• Let's Review: Reflections

    It's time for a look back at one of IDW's watershed story lines. Reflections is an arc that drew a very polarizing reaction from the fandom.

    Check out the full review after the break. But beware! You're entering the dimension of spoilers.

    Let's start off by tackling the dual cover spread. One that is particularly infamous because some fans label it as false advertising. Many of the characters we witness on the cover are not present in this story, or are relegated to a comedy short at the end. I have no problem with this because comic covers are not summaries.

    Luna's sacrifices are not in vain!

    I've lost track of seeing how many times a character has been depicted losing a fight, dying, or killing someone one the cover even though no such event occurs. The goal of a comic cover is to get you to pick up the comic and want to read it. However, I do think this spread fulfills a purpose. Because we see this diverse range of characters and their opposites, this drives home the point that we are dealing with a dimension of inverted morality.

    I think evil Luna has the look down more than Celestia.
    Might be from practice.

    Which makes things pretty darn complex. The modern setting events are almost sidelined by the interest in Celestia's history with the other dimension's King Sombra. Due to all the flashbacks I don't think it'd be wise to try and cover this story as it flows through the issues. Instead, let's tackle it in parts. Starting with the artwork.

    Andy Price and the Hasbro Orders
    I've said it many times and I'll say it many more: Andy Price is my favorite artist. The energy he puts into each character, the background references, and the playful style with which he arranges the page layouts all stand out. This comic is no exception and Price's artwork compliments Katie Cook's writing wonderfully.

    I'm as unsure as Rainbow Dash.
    Pinkie, you master troll!

    But did you know that Price had to modify his artwork to meet orders from up top? Part of this information comes from a Twitter post while another part comes from a panel at Babscon 2017. It seems that someone at either IDW or Hasbro had very strict views on how to depict Celestia.

    I think Celestia snuck that painting in
    just so she could say she still looked young!

    Case in point, this story is meant to expand upon Celestia's younger days. She was more naive, emotional, and rebellious. Yet visually she is exactly the same as the modern day. According to Price, he had planned to draw Celestia as a much younger pony but received instructions to keep her look consistent. There's some comedy here because in time Celestia would be depicted as much younger in the Legends of Magic storyline. Simply put, it's hard to judge things based on consistency.

    What are we supposed to tell kids?
    That couples don't even kiss?

    The second edit of which I'm aware is a censorship of a kiss between Celestia and Sombra. This decision confuses me as Cadance and Shining Armor kissed during their wedding without an uproar. Why they decided to omit this is beyond me. Is it because this is a "kid's comic?" Seems unlikely, given what we see transpire. 

    The Other Dimension
    The core idea here is that of balance. A just or wicked pony in one dimension is the exact opposite in the other. It's hinted that if a pony should reform, such as Luna coming back from Nightmare Moon, then their counterpart will turn evil. Whether or not this is a result of Celestia and Starswirl's mistakes is up for speculation.

    Luna might have just a little bit of Nightmare Moon's
    arrogance running through her.

    Normally I enjoy elseworld stories if they can provide some context as to why things are so different. We saw in The Cutie Re-Mark how different our lead characters can act if placed in a different, stressful environment. This world does not offer that as it seems to be very arbitrary. You are good or evil to stand in contrast to your counterpart.

    I consider this comic worth it just to see Celestia attack without reservation.

    This same idea comes into play during the climax, though we'll save that for a bit. 

    Celestia's Folly
    This I think is the biggest dividing factor: Celestia falls in love with a good version of King Sombra. This is a bold idea to explore, especially with the show's reluctance to have Celestia form relationships beyond her immediate family and Twilight. This came out well before Celestia began to show a more mirthful side. 

    "I am smitten–I mean–Celestia!"

    Key to this topic is the good Sombra himself. The character from the show was generically evil, lacking much personality or dialog. It would be easy to assume that if "our" King Sombra was pure evil, this fellow would make Dudley Do-Right look edgy. I enjoyed his presentation for one key aspect: he's not naively good. He doesn't commit to plans simply because it's the right thing to do, he also recognizes the practicality. Yes, he will not doom Celestia's world to save his own, but in part because he knows Celestia's evil counterpart isn't trustworthy. He's aware of the situation. However, that awareness also highlights their faults.

    I can only imagine the dance steps involve here.

    Celestia and Sombra are convinced that their love is justified and are willing to risk two universes to pursue it. Several times they state that what they share cannot be wrong. Yet in doing so they're undermining their own roles. Rulers enjoy a position of authority, but the best realize that they are not the center. They can use this power to advance their world rather than put themselves above it. Celestia and Sombra's relationship–no matter how genuine–is putting themselves before their responsibilities. It's a harsh lesson that no one is more important than the world. 

    Celestia's greatest weakness isn't any sort of magical attack.
    I think losing Luna's love left her very vulnerable to others' perception.

    Celestia compounds this by not telling Twilight about her history, even as she sends the Mane Six to mend the growing damage. This is again putting herself and her needs for relationships above the good of her subjects. Yet while these actions are wrong, they're also sympathetic. Celestia is not doing this out of disdain for anyone, but rather vulnerability. She's had to tough out 1,000 years after banishing her sister and the alternate universe provided not only love from Sombra, but a chance to see the alternate Luna. 

    Just ignore the reality shattering around us.

    This story shows Celestia at her most vulnerable and hints that she's carried many burdens. I appreciate when a story is willing to flesh out a character who has previously been seen as an absolute. It also presents Twilight with a unique opportunity.

    Twilight's Growth
    Having come out in the early part of Season 4, when Twilight's role as princess seemed mostly ignored. So to have Twilight comparing herself to both Celestia and Starswirl, wondering about her future, was a very welcome exploration. The fact that she never meets her alternate self might seem like a missed opportunity, but because the morality in these worlds is arbitrary I don't think it would offer Twilight a genuine chance to appreciate who she is. It'd be like showing her a brainwashed version of herself. No question of choice, only an external power.

    So, would Twilight be worried about banishing Shining Armor?
    Or maybe Spike? Fan fic authors, hop to!

    I also enjoy that Twilight doesn't receive an absolute solution as she often did in season finales. She's given hints by Sombra about striving to be a good pony while being a good leader, but it's not a cookie-cutter answer. This seems to be a story about helping Twilight wake up to the realization that no one is born a perfect leader. Celestia went through a growth process the same as Twilight.

    I really like this observation of Twilight's relationship with the others.

    Twilight's friends offer support and encouragement in styles that are very true to their characters but it's easy to dismiss them. This conflict focuses on Celestia, Sombra, and to an extend Twilight. The remaining cast offer commentary but aren't as personally affected by the events. As ever, Pinkie Pie tends to stand out the most as she often the most outspoken. Sometimes this works well, such as when she reminds Twilight they can escape from a cell with magic. Other times her humor is intrusive, demanding attention when the scene doesn't call for her to be center stage. 

    Starswirl's Portrayal
    One of the prime cases to dismiss this story from any consideration is Starswirl. Presented as a mix of Celestia's wisdom and Pinkie Pie's exuberance, his personality does not match the show though his mistakes hit pretty close. I posted about this in a previous discussion on Starswirl so this section is very short. I enjoy this alternate take much the same as I often enjoy Luna's comic persona over the show.

    How can I not love dialog like this?

    The main thing I take from this is that while Starswirl might be charming, he's exceptionally dangerous. None of this would be happening if not for his reckless intrusions into other worlds. It seems like his greatest legacies always revolve around his biggest mistakes. A shame, but also a caution to anyone seeking to push the boundaries.

    The Final Battle
    Though many elements in this story are debatable, I tend to have a positive view. That changes with the final conflict. Twilight has a unique plan that honors the rules set thus far. To harm one of the evil princesses will inflict the same injury on Celestia and Luna. To prevent the dimensions from becoming any further damaged, Celestia and Luna cannot cross over and battle their counterparts. So Twilight figures out a containment option.

    Of course, a story where everything goes according to plan is boring and frustrating. It's a writer's job to frustrate the plan and force the characters to adapt. The evil Celestia does this well and for a time it looks like the only way to adapt is to make a hard sacrifice. Of course, they can't really get rid of the good Celestia, so the time comes for a different sacrifice.

    How can Sombra use the elements? I imagine he's learned a few things.
    How can he be alive after 1,000 years? I dunno!

    The problem here is two fold. Like the arbitrary nature of this flipped reality, I'm not a fan of breaking down good and evil into measurable parts. You can't "drain" someone of evil because it's not nearly so clean-cut. People can do evil things thinking they're doing good. They can justify terrible actions. No one ever says, "I'll do this because I'm evil." It's a trend I remember from my own childhood that, looking back, was not a worthwhile idea. 

    I do like the alternate designs, but that can't distract from the idea.

    Even letting that go, Sombra's solution makes little sense. By the rules already established, flipping one Celestia to good would require the other to be evil. The premise of these dual dimensions is balance. Good and evil represented by the same individual. Making both sets of princesses good destroys this concept.

    Sorry, Celestia. Your romance is in another dimension.

    There is a bit of humor in that at the time of this comic, the King Sombra we knew was presumed dead. Siege of the Crystal Empire would change this idea, but would further unbalance things by reforming one Sombra. 

    That smile made him "Most Eligible Stallion"
    990 years running!

    This idea is intriguing as this is the only comic arc where the ending is not a victory. The dimensions survive, but no one would tout this as a win. Especially not Celestia and Twilight. Yet because it seems to go against so much of the established rules that it feels out of place. The only counter-argument I can imagine is that with the worlds temporarily merged, Sombra used the Elements to create a new balance. Yet even then it feels like a stretch.

    A Story That Dares
    Reflections tackled many concepts and presented a story with much more personal stakes. It is a stand-out story within IDW's library, but this same boldness can backfire. I understand why others might have negative views on what I praise, and vice versa. I guess our own fandom has its own mirror aspects. 

    Make you wonder how these five behave.
    Also, impressive ceiling space.

    Regardless, I recommend giving this either a first read or revisiting it. It's interesting to look it over after so much time has passed.

    I feel like these bubbles combine to say,
    "Hey! We're in this story too!"

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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