• Let's Review: MLP #75

    It seems IDW switched up their schedule for this week. So it's time to take a look at the start of a four-part arc!
    Twilight's on the hunt for a long-lost secret, but there's more at stake than they realize.
    How does this issue set the stakes? Find the full review, with some spoilers, after the break!

    It's the return of a dream team! Katie Cook and Andy Price have been a great combo. I have them to thank for stories like Zen and the Art of Gazebo Repair and Neigh Anything. Yet they also produced The Good, The Bad, and the Ponies. So this is a writer/artist combo from whom I expect full investment. There's no forgettable stories here. It's either wonderful or infamous.

    Andy Price adds the references.
    Katie Cook provides the opportunity.

    Normally, this is where I'd divert to talk about the artwork as a stand-alone. Not this time. Having already mentioned Price as my favorite artist several times, I'll instead talk about his art as it supports the unfolding story. Starting with a surprising team-up.

    Will Applejack and Princess Celestia ever reconcile over this clear
    gift-giving faux pas? 

    This story puts forth a strange idea: it's not the alicorn status behind Celestia and Luna's longevity. Rather, it seems that all the rulers we've witnessed thus far have this benefit/curse. King Aspen is easily recognizable, as is Queen Novo. If you consider that these might be nearly-identical ancestors, I'd like to point to Price's artwork. The king of Abyssinia has one ear bandaged. Going back to look at The Convocation of Creatures and other stories, his ear has always been cut. This is the story of how that happened.

    It's sad to think how badly Aspen would treat
    Celestia and her ponies later on.

    The first hint of a big bad is that Discord is running scared. We can tell from the reception that he's already known and loathed by the rulers but something new is here. This is again where Price's artwork helps support Cook's story. Price has always had a knack for drawing frightening images, and the chaos spread by Cosmos is the stuff of nightmares. Discord's brand of chaos always went for the weird but acted as a play setting. Like a kid with an overaggressive style, he wanted everyone to participate in the provided landscape.

    Andy Price: making ponies terrifying since issue #1.

    Cosmos' style of chaos seeks to consume. You're going to take part in this whether you like it or not. We could talk for a good while about who has the more terrifying fate but I gravitate towards Celestia and Novo, who look to be consumed.

    I dig the armor and the Elements' integration.
    But burning someone's house down to declare your love? Don't dig it!

    There's also some not-so-subtle hints that Cosmos has a thing for Discord. In fact, "psycho-ex-girlfriend" would be a fantastic label if not for the fact it's longer than "Cosmos". So, going forward, please consider the two synonymous.

    So... will his eyes be passed down to a successor? 

    We have another hint at Cosmos' menace when it takes the combined power of the Elements of Harmony, the Heart of the Forest, the Hippogriff Pearl, Discord's magic, and... whatever is going on with the cat king's eyes. It also helps that we never get to see Cosmos in full. She remains a visual mystery and menacing silhouette for most.

    So much for subtlety.
    Now we're going full on-stalker!

    Yes, Cosmos is a she. When I did an editorial a few weeks ago I relied on a male pronoun for lack of concrete info. Props to those who pointed out more feminine elements teased in the design. I played it safe, mostly due to my otaku adolescence. I've seen plenty of male characters who had finer eyelashes than Rarity's.

    Turns out Cosmos is a really avid Pokemon collector.

    Speaking of, we can blame her for the upcoming mess. Not that she did it on purpose, but her eye for fabulous things has betrayed her. No sooner does she present Twilight with a new necklace than a magical voice assails Twilight's awareness.

    The only constellations I can spot is a guy's belt and a ladle.
    Wouldn't mind being able to spot a star heart.

    This is the part where the story slows down a bit. In a similar situation to Shadow Play, the Mane Six are presented with a quest that doesn't immediately place them on the backpedal. They have time to explore the situation and devise a plan. Setting the stage requires a two-page spread that has to be turned on its side. Several years of watching Linkara's reviews has led me to view this as a negative, and yet I can't help but enjoy the references in this single panel.

    Just for fun, count how many references you get
    without consulting the internet!

    The quest slowly unfolds as a task to reclaim the Andalusian constellation, which went missing ages ago. Since the world won't explode without these stars present, there's time enough to recruit help. Yet there's an implied menace. Before you can say "My precious", Twilight is starting to show signs of being influenced. Nopony seems to pick up on this because they're often too focused on supporting Twilight rather than questioning her. Only one character does that, and she's not in this comic.

    Yep, still terrifying!

    The justification is that Starlight Glimmer is covering at the School of Friendship. I get the sense that IDW has been hesitant to feature her again since the Chaos Theory arc. More on that later. Instead, the Crusaders, Zecora, and Big Macintosh are all paired up into some unlikely teams.

    The highest honor of all: having Rainbow Dash steal your lunch.

    This is where the double-sized issue is taking advantage of the space to set everything up. We have the quest, the plan, the hidden threat, and thanks to the added pages we can see events start to unfold. I try to picture this story as two issues and realize the first one would be very low energy. Talking about the event but without a hook. Instead, we have an extra set to start to see Cosmos' plan coming together.

    I haven't seen a merchandising joke this self-aware
    since Batman: The Brave and the Bold's finale.

    Thing is that a double-length issue doesn't require a play-by-play. Instead, let's look at some of the ideas. Starting with Discord's protectiveness towards Fluttershy.

    I could see Fluttershy becoming a counselor to chaos.
    While wearing that hat, no less!

    From the moment he started encasing her in bubble wrap, I could hear Chekov's Gun loading. Cosmos' obsession with Discord paints a big target on Fluttershy. Yet I wonder about Discords apparent guilt when Cosmos was banished. We knew from the scenario that Discord was already known and loathed, but Cosmos was a new, unexpected appearance. Had he some role in either summoning her or perhaps creating her? If so, does that at all reflect his current relationship with Fluttershy? I'm surprised and a little confused by her punishment. That's speculation for the next issue, as is a commentary on Cosmos' design.

    My favorite princess is being used to attack my favorite pony.
    The drama!

    Yet we now come to the most uncomfortable hurdle: Celestia and Luna's undermining. It's a development seen so often that I think many fans are tired. We know Celestia and Luna are going to be removed to increase the threat while avoiding a repeat of the opening confrontation. We've seen it done so many times now. The greater shock would be a story in which success came by giving Celestia and Luna an opportunity to act.

    Let me advise you: RUN AWAY!

    Unlike some developments, I can't say this is any fault of Celestia or Luna. Discord covered his tracks and wiped Cosmos' memory from history. Because this threat's approach is more subtle, and they have no memory, it's understandable that Celestia got taken unaware and Luna is rightly confused.

    Kinda get this joke but might be missing a reference too.

    Yet this whole possession scenario rings very similar to what happened in Chaos Theory. How is it that in stories involving rigid order and consuming chaos, both show Equestria's royalty being brainwashed or possessed? Personally, I think it speaks to a fear of how the world can change us. Throw people into situations where one extreme holds sway and people will often resist but also succumb. We're afraid that either viewpoint can seep past our awareness and take control.

    Often times, large bodies of water symbolize the subconscious.
    The real-world photo against the art strengthens the unease.

    Reflecting on this brings up Starlight's absence and her lack of involvement in over 25 issues. I have no idea if fandom opinion had any impact on this but it does speak to an issue with her within the franchise. Due to voice acting budgets, it seems that Starlight can only be a silent cameo or a central figure. The two exceptions I can recall are "Fame and Misfortune" and "The Mean Six". Yet a vocal budget is not an issue for the comics (pun intended). This absence makes me wonder if they're unsure how to approach her character as anything other than the true protagonist.

    She wants out because Twilight is making puns.
    Twilight's humor or Cosmos' influence? Either way, I love it!

    As much as I appreciate the reasoning, I would have liked to see Cosmos-Twilight either overpower Starlight or perhaps possess her as well. Show that this threat is undermining every possible defense. Nothing in the promotional material I've seen thus far suggests that Starlight will have a role. I hope another story will make an attempt to feature her as a true team member.

    That fish is going to have the weirdest morning ever.

    I am intrigued to see how this story will handle a larger cast. Several of Equestria's leaders are effectively out of the picture but we have no idea if Cadance or maybe Flurry Heart will factor. Plus there's Zecora and the other supporting cast who are now acting alongside the lead heroines. Normally, I don't like the second part of a four-part series because that features the least development, but this larger cast creates better opportunities.

    He seems genuinely sorry. Is this his first brush with guilt?

    I think this issue made an effective use of space to set up the threat and then create a slow-burning fuse. We're only just witnessing the start of the actual explosion. Enough to keep us interested in coming back without getting to the main fireworks.

    Oh, c'mon, Watcher pony! You're not even trying!

    Thankfully, we won't have to wait long for the next part. A trade off for our patience throughout February.

    After all these years, Big Mac still won't go
    near Sweet Cream Scoops.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

    Silver Quill on Twitter