• Let's Review: Feats of Freindship #2

    It feels like it's been a while, but the Student Six are back in comic form.

    The Feats of Friendship is off and running! With some screaming. Lots of screaming.

    Let's see how these young heroes handle it. Check out the full review after the break. But be ready for a spoiler marathon!

    Last time we saw this group in action, they helped prepare for a competition between friends while the mysterious Swift Foot tried to make it far more personal. Now we get to see both the start of the event and learn about Swift Foot's motives. That latter part is a surprise given that this is only the second issue. Then I remembered that Feats of Friendship is only a three-issue story.

    Hello Rainbow Harmony! I remembered your name this time!

    Tony Fleecs is back in fine form with this issue, especially in the very first page. If you have the time and interest, every character in the background audience can be identified. Some of them are modifications of the Mane Six. I've already spotted several Twilight variants. Others are characters from the show, including Sunset Shimmer. And if you look hard enough, you'll find Fleecs' good ol' Thunder Gremlins.

    "I am your principal...
    And you will battle for my entertainment!"

    I make a big deal of this because–if this were an issue of the main line–I don't think we'd see the coliseum audience rendered in such detail. It seems that these mini-arc stories give artists the chance to go all-out on detail. Another example is the reintroduction of the Chimera, with even minor details like the goat's eyeballs being faithfully rendered.

    I can only imagine Applebloom's reaction.

    I can't spot as many digitally-imposed elements this time around. Even a return to the Stable Rapids features the currents defined by line work with a great deal of effort on the landscape. This consistency adds to the issue's enjoyment and demonstrates why Fleecs is one of my favorite artists.
    Dash, I'm docking you points for lack of subtlety.
    Though I will give a few pity points because I know you're trying.

    This comic is also quite bold as it adds to the story behind Equestria's founding. According to Swift Foot's internal monologue, there was a fourth, excluded tribe. King Thrace's name is lifted from a southeastern region in Europe that now includes Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. The largest province in ancient Greece, it served as a home to a variety of tribes. Those that lived in the mountains often maintained a warrior-based culture and were far more aggressive than their plains neighbors. The historian Herodotous asserted that if these disparate groups were ever to unite, they could have formed the most powerful nation in the world.

    He stands apart from the other rulers based on his awesome mane and beard!

    Even the name "Thrace" refers to a heroic sorceress. We see elements of this reflected in Swift Foot's recollections, as the Thracians seem to have settled on an island filled with jagged outcroppings. Whether or not Swift Foot is meant to be a sorceress in her own right remains to be seen.

    He got lost along the way.
    He couldn't re-thrace his steps.

    There's a lot of risk in trying to inject an extra element into already-established lore. We've seen some comics like "Siege of the Crystal Empire" be rendered moot by the show's storyline. While that might not be an concern any more, it's still a surprising action that risks contradiction. Yet I'm grateful when the comic staff add something new. It makes the comics distinct and more than a cash-in on the show's popularity.

    You could give her your cart, but that would be kind.

    We don't yet know if the Thraceans are a combination of the various pony races, but it seems they've mastered the art of passive-aggressive manipulation. Throughout all three events, Swift Foot wields it with practiced ease and gradually stirs hostility. As before, she plays to isolation or rejection, often highlighting how certain teammates aren't receiving the same treatment or their efforts are going unrecognized.

    New meaning to the term "cage match".

    Yet it's not as easy as she thought and some of the bigger character moments are when she wonders at how the group keeps coming together even after a falling out. We run the risk of the antagonist becoming a background redemption as she ponders, "Could this be... friendship?" Yet so far the comic has avoided an easily-predictable moment. I've seen more than a few stories in which the antagonist begins to reconsider their stance after one of the protagonists saves them. Swift Foot has not needed saving thus far. In fact, her need to flee an Orthos actually helped secure a win.

    Guess she's not a dog fan?
    Sabotaging the students is one thing, but if you don't like dogs then you and I are at an impasse.

    Yet she is observing this group stretch apart and reunite time and again, and it's starting to chip away at her beliefs. It seems the Thracean's goal is to sabotage the most diverse team and thus demonstrate that friendship is flawed, weak, and broken.

    They're... all staring into my soul!

    This took a while to process because at first it seemed very false. After all, if you work to sabotage a group from within, doesn't that only prove that it's you who is the problem? Yet there's an important difference to consider: a system versus a philosophy.

    What would happen if anyone caught her
    smirking like that? Anything?

    As an example of destroying a system, let's look at the Emperor from Star Wars. The Republic he subverted was already buckling under its own corruption. In many ways, he didn't conquer the Republic. He simply utilized a path laid out by past mistakes. In doing so, he exposed how a corrupt system could be manipulated and how investing too much power in an individual could create a downfall. This did not eliminate the concept of a democracy, as rebels fought to restore a Republic. If Swift Foot were trying to tear down a system, this could run parallel. But she is not.

    It's funny how the world looks
    depending on where you stand.

    Swift Foot is instead trying to destroy a philosophy, which I'd argue is harder than conquering a galaxy. Philosophies are conceptual. Strive as we may, we'll never be able to create a perfect representation. We can only try to reflect it in thought, action, and expression. The Mane Six, Pillars, and Student Six are all representations of the friendship philosophy, but they do not define it. So if Swift Foot were able to break this group apart, she'd only be undoing one representation. The idea would remain.

    Prepare yourself for one big "I told you so!"

    She is definitely effective at breaking apart their group dynamic system, and that's the real threat. Though there's also the physical threat of things like the aforementioned Chimera.

    I'm impressed that at least the snake head
    took the time to learn a second language.

    It's here that it's hard to not compare the Feats of Friendship competition to the Tri-Wizard Cup Tournament. If anything, it's surprising that Twilight would place her students in proximity of this three-headed predator. Yet in both My Little Pony and Harry Potter, I think we need to consider the world at large.

    I wonder if Twilight ever has nightmares about this.
    I would.

    Equestria may be highly idealized, but it's still a land with mythical creatures that can and often do attack. Timberwolves, Bugbears, Hydras, Cragadiles, and so forth. In the same way, Harry Potter features any number of "mythical" creatures that represent a very real danger. My thought is that when a world includes this level of threat, the entertainment adapts to match the environment. Watching a team handle something like a Chimera can exhibit the best of caution and overcoming a threat under the guise of entertainment.

    Now I can totally imagine Applebloom's reaction.
    "Yeah! Get 'em!"

    Of course, Twilight isn't just leaving the threat of bodily harm out there. Unlike some of the other creatures mentioned, the Chimera is capable of thought, dialog, and choice. Whatever the ponies offered, the Chimera and its various heads make the choice to lock team members in cages. Not damaging to the body, but the spirit is another concern.

    Oh dear. They all learned Twilight's bad habits too.

    While Swift Foot may be stirring the resentment, it is endemic. Gallus tends to take the lead without asking. Yona is expected to be the strongest and Silver Stream is the first choice for all things aquatic. Often I think the students' relationships help overshadow any conflict this might cause, but Swift Foot amplifies these events, as does the contest.

    The loudest isn't always the most confident.
    Swift Foot's got him on the defensive.

    Competitions amplify everything, including hostility. With a short timeframe, a distant goal, and a conflicting force, it's natural for even the most mild individuals to become more hostile. I think the best example here is Sandbar pulling a frightening Ocellus into the conflict.

    I feel really bad for her. 
    No one wants to be the last hope.

    Ideally, he'd have the time to reassure and encourage her. But the clock is ticking, the crowd is cheering, and they're losing. So he goes for the most immediate fix and hasn't got a mediator to help settle things afterwards. This sort of conflict can be lessened through practice and reflection, but none of the Students has had that opportunity.

    Okay, you're not even trying to be subtle now.
    Professor Dash has beaten your score!

    With three events down, I think it safe to say that the competition is nearly done. The real question is how are the Student Six going to become aware of Swift Foot's sabotage? Will we see a redemption for this mystery mare or will she be a threat left for another story arc? Whatever the case, I like how this story is unfolding and look forward to seeing the final issue.

    Never mistake "quiet" for "weak".

    Though given the preview synopsis already online, I do still wonder about Twilight's safety protocols.

    I would pet the head on the right first.
    So it could protect me from the left.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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