren't for Lucy pony over there.
    This is karma for Charlie Brown, brat!

    Like Bulk Biceps, Angel wears many hats. No rear-guard general is he. Angel leads from the front in a well-arranged series of panels. If a character outlines a plan in advance, then dramatic tension requires that it all go to ruin. A plan that is explained and then executed flawlessly is boring.

    Only Accord and Cassie have successfully controlled Twilight.
    In a way, this makes them the most dangerous opponents yet.

    Yet a plan that is unveiled alongside the unfolding action is more interesting because we see it taking shape without knowing the end goal. Even when a brainwashed Twilight has Angel at her mercy, we see that these pets have planned for every contingency.

    There are multiple ways I can interpret this scene.
    None of them are appropriate for a children's comic.

    So the Kelpie's defeat is both entertaining and interesting to watch, with each pet contributing under Angel's leadership. I may not be the little lagamorphs biggest fan but he performed admirably in this issue and it might be his best showing. I wish the same could be said for Twilight.

    You ever wonder if Equestria has a single prison?

    "Twilight Justifies Evil" has become a very popular meme. I often wonder how far Equestrian forgiveness extends before they're unwilling to give another a second chance. To my memory, only Sombra has been denied the chance for redemption because he's all blown up. Even then, the comics gave him a third chance at redemption.

    This meme will continue with each new antagonist.
    Look for updates at the end of season 7.

    But what about Cassie the Kelpie? Her motives were other-centered, but her default action was to brainwash and endanger the entire town. It's likely many ponies would have drown when the dam broke, even if Cassie signaled them to retreat.

    The great and brainwashed Trixie is getting her cameo!

    Kelpie are a mythical being from Scottish lore. Almost every lake, including Loch Ness, features a Kelpie Legend. Thanks to human sacrifices to water deities, the legends evolved to depict Kelpie as evil creatures that drown the innocent. They often appeared as horses but some claimed they could appear as beautiful women who still had hoofed feet.

    Think I'm more a fan of Mebberson's interpretation. 
    Check out "Ancient Origins" website for more info!

    Some stories gave Kelpie a more positive expression. They might actually save children from drowning, or warning young women away from handsome strangers. Cassie seems to be a mix of these legends. Her goal is to save water spirits, but her methods are to rely upon drowning.

    See? Just leave Fluttershy in charge.
    She'd save them without any drowning.

    Whatever her motives, this comic has the same issue as the show. Much time and energy devoted to the wrongful act with little left over for the redemption. I would have found it more believable for the ponies to say that they would help the spirits, but Cassie would have to be exiled.

    Well done, you crazy critters!

    Yet even with the meme-birthing ending, this was a fun story. An interactive one, as it called on the reader to put meaning to the imagery and understand the context. Having gotten to review it I find my enjoyment for this issue has grown and I'd recommend it to any as a fun, stand-alone tale.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!