• Let's Review: Friendship is Magic #54

    So, Angel Bunny. We meet again. I'm ready for your feigned innocence!

    Though credit where it's due. Last time Angel took center stage in a comic, he saved all of Ponyville from a selfish Kelpie. How will he fare this time around? 

    Find the review the break, but watch out for deceptively cute spoilers! 

    It's been a while since FiM #23. Back then, Angel lead the Mane Six's pets in a battle expressed through visuals and symbols rather than dialog bubbles. Now we have a story where Angel is again the lead protagonist, but does it accomplish the same affect?

    The accumulated filth of all his selfishness and violence will foam up about his waist 
    and the little bunny will look up and project "Save Me!"
    and I'll look down, and whisper 

    "No. You were mean to Fluttershy in that one episode."

    Before addressing the comic, I need to begin with a criticism of a criticism. The term "lazy" is often thrown about online at both professional artists and fan contributors. Having given it some thought, I find it a very hollow criticism. It's so vague and derisive that it doesn't offer advice for improvement or focus. More than that, it presumes that we know all the factors involved. We as the audience know very little of an artist's life or the demands on their time. It may very well be that the artist did not put their full effort into a piece, or it might be that they're putting in as much effort as available.

    This is a well-drawn collection of critters,
    but repeated use is its undoing.

    I address this because the term "lazy"  came up during the three-page preview. Jay Fosgitt's artwork is frequently under fire for its "hyper-cartoon" style, but this issue features a lot of repeated artwork. The exact same bundle of animals appears four times on three pages. Several sequential panels show Fluttershy and her snake friend Rupert not moving an inch. A set of squirrels and bunnies appear to be the exact same pose and expression but with altered coat colors.

    That last one is an interesting contrast against itself. The dogs and cats look like they were created from a similar base, but slightly different expressions or facial features add uniqueness. The uniform critters on the right don't have this diversity. I don't know how much time it takes to render so many animals, but I can see that this comic makes heavy use of shortcuts. The reason is unknown to me but the problem is that once the audience recognizes the repetition it's easy to feel cheated. We don't want to invest our time seeing the same artwork reappear throughout the story. 

    Holding the same pose across several panels can convey tension,
    but Angel's more dynamic expressions actually breaks that mood.

    More troubling for me is that Fosgitt's usual energy feels absent. Fosgitt makes heavy use of organic curves to convey motion and that is present in many panels. Yet in others where the scene would call for action, the characters seem stagnant. Going by their poses I understand that they are walking, but there's a difference between a fixed pose and conveying speed. The way Scootaloo leans away from the action on her scooter is a good example. While it might be more realistic, having her lean into the forward motion would increase the sense of speed.

    Okay, I've harped on the artwork enough.
    I'm losing my own momentum here!

    Of course, Angel can't be moving too fast, what with his busted bunny leg. This comic continues the idea of the comics tying into the main series more. This is the story-behind-the-story of how Angel minded the various critters at Dr. Fauna's animal hospital while Fluttershy built Sweet Feather Sanctuary. Having done the follow up for Fluttershy Leans In, I can't help but feel I'm tied to this episode. Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in...

    You gone too far when you mess with the Bunny With No Eyes. 

    This is a fun idea, but I'm afraid the Canadian network Treehouse threw a wrench in the plan. Had they stuck to the worldwide release schedule, the tree-page teaser for this comic would have come out just before the episode. Fluttershy conveniently name drops Hard Hat, Dandy (misspelled as "Daddy") Grandeur, and Wrangler on the second page. This could have helped build hype for the episode while promoting the comic. Yet because of the early release, many had already seen Fluttershy Leans In before the comic's preview.

    That moment when you realize you gotta step up or shut up.

    So, blame Canada, I guess. Or blame myself for watching the early episode. But I had an episode follow up to write, dang it!

    Watch it, Angel! 
    Rupert's gunning for your job 
    and to have you for lunch.

    Angel's attempts to control through intimidation fail. He is a tiny bunny trying to dictate terms to giraffes and elephants and other beings. It's rare to see Angel show this sort of vulnerability. His driving force is that he doesn't want to disappoint Fluttershy. It's not something we often see as Angel's M.O. is to demand that Fluttershy meet his needs. Though that might have something to do with Fluttershy's manipulation. To this day I don't know if this passive-aggressive tactic of hers is intentional or if she's too innocent to realize she's doing it. Truly, even Rarity could learn something from the shy one. 

    You let it happen, didn't you?
    You let her get in your head.

    Angel's thoughts are often conveyed using symbols. Unlike FiM #23, these symbols are labeled, which undoes the idea. It was fun to see how the animals communicated without using words. Now they are using words, just on top of a picture. Then Angel gets the idea to recruit the other pets and the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Now the story is leaning once again on dialog, so the most interesting aspect is left behind. 

    Iconography is a funny thing. Even the youngest readers will recognized a stop sign without needing the text.

    The focus tends to shift between Angel and the Crusaders. Angel is the driving force and chief planner, but the Crusaders are the ones who interpret his plans and execute. So the latter part of the comic feels like a CMC story with the pets serving as guest stars. The callback to Just For Sidekicks is a nice touch but I think that introducing the Crusaders here is a mixed bag.
    Pitiful mortal! Opalescence does not do "affection."

    On the one hand it strengthens the Crusaders' involvement in building the sanctuary. They helped care for the animals so of course they'll invest energy in giving them a home. Yet their involvement shuts down Angel's communication and shifts the focus to their own efforts. Which is unfortunate because I like the idea that Angel doesn't take Fluttershy's care totally for granted. He has supported her when she needed reassurance and I enjoyed seeing him spearhead this effort. 

    I keep thinking of Monty Python and the Holy Grail
    I want Angel to play their heads like drums.

    Much like Fluttershy Leans In, this comic celebrates the timid pegasus' best traits but struggles with focus and tension. The CMC and Mane Pets win over the animals by emulating Fluttershy's care, and we can see how she was able to win over a gruff soul like Angel Bunny. Yet I think the genuine focus has to lie with Angel, who has the most personal stake. This is his expression of support for Fluttershy and moving him towards the background undermines this effort.

    This is that mixed energy I'm talking about.
    Some are going all out while others feel stuck.

    All in all I wouldn't recommend this comic. It's a short, self-contained piece but I can't say it truly adds to the episode. This comic relies on visuals but the repeated artwork and labeled symbols are a big obstacle. It's nice to see Angel being selfless but even then he loses the spotlight. Hopefully Fluttershy's aggressive ally will have another chance to shine down the road.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!