• Let's Review: MLP #53

    And so the conflict comes to an end. How will the ponies overcome this memory-wiping mad-stallion, and will he have to pay a library fee?

    Check out the review after the break. Just remember, you can't wipe spoilers from your memory!

    Shadow Lock has been an interesting opponent for our heroines. His intentions are never aggressive against them yet his actions put them in danger. They've not clashed directly but he's outmaneuvered them at every step. Now he's placed a majority of the team in peril with Twilight none the wiser.

    Mummy's all like,
    "Keep your hooves off my bling!"

    This last part to the arc is divided between conflict and exposition. Twilight and Shadow Lock finally have a talk where the Princess of Friendship tries once more to get her opponent to slow down and explain himself. Maybe even see reason. This leads into Shadow Lock's true backstory and his most at-ease moments. He finally becomes a character, and Tony Fleecs' artwork reflects that.

    Puberty for a unicorn stallion is a treacherous period.

    When we first saw Shadow Lock in issue #51, he was obscured by his cloak or his eyes flashed pure white. We never saw his more vivid features. Issue #52 allowed his green eyes to peek through the shadow more and let the audience know there's a normal pony under there. Now Shadow Lock finally drops the... well, shadows. He allows the cowl to slip off and present himself as a normal pony, and thus we are given the option to empathize or reject his story.

    I'm just holding it for a friend!

    Throughout Twilight's conversation with Shadow Lock, my mind kept dipping back into memory. Starlight vs Accord, to be specific. The way this comic's debate unfolded felt much more natural than Accord's defeat. There are several factors involved that will be fully explained in the arc-wide retrospective, but the immediate answer is that the rest of the cast isn't rendered obsolete.

    That one cave pony is just saying,
    "Pink? Cute!"

    Spike and the remaining ponies are divided into pairs to face representations of Equestria's history. Not the actual historical events, but self-contained pockets of history, like a living and very dangerous museum. Applejack and Pinkie face off against prehistoric ponies. A group of knights and a dragon are about to go medieval Fluttershy and Spike. Ancient Egypt is making Rarity and Rainbow Dash scream "Mummy!"

    The way that dragon enters makes me think of old Disney animatronic rides.

    I'm not sure if James Asmus and Tony Fleecs had more fun working on some historical areas than others. I can say that I have a preference. I view Pinkie and Applejack as having least involving conflict. They are trapped in cave with gibberish speaking neigh-anderthas. Pinkie is the only one being proactive in a solution while Applejack serves as an escape method. They are not really working together towards a solution and the barren cave makes the whole thing less visually interesting. Props to Pinkie for a nice pop culture reference but we don't even see how they win over the cave ponies.

    Pinkie may be making the joke, 
    but Applejack's the one in bullet time!

    Fluttershy and Spike enjoy a more interesting adventure. Although the castle walls, banners, and portcullises don't generate a lot of energy on their own, the addition of a dragon and its fire breath helps add more color variety and energy. Spike gets to show his best by helping the knight ponies who threatened him while Fluttershy does her best. Though not working strictly together, they are putting forth their best selves and resolving the situation. Although that poor dragon is having an existential crisis.

    Fluttershy, are you willing to pay his counseling bills?

    My favorite of the conflicts is Rarity and Rainbow Dash facing off against anubis guards and an Egyptian Queen. Everything about these scenes is wonderful. The visuals are great with a treasure room filled with gold, hieroglyphics, and stone columns. The combination of Rainbow's athleticism and Rarity's fashion sense is unexpected and enjoyable. I love Cleopatrot's design and those of her guards. It beautiful, it's funny, it's a good conflict.

    How cool would the Canterlot guard be if they brought these guys back?

    These sub-conflicts are what make Twilight and Shadow Lock's conversation more interesting. We get to move between action and dialog so it never feels like Twilight's friends are superfluous. They're facing an alternate threat in their own ways while Twilight finally manages to get through. I realize that many comic arcs have moved Twilight's friends to a point where they have little-to-no impact on the story. This is a welcome return where they can be proactive.

    Biggest difference between this and Starlight versus Accord
    is that Twilight has been attempting this for several issues.

    Twilight's speech about the importance of history is well done. I think a genuine study of history in relation to modern life yields better insight than a lecture. History was never my favorite topic growing up, but I do remember something one of my teachers said. "We tend to approach history with the attitude of 'Those events were destined to happen, but I have free choice.'" History is a collection of choices and their consequences, and so I applaud a story message that emphasizes what we can learn.

    I think this is setting the stage for Legends of Magic.

    However, it's the concept of choice and consequence that works against the resolution. 

    Dude, do you know how many people are descended from Genghis Khan?
    I don't think there's a genetic code for pillaging or destruction.

    I can't say that I know Shadow Lock better for learning about his reasons and motives. Instead, I better understand why his plans seem contradictory. In his panic over the past, his magic has fragmented his own mind. While other ponies like the CMC have lost some knowledge, he has lost a sense of perspective and purpose. He knows there is a boogey man, but hasn't a clear vision on what to do. As such, it's understandable that he's not all there.

    Wait, is Twilight reading his word bubble as well?

    Understanding does not undo the mistakes. He has put the Mane Six in danger several times and unintentionally weakened Equestria. So when he owns his errors and the Mane Six offer instant forgiveness, I wonder why he's in such a hurry to leave.

    "By the way, where'd you get that scar?"
    "Oh, I tripped on some stairs and hit a book chest."
    "Aw, come on!"

    In both the show and the comics, there's a lack of consequences . If a character is truly sorry, I'd love to see them stand firm and accept what comes next. If serving time or performing community service shows them taking ownership of their actions, then I enjoy the characters all the more. Like Trouble Shoes in Appleoosa's Most Wanted.

    It's not known how the comics will unfold from this point. Perhaps we might enjoy a series of connected events like the friendship keys stories in season 4. Or it may be that the threat Shadow Lock feared will emerge with no mention in between. I'm lean towards the latter because of Shadow Lock's departure rather than his integration.

    So is he afraid of the ancestor returning, or the darkness itself returning?

    I think Shadow Lock's apology would have had a better impact if he'd pledged to work with Canterlot scholars to piece together the missing information. This would give future comics the option to have the Mane Six run missions to help re-construct the deleted history. As it stands, I have an expectation that Shadow Lock will return, but only at the zero hour.

    There is also the topic of the evil which Shadow Lock fears. I'm going to save my thoughts on that for tomorrow, when I talk about the Shadow Lock arc in its entirety. For this issue, I consider it a very good read and one of the stronger story resolutions to date. My biggest criticism is something that has applied to multiple episode and comic entries. That doesn't make it invalid, but I see it as more an example of a trend than a stand-alone weakness. 

    I think this is a three-issue arc that's well worth a read. And let's take a further look tomorrow.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!