• Let's Review: From the Shadows

    The most recent 3-party story has drawn to a close. Time now to look at this arc start to finish and see how it all fits together.

    Spoilers ahead with no memory-wipes available. Well, I guess you could clear your browser's history, but that's not your memory.

    If you'd like to read the individual issue reviews, please click on the respective comic cover.

    From the Shadows had a lot of challenges even before the first page. I think many fans were wary after the previous 3-part arc, Chaos Theory. Add to that a promise from Hasbro and IDW that the comics line would now tie into the show's storyline, and it's a significant challenge.

    Shadow Lock doesn't realize how close 
    he came to meeting his end that day.

    My experience with franchises like Halo, .HACK and Gears of War have made me wary of cross-media storylines. If the only way to get a complete story is to consume every media format sold, then worry I've been given a homework assignment rather than an entertainment piece.

    Relax, Spike. You're a way better dragon than he.

    Because of this I'm going to approach From the Shadows as a stand-alone story. If the events of this comic become more clear in the show, I'll be happy to do a retrospective piece seeing how they tie together. For if a comic can enhance the show's storyline without becoming required reading, then I think it's a good balance.

    Let's take a look at some of the bigger themes.

    Fear the Shadows
    The biggest theme is the fear of the unknown. It beings with something simple: a scary play. The Mane Six and Spike get to talk about how it feels to be afraid of what's before them, but not knowing what comes next is even worse.

    Twilight's mane. Second only to 
    Marge Simpson's hair in power.

    After Shadow Lock makes his first move, Twilight becomes fearful of what he might be using those books towards. Thus the chase begins and Shadow Lock's actions become even more desperate. Twilight notes in issue #52 that Shadow Lock is extremely reckless and making sloppy mistakes.

    Just ship already!

    Thus we learn Shadow Lock's motivation: to wipe the memory of his evil ancestor from existence and therefore safeguard Equestria. The immediate contradiction is that erasing the knowledge doesn't make anyone safer. As Twilight rightly argues, removing the memory of this ancient threat also removes the memory of how it was defeated.

    I can tell this plan is working well for you.

    The greater contradiction is something I realized during my re-read of the series. Twilight is right to say that Shadow Lock is being reckless and clumsy, because he's growing more afraid. Shadow Lock's spell wipes both a book's contents and the memory of that information from a reader's mind. That's why he can expect a lawsuit from the Ponyville school board and the CMC's families.

    I said this story was stand-alone,
    But the continuity humor in this is too fun. :)

    What Shadow Lock reveals is that this spell influences him as well. Though he can remember the name of his ancestor, he can't remember the details. So the more he pursues his quest, the more nebulous the threat. Tying that idea back to the first part, he's actually becoming more afraid and it's shown by his escalation. On his first encounter with Twilight, his sole tactic is to create a barrier of books and escape. So why then does he not do the same when the Mane Six confront him in a town library? Instead, he increases the threat by unleashing fictional monsters. Finally he places Twilight's friends in worlds where they can be hurt with no immediate escape.

    Really wondering why they dismissed the museum guards.

    Going from quick escape to direct threat, Shadow Lock's own quest is driving him further to the edge. It all comes back to fear of the unknown that he is unintentionally feeding.

    Honoring History
    Twilight is likely taking all of this very personally. Messing with books? Kind of her thing. Wiping away knowledge? Prepare for a beat-down. Endangering her friends? What would you like on your tombstone?

    Dang, that dude is tall!

    In truth, Twilight shows remarkable restraint throughout this story. Her goal is never to punish Shadow Lock but she tries repeatedly to talk him down. This is where this arc surpasses Chaos Theory. Twilight verbally engages Shadow Lock in every issue, so when he finally does stop and listen it feels much less abrupt than when Accord heeded Starlight.

    Seriously, just ship!

    Though to Chaos Theory's credit I do think that Starlight argued for diversity just as well as Twilight argued for history here. Rather than viewing it as dates and long-gone figures, Twilight weaves a portrayal of stories that can inspire modern people. History is a study of action and consequence, offering both caution and hope even when situations or people's mistakes invite despair.

    As much as I appreciate her message,
    the only lesson I'd take from that drawing is "run away!"

    Twilight actually restores some of Shadow Lock's hope when she convinces him that history can save the future. It's nice to enjoy a story where victory doesn't go to the character with the greatest weapon or the most violence. I enjoy a good fight scene, but one reason My Little Pony stand out is that the characters can still adventure without having to hurt someone to show their best. This goes for Twilight's friends as well.

    There are days I wish I could muster 
    half the enthusiasm of Twilight Sparkle.

    Mane Six Misadventures
    Reading all three parts, a pattern quickly emerges. The Mane Six and Spike visit a new locale, pair off, and get into mini-adventures. Tony Fleecs does wonderful job rendering a variety of locations and ponies. Though an Egyptian treasure room is more visually interesting than a cave, I never get the impression that an area is being dismissed or developed with the bare minimum.

    Another way this story surpasses Chaos Theory is that Twilight's friends are relevant. They rarely get to confront Shadow Lock the same way as Twilight, yet their own challenges keep the tension level high. We can enjoy Twilight and Shadow Lock's verbal sparing because it has a contrasting partner with Applejack battling Frankenstag's monster, or Rarity and Rainbow Dash fighting a mummy. Or Pinkie Pie doing... this...

    This comic has made me wonder about Pinkie's insanity level.
    I think it's at a 10.

    I can point to at least one part where each character has a chance to shine. Applejack's hoof-wrestling a buffalo adds some humor to Fluttershy's charm winning a match. Rarity and Rainbow face down Anubis guards and a irritated queen with a combined knowledge of fashion and Daring Do abilities. Spike is at his best helping knights who were set to attack him, and Pinkie Pie... Well, see above.

    I'm still not sure if there was any meaning behind Pinkie Pie's dream.

    There is, however, a interesting commentary on pony viewpoints. Twilight and friends are a bit reckless themselves. They often lower their guard, never assuming that Shadow Lock might try to cause them direct harm. Given the ponies' eagerness to forgive, I find it a display of both their strengths and weaknesses. Quick to forgive, but too naive to be safe. 

    Shadow Lock and Great-Great-Great-Grand Papa
    Looking over this series also caused me to amend my opinion on Shadow Lock's appearance. When he first appeared, I compared him to Written Script, a background stallion. He was mostly a collection of physical traits wrapped in a cloak. Over the story's arc, Shadow Lock became less about physical quirks like his cape and scar and more about how tired he looked. The scared, uncertain pony began to show through. He's not as fanatical as previous villains and so he can be reasoned with if one can get him to stand still.

    This was my attitude towards school book reports.

    Yet it wasn't until the final chapter that I got a proper height reference. For two issues I thought he was a standard stallion with fetlocks, but seeing him stand next to alicorn Twilight I realized that his body is more comparable to Shining Armor's. So the fact that a big, magically powerful stallion like Shadow Lock is afraid of something should be a testament to the danger itself. Yet strangely I don't feel a strong sense of dread, even with the mystery ancestor's revelation.

    Think that's scary? Imagine asking that guy to pose for a drawing.

    The image shown in a long-forgotten book shows something that resembles a Changeling's design but with some stronger equine features. The wings are sprouting from the chest, making me think this being is either wearing armor or the wings themselves are magical constructs. One thing that Shadow Lock wasn't clear about is whether he feared his ancestor's actual return, or if he fears the darkness that once empowered this danger. The shadows surrounding the page seem to suggest the latter. This power might actually come after Shadow Lock, forcing the Mane Six to stop a threat while rescuing a victim. Somewhat like Nightmare Moon.

    I'd like to know more about this pony
    beyond his fear.

    The odd thing about this threat is that it's very academic. All evidence of its evil is contained in books that are mostly erased. So all we really have to go on is the vague fear that the unknown invokes. I'm a fan of demonstrating evil by seeing its mark on the world. A barren wasteland where the villain once traversed. A shattered fortress they attacked. Something that stands as an unintentional monument to the threat. Although this new enemy looks imposing, I can't yet view it as something worse than what the Mane Six have already defeated. Shadow Lock is likely right to fear it, but he hasn't faced as many challenges as Twilight and company.

    The Bottom Line
    There's a lot more I could talk about. A wealth of pop culture references. Recurring humor and Pinkie's strange clairvoyance about mummies. Really great character designs. Yet I'm already grateful you were willing to read this far.

    This story is setting itself up to be a prelude to a greater threat, but I do think it stands on its own. Shadow Lock is not a deep character, but he is a lot more interesting that other antagonists. The story has a lot of fun mini-battles and exploration of new areas. While this story doesn't have the same climactic end like other stories–The Return of Queen Chrysalis being a good example–it does hold the reader's interest from start to finish.

    I don't think I've ever heard a good person call out "Guards!"

    This is a comic story I needed to read after a long period of a-typical stories. We've seen the Mane Six act as villains. We've seen the princesses struggle and fail. We've seen villains struggle with their own past and redeem one another. What we haven't seen in a while is the Mane Six getting to be themselves. I appreciate this touch back on the familiar if only to feel like the comics are re-centering for whatever comes next.

    I recommend this arc and we'll see how it ties into the show down the line.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!