• Let's Review: The Bookworm Arc

    For this week's entry, let's take a look back at an oft-overlooked arc. Twilight's library is under attack from a voracious bookworm, and the trouble spreads to all of Ponyville.

    Has this story aged well or has time eaten away at the pages? Check out the full review after the break.

    Fair warning: imagine spoilers.

    It's funny how this story seems to have fallen through the cracks. Most two, three, or four-part arcs feature a clear name. This story? It suffers the unimaginative "IDW comics sixth story arc" title on the MLP Wiki. My own "The Bookworm Arc" is barely a step above.

    You mess with Twilight's books and those flames will be the last light before the end.

    Perhaps it's because the bookworm may serve as the lead antagonist but it isn't the true focus. This story is meant to be a satire of various genres from fairy tales to noir crime to science fiction. This show a lot in the artwork and panels.

    This came out several years before anyone had heard of "Shadow Spade".

    Amy Mebberson went all-out on depicting pony versions of famous characters or genre-savvy cliches.  Though a wicked queen character gets the most attention in the latter half, I find that some of the best designs are background characters. Take Andy Price's background references and dial it to 11. That's the entertainment of re-reading each panel and noting which characters you recognize.

    Kahleesi, no! You're supposed to be the Breaker of Chains, not the Troller of Ponies!
    Get her, not-Snoopy!

    Mebberson also has fun depicting Team Storytime (that's what I call them) in various settings. Each new setting requires a style change. It might be clothing, or the addition of fetlocks, or wildly stylized manes. Even texture overlays used in the backgrounds help convey a sense that these are different worlds with their own rules. Adding to this uniqueness is different styles for each panel. In a sci-fi setting, the panels are evenly spaced with rounded corners for a tight and structured fit. A story set in medieval times or a deep jungle feature tattered edges like a well-worn scroll. The tattering becomes ever-more apparent as the Bookworm devours the fictional worlds.

    Stable methodology vs demonstrable results.
    I just can't choose!

    The only aspect of Mebberson's artwork I couldn't enjoy is a strange trait with Twilight's mane. I'm not sure why, but Mebberson tends to compress Twilight's mane. It's a unique style that helps recognize the artist, but it feel like an odd depiction. I don't get this sense viewing the other characters.

    You can get away with a lot, but getting "Sugarcube" wrong?
    We're going to have issues.

    Going over this story is bit of a challenge since each vignette is mostly done for humor. There's no point in me trying to explain jokes when it's much more fun to enjoy them firsthand. What I can talk about is the progression from the dissonant to connections. The first part of this story reminded me of many Doctor Who stories. A strange, seemingly nonsensical set of events all being traced back to the root cause. In most Doctor Who tales this is some sinister force while the Bookworm is a harder sell.

    Nope. Not commenting on Pinkie and magic tongues.
    The slash fics write themselves!

    It starts with strange cocoons, dubbed "schmarfelpods" by Pinkie, are appearing all over town. I choose to go with schmarfelpods because spellcheck has failed me many times, and confounding it pleases me. Twilight's efforts to find an answer are derailed when a book that eats worms starts destroying her library. Which raises the question of why Tirek's attack bothered her so. It seems her library gets destroyed on a regular basis. Kinda like the Apple Family's barn.

    Feels like there should be a tragic opera song playing here.

    Twilight has the idea to divide the team after Spike references the magic comic from Power Ponies. Everypony sans Applejack and Fluttershy will enter the stories to stop the worm while my two favorite Mane Six stand watch. From a storytelling standpoint this makes a lot of sense. Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie are all eager, energetic characters who have the easiest time expressing themselves. Fluttershy and Applejack are characters who you want to throw into a chaotic situation and see how their more downplayed traits will react.

    This is in no way suspicious!

    As a characterization point, however, this is a terrible idea. Twilight has brought the three most impulsive and unfocused teammates. Rarity can get a task done if she has a deadline in mind, but because of the urgency of finding a quick fix even she tries to blow through stories quickly or assert her own values. Case in point, Rarity's not the type to wait for rescue when she can escape the tower solo.

    A princess freeing herself forever immortalized?
    I'm game.

    Rainbow and Pinkie are never big on waiting, so a quick fix is their goal. Perhaps if one swapped out Pinkie for Applejack there'd be more focus to the group but Twilight really hamstrung herself. She's usually very good at matching her friends' skills to a task but not here.

    I'd read this story.
    Just sayin'.

    It wouldn't take much to explain this choice. Applejack's first goal is to protect her farm, and thus she wouldn't want to leave these schmarfelpods unattended. Fluttershy has an expertise in handling animals, so she's a good choice to handle whatever emerges. Though this is never expressly stated, it's easily inferred. Still, better to remove such questions before it distracts the audience.

    Okay, maybe they're not
    totally rational.

    It's important that they stay on track because the rules of these magical stories are clearly defined. Act out the events and the the book magically repairs itself. Finish the story and Twilight can wield her own magic once again. Yet because her three friends keep improvising and abridging events, they basically break the world as the bookworm becomes more and more aggressive.

    So... he's paper because he eats it?

    Meanwhile, the situation around Applejack and Fluttershy quickly escalate as book villains and lesser characters appear in Ponyville courtesy of the schmarfelpods. This includes Daring Do, whom Applejack acts as though she's never met. Issue #15 came out about a month after Daring Don't aired. From IDW's standpoint there likely wasn't time or communication set up to explain that Daring Do was an actual pony. From a fandom and reader standpoint this was an unfortunate contradiction.

    Just you wait until Friends Forever #32!

    Yet this Daring Do is a different character. She's based on the books, which I'm guessing A.K. Yearling embellished in some places. This Daring is more gung-ho for adventure and judges everything by its exciting potential. In essence we have two Daring Do's in Equestria, but one is more a caricature of the other.

    More slash fiction emerges!

    Applejack and Fluttershy serve as anchors of sanity in a crazier world that's going downhill. They're more focused on solutions than their friends. Spike, however, does manage to get some good one-liners. Though these two would have killed the eccentric plotline within the storybooks, I think they deliver the best positive action towards fixing this mess.

    It's funny because she's a bumpkin!

    Within the story void, Twilight and Team Storytime get their second wind. Now that they're crafting their own stories the same impulsiveness that hindered the team becomes its strength. It's a lot of fun to see them cure zombies with rainbow goggles before beaming up to a crime street. Each character gets a turn as storyteller, except for Twilight.

    I feel more problems should 
    be solved this way!

    Despite her love of reading, Twilight doesn't seem to have a knack for creating one. Even in the show I don't think I've witnessed her try to write anything beyond a report or rulebook. There have been plenty jokes about Twilight and fan fiction, but I wonder if she ever tried her hoof at crafting a tale?  

    Remember this cover?
    I remember this cover.

    It's near the end that I can talk about the Bookworm as a character, though there's not a lot to study. Being that it's elusive for the first issue and a slumbering threat for most of the second, it's hard to get a read on it. Pun intended. At first it seems just a creature acting out its natural habit. It's just bad fortune it ate the books of one of Equestria's most passionate readers. Yet as it gains girth it seems to become more hostile, actively trying to kill Team Storytime.

    Feel like this was inspired by Mr. Mind 
    from New 52.

    Yet by the end, when confronted with a story where the Bookworm itself is cast as the villain, it suddenly realizes and claims it never meant to hurt anyone. When part of its actions includes a flood trap, I have a hard time buying such innocence. We experience another hasty reconciliation and departure as all is made well, but as is so often the case I feel that these changes are abrupt and meant to create a sense of finality. I felt the same way for characters like Discord and Starlight Glimmer, but having more focus on them after their conversions helped ease this sense. Not so with the Bookworm, who has never been seen since.

    I don't think you can be the hero if you created the problem.
    You can be the janitor, cleaning up your own mess.

    So has time undone this story as it had with others? If anything, I think this story is more fun now. It unintentionally predicted so many things. Rarity's love of Shadow Spades. Daring Do's presence in Equestria. Rainbow Dash's love of Sci-Fi as seen in The Scare Master. Even the trope of being tapped in a void as we saw in both Movie Magic and Rollercoaster of Friendship. How did the comic predict all this while satirizing popular stories? Honestly, I think it all comes down to well-established characters.

    This might go over better than the actual Star Trek reboot.

    Some writers describe the process as transcribing a conversation rather than imagining it. If the characters are well-defined and understood then the dialog can write itself. For any criticisms of MLP, the lead cast is certainly well-established and so these ideas can write themselves. Granted, it's fun to throw a twist; such as Applejack's enjoyment of comic books. That's helps keep a character from becoming a cliche.

    As someone who reviews these comics weekly,
    I can only applaud her.

    I rarely see people reference this story and I think that a shame. It has a lot of fun references, humor, and shows how a character's traits can be a liability in one scenario and a strength in another. Give a re-read and see if time has made it even more enjoyable.

    Spike being smart and Twilight being adorable.
    How can I not love this panel?

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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