• Let's Review: Friends Forever #16

    It's time to take a look back at one of the old Friends Forever issues. This time a pair that doesn't get a lot of focus.

    Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon vs the CMC. But if the story is about the former, how are we supposed to cheer for them against the latter?

    Let's take a look back after the break!

    Back in the day of May 2015, the MLP comics were coming off a high. FIENDship is Magic had just completed its run throughout April with one new comic every week. Friends Forever #16 was a compliment to this run as it focused on Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. Not quite on the level of Chrysalis and Tirek, but these two had caused their own share of trouble and earned their place on the chaos is magic poster.

    Imagine if they did a new Chaos is Magic poster.
    How many of these characters would still be featured?

    The art for this issue comes courtesy of Jenn Blake. Her work has featured across several comic covers and she is a prolific artist on her DeviantArt account, but to my memory this is the only issue where she was the primary artist. I would sum up her artwork as "sharp". Even though she's skilled at drawing the ponies' more rounded styles there is a crispness to it that creates a unique look. One particular detail is how Blake adds small hatching lines and cheek lines and add similar details to the background.

    The sharp style fits their sneering expressions.

    Some artists convey action through a sense of implied movement despite a still image. Others draw the frame as if it's a snapshot mid-action. I would put Blake's work in the latter. When the ponies run we see them taking a pose that conveys the motion, including angling their manes and tails to convey rushing wind, but there is a fixed feeling to the composition. 

    Next time on Schoolyard Brawls!

    One part I greatly appreciate is the background references. It's fun to do several read-throughs and spot the various references. Within this issue can you spot The Three Stooges, Michelangelo, the Littlest Pet Shop, Archie and his two lady loves, and the dual teams of the Powerpuff Girls and Sailor Moon?

    I can't be sure, but is that a "Jem and the Holograms" reference?

    Colorist Heather Breckel added a great deal of variety to each panel. There are predominate blues or tans depending on the angle, but all reflect a bright day to reflect the foals' adventures on this scavenger hunt. The only time the colors take on a darker pallet is when the Crusaders end up in the Castle of the Two Sisters. A fitting shift to reflect the location. 

    We can't stop here! This is bat country!

    There are two key words for this issue: "winning" and "luck". The first term is the mantra for team Sugar Lump featuring our lead characters. "Luck" applies more to the Crusaders, who get a good share of panel time as well. While most Friends Forever issues take two individuals and has them contrast towards a shared goal, this comic takes two groups and has them compete.

    Wars have started from such looks!

    I hear you say, "Silver, you columnist condor, I thought you didn't like having groups define individuals!" And you are correct. If I thought that the teams dictated the individual characters' thoughts and actions, I wouldn't enjoy this comic so much. Yet these groups are individuals brought together by shared values, and each will contribute in her own unique way.

    Hats make everything cuter!

    "Winning" is Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon's chief goal. From the first page it's clear that their sense of self-worth is based on comparing themselves against everypony else and declaring themselves superior. The problem with this idea is that one has to always compare to feel validated. So even though Diamond Tiara has no interest in a scavenger hunt, she signs them up just so they can trounce the Cutie Mark Crusaders. 

    I will smite them!
    Just 'cause!

    Being a three-foal event, Tiara needs to find a third member and so manipulates her father. I've often thought Filthy Rich is a decent guy, but a bad parent. This comic demonstrates why as he's too quick to believe his daughter is being bullied by a member of his best business partners. Though it also raises a question if Diamond Tiara often sees herself as the victim in all this, given how often the Crusaders come out ahead. This issue came out seven months before Crusaders of the Lost Mark and elements like Spoiled Rich aren't present. Regardless, I like how they're exploring Tiara's character with the info at hand.

    I know he's trying to be an A-Class Dad.
    But he's not really seeing his daughter.

    We're then introduced to Prancy Drew, a combination of classic detective figures Nancy Drew and Scooby Doo's Velma. She's the fun, kind character that balances out the spoiled fillies' aggression. As Mayor Mare points out, hiring an Equestrian-famous detective is far more expensive that the tickets that go to the first place winners. Diamond Tiara doesn't care because (A) this is about beating the Crusaders and (B) it's not her money. 

    Hats! Cuteness! Ponies!

    It's here that the individuals in the group start to show their best. Apple Bloom is the most aggressive of the trio, butting heads with Tiara and swearing victory. Yet while the race goes on it's only Tiara who seems frustrated by their progress. Apple Bloom is more caught up in the moment and enjoying their run.

    Is it weird that I didn't question where Sweetie Belle got the band?

    Scootaloo is the more adventurous one who puts herself in some dangerous scenario. Yet it's this idea, combined with Sweetie Belle's knowledge of inexplicable rubber bands, that catapults them by accident to the first clue. In fact, almost all the Crusader's find appear to be luck. This drives Tiara to even further frustration because her desire for victory is being challenged. 

    Ah, the classic "my life's worse" competition.

    So let's talk for a moment about the Crusaders' luck. It can be expressed simply as plot convenience to both keep the story going and enjoying some slapstick. Won't lie, I get a kick out of the Loony Toons homage.

    Adorable danger!

    Yet luck is a topic I've been mulling over across fiction. Jim Henson's The Storyteller once adopted a Russian folktale to become The Luck Child. Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist views luck as the universe's way of aiding people in fulfilling their personal stories. Kyuranger's Lucky and One Piece's Luffy were both saved from execution thanks to a "random" lightning strike. All of these examples fit in with the Crusader's seemingly random fortune.

    The heavens look out for spandex-wearing heroes!

    I'd like to put a different spin on. We're often tempted to look at the outcome and say, "Well, that was lucky". Rarely do we look at what the characters were doing before said events. As with the other examples I listed, the Crusaders weren't focusing on the negative or allowing anger to dominate their thoughts. They were thinking of others, accepting their situation, or simply having fun in the moment. Even falling down a trap door became a fun ride.

    Celestia would adore these three.

      I like to think we make our own luck not by randomness but by keeping our eyes open. Often that fortune is there if we don't allow negativity or cynicism to blind us. The Crusader's good fortune is an exaggeration, but the concept is still there. Contrast that against Diamond Tiara, who contributes nothing to the group while Silver Spoon and Prancy Drew think their way through the riddles. Because winning is the only way she can feel satisfaction, fear of losing is clouding all her judgement and motivating her to cheat.

    Be glad this isn't a zombie outbreak!

    So by the end when Tiara has technically won but feels no greater enjoyment, we get a glimpse of how difficult both her life and Silver Spoon's look. They can compare themselves financially to all other ponies and claim to be better off, but that comparison is like an addiction. It's almost pitiable since the audience can see what both fillies are missing. 

    It does undermine the idea of a prize if everyone wins the same thing.

    This then makes me doubly-glad for their realization in Cruasders of the Lost Mark. In fact, having seen that episode makes me enjoy this comic all the more. It's interesting to compare where they were and what might follow. We haven't had much interaction with either character beyond the Ponyville Elections arc, but I'd be curious to see how they are doing with a new outlook.

    That makes sense!

    I find that this comic has grown more fun with time. I enjoy getting to look back at Diamond Tiara's darker days with the knowledge she'll come around. Jenn Blake's art style is distinct with a lot of fun visuals and the story is lighthearted but it also ties into a theme I've been noticing more and more. I recommend giving it a re-read and seeing how it looks.

    This? Right here?
    Favorite panel.

    Sadly, Blake has not been able to continue working for the IDW comics due to her battle against brain cancer. I encourage everyone to donate to her support her treatment. I've had the pleasure of meeting Jen at several conventions. She is a talented artist, has some of the boldest humor you can imagine, and is a joy. The world of comics and the MLP fandom is that much better for her presence.

    I'm not surprised Twilight is a Prancy Drew fan.
    Maybe Rainbow Dash as well?

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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