• Let's Review: The Good, The Bad, and the Ponies

    Well, no putting this off. Our look at stories past takes us to my personal least favorite.

    What made this so infamous and how has it held on to this title after several years? Check out the full review after the break to find out!

    This story... how is it written by the same author who wrote my favorite story?

    That "bull" joke is both funny
    and a self-critique.

    Yes, while Katie Cook won me over with Zen and the Art of Gazebo Repair, this story is almost its dark opposite. Hamstringing characters instead of elevating them. A frustrating conflict as opposed to a simple but involving one. A villain who is a threat due more to protagonist inaction rather than letting the characters compel the story themselves. 

    This, right here, is plenty reason to take Longhorn into custody.
    There are more than half a dozen witnesses.

    This may be a dodge, but I summarized the events and my initial opinion on this story a while back in an After the Fact video. I think past me can explain what the hubbub is about: 

    But we're not done. Oh no-no-no. See, time and reflection offer new insights. So let me cover a few ideas I've had since the video in question.

    The Good
    In that video way back when, I said I was having a hard time coming up with something positive to say. Well, that's the real challenge of a review. People are quick to dismiss positivity because we assume it doesn't add to the conversation. Or that everyone already agrees. People can't always find a voice for their positive thoughts and thus hearing it from another can help just as much as voicing a negative. If you can't say something positive about a work, then there's a risk you're not studying the entire piece.

    "Why do we fall, Rainbow?"
    "So we can get back up again!"

    So let me state this comic's greatest strength: it makes me care. I care about this town and all the ponies who are so downtrodden. I care about Sheriff Tumbleweed and his visual breakdown. I care because I see the destruction they reap rendered in detail only Andy Price can supply. 

    I have met Stingy-McScorpion before.
    He is not a nice fellow.

    Why do I get so frustrated by this story? Because I'm invested in the goal of saving this town. The frustration arises when I get the sense that same involvment isn't apparent in the lead characters. 

    The Bad
    I wonder if Katie Cook was under some kind of order here. "You must include all six ponies", or something like that. I feel like Longhorn and his gang are a threat more because of the heroine's inaction rather than the gang's own strength. We spend a lot of time waiting for Twilight to shed her restraint and put the bulls behind bars. What if she weren't able to make it to Canter Creek? How would her friends cope if they were not at the full, dynamic strength?

    Who are you and what have you done with Twilight?
    "It's a Changeling!" was still a valid excuse back then.

    I think this story could work if you took some characters off the board. Given Twilight's burden and Rainbow Dash's embarrassment, both could be engaged elsewhere. This would put a greater demand on the other characters but also give townsponies like Tumbleweed a chance to further step up. 

    More of this to help us see the town can stand on its own.

    We are also left with the hanging question of Great Granduncle Chili Pepper's whereabouts. The first part stressed that Longhorn's gang ran him out of town, but there's no mention how they're going to get him back. One can assume he'll check back in time, but it doesn't seem like Applejack to just leave him in the wind. Which leads to this comic's greatest struggle.

    The Ponies
    I don't recognize these characters. I don't see Applejack hiding behind Twilight's magic to fight on her behalf. I don't see Rainbow Dash being okay as the pratfall of jokes and letting her friends get assaulted. Pinkie, Rarity, and Fluttershy are less prominent in this story and so when they do get involved it feels more natural, but they're still uninvolved. Yet most of all I do not recognize this purple alicorn as Twilight Sparkle.

    We must be civil! Except to that one unicorn.
    He's actually very unpleasant.

    I'm not against the idea that Twilight has a personal code of conduct. We saw similar restraint back in Boast Busters and it would make sense to be wary. That much magical power needs some kind of check. Here's the problem: Twilight isn't sacrificing for her code.

    At least his have a civil emotional breakdown.
    Twilight is showing empathy, but not action!

    When a character takes up a code that requires restraint, it's validating to see them struggle. It stresses that this isn't an easy undertaking, but they believe in a higher goal to endure short-term loss. Yet Twilight isn't the one giving something up here. If anything, she seems to be forcing others to pay the price. Take for example when Twilight dismisses a destroyed home as "It's just stuff!"

    Rebuilding is simply covering up the core problem.
    You can't let this continue!

    This isn't something she has a right to say. That's for the homeowners themselves to affirm that they realize they're lucky one another survived unharmed. Having Twilight say it doesn't have the same morale boost. 

    One teleport takes out two opponents.
    Twilight's way smarter than this story presents.

    We've seen Twilight use magic in non-violent and innovative ways before. Even when fighting a rogue pony tribe in Daring Don't, she found ways to trick them into doing the fighting for her. It's because I have a high view of Twilight that this story creates so much disappointment. I've seen this story referenced in The Convocation of Creatures, but I'm in no hurry to recall.

    The Legacy
    Every form of entertainment suffers a misstep and it's important to note that this has not been the only dud. I'm reminded of Chaos Theory, in which Celestia was brought low to help improve Starlight Glimmer's appeal. Which points towards a great lesson: no story or character is enhanced by undermining others. It's a bully's tactic and something the audience is going to notice. 

    For all my gripes, I cannot fault these bulls right now!

    In my eyes, this story is the perfect storm of bad decisions. Forcing characters into a role and de-powering them to sustain a conflict. Villains who aren't fun antagonists, just standard unpleasantness. Too many unaddressed questions. I've seen these elements in other stories but this two-parter has them all in dominating abundance. 

    Odd thought: could that be Great Granduncle Chili Pepper keeping tabs?

    I enjoy Katie Cook's stories. I'm looking forward to her return later this year. Perhaps its a testament to her skill that, whether it works or not, her writing is always memorable. If I found out that there was an editorial mandate or some other interference... Well, it wouldn't make the comic good but the story behind the story would be fascinating. 

    He didn't even have to ask where Rarity was at.

    This all puts me in an interesting spot. I can't recommend this as a good story. It doesn't present the characters or the situation well. The humor does feature some fun references but in some cases it becomes repetitive. Yet I could recommend it if you're looking for studies in how characterization and conflict can clash. If you want to improve your own writing, understanding why a story doesn't work can be invaluable. So read it if improvement is a goal and ask how you might have changed elements. 

    Rainbow, you're more action than talk.
    Save her!

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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