• Let's Review: Friendship is Magic #60

    It's been a while since the Cutie Mark Crusaders where the headliners for an issue. Let's see how far they've come since earning their marks.

    Check out the full review after the break but be warned! I'm aiming for a second mark in spoiling!

    Gather 'round, because it's time for some Crusading! If memory serves, we haven't seen these three take center stage since issues 43–45. Ponies of Dark Water from mid-2016. Apple Bloom had a small part to play in the Election two-parter, but it's nice to see the Crusaders tackling a challenge unique to them.

    Sweetie Belle's face says it all.
    "Business? Are we supposed to be getting paid?"

    What is that challenge? Why, helping a young pony who isn't all that enthusiastic about earning a cutie mark in the midst of camp activities.

    He's being spoon-fed this cameo.

    What? No! It only sounds like Marks and Recreation. Actually, this comic makes an interesting companion piece. On the first view it feels like a rehash for the episode, but the story does two unique approaches that help it stand out.

    "You ever wonder why we're here."
    "No. You're not getting me with that one again!"

    Our artist for this venture is Agnes Garbowska with colorist Heather Breckel. Garbowska is an artist who taps into the constant theme of circles in this world.

    I will now view this filly as an Agnes Garbowska representative.

    I mean it. She gets the rounded features of these equines and the landscape. This is especially apparent in this issue's unique character, Gilded Lily. Garbowska went the extra step with all those curls in her mane. Color-wise, Lily has an abundance of orange hues, slightly offset by the red tint in her eyes. However, I find that this near-monotone style actually makes her less distinct than some of the more color-varied ponies, even the background foals.

    Minotaur? That's a lotta bull!

    That's one thing with which I struggle while viewing Garbowska's artwork. Sometimes it's hard to perceive depth or know where my eye should focus. This can be an advantage. Take the panel where Lily is sitting out while other foals pick apples. I get the sense from the framing that my eye should focus on Lily, but because the others have a more varied palette, are fully illuminated, and are larger, my focus shifts to them first. But perhaps that's the goal; to see everypony having fun before noticing the one in the back.

    The four foals form a rectangle, which acts like a picture frame
    and thus my eyes want to see what's being bracketed.

    Contrast that against a far-shot that's meant to convey distance. The shading around the apple tree in the foreground signals that this isn't the focus. But the chicken coops, fence, and other land are less shaded and so they demand more attention. Behind the foals, the land rises up and cuts off the horizon. So I don't get as great a sense of distance.

    I think I'd get a greater sense of distance if that hill didn't rise up so high.

    It's give-and-take but overall I enjoy her art style. Though I suddenly realize that I go through issue after issue without ever crediting the letters artist. In this case it's Neil Uyetake. Typography is a lot like correct spelling. It's taken for granted until something goes wrong. And nothing goes wrong in this issue, so props to Uyetake... I can't add anything else.

    You have been overruled, spokespony Scootaloo!

    Anywho, on to the story. As in Mark and Recreation, the Crusaders are planning a special get together for young ponies. This time it's a campout. Doesn't sound all that different from a day camp, but here's the first big difference. Scootaloo's extreme sports ideas are all being voted down by a tyranny of the majority. I can't blame Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle for being worried about safety. They certainly didn't have fun back in the day.

    At least they were wearing proper safety gear!

    But this is something we haven't gotten to see in the show much. The Crusaders have a common goal, but different ideas on how to approach it. Since Scootaloo has enjoyed the least amount of focus over the series, I'm glad to see her struggle with her own expression within the group.

    The soul-crushing begins!

    It doesn't help that Rarity has signed the team up to help Fancy Pant's niece. This is one idea the comic does not explore: Rarity using her sister's business to further her own standing. That could be a conflict down the road. Although I'm unsure if I could call it a business. Are the Crusaders paid for this? All their equipment is donated. Apple Bloom does note that they're running out of ponies to help in Ponyville, so expanding to the rest of Equestria is the next logical step.

    I can think of many celebrities who are famous and influential
    though I have no idea why.

    This is the second big thing that this comic does. Lily's actions seem to mirror Rumble's in resisting the Crusaders' efforts, but we learn the motive is the polar opposite. Rumble was afraid a cutie mark would limit him. Lily is afraid that her mark–or her identity–won't measure up to her family's goals. Like Scootaloo, she's struggling to figure out her identity within the group.

    Based on the previews, many thought she'd get her cutie mark in bungie jumping.
    I'm glad the outcome wasn't so predictable.

    I enjoy Garbowska's change in Lily after her mark appears. Her mane unfurls and for the rest of the issue, she doesn't try to change it back. Even though her family sets high standards about being influential, she doesn't try to revert. This despite her worries about what this growth means. It's a mature idea and a fun way to present growing up.

    My life is a lie!

    It's also worth noting the meaning behind Gilded Lily's name. According to Dictionary.com: To adorn unnecessarily something that is already beautiful or perfect. In this case, Lily is trying to make herself look better, thinking her true self can't measure up. A big part of growing up is recognizing one's own self worth without letting others define you. Simple in statement but harder to live out.

    She will ignite the Canterlot counter-cultural movement!

    The two conflicts come to a resolution as Scootaloo asserts her individuality while Lily finds reassurance from her uncle. I like this depiction for Fancy Pants. As of season 2, I viewed him as one of the few dependable stallions after Big Macintosh. Later seasons conveyed that I should somehow resent him for being part of the upper class, but that's a poor justification. I'll dislike a character when I feel they're not living up to their best, and while Fancy Pants has not always made the best choices I've never felt him as bad as the more spoiled Canterlot ponies. Nice to see him shown in a positive light as he encourages his niece.

    Some might criticize he's still forcing her to follow the family's path.
    I'd wait to see what that really means, if we ever do see her again.

    I'm a little more mixed with Scootaloo's declaration. I like that she asserts herself and then talks the Crusaders down from their hysteria. Much like On Your Marks, the message is to accept that being in a group doesn't mean doing everything together. The only thing I wonder about is that Scootaloo's extreme sports camp is more high-risk. I can accept a foal-run camping trip without adults based on the show, but add in physical risk and it goes a step too far.

    We'll go get the paramedics... you know, if needed.

    I have this image of Rainbow Dash hiding nearby, ready to swoop in if needed.

    This is becoming dangerously easy.

    The only other nitpick I can offer is that the Crusaders helped foals earn three cutie marks in one night. That's a pretty high success rate and may be rushing through things. Crusader stories are at their best when they're helping others learn about themselves. A cutie mark isn't required to understand oneself just a little better.

    You won't get cutie marks in spying unless you plan to work for the NSA!

    I enjoy this story for being relateable without needing a bad guy. No bullies. No usurpation from within. No judgement on Fancy Pants or high society, despite the pressure that comes with it. It's just ponies trying to do their best and figure things out. A good companion piece to the show and a strong showing for all involved. Except maybe Rarity, but that opens the door to a future story.

    Rarity, your mouth is writing checks your reputation can't cash!

    I say give it a read and see how much you identify with the characters. I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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