• Let's Review: MLP #56

    We come to the end of Wings Over Yakyakistan. Lines are drawn, friendships tested, and party cannons readied. Who's going to bring this conflict to an end?

    Check out the full review after the break. But beware! Spoilers hover over every entry.


    I admit to entering this review with some trepidation. This issue is going to tackle some very mature ideas while still trying to appeal to a younger audience. My Little Pony has attempted this both in the show and comics with mixed success. Let's see how this plays out.

    Oh, Twilight. You have no idea how hypocritical you'll sound.

    The same artwork strengths from last issue carry forward to here. Agnes Garbowska renders ponies, yaks, and dragons in faithful detail as they gather for battle. A majority of the panels take place within a cave or the frigid north's expanse, so often the background hues are chilly blues and violets. The only time I get a sense of earthen warmth is when the story takes on a scroll appearance to demonstrate the history between dragons and yaks.

    I wonder which side did the most damage?

    One discussion that came up last month is that none of the ponies asked why the dragons where attacking. I didn't have a problem with this in part 1 because during an attack, perspective is the first casualty. The demands of the moment prevent us from asking the deeper questions, and only individuals who can detach from the moment's adrenaline rush can seek background motives. With a temporary quiet between the two forces, Twilight has that opportunity and is trying to learn about yak and dragon history.

    Still an awesome scene!

    That history is what has brought Ember to the north. Apparently the yaks have broken a sacred bond. Only problem is that no one, yak or pony, has a clue as to what she's referencing. It'd be one thing if some force was preventing a dialog, but then we get this panel:

    Does it involve a sanctified Elmer's glue?

    There it is. Twilight has asked the question point-blank. How foolish does Ember look for not answering? But she's not alone.

    Wait, what qualifies as "naturally aggressive" anyway?
    Even the most docile animals will put up a fight if threatened.

    Here is where I think many fans are going to get up in arms. This issue shifts the focus entirely to Spike at the other characters' expense. Twilight is up to bat first as she assumes that Ember has given in to her "natural" dragon aggression. A point that Spike rightly questions.

    You'd think the mass-reformation of the 
    changelings would broaden her view.

    I could chalk this up to fatigue and stress, not to mention confusion. Despite the lull, there's still a lot of tension. Yet the fact that she doesn't even react to Spike's overt challenge and says he's more pony than dragon is beyond insensitive. It's offensive.

    Wow. Classy.

    The rest of the ponies don't fare much better. Some of the more moderate ponies like Applejack and Pinkie Pie mention the dragons in a negative light, but their focus is concern for the coming fight. Rainbow Dash and the Wonderbolts are engaged in the classic "us-versus-them" bonding. It's a sad commentary, but often we bond over the idea of a shared foe and it's faster and easier to joke around about the "other side" than hold your new friends to a higher standard. Perhaps the worst is Rarity, the pony Spike admires most. She's speaking directly to Spike on how awful the dragons are with little regard for his own identity.

    This is a lot like Dragon Quest,
    in which she thought dragons were awful for being rowdy.

    In some ways this shows just how comfortable the ponies are around Spike. They've accepted him to the point where they take him for granted. But they've accepted him not for who he is, but for who they project. They see him as a pony who just happens to look like a dragon, never imagining that he might feel a connection. Yet to say this comic is getting them wrong would be inaccurate. This is the same attitude the Mane Six displayed in Dragon Quest, and it's unfortunate to think they haven't learned or change their view since then. Spike has the potential to blend dragon culture's emphasis on strength and honor with the pony view on kindness and camaraderie. It's why I was so disappointed by Spike rejecting his identity in Dragon Quest.

    Feel like I should be playing "Little Green Bag" right now.

    Let's take it a step further. The ponies are generalizing dragons based on very limited experience, and even then they get it wrong. Twilight says that dragons are naturally aggressive, but how often is that true? Garble and company were certainly aggressive, but they were teenagers. How many cultures would want to be defined by the young's impulses? The dragon from Dragonshy was dismissive of his impact on the surrounding world, but didn't go on the attack until Rainbow Dash kicked him in the snout. The dragon from Owls Well That Ends Well attacked Spike after he'd trespassed and eaten part of the treasure horde. If anything, dragons seem powerful enough to be mellow until provoked. So I'd say Twilight and the others are wrong.

    I am picturing them walking in slow motion.

    Yet this also touches on a problem I've seen in many episodes. Whether it's the griffons' greed or the yak's own aggression or the changelings predatory ways, the show does tend to stress that birth determines personality. There are characters like Gabby and Thorax, but they're treated as exceptions to the norm rather than showing true diversity. It doesn't help that they reject their own cultures in favor of the ponies'. Even Applejack mistakenly says in Not Asking for Trouble that helping is in a pony's nature, but that's a taught philosophy rather than a natural default. Just look at the alternate timelines in The Cutie Re-Mark to see how their attitudes change depending on the situation.

    You really do! It's what a smart leader would do.

    As one can tell from my last two paragraphs, this story is calling up frustration. It's a reflection of a larger issue with the show. In trying to make Equestria seem like a paradise, the rest of the world has little to offer and thus is often generalized in a negative light. This comic gets the characters' fallibility right. It is a good warning to young readers about how prejudice can seep into the most well-meaning individuals, but the fact that the ponies don't even realize how they're treating Spike after speaking is disappointing. This isn't a story I'd want to show to someone new the franchise, as it's only showing them at their worst.

    Good grief. Does Spike have a sign on his back saying "insult me"?

    The dragons, however, are no better. Spike is the one character who has the chance to act as ambassador and he has the right to answers. In a nice bit of continuity, he uses his history with Ember to gain some leverage towards truth. Not before some insensitivity from the dragons as well.

    Ember's explanation about the sacred bond and how it ties into Not Asking for Trouble So the battle lines are drawn and I am impressed by the two page spread as the two parties face off.

    I'd be more sympathetic if Twilight came to the realization herself.

    I do get some satisfaction by seeing Spike call out each leader on his or her own stupidity. Dude's been insulted and dismissed on all sides thus far, and this reality check is sorely needed. This goes beyond miscommunication. This was willful ignorance on Twilight and Ember's part, and neither comes out looking good. Strangely, Rutherford–the character I would most readily blame for situations like this–is more guilty of a historical gap than any willful harm. He comes out of this the least tarnished.

    Forget reverse psychology, this is straight-up common sense talk!

    It's odd to look over this two-part stories because the focus is so different. The first issue was on Rainbow Dash and the Wonderbolts tackling the idea of courage. This issue is on Spike's struggle against prejudice. In some ways they are completely different stories, but I see some running themes.

    None shall be spared from Spike's verbal smackage!

    The biggest theme is a leader's failings. Twilight and Ember especially, but it's the latter who comes out the worse because she looks much weaker than in Gauntlet of Fire. She's complaining about how hard it is to overcome bias, and so she thoughtlessly marches in step with what others expect. It's a stumbling point, but I'm hoping we'll see a future story where Ember shows she does deserve the Dragon Lord title.

    The only way this could be more frustrating 
    is if she'd only been at it for a week.

    Spitfire likewise took it on the chin in the first issue, seemingly more hesitant than the bold pony we've seen thus far. In a twist, Rutherford is better than his show counterpart as he demonstrates care and responsibility, and is firm in seeking repairs.

    Wonder what would have happened if Starlight 
    messed with this time period instead.

    There's also the theme of looking to the young. Rainbow Dash's foalhood offered context and encouragement to fully grown ponies. Spike, the youngest combatant on the field, is the most mature and open-minded. In many ways he is representing the pony philosophy at its best even as the actual ponies fall short. He also shows a dragon's valued courage in willfully walking towards danger and not being diminished by Ember's insults. Best of both, but I wish he didn't have to be elevated by making others look worse.

    I'm not sure either of you know 
    what it means to be a dragon at this point.

    I come away from this two-parter a bit numb. There are good parts to it that are worth enjoyment. Many characters have chances to shine. Others are diminished. Unlike Over a Barrel, I can't say this situation would have been better if the Mane Six hadn't shown up. Without them, the yaks would have suffered greater casualties. Yet for this second part they are part of the problem, making me wonder if they're really fit to interact with a larger world.

    I'm hoping for some better stories between cultures down the line. For now, I'll look forward to the next adventure.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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