• REVIEW: Melowy #1: The Test of Magic

    I am well aware of the title mismatch. It was updated after the Amazon solicit and the cover image wasn't. 

    Hope everyone is having a great Memorial Day weekend. Or is at least trying to have one with the remainder of it.

    Got something new—but still pony related—for everyone today. Which is fortuitous since it happens to come out tomorrow! What is it? Well, it happens to be a new licensed comic book based on the Italian book series Melowy, which is published by Scholastic in the US.

    Put down the pitch forks. Douse the torches. This is not Filly. This is not My Little Pony, but it looks like something that might be fun. If the cover art is anything to go by, It is extremely well drawn.

    So buckle up folks, cause it's review time! Be sure to check it out after the break.

    The Story

    Trying a new format for this review. There is a lot to talk about in this 64 page book and trying to cover it all at once would drive me bananas.



    Fine. It would drive me to be mashed bananas which would be subsequently baked into banana bread. Moving on.

    As I had mentioned before, this comic is a licensed product based off of an already existing book series published in the US by Scholastic. The first question I had was "do I need to read the books to understand this comic?" Fortunately, writer Cortney Faye Powell foresaw that question and answered it with a resounding "no." The comic will tell you everything you need to know on page one in a format which should be very familiar to everyone who reads this site.
    "Beyond the stars in the night sky, beyond our universe, and far away in space there is Aura a world where magical live in harmony."
    The story is presented as a fairy tale. Which is the same format the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic cartoon series started off with. After the "once upon a time in a kingdom far away" opening sentence we learn a bit more about the land of Aura—which is separated into four island realms separated by an enchanted ocean and also has a literal castle in the clouds called The Castle of Destiny. We learn what a Melowy is—which is a pegasus born with special powers and a symbol on their wings. And we learn The Castle of Destiny in not only the mane setting of the story, but it is also the school for the Melowies.

    Yes, this is another magical high school series. However, unlike Equestria Girls—and Mattel's Monster High—this high school is actually filled with magical talking ponies. Much like Princess Twilight Sparkle's School of Friendship!





    I should probably mention this comic—and the franchise—actually focuses on the students of the school and not the teachers. Five heroines who are named Cleo, Maya, Electra, Cora, and Selena. Ironically we are introduced to the antagonists Xeni, Circe, Eris, Leda, and Kate before them. That little bit of creative brilliance doesn't really offset how… uncreative we are introduced to any of the characters.

    They are studying—9/10 of the characters at any rate—for a test in their Defensive Techniques Class which could be on absolutely anything. It is also made crystal clear this isn't a final exam. Just a big test which most of the cast is stressed out beyond all reason and are buried nose deep in textbooks over. This introduction to our characters is pages 2 through 5 of the actual comic, followed by pages 6 through 9 being an extremely brief recap of the first book—which is also Cleo's backstory—before resolving the stress of studying by having a dance party because they can handle anything as friends.

    The story itself—the girls taking the test—doesn't start until page 10 when their teacher Applejack Ms. Ariadne reveals the test isn't a written test but a practical exam which could be on anything.

    Storywise, pages 1 – 9 of the comic are inconsistent in tone, narrative structure, and in the approach of what they want to accomplish—which is introduce the readers to the main characters of the story—that it's a mess to read. All of the characters come off as exactly the same because all they are all studying for this exam. Furthermore, all the potential solutions to dealing with the stress of studying —do each others makeup, listen to music, a dance party—are all prime examples of why girls entertainment has the reputation of being… below average.

    This is a massive creative misstep which could—and probably will—turn off a number of potential readers.

    This is a shame because once the story actually gets started, it is a solid, enjoyable read straight to the end. I'm not joking. I was fully expecting to hate this comic after reading through the first 9 pages. However once their defensive studies teacher Ms. Ariadne—who has a striking resemblance to Applejack in attire, character design, and dialogue—shows up and administers the test the quality of the narrative shoots right up.

    The cast ends up being pared down to focus on the core five. They each have time to breathe in the story. Which gives the narrative time to showcase their personalities through their actions and reactions to their personalized practical tests. The presentation of those tests—and how each of the characters end up in the middle of them are unexpected in the most delightful ways. Furthermore, the core of the tests themselves… is a concept I haven't seen executed competently since Star Trek: The Next Generation.

    The ending of the comic is written in such a way to have the comic be both self contained, and contribute to the larger narrative being told in the Melowy chapter books. It's important in a licensed comic for the work to have its own identity. The MLP Comics do this really well for the same reason this book does, some readers might not pick up the books or some book readers might not read this comic.

    The ending leaves just enough of a thread to be picked up on in future installments of either the chapter books or the comic—the latter of which has a second volume scheduled for October 30th, 2018.

    Overall, I would give the story a solid 3/5. A solid middle and ending isn't quite enough to make up for a very lack luster opening to this comic, but it is good enough to warrant a couple of rereads.

    The Art

    This book is worth a reread because the art in this book is drop dead freaking gorgeous! I'm not just saying that because the artist Ryan Jampole is one of my favorite comic creators to break into the comic scene in the last 10 years, or because colorist Laurie E. Smith is a 30 year veteran of the industry and her experience shows on every single panel she colored.

    Both of those points are true—Ryan's work on Archie's Mega Man comic series is a pure delight to read and study—however the level of artistic skill they bring to this comic creates a complete, mostly original fantasy setting that feels truly alive.

    By mostly original, I'm pointing out once again that this a licensed comic from a chapter book series. All the locations had to be designed from the ground up based on the descriptions in those novels by Danelle Star. That is no small feat Ryan and Laurie accomplish in this book. I tip my hat off to them.

    As for the characters themselves, if you are already aware of Ryan's work you will know Ryan's character work is some of the best any comic series could ever possibly have. The expressions are always varied and full of personality, the body language is an extension of what is presented by the face, and they always feel like they belong in the settings they are presented in.

    There is just one problem that constantly rears its head throughout. The ponies anatomy constantly switches between quadruped and bipedal humanoid. I don't know if this is part of a style sheet Ryan may have received for the characters or not, so I can't comment if that is a style choice by Ryan, but it is really distracting to constantly flip between the two.

    Seriously distracting.



    Okay, I had to pause every time it happened to figure out what I am supposed to be looking at right now. Human backs—including shoulder blades—and actual shoulders are jarring to see when the previous panels showcased a well drawn equine.

    Aside from that, the art is beautiful and definitely work checking out. I would give it a solid 4/5.

    VERDICT

    I really can't give this comic more than a 3/5.

    The comic gets to be fun, but it really doesn't start out that way. The artwork is fantastic to look at, but the shifting anatomy between equine and human is jarring. The characters initially all read the same, until the book dedicates a few pages to each character for some quiet reflection.

    The comic does feel like it wants to be My Little Pony, but maybe a step or two outside of the pure high fantasy genre and slightly more towards modern day fantasy. It definitely fits in somewhere between MLP and EQG.

    Is it worth reading? Yes it is. Every work that is produced has meaning and value in it, and that alone makes it worth to read.

    Do I recommend it? I don't regret reading it, and once I got past the first 10 pages it was fun. And if you can get past those first 10 pages you will probably enjoy it too.

    Though if you happen to have a kid who is already a fan of the Melowy book series, buy this comic for them. They will absolutely love it (and you) for this purchase.

    Till next time folks, this has been The Illustrious Q. See you in the comments.


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