• Let's Review: The Root of the Problem

    Remember when the Everfree Forest was a threat? IDW remembers.

    A two-part story that made some bold moves with the Forest's setting, but how did the overall porduct turn out?

    Check out the full review after the break with some caution. In the deep of the woods beats the heart of spoilers.

    This two-parter was in a bad spot from the start. Following after The Good, The Bad, and the Ponies, this story suffered from reduced fandom good will and needed to go above and beyond to win folks back. There are elements here that make for a wonderful story but there are also decisions that only divided the fandom further.

    Fluttershy being confident about the Everfree Forest.
    It be a world gone mad!

    Though it's not because of Andy Price's artwork, which remains stellar. His usual depiction of ponies is fantastic along with his playing with panel layout and borders. He remains my favorite comic artist for this reason. We also get to see him depict a new setting within the Everfree Forest and the city of Thicket. He makes very effective use of negative space to hint at the deeper forest and assert the gloomy atmosphere. Such a technique is enhanced by Heather Breckle's coloring.

    We're fine! Thanks for asking.

    The deer are a wonderful treat with their sharp forms and thin limbs. They're an effective counter view to the ponies. Even details like King Aspen's throne show a high attention to detail and a commitment to make this look like something that could work within My Little Pony.

    That throne says to me: "I am a part of the woods,
    and I have big shoulders!"

    The story starts off strong as a peaceful afternoon is interrupted by Timberwolves chasing Zecora. Barely a moment to overcome one challenge before vines ensnare Ponyville and its residents. A letter from Princess Celestia sends Twilight and friends on a mission to find the "Heart of the Forest".

    Great expressions. Background references. Interactive panels.
    A microcosm of Price's best.

    Said "Heart" is King Aspen of the deer, who is the force behind these attacks. In many ways this feels like an early version of what would happen in My Little Pony The Movie. Faced with a crisis, Celestia sends the ponies to seek the aid of another species only to find that same group will not act in good faith. Aspen justifies his actions by showing Twilight a construction site led by the minotaur Well-To-Do.

    One can only imagine the union governing these workers.

    This is where I think the comic loses many people. Well-To-Do is a very eccentric antagonist. He's not pure malice like Chrysalis or a plotting dark power like the Nightmare Legion. Instead, he is such a caricature of unchecked corporate greed that he can be entertaining. He's always surrounded by charts, cheap knock-off merchandise, and theme park models. The problem starts when we're asked to see this villain as more than just a bumbler. When he abducts Prince Bramble and carries him into King Aspen's throne room, he's supposed to be menacing. Instead, we're once again frustrated by the ponies' inability to act plus Aspen's incompetence. It would be so easy to rescue Bramble and lock up Well-To-Do on the spot, yet Apsen instead acquiesces to life as a mascot.

    Just teleport him to the root dungeon!
    You have a root dungeon, right?

    Yet I don't feel sympathy for him. Much of this story hinges on the audience rooting for the deer. To a point that is true as we see how Well-To-Do is stripping away their home. Yet let's break down how we're introduced to the deer. First comes Prince Bramble, who seems more concerned about uprooted trees than the fact the Mane Six and Spike were nearly slain by creatures. He then unloads on Twilight for using a tree as a bridge and is very smug as he shows off the deers' magic. It's clear that he's inherited a great deal of pride from his father, but also an unchecked ego.

    Yes, they do know what it's like. Because your father just attacked their home.
    They acted out of ignorance. You out of intent. Who is worse?

    Then we learn that Aspen is the source of the attack, and he's going after the wrong target. Though his vines can reach all the way up to Canterlot and entrap Celestia and Luna (removing them as a source of support) he somehow can't think to have them reach across and attack the problem at its source. He is also so stubborn that he barely gives Twilight and the others time to act before declaring that he is going to wipe out Ponyville. Thus he has little support when his son is put at risk.

    Celestia's look just says it all.

    There is, however, one beacon for the deer race. A soldier named Blackthorn who is clearly the best suited for leadership. He meets the ponies mid-journey and addresses them with respect and professionalism. Once he assumes leadership after Aspen's capture, he enlists the ponies' help to gather the creatures of the forest and leads and coordinates a charge to take out the genuine problem.

    The most vicious expression in this panel goes to Fluttershy.
    I hope I'd be more chill, like that giraffe.

    The IDW comics often feature a greater emphasis on force than the show. Twilight versus Chrysalis at the end of the first arc. Ponyville versus the Nightmare forces in the Nightmare Rarity story. Here as well. We saw Twilight try reasoning, protest, and boycotting only to have Well-To-Do brush her off. Having exhausted these options I don't mind that the ponies can now rely on force because it is necessary. I don't understand why Aspen devoted his efforts to punishing Ponyville and Canterlot when the workers who tore down the forest were from elsewhere and under Well-To-Do's direction.

    Always fun to see Wheat Grass and Flax Seed again.

    The battle I completely one-sided but I did enjoy seeing the various animals go all-out against machinery. Well-To-Do's speech against this army moves him from a parody of corporate greed into the realm of a Captain Planet villain. Anyone with a lick of business sense would look at the assembled force and realize the profit loss approaching. So when we see a black panel symbolizing his fate, I can't help but feel a relief not that villainy has been vanquished but that Well-To-Do has little chance of returning. There's a note of dishonesty when you try to vilify business in a comic published and sold by Hasbro and IDW.

    He could have saved a lot of time by just wearing a
    "Bite Me" sign around his neck.

    While the deer do make reparations for their attack, I find it frustrating that Celestia apologizes to Aspen. Well-To-Do's henchpony had been intercepting all his messages, and Apsen never sent an emissary to Canterlot. If anything, I'm looking for some sign that the deer have accepted that their isolationist views left them weaker during a crisis. Only Blackthorn seems to be taking the right steps to build bridges with their neighbors. Thus if there's ever a call for a coup d'etat Blackthorn would have my full support.

    Zap him! Zap him now!

    I think this comic would have fared better if Well-To-Do remained blinded by greed rather than shifting to a more militant antagonist. Have him keep plowing until Aspen's full fury is unleashed and then the ponies have to save both characters from mutually-assured destruction. The moment Well-To-Do relies on kidnapping and extortion, both he and Aspen weaken in presentation.

    It's hardly coming up roses.
    Oh, wait. There they are!

    The theme of nature versus technology is present, but just because Well-To-Do is wrong it does not follow that Apsen and his kin are right. The deer do not invoke much sympathy due to their outbursts, arrogance, and belligerence against the wrong target. If not for Blackthorn I would be more inclined to write off the species.

    See? No denouncement or haughtiness.
    Just a simple statement of fact as an introduction.

    This marked a point where I think many gave up on the comics. It was daring in its ideas and fleshing out the Everfree Forest, but the characterizations didn't invoke the right empathy. I don't think the IDW comics have ever reclaimed the moment that started to taper with Reflections and fell off with this story. Some of that has come back as IDW and DHX are communicating more closely to create stronger continuity but it was series like Friends Forever that really kept IDW going.


    There's a risk, however, of making this sound like I'm laying all the blame on Katie Cook, whose return to MLP this month is something I am excited about. I have no idea about the factors involved in this story's creation. What mandates might have interfered or outside events that could serve as a distraction. This story didn't work for me, and I can only comment on the elements within the story itself. If there is a story behind the story, I'm not aware.

    The banter is fun and a staple of Cook's storytelling.
    Though Rarity, you really should help a friend.

    This all leads me to wonder about the next big bad within the comics. And everything I've read from Comixiology and the like says that MLP #75 and Nightmare Knights #5 won't be out until the end of this month. So next week, please join me for an editorial on why I'm excited for the big bad promised in the next arc.

    You might not think koalas are scary,
    but just deny them eucalyptus and see how they behave.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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