• Let's Review: Nightmare Knights

    It's been a wild rider for Luna and her unlikely allies. Alternate dimensions, battling alicorns, chaos spirits, and a rematch Trixie will never forget.

    It's time now to look back at this series as a whole. Catch the full review after the break!

    I remember my excitement as Nightmare Knights approached. Ponyville Mysteries had been a story for a much more innocent audience. I hoped a story about former antagonists undertaking a mission would hold greater appeal. I was not disappointed.

    Princess of title drops!

    That doesn't mean this is a tonal betrayal of My Little Pony. I could see something like this happening within the show proper. Yet it features many darker themes include betrayal, torture, and the idea that you can't save everyone. Much of this happened before the story even began and the cycle continues. 

    Always, Eris-cola!

    This story wouldn't have been as fun a journey without Tony Fleecs' artwork. From environments to villain cameos to magical spells, he went all-out in stylizing this story. The heavy violet tones provided by Heather Breckel add to the casino dimension's tone. A realm of perpetual night, where the casino's neon stands out. 

    I once compared this to a Kingdom Hearts level and meant
    it as a compliment. It could also work easily in the show.

    A shout-out to all the fans who responded to Fleecs' social media call for villain suggestions. Part of the fun in the first several issues is a game of "Spot the Bad Guy", and the fandom's encyclopedia memory helped make this happen. A bonus to the usual Thunder Gremlin search. 

    I wonder how many evil varients of our favorite characters
    are strutting around this place? Rarity's already got two.

    Looking back at this series drives home that it is a very character-driven arc with some great surprises. Let's go for a rapid-fire view of the Knights and their opponents.

    The lead antagonist is a study in hypocrisy. Eris does not share Discord's desire to change the landscape into chaos. Instead, she likes to manipulate the situation so that she can bring out the worst in others and prolong conflict. She calls herself both a princess, lord, and goddess of chaos and chance; yet this applies to everyone except herself.

    I'm still not sure if
    those wings are a part of her outfit...

    Eris believes that she can interfere with a situation without becoming part of it. While she might blame the Pony of Shadows for imprisoning and abusing her, I think that weakness was present well before. From keeping Daybreaker close to preparing capture runes and even considering hanging on to Luna's dream magic, Eris does all she can to make sure nothing is left to chance. She has not accepted the risk of chance even while forcing it upon others. 

    The former Pony of Shadows primarily serves as a bridge from the adventures of Legends of Magic to Nightmare Knights. He's most prominent and active at the start but is gradually overshadowed by the other Knights. He gets to display the same insight and leadership that helped him gather the Pillars, though this time he hasn't the resource of time or a shared journey. Perhaps this is why he chose reformed antagonists who work best as independents. 

    After Game of Thrones, that word is never going to be the same for me.

    His ordeal of being trapped in a looping nightmare is a very intense therapy session. Much as Luna had to confront her own dark aspects in Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep, Stygian had to accept that the Pony of Shadows is a part of his history without allowing it to dominate his life. Out of all the characters I think he and Luna bonded most.

     "Trixie has always had very grand dreams. We'd both like to see her fulfill them". I think Luna summed up part of what makes Trixie so appealing. She's the oddball of the team since her closest brush with villainy was under the influence of a cursed artifact. She's not on this adventure out of a sense of penance but more the desire to feel included. It's how Luna and Capper are able to keep her on task until there's a challenge to her ego so great she cannot let it slide.

    Twilight: "Dragon, I choose you!"
    Trixie: "Angel Bunny, I choose you!"
    Twilight: "Angel Bunny? You'll kill us all!"

    Trixie vs Twiley was so fun a concept I didn't dare spoil it in previous reviews. Part of its appeal lies in the passion Trixie brings to the fight. Another part is the chance to see her finally out-do Twilight and perhaps put a grudge behind her. Trixie's role might not be as prominent as other Knights but she never feels like an unneeded member. Her enthusiasm and pride can make her endearing and I was cheering for her to win.

    Having just enjoyed "The Return of Tempest Shadow", her inclusion might seem like overkill. After Stygian, I'd say Tempest is the most loyal to Luna. All the Knights have different motives but Tempest's fear as shown through her dream is that she failed Luna. Yet it's her impulsive and aggressive nature that put her in that situation.

    Friendship involves parallel play.
    Or battle. Parallel battle.

    Then again, it's those same traits that allowed her to connect with Daybreaker. I don't think any other Knight could have talked the fiery alicorn down. Tempest's direct experience with the Storm King and his betrayal helps her address Daybreaker. Much like Stygian, she's learning to integrate past experience without letting it control her. 

    For me, Capper is the stand-out for the Knights. Even by the story's end I'm not sure what's genuine. He's already turning his swindler ways into motivational speeches for salesponies, but it also means he knows how to take advantage. I try to picture how the Knights might function without him and the truth is that Capper is the member keeping the everything together. This is due to one simple fact.

    Just like a cat to steal
    a still-warm seat. 
    Oh my gosh. Is that speciesist?

    While Stygian was a clever planner, he hasn't the skill for improvisation. Instead of focusing on the plan, Capper focuses on the goal. It's how he's able to adapt on the fly. Yet Capper is also one of the more friendly Knights, which makes all the more startling when he can so casually betray their presence to Eris. Granted, most of them had already been captured, but there's a dissonance between how kindly he acted towards Trixie only to give her up to Eris. Like Daybreaker, I think Capper knows just what to say to endear himself but always keeps up a wall to avoid attachments. He may actually be less recovered than Stygian or Tempest, but in this case his survival instincts saved everyone. 

    While Capper might be the most cunning Knight, even he was taken aback by Daybreaker's actions. This mirrored my own surprise, since for a long time I thought there wasn't much going on beneath the surface. Daybreaker didn't even speak until issue #3. Yet by story's end we learn that she's been waiting for this opportunity. While the Knights had only a day to assemble, plan, and execute, Daybreaker had centuries to study Eris' weaknesses and find her blind spots.

    Just as Capper was upfront with Eris,
    Daybreak flat-out tells the Knights, "I'm not who you think."

    The reason she can surprise the Knights is because she's not as far along as they. I've referenced several times that some members are finding ways to integrate their pasts without letting it control them. Not so with Daybreaker. By her own admission, she judged Nightmare Moon too weak to rule, and yet her opinion apparently revised when she saw Luna's mercy. She's willing to accept help to get what she wants while shunning those who offer. The Pony of Shadows might be gone, but he is still doing the thinking for Daybreaker and defining the world by dominance above all else. 

    Princess Luna
    Remember the shouting princess who was all about tradition and protocol back in season 2? How far she's come since then. The Luna we see in this comic is more about nurturing health above all else. She counsels Applebloom at the story's start, encourages Trixie, helps awaken Stygian, and she bestows some legitimacy upon these misfits by making them her knights. The fallen princess has become a bridge for those trying to find a way back into Equestrian society.

    She's speaking from experience!

    That's likely why it hurts to see Daybreaker reject her. Luna's love for Celestia drew her into a trap but also motivated her to come back and try again. It's telling that for all the ways Eris has swindled others, only Luna and her knights returned. It's strange to think this experience has strengthened her bond with Celestia, even if the princess of the sun is unaware. 

    I always suspected he'd snap.
    Wait, who's Mr. Body?

    At it's core, I think this is a conflict between those who have learned from their past and those who allow it to control them. The initial trap relied heavily on past feelings of guilt while the Knights overcame by rising above their own histories. I don't know how events would have played out if Daybreaker hadn't struck Eris, but that's what makes this story bittersweet. Daybreaker was so close to breaking the cycle but she fell at the last moment. 

    However, you're still welcome to the all-you-can-eat-buffet on Saturdays.

    Yet it's not all been a smooth ride. Like a splinter the mind, the rules for magic have been a distraction. Luna's magic was stolen yet issues 2 through 4 featured her attempting magical feats in some form. Lowering the moon, contacting Stygian via dreams, and entering his nightmare. The most reasonable assumption was that Luna had a small bit of power left and used it to keep up her cover, but such wasn't confirmed until the final issue. 

    I'm blue! Dabu-dee, dabu-you-gonna-die!

    MLP has always been loose with magic. There are rules available if you consider the actions, but sometimes it seems like magic is happening just because. By a similar notion, it's hard to gauge differences in magical power. A villain might shrug off attacks at first, but after a shake-up they're suddenly at the hero's mercy. Within this story, I think Capper's subtle "Gotcha!" to Eris stole her focus, thus weakening her. However, another reader might just chalk this up to an arbitrary power shift and enjoy the story less. 

    Case in point, Tempest has the power to directly challenge an alicorn.
    Tempest vs. Starlight Glimmer, anyone?

    There's also the fact that the Knights act best on their own. It's how they operated as antagonists and what they feel is most comfortable. Capper was the one building the relationships at first, but that might just be him maneuvering everyone should he need to take advantage. Again, I'm surprised at the ease with which he sold out Trixie. If the team were to reunite, I hope there'd be some chances for them to play off one another's strengths. 

    Trixie holds the power of the press!

    Despite these roadbumps, I can easily recommend this series. It's a great follow-up to former antagonists, a wonderful outing for Luna, and introduces new elements that could fit within the show. There are ideas present that make this appeal to an older audience without leaving younger fans in the lurch. I hope that IDW sees value in giving this series another set. 

    No plan survives the first engagement.
    Or rather, no plan survives Tempest.

    Then again, I have no idea how IDW will handle the comics after season 9. For a time, I think the comics will be the sole source of new stories but for how long? Whatever the case, I'm enjoying the ride and look forward to future tales.

    "These are my knights. Now watch as they crown you."

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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