• Let's Review: Ponyville Mysteries #4

    The time has come once again to follow the Cutie Mark Crusaders Super Sleuths on a mystery. This time it's a search for thieves of natural resources while clearing a family's name.

    Check out the full review after the break but use caution! This post will be drawing from a spoiler spring.

    Issue #4 is an interesting milestone. We have now had an issue for each Super Sleuth, allowing each the chance to show her best. Now that all have had a turn, how does this fourth story handle the group?

    Before we tackle that, I'd like to give a shout-out to the artist for the Retail Incentive cover. Trish "Nanook123" Forstner's work has been a proud part of Bronycon's publications and advertisements, and she's provided artwork for previous series such as Friends Forever and Legends of Magic. My mistake to not celebrate her contributions sooner. It's a fun parody of the Scooby Doo franchise.

    I enjoy panels that use the setting to convey action.
    Plus that middle "emergency stop" pose is fun.

    Within the actual comic we have artwork by Agnes Garbowska and colors by Heather Breckel. Garbowska's artwork often emphasizes rounded characters, making them appear even softer than the vector-based animations within the show. I think this matches the comic well as the Ponyville Mysteries series has had a kind of innocence up until now. This comic is going to be different due to the culprit's motives, and this is expressed by one of the few elements that is more angles than curves: a pump machine taking water from the Everfree Forest.

    Looks like Garbowska modeled this after
    The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6,000.
    That name gave me writer's cramp.

    There are times where the settings feature a greater emphasis on squares and hard angles, which contrast against the softer-looking ponies. Often these settings reflect a very negative mood. Either Applebloom's depression or the town's hostility. It creates a sense of conflict between the characters and their surroundings. Whenever things are more in harmony, the setting tends to emphasize curves over the occasional point.

    Disapproving Derpy eyes! The horror!

    Color wise there's not a lot of darkness. Soft and bright tones, but the real focus is anger. There are several key panels where Applebloom's anger is coming to a boil, and the backgrounds transition from pastel blues to oranges and reds. You can see the boiling point approaching, and I don't envy her anger's targets.

    Adorable murder is approaching.

    So what has her so steamed? Well, it's a lack of said steam. A pipeline from the Everfree Forest on to Sweet Apple Acres suggests that Applejack and family have been draining water meant for the Ponyville Spa. The Super Sleuths are the first to investigate with everypony's encouragement, plus Zecora's. Once again I find it funny how the once-dreaded Everfree Forest really lost its menace after season two. 

    Remember when they used to hang on Zecora's every word?
    They grow up so fast!

    The realization that her family might be the culprits hits Applebloom hard, and one could argue this issue shifts the focus back to her. As the heart of the Cruasders/Sleuths, her approach is often to shift between emotional extremes. Depression when she fears the worst, anger when she realizes the truth. However, unlike issue 2 where emotion was the driving force, this issue shows a greater balance. Scooatloo gets Applebloom moving while Sweetie Belle encourages the Sleuths to think through other parties and their motives. 

    Is there a spy camera mounted in their ceiling?

    Though this is a stronger showing for their teamwork, their flaws are also on display. Unlike last issue, the Sleuths are being more discreet in their questioning. It's more about finding out how each Apple family member views the situation instead of asking, "Who do you think is guilty?" However, this discretion doesn't carry over to discussing the mystery in a crowded, public area. The Sleuths have made each situation worse through their lack of tact.

    Snips and Snails are present. That is an instant signal that things are about to get worse.

    That's not necessarily a criticism. Character flaws can propel the story and add to the conflict, but with four issues now it doesn't seem like the Sleuths understand the impact of careless words. I said before that a mentor would be a welcome addition to these stories, but at this stage I don't think they'll have that option.

    How do you set something like that up without a massive commotion?

    Normally I don't talk about the guilty party because that would be disrespectful to both the mystery's audience and author. I view this comic as an exception because you know the guilty party the moment Applebloom hears them. Flim and Flam are in this comic and there's only been one instance of them being "innocent". Bascially, they appear and the mystery is gone. Which is too bad because that means the Sleuth's combined efforts are more about getting Appleblom out of her funk than actually solving the case. 

    No one ever suspects the Quills and Sofas guy.
    It's the ultimate camouflage.

    What the brothers do add is something new: malice. Every mystery to date has been either an accident or done out of love and misguided actions. This is the first time that the guilty part has intended harm. It's also one of the few times Flim and Flam have done something truly illegal. If you cast their treason from Siege of the Crystal Empire into the non-canon void, then there aren't many cases where they've broken the law. Morally, their actions are consistently appalling, but con men find a way to acheive their goals while working within the law's technicalities. 

    Just how many times have they rolled into town and 
    hyped everyone up? I'd love an issue where they arrive 
    and everyone gets bored.

    In this case, however, they are trespassing on property, draining a spring without permission, and defaming the Apple family. This is one of the few times that they could be truly held accountable for their actions, but the outcome is disappointing. At this point I suspect that Flim and Flam have a sickness. They didn't have to cross the Apples again, but something keeps them coming back. That something may just be the script, but within the world I get the sense they can't stop coming up with schemes. It's not even about the money. They just need to trick others to validate themselves. 

    Love the joke, but admit it.
    You two need Ponyville.

    The overriding question I come away with is why the Sleuths missed the most obvious option. Turn off the pumps and wait to see who comes to check on it. They get to show their motivation and critical thinking by taking the longer route, but the question distracts. If the Brothers somehow tricked another pony into checking for them, we might have an extra layer to uncover. As it is, the fact the Brothers even appear undermines the search.

    Feel like the Superman theme should be playing.

    This issue featured more personal stakes for the Sleuths and a concrete set of antagonists to foil, though there are elements that frustrate. For the final issue my hope is that the Crusaders will learn from past mistakes and not worsen the situation through carelessness. Will the culprit be as motivated as the Flim Flam Brothers? We'll find out next month!

    Not the most supportive friend,
    but I have to admire Dash's eye on the prize.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

    Silver Quill on Twitter