• Let's Review: FIENDship is Magic #4

    No new comic this week but there's still some FIENDship is Magic to look back upon. In this case, a look at Nightmare Moon's first days of banishment.

    Check out the full review after the break along with some nightmarish spoilers!

    Here's a quandary: can you criticize something for a mistake even if that mistake is a requirement? After all, this comic serves as a prequel to the "Nightmare Rarity" arc, which was also written by Heather Nuhfer. In a review of that four-parter, I criticized the difference between "banished Nightmare Moon in the moon" and "banished Nightmare Moon on the moon". So this comic has to feature the same presentation of Nightmare Moon stranded on the surface even though I consider that a contradiction with the show's first episode. 

    Behold! The palace of plot convenience!

    Tony Fleecs returns as the main artist. It's funny to look back on this after enjoying his presentation of a casino in Nightmare Knights. While I wouldn't dismiss any of the designs as lazy, they're not as vibrant as what he would eventually create. Much of this story takes place within the castle of the Nyx; dream-crafters for Equestria. Much of the backgrounds have a minimalist approach. There are stand-out elements like pillars and dream pools, but the setting is very monotone.

    Hey, there's Jerome!
    Hi Jerome!

    The same could be said for the Nyx themselves, who have unique designs but little color variety. Heather Breckel tended to present each Nyx in a dominant color with a secondary hue to add some variety. Yet this simplified color scheme conveys a lack of investment in the characters themselves. Even a separate eye color would add greater variety. Which happens after the Nyx have been corrupted. 

    I could see Nightmare Moon going,
    "It's not a phase, Celestia!"

    Vitality returns whenever magic is at play, which I think is true for both Fleecs' art and Breckel's coloring. A majority of the comic features a darker blue scheme to match both the time of day and Nightmare Moon's dominance. Yet when a magic blasts erupts we suddenly have a burst of warmer tones. My favorite panel would be Celestia's magical attack, though I swear I was hungry for Lucky Charms afterwards. 

    I got to see this in black-and-white when Fleecs was selling prints
    at Babscon. A teaser before the publication that raised many questions.

    Nightmare Moon's banishment begins with an unceremonious "POP". Not quite the epic sound of magic I'd envision, but it sets the tone. Nightmare Moon in this story is depicted with a very dry, cynical sense of humor. Her first priority is to try and liven up the place by conquering something. Fortunately, the Nyx castle is nearby. 

    Is this holdover magic from the Sirens' issue?

    The mythological Nyx was a Greek goddess of the night. It's fitting then that this species shares the name. Crafting dreams has been their task since before recorded history, just as the Goddess was present at the dawn of creation from Chaos. Perhaps out of guile or simply wanting to extend her activities, Nightmare Moon tries to endear herself as a victim of wicked ponies. Yet the leader of the Nyx sees through the lie and denies her access to the dreams.

    See, this is a character who is trusting but not naive.
    He is aware of the world around him, which offers some protection.

    It's here that we encounter Doran, and I am not fond of her. Offhand she could be endearing. A Nyx more interested in mane styling than dream making, Doran was ahead of her time within the franchise. This issue came out just a month before "Appleloosa's Most Wanted" and addresses the same issue of feeling mismatched against your destiny. Doran even insists that their leader simply doesn't appreciate someone different. 

    You're a dark alicorn clad in moon-themed armor.
    How much more special can you get?

    In most stories I think Doran would be the "surprise heroine" who saves the day. Instead, she's the character who dooms everyone. As a living example of the "Appeal to Novelty" fallacy, Doran blindly helps Nightmare Moon locate ponies and craft dreams. She shows that being atypical doesn't bestow any virtue. It is her lack of discipline and awareness that grants Nightmare Moon power. 

    Doran, focus! You're spying on royalty.

    What really cements Doran as my least-liked comic character is that she goes beyond naivete. A naive character would trust Nightmare Moon due to a default trust, much like a child. Yet when Nightmare Moon begins assailing ponies with visions of an abusive Celestia, that same character would see the consequences. The drama would stem from how that character would react.

    Nightmare Moon invents Yelp for Equestria!

    Doran is not aware of these consequences even when she's looking right at them. She is so caught up in her mane styling fixation and being Nightmare Moon's B.F.F. that she is completely oblivious. It isn't until Nightmare Moon spell out her betrayal in full that Doran realizes that this "Mare on the Moon" is a false friend. I don't know if she ever realizes her own culpability. 

    I pity whatever pony suffers her creations.

    With the Nyx now corrupted into the Nightmare Forces, the story shifts to Celestia much like the Siren story shifted perspective to Starswirl. This feels like another missed opportunity as we're witnessing Celestia a short time after banishing her own sister. Yet Celestia seems unshaken and even addresses Nightmare Moon as if she were a separate entity. Another peeve of mine within the comics. Several times they've tried to present Nightmare Moon as a recurring force throughout history or a mental parasite. I haven't been a fan of making her anything other than Luna's own mistake. 

    This is one of the best images in the comic.

    Celestia counters Nightmare Moon's dreams by simply wiping the ponies' memories. As someone who often rails against mental manipulation, I find myself in a conflict. On the one hand, it's a frightening idea that Celestia can mentally flip ponies' emotions. At the same time, they were already victims from a mental assault and couldn't discern reality. Celestia's solution might be the only way to save them, but Nightmare Moon could point out the dissonance. It's an interesting idea that does not enjoy much exploration.  

    Celestia channels the power of
    the Reset Button!

    We do get to see Celestia react to Luna during a nightmare. It's very short and offers a glimpse into Celestia's vulnerability, but it's quickly left behind as Celestia rallies. The implication is that Doran somehow assisted Celestia during the fight, but we don't see how. 

    The lighting and that dark candle really make Doran look terrifying.

    The comic's end is also confusing. Nightmare Moon still has the ability to assail ponies' dreams, even as Doran and the other corrupted Nyx vow to protect them. Given that the Nightmare Forces would later return to install a new queen on their throne, I'm assuming that they lost themselves after 1,000 years. Yet during that time was Nightmare Moon at all barred from driving Equestrians mad? 

    I worry that Doran got a lot
    of grief after the Nyx were freed.
    Well, maybe not that worried.

    This comic attempts to flesh out the ideas behind the "Nightmare Rarity" arc, but opens many other questions. It feels like a missed opportunity on several fronts. Doran could have been a much more interesting character if she'd become aware of Nightmare Moon's true intentions. Celestia could have also been an interesting study as she tires to protect her charges while accepting her own actions. It could also explore the morality of how far you can influence someone's mind before reaching Nightmare Moon's level of invasion. 


    Oddly enough, Nightmare Moon is the least questionable element. She is snide, short-tempered, and proud. Just like in the show. It is a fitting portrayal for her. Yet I find that a solid villain is often a good opportunity to flesh out the heroes. This was a missed chance.

    "Just wait until you meet Cadance!"
    "Will I?"
    "Not really!"

    I hold it in higher regard than the Sirens' issue because it does have the opportunity for deeper ideas and is more conflict-driven. Yet it's still not high on the charts. My fourth-favorite out of five-issue series.

    Just give her a thousand years or so.

    Sadly, time and continuity have not left this issue with a lot to stand on. I think looking back on it helps me appreciate Fleecs and Breckel's growth and talent in more recent issues. A marker between then and now. This appears to be the last issue Nuhfer worked on and I'm not sure if she'll return down the road.

    Of course there's a Thunder Gremlin in there!
    How could there not be?

    If Comixology is steering me correctly, we should be seeing a new issue next week. Until then. I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

    Silver Quill on Twitter