• Let's Review: Ponyville Mysteries #5

    So here we are. The final mystery.

    The stakes are high as the Super Sleuths are facing the national spotlight. How will they find Songbird Serenade's priceless heirloom?

    You can investigate the full review after the break but some of the clues are spoilers!

    Before diving into the story, this comic features a cover by another fandom artist. Pony-Berserker is a Polish Brony best known for his comics featuring the Changeling OC, Berzie. I'm going to keep my commentary limited to just the cover but I recommend people check out his DeviantArt page.

    This is how Scootaloo one-ups
    her trip to Cloudsdale.

    Looking at this image, the biggest sense I get is the phrase "unapologetic". Pony-Berserker has his own distinct style and makes it clear that he's going to stick to it. What I enjoy most about the artwork is the small details and the way the characters' emotions are portrayed. Most of the landscape has just enough details to convey the texture without being a distraction. Yet if you look closely at Applebloom and Sweetie Belle's hooves in the grass you can see the grass blades rendered with distinct shapes. As for the expressions, you know exactly what each character is thinking just by looking at them. Scootaloo's eagerness contrasted against Sweetie Belle's peaceful distraction and Applejack's terror. The biggest hurdle is the proportions.

    "How to kill your friends in 5
    easy steps". Catchy.

    Ponies are cartoonishly exaggerated in any episode, but there's a greater shift in Pony-Berseker's style. Sweetie Bloom is the clearest example. Her neck's narrowness combined with the thin hind legs (possibly half-hidden by grass) make her body and head seem that much bigger. This creates a sense of dissonance that may be part of Pony-Berserker's style but how well people receive it will vary.

    How would I rhyme about this art?
    I'm not sure where to start.

    I also want to take a moment to apologize to dSana, another comic artist who drew an Retail Incentive cover for MLP #70. I completely failed to talk about her artwork while trying to do a review in rhymes. But since Pony-Berserker and dSana are friends I think a compare and contrast might be fun.

    Love to light playing across AJ's pupils.

    dSana's style features proportions closer to the show, though the curve of the faces is unique. Instead of the show's smooth circle there's a greater emphasis on outlining the cheek, giving the ponies a cute, slightly pudgy look. While Pony-Berserker's artwork features lines to define background textures, dSana's style relies on gradients to help convey distance with just a few grassy tufts to stand out. Both artist feature highlights in the characters' manes, though I think dSana's stand out more due to their placement. This is especially true for Rainbow Dash's spectral mane.

    That's either a massive bingo ball
    or a very small tree.

    Sizing can be a big factor in proportions. Applejack's smaller size in Berserker's cover shows how far she is from the group. With dSana's artwork, there is a bingo ball that catches my eye in a tree. It's size isn't much smaller than those carried by Rainbow, yet the winding path the Golden Horsehoe Gals stand upon makes it look like it should be far away.I think the larger size helps makes sure the readers see it and understand Rainbow's intention, but there's a part of my brain that doesn't want to accept the mismatched sizes.

    One of the perks of reading all these comics and getting to see new talent from the fandom is that it drives home a point: there's more than one way to draw these characters. Some styles appeal to people more than others, yet we recognize these characters no matter what. I hope there will be further fandom artists featured because the greater exposure will offer young artists a chance to see styles they might enjoy and try to emulate.

    Dark tones in a pastel setting. Named for a black gem.
    Totally not suspicious!

    Having just spent several paragraphs just going on about covers I think it best to dive into the story. I'll talk about Agnes Garbowska's artwork as we go along. It's a funny thing to talk about this story because the main conflict doesn't take place for six pages. That's not to say the opening pages are wasted, but this in contrast to earlier issues.

    I don't know if he's there, but I'm searching for you, Waldo!

    As the final entry in this series, this story features higher stakes and less grounding. Ponyville is overrun by fans looking forward to Songbird Serenade's performance. The Super Sleuths seem to have come down with a bad case of exposition as they summarize all this in conversation. I think this is a missed opportunity. Having a character summarize the setting to friends who already know the same thing feels very artificial. A reader could understand the same information just from seeing a poster or having fans express their love for Songbird through fragmented dialog.

    Red eye looking at the audience.
    Also not suspicious!

    The artwork does do a good job of setting up both the key players and Songbird's popularity. There are plenty of background characters, both show-canon and comic-exclusive. Yet the art seems to rely on fans having an understanding about which is which. Several times I spied a character on the first read and thought, Hmm... He's not from the show but is too distinct to just be a background character. I bet he'll be involved later on. And I was right. I imagine that younger readers will take note as well.

    That yak in a wig makes me want to see Yona cosplaying.

    But the crowds are diverse, with both yaks and dragons in the mix. I think this does a better job than the MLP movie in showing how popular Songbird stands. Ponies like Sapphire Shores and Rara may have won over the pony population, but these out-of-towners show that Songbird reaches further.

    Hippogriffs! This comic is now complete.

    This popularity works against the Super Sleuths as they search for a stolen statue. Last issue featured a threat to the Apple family, and it took its toll on Applebloom. Now we have a situation that undermines the team's mind and body. Sweetie Belle asks the most questions and points out likely suspects, but the abundance of new ponies gives her very little data. Even consulting Twilight doesn't offer enlightenment. This is their home town, but it's filled with strangers. 

    Always glad to see more of Moondancer.

    Scootaloo has a moment where she has the sharpest eyes, as is often her role, but the crowds prevent her from chasing down suspects or gaining an edge. At this point we know the strengths each Sleuth brings but we also see those abilities blocked at every turn.

    Wait... did he just admit that he was going to steal it?

    This is an issue that features both active malice and even physical danger. The Super Sleuths find themselves in a classic trope: caught by a suspect. Though they've sometimes risked getting caught by ponies they know, this is the first time they've been in a real sense of danger. Their captor isn't even someone they recognize. This is aimed at a young audience so the threat is very brief and played off for comedy, but it's a shift from what we've seen thus far.

    Many is the time I've greeted life's
    adversities with a resounding "GAH!"

    Although Super Sleuths do solve the crime (no spoilers there), they don't do so through insight or deduction. They eliminate suspects, but it's mostly the villains' own incompetence that concludes the story. The Crusaders are more often in the right place at the right time, giving a sense of serendipity rather than achievement. They are determined, but as a final issue I hoped they'd get to show their best.

    Garbowska knows how to lay on that Rarity drama.

    The odd thing about this mini-series conclusion is that there's no reason why the Crusaders will stop investigating. They mention that they're tired from four back-to-back mysteries but there's never a declaration that they will retire. Perhaps we'll see more investigations in the main series.

    Were it not for her mobility, I would mistake Songbird
    for another of those platform planks.

    As a side note, Songbird Serenade really has no personality. While her popularity is part of the setting her character does nothing. She reacts to events but without any emotional highs or lows. This is the same as her presentation in the movie but I always hope the comics can flesh a character out more. If we see her again, I hope she'll get to display a wider range. 

    Adding a Twilight meltdown = Armageddon.

    This issue features the largest stakes and a setting that is both familiar but well outside the Super Sleuth's experience. They never consider giving up even though there's a strong sense that the odds are stacked against them. I think it would have been a greater triumph if they solved the mystery through investigation. Perhaps a single-issue comic format didn't allow the space for a setting this large scale.

    There. Got that out of my system.

    Since this is the series' end, I'll do a post tomorrow talking about Ponyville Mysteries. This issue can be a fun read but I think the main draw is seeing how Ponyville changes and how that works against the Super Sleuths. As a mystery it doesn't give the Sleuths a chance to shine. 

    Congrats on your mini-series, girls! We'll see what Nightmare Knights holds in store!

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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