• Let's Review: MLP #81

    IDW brings us a look at Wonderbolts' history this month. The story of an Earth Pony who dreamed of flight.

    Did this comic take off or did fail to launch? Find the full review along with some spoilers after the break.

    This issue is going to be awkward. There's much to say about the the art and the story, and so I'll be unpacking both at the same time. That's because of all the comics we've seen, I'd argue this one has the clearest three-act structure.

    Wow! The Wonderbolts' egos must be pretty huge.
    Pony-sized statues? That's for lesser beings!

    Act I is the arrival of Scootaloo, Rainbow Dash, Thunderlane, and Rumble at Wonderbolt HQ. Apparently, there's a festival where junior flyers can suit up and fly in formation. Just from the first page we get an impression of artist Nicoletta Baldari's work. Though she's worked on covers for past comics, this is the first time we've seen her illustrate an issue.

    Scootaloo looks a little rigid in this shot.
    I wonder if Baldari was using a show pose as a reference.

    Her style seems to emphasize sizing above all else. The characters are often very small to impress a setting's scope, or sometimes so close that their faces can't fit the panel. Baldari's style also features great variance in line thickness to help impress a wavy motion or show which portion of a body are closer than others. The genuine problems for this issue's art come into play on the second page.

    Vector or not, is Rainbow happy to see Scootaloo hugging a colt?
    Rainbow, could you by chance be... a shipper?

    That problem being that this isn't Baldari's art. Two panels feature images of Rainbow Dash that appear to be vectored show artwork. A shot of Rumble in the Wonderbolt's uniform appears to be a modified vector of a foal's neutral stance, but it lacks both ears and wings. Baldari's style is distinct enough that these vectors stand out even at a casual glance.

    Rainbow advising safety...
    What a world!

    There have been cases in IDW's run where an artist might rely on a digital cutie mark or miscommunications lead to bad visuals, but this is the first time I can recall a vector being used as a substitute. It's a disappointing experience because part of seeing an artist's work–whether for or against the style–is that it is still a part of the artist's own effort.

    I don't mind that Baldari duplicated the artwork to keep the focus on the portraits.
    But those portraits are lifted from the "Wonderbolts Academy Handbook".
    Once again, it's not her own effort on display.

    Yet there are visuals drawn by Baldari that lead to confusion. During a practice flight, a hotshot named Red Bank cuts Rumble off. One panel shows her next to Thunderlane with the second placing her beside Rumble. So whose rainbow-colored trail is striking rumble? Rainbow Dash wasn't flying with them and thus I'm not sure what's really happening.

    I think someone forgot to include a speed trail in the first panel.
    That's why both ponies are missing their latter halves!

    This leaves Rumble out with a sprained wing. It also gives Rumble a chance to show some character growth. No longer angry and sulking as he was in "Marks and Recreation". He's still upset at the situation but is more aware of his actions and their consequences. To a point, at least. Being aware of Scootaloo's own flight inability doesn't exclude recklessness. The two sneak into the Wonderbolts museum and thus begin the second act.

    Good thing you're in the medical bay, Rumble.
    They can help dislodge your hoof from your mouth.

    General Dauntless recounts Wind Sock's desire to become a Wonderbolt despite his earth pony birth. I am intrigued by this because it's an idea the show never tackled. You have three breeds interacting and I've often wondered if certain ponies ever wished they had other abilities. The closest we saw was Big MacIntosh's fixation on unicorns. So I'm instantly invested in this presentation.

    See, this statue is Baldari's own work.
    And I like it!

    I'm also aware of my lack of aviation engineering because the ensuing story doesn't ring totally true. Developing a glide harness, Wind Sock is able to rescue a downed Wonderbolt. He does so in an area too windy for pegasi to use their flexible wings. A glider's rigid design is able to withstand the winds, or so the story says. I don't know if this is factually true and I'd welcome further input.

    He is very chill about this crisis.
    If nothing else, he has a Wonderbolt's focus.

    Yet introducing this lore also generates questions. Why hasn't Wind Sock's innovation been made available to the public? Ponies like Scootaloo could benefit from this and its surprising that neither Wind Sock nor the glider's existence are widely known.

    But his rise required that another life be at risk.
    I hope that doesn't become a part of the message.

    Even the announcer in the third act hasn't heard of Wind Sock. Yet Rumble asserts that nopony should forget him. General Dauntless states that the desire to become a Wonderbolt can overcome any obstacle and I think this message can be applied to a wide range. It's meant to encourage and empower the young. As a message, I have no problem with it.

    Extreme close-up!
    Those are some powerful eyelashes.

    What does make this more difficult is various art hiccups like vanishing details from the Wonderbolts' uniforms or the wrong kind of expressions. Applebloom and Sweetie Belle voice concern for Rumble but their faces are pure excitement. The little things add up and that combines with the lingering questions about Wind Sock's legacy and why Scootaloo isn't given the chance to try this glider. I'm happy that Rumble got some spotlight but flight has long been Scootaloo's issue and she has more than earned a chance.

    I love the expression,
    but her forelegs look like beanbags.

    So where does this issue stand? I enjoy Baldari's own style and with some more experience I think she'll become more comfortable drawing the characters. Yet the use of show vectors and missing details really brings down the issue's quality. The story of Wind Sock and his impact are fascinating, but are under-utilized and will likely not be mentioned again.

    I see thoughts percolating within her.

    The overall outcome for this issue is that it's rushed. A hurried story that didn't allow for fleshing out. Artwork produced so fast that details are lost and shortcuts stand out. A fun idea that needed more time and crafting.

    I'm more concerned for the Wonderbolt's entry exam.
    Did they seriously not have a question about the only
    earth pony Wonderbolt in history?

    We'll see if next month's story can find a better balance. I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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