• Let's Review: MLP #64

    It's a blast from the past! 80's fashion threatens to dominate Equestria and only Rarity stands in its path!

    Or at least, that's what I thought this comic was about. The real story was something different.

    Find out what I mean after the break but watch out! Spoilers are the in thing right now.

    Trying very hard to not lean on "Don't judge a book by its cover", but in this case I'll have to update it to "Don't judge a book by its cover or its 3-page preview." Between the covers and the first three pages, I had an idea of the approaching story. I expected silliness and references, but the idea seemed a bit shallow. I was in for a surprise.

    A great example of perspective and detail.
    Just search this image for all the references.

    In terms of art I did get what I expected from my favorite IDW artist. Andy Price has a lot of fun elements when he tackles a My Little Pony comic. I've been through this comic several times checking for street names, billboards, buttons, and any other nostalgic tidbit or reference. I almost missed the Watcher pony, but he's there.

    I have this idea of the central pony 
    spending 5 hours achieving that look.

    His second quality is how he plays with the panel layout. Sometimes the setting becomes the comic's frames. In this issue there's an emphasis on enlarging characters or objects so that an innocent set piece or a simple conversation bridges the distance between panels and guides the reader's eye. Each page is more lively thanks to his efforts to traverse rather than shatter boundaries.

    You start with Fluttershy's word bubble, but then her mane leads you down,
    towards the enlarged conductor, whose word bubble is next to Rarity's.

    Most of all, it's his gift for details. When establishing Manehatten he draws each building to create a full view. Once we know where we are the setting offer presents the skyline in outlines, but there's so much in the immediate area that this becomes a question of focus rather than haste. This is all enhanced by Heather Breckel's coloring, which features a wide pallet but is never overloading. He draws background ponies and the lead characters with expressive body language and any number of 80's styles. Yet my favorite expressions are when ponies are either exuberant or furious. Whether it's Queen Chrysalis giving a feral snarl or Rarity flipping out at shoulder pads, Price knows how to scare and entertain a reader. 

    I think I'd rather face a ticked-off Chrysalis.

    Yet as much as I enjoy Price's art I have to give the top spot to Thomas Zahler's writing. This story hinges on one aspect: how well does Zahler understand Rarity? If Rarity were more shallow or stereotypical, this story could have easily fallen on its face. It'd be Rarity fighting to combat a fashion regression. I would expect funny reactions, visual gags, and Fluttershy being turned into an unwilling test subject. 

    In my book, anyone who works with acid gets instant hardcore points.

    The funny thing is that this story presents all these things, but its beating heart is Rarity's passion. Rarity embodies the creative spirit, with all its highs and lows. Even if a person is not a fashion enthusiast, Rarity has been so expressive about her creative drive and business sense that it often overcomes the gap. She draws out the passion in others and lifts them up in their own expressions, making her far more than the shallow clothes horse we once suspected.

    Fluttershy: the problem locksmith.

    Although Rarity's initial reaction is outrage, we soon get to understand. This isn't her casting judgement on fashion trends. She elaborates that this means retreading familiar ground and the fear that her own creativity will stifle. Despite her rising status in Equestria, she knows that she is servant to the fashion world's whims and she has to work with that rather than try to dictate. So it's less her trying to defy a trend and instead finding a way to be herself within it.

    Darn straight!

    This stands in contrast to Fluttershy's B story. She is trying to get a handle on all the mistakes she made in setting up Sweet Feather Sanctuary. This isn't helped by a convention of animal sanctuary runners that excel at pointing out past mistakes without offering guidance. One pony's commentary highlights how the focus is less constructive criticism and more berating. 

    What was it Rarity once said about green manes?

    I enjoy this B plot because it addresses some of the awkwardness from Fluttershy Leans In. Fluttershy put together a beautiful sanctuary, but she is not a professional. She has no experience with the legal requirements nor considering the variety of scenarios that might arise. Professionals consider such things, and Fluttershy never consulted one. This comic implies this wasn't an option, as it's her first chance to meet with professional sanctuary runners. One well-dressed stallion voices how all these after-the-fact corrections decrease enthusiasm rather than correct mistakes.

    I have no idea who this stallion is or what his personality is like.
    But I ship it.

    At first these two stories seem disconnected but Zahler brings it together with Rarity's insight and ability to inspire others. She does what the conference could not: acknowledge Fluttershy's creative achievement while encouraging her to learn. In doing so, she also unlocks her own creativity. We get a fun montage of 80's fashion, with Coco Pommel Miss Pommel as the primary worker.

    It's very rare to see horse physiology emphasized.
    I like it when that happens.

    Yes, the estate for Coco Chanel has left its mark by denying Pommel a first name. No matter! She will always be Coco to me. Yet I enjoy that she's so proficient at creating the clothing while Rarity is the idea pony. It's showing them both contributing rather than one carrying the entire burden. 

    One has the technical knowledge, the other ideas.
    I'm glad they've become a consistent team.

    Though Fluttershy is the B story, she is by no means passive. Thanks to Rarity's inspiration she gets to make her own contribution to Equestria. The ending's optimistic tone suggest that Fluttershy hasn't forgotten the need to improve her own animal sanctuary. Rarity's encouragement will allow her to bring it all up to code and improve on her initial design. That further helps build off what the show created, and serves as a tribute to both ponies. 

    Slash fics have started this way!

    This story is a joy. It's got great visuals and jokes but the driving force is the characters. One criticism is that this is a Rarity story with Fluttershy as a supporting character. Had this flown under the Friends Forever title I would have been distracted. Yet because it's not trying to present the two as equal co-stars, I can roll with the idea that Fluttershy's struggle serves to support Rarity's self discovery. 

    I think the truth lies somewhere in between their attitudes.

    If you've been giving the comics a break or are unsure about where to step in, I highly recommend this issue. It has a simple premise yet that allows the characters to show their best. The message that a creative can revisit old territory but offer something fresh is positive and speaks to more than fashion. Add a ton of great artwork and you've got a solid entry in the MLP lineup.

    Uh oh. That's my cue to wrap this up!

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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