• Let's Review: MLP #76

    We've gone from famine to feast! Three weeks of new comics after February's dry spell.

    The quest for a missing constellation continues. There will be competition, betrayal, and ladybugs!

    Check out the full review, complete with some spoilers, after the break.

    Before we being, I have a challenge to offer you all. Post this panel without any context online and see how folks react:

    King of the Hill fans will get this.
    I didn't, but fortunately I have friends who can explain it to me.

    Given that it's only been two weeks since the last issue, I don't think we need much of a recap. Discord may disagree, as this issue begins with another look into the moments preceding Cosmos' banishment.

    The therapy these kids are gonna need...

    I've been interested to read comments from fans during the previewes. A chief concern being that this is painting Discord in a more heroic or morally virtuous life that what we've witnessed in the show. A valid concern but I have one consideration. Discord is the one recounting this story either to us or to Fluttershy. Given his ego and childish nature, I wouldn't be surprised if he embellished on his actions. If a school full of orphans is already imperiled, I'm surprised he didn't add a bus-full of faith-driven mares. But we'll have nun of that.

    Reminds me of Captain Goodguy
    from "Reflections". Except it might be a lie.

    I think the biggest takeaway from Discord's recounting is that there's a line he won't cross, though maybe not for altruistic reasons. Discord doesn't want ponies to die if only for the fact that he then can't force them to play. Cosmos is so caught up in the moment and delighting in her power that this limitation doesn't apply. It's a question of long-term goals versus immediate satisfaction. Surprisingly, Discord is being forced to take to the moderate stance against Cosmos' extremism.

    Frills, cobra hood, scorpion tail.
    They are really driving home a lethal theme.

    Now's a good time to talk about Cosmos' design. Can she be called a draconequus like Discord? She possesses multiple body parts like a scorpion tale and hooves. The cobra-like cowl around her neck seems to move like a mane, and I can't even guess what animal parts comprise her face. Yet the strange thing is that while there are many different parts, there is symmetry. Discord actively resists this design right down to mismatching horns. Yet Cosmos is the same composition on either side, which seems to contradict her more extreme view on Chaos.

    I'd be tempted to read that book,
    but with my luck it'd be Fifty Shades of Gray.

    Last issue, Cosmos stated she wanted everything to fear her. I wonder if it's easier to have someone fear a form they can at least recognize. A lot of Lovecraft-based horror tries to violate our sense of order or natural form, but the side effect is that we can't hold an image in our minds for long. Just a theory, but however she looks I enjoy how Andy Price displays her.

    I also like how Cosmos' power is portrayed in their eyes.

    I bring up the Lovecraft idea because Cosmos' impact on the environment tends to follow those ideas of violating the natural sense or twisting forms we often expect. Yet there's one element that appears to be untouched. Ladybugs. We'll come back to that idea, hopefully in time for a Twilight freakout joke.

    It's going to be a rude surprise for Cosmos
    when she learns Twilight runs a school.

    The first half of this comic is checking in on team Big Pie. That's a shipping joke, that's the name Pinkie creates. Surprisingly, they encounter Capper back in Klugetown. Having just finished Nightmare Knights, I'm surprised to see him again. Not unwelcome, but did he become a fan favorite when I wasn't looking?

    Big Mac's unicorn fixation is so strong that I don't
    think he'd object to the horn's color.

    A great deal of humor lies in this obvious mismatch. A stallion who barely talks–or is not allowed to do so–must keep pace with a mare who never stops talking. If humor is based on pain, then we get the most laughs for how Big Macintosh is dragged along. Price's art style does a great deal to convey the absurdity of the Klugetown competition and once again displays his ability to play with panel layout.

    If it's a turkey call opera, the ponies have this in the bag!

    I should emphasize "absurdity" because while there are strange elements in the competition, it's a very different approach that Cosmos' chaotic landscape. A viewer can identify all the elements, even if they don't normally go together. A snake singing while on a treadmill shouldn't be possible, but we can recognize each part of that scenario and laugh at the combo. Contrast that with, say, a bird with a lamp hook for a head and there's a greater sense of unease. Pinkie's humorous adventure has elements that clash but are still recognizable. Cosmos' work features things that should not be.

    So do you have to both light
    the lantern and clean up the poop?

    While Capper and team Big Pie show the effort to obtain a star, Zecora and the Cutie Mark Crusaders focus on the aftermath. Zecora has always been a wild card in terms of magic. Does she have some kind of inner magic or is her knowledge of potions so vast it can match a spellcaster? Whatever the case, it's interesting to see that Cosmos' influence affects her though Rarity was immune. It appears that Zecora is powerful enough to gain Cosmos' attention, if only for a moment.

    I do not want to imagine what happened
    to the griffon whose skull we see here.

    Zecora also seems to be in the position of the suffering companion as she witnesses how the Crusaders take advantage of a name drop. It's a funny sight to witness her scowl at Applebloom, and to have the filly sass back to her. Once upon a time, Zecora was almost as much an idol to the Crusaders as Applejack and Co.

    They grow up so fast.

    For the issue's third act, we have a staple of Katie Cook's stories: A hjinks battle. Though there's very real violence, it's presented in an absurdist form almost like a Looney Toons battle. Of course, no amount of absurdity is going to make a villain striking a child funny, so the Crusaders are taken out of the fight immediately. Much of Cook's humor relies on banter during the fight while Price adds some great visuals, including Team Big Pie pulling Celestia's mane. Though I wonder if the LunaMac ship is a genuine idea for someone on the creative staff?

    Sugar Belle gonna have to throw down with a princess!

    The second part of a story is often uncomfortable. It's the bridge between opening acts and the rising tension. It's the Tuesday of storytelling. The humor does a lot to make this part entertaining with the surprise addition of Capper, but it doesn't change that we're watching the initial conflict get reinforced. Cosmos is near completion, and I expect to see that happen in the next issue. Yet for now we're in a holding pattern.

    I thought that was a G1 toy, but no.
    "My Little Llama" actually has a ring to it.

    Though there is a curious element. A fan on the Equestria Daily preview post, the Dobermans, noted the ladybug motif and wondered if there was any kind of symbolism. Intrigued, I scanned through the first issue and failed to find any ladybugs in the flashback scenes. Yet in this issue there are two or three whenever Cosmos' influence appears.

    If making you carry her shopping is going too far, then you do not want to talk to Spike!

    Yet the ladybugs are the one thing unchanged. No distortions or extra eyeballs, which would most certainly freak out Twilight. A quick search led to some sites stating that ladybugs are symbols of positivity. Good luck, happiness, playfulness, love, or protection from harm. They are bright and colorful, but often ignored as they perform protective acts like killing crop-devouring pests and their eggs. Despite Twilight's recent fears, ladybugs are often more a blessing than an ill omen.

    The bugs stay close even as the good guys lose
    more of their numbers.

    So what does this have to do with Cosmos? Well, three alicorn princesses are already under her sway, and yet there are two-to-three ladybugs nearby. The most immediate meaning I can find is that there's hope present even with a rising threat. These first two issues have done a lot to emphasize Cosmos' power. From Discord's fear to her impact on the environment to the combined magics used to banish her, Cosmos is most certainly a high-level threat. Yet the visual presence of something untouched by her power shows that her victory is not immutable. Even at the worst moment, like a star amidst space's darkness, there is hope.

    Is that Celestia talking or Cosmos? Either way, her stylist is going to flip!

    Or Cook and Price are really fond of ladybugs. Heck if I know.

    It's hard when people assume you're virtuous by default.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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