• Let's Review: Feats of Friendship

    Deception! Betrayal! Mythical beasts! Hugs!

    There was plenty going on during Feats of Friendship and yet we were more aware than most of the cast. Let's take a look back at this three-part series and see the themes from start to finish.

    Catch the full review after the break. But make sure you've read the series first!

    I can fully appreciate the B cover artworks now that I've read the entire story and had a few realizations. Three issues packed with characterization, mythology, humor, and a consistent conflict. You can do a lot in a relatively short time-frame. There's a lot to cover in this series so let's break it down piece by piece.

    I'm still not jealous of these two.
    Nnnnnope! Not one teeny-tiny bit!

    Character Art
    I am a big fan of Tony Fleecs' art. We've gotten to see him become more and more comfortable with the characters over time and it shows here. Each of the Student Six is faithfully drawn and extremely expressive. In particular, Fleecs got to draw a great deal of frustration and anger. Not as common a trait, but his artwork sells it.

    Aren't you all happy for this chance in the spotlight?

    As do his portrayals of mythical creatures. The Orthos, Chimera, and Hydra all resemble their show counterparts without copying poses. My personal favorite was the Chimera's role as it got to interact with each student. The fact that all three heads can speak gave a chance for some dialog and funny reactions.

    Could it be a Brony thing to curse each other out in Yak?

    Yet the biggest achievement is how much he portrays Swift Foot's design. At first glance I thought he was borrowing heavily from Rarity. The flowing mane, eye shadow, and cool expressions all match the fabulous fashionista. It was only later that I realized her design reflected the Thracian worldview. A cold, gray coat with a lower-saturated mane that shows they're not aligned with the rest of Equestria. Her duo-tone mane can invoke the colors of the sea and the curl motif hints at powerful winds.

    That look says, "I own you all."

    Swift Foot's presentation was a preview we couldn't recognize at the start. Mostly because we didn't yet know her motives. The only two times I can recall her cool exterior shattering was in contacting her father and her emotional breakdown. More on that later.

    And that look says, "What the yakkity yak have I been doing?"

    Landscape Artwork
    Now here's a weird twist. When Fleecs draws a setting unique to this story I can tell its his own work. The Thracian landscape and throne room. The Hippodrome and its connecting tunnels. Plus he went above and beyond rendering so many background characters in the audience.

    Wonder if anyone in the crowd whispered, "What are feet?"
    Followed by, "Swift what?"

    Yet when we witness a background seen in the show, the style changes. In some cases the linework is colored to create a softer feeling. In others there is no line work at although the shapes are distinct. Sometimes it's a background with black line art but a level of detail that seems far deeper than other elements.

    There are so many elements in this that confuse my perspective.
    It's like politics, only prettier!

    What really makes it odd is when these three styles take place within the same panel. It creates a dissonance as I'm not sure about the process. Did Fleecs draw all these elements by hand and computer or did someone help with the show-specific images? I've been critical before of digitally-imposed elements because they don't blend well with the hand-drawn artwork. This is a more extreme example.

    The magic to create your world in a different program!

    The Student Six
    This is a little weird to discuss because while they are integral to the story, the Student Six are not the main characters. Rather, they are critical characters who evoke a change in Swift Foot. Yet they can only do so after Swift Foot has tested their friendship to its limit.

    The friendship is falling!
    The friendship is falling!

    Whereas an adventure with the Mane Six can often be summarized with the group as a whole, Feats of Friendship puts a lot of emphasis on their status as foreign beings trying to work together while holding on to individual identities. So it's only right to talk about each character's trials.

    Sandbar's trial: Spinal and rib reconstruction.

    Much of the student six's troubles can be expressed in pairs, except for Sandbar. With Gallus and Smolder, Swift Foot preys on their sense of self and the respect they deserve. Coming from dragon territory, Smolder is used to asserting herself but also earning things through strength. When questioned how she likes settling for the food given, Smolder might start to question how much she's really earning for all her efforts.

    Reformation comes later. Right now, she's enjoying this.

    Gallus comes from an opposite environment. No matter what he did, it seems he wasn't respected. Now he's had a chance to be the team's brains and Swift Foot plants the idea that he should lead. Eager to be more than he's been treated in the past, Gallus starts making decisions without consulting the group. This naturally clashes with Smolder's desire to assert herself and not settle for less. Thus these two are constantly clashing throughout the games.

    There's a difference between demanding followers
    and shouldering leadership.

    Silverstream and Ocellus are both dealing with past trauma and cultural identity. Swift Foot brings up the hippogriff exile and implies that the other races didn't care, causing Silverstream to doubt her friends. Of the Student Six I'd say she has the most low-key reaction. Her role in the story has more to do with prompting the reconciliation with her novice grasp of Yak language.

    Still trying to figure out how "York" plays into the language.

    Ocellus has a harder time because she doesn't have Silverstream's expressiveness. Much like we saw in Friendship is Magic #84, Ocellus is painfully aware of the Changeling kingdom's reputation and past burdens. She both feels like she's being judged for others' past mistakes while asked to perform in frightening situations. I'd argue she has it the worst, especially when forced to confront a Chimera. I think her jealousy towards Silverstream isn't just limited to how others react to their shape-shifting. I think she wishes she could be as bold and outgoing, and thankfully the two reconcile with the hope Ocellus will feel more confident moving forward.

    That's two comics featuring hippogriff/changeling hugs.
    I think Smolder's a little jelly herself.

    Yona could also fall under the banner of cultural identity. One thing I hadn't considered is that Yona is the only student who doesn't seem to have "Ponish" as a primary language. Never was sure if Yak was its own language, but the comic uses this as a strength. Whereas the other Students are passive-aggressive in their grievances, Yona is explicit by speaking Yak and getting mad when the others don't understand. But as the group's heart, it's her laughter and confession that starts to clear the air.

    Yona just doesn't want to be called a basket case.

    So with all these students struggling with being a solo representative, what about Sandbar? He's living in his hometown and isn't carry as many burdens. If anything, he would be the positive influence reminding the others that they are loved and valued as they are. Unless he was distracted.

    I take it back. Sandbar's true trial is puberty.

    His infatuation with Swift Foot serves to disrupt his focus. I think the low point for Sandbar came when he forced Ocellus to confront the Chimera. At first I was prepared to defend this action since sometimes you have to push a teammate in the heat of the moment. Yet on a re-read I realized that Sandbar sought her help because he didn't want to face the Chimera himself. The whole situation takes on a different meaning when Sandbar isn't able to show his own courage.

    Why be scared? You've only been locked in a cage
    by a hellbeast in front of a crowd–Oh, I get it now.

    Thankfully, he and the others own their actions through a moment of laughter and then honesty. What makes this so celebratory is that they don't need any revelation to jump-start the relationship. They are able to work through all this without even knowing that Swift Foot tried to sabotage them; and in doing so they've defeated a king's machinations.

    This was a runner-up for the post's header.

    The Thracians 
    First off, I applaud this story for being willing to expand the scope of Equestria. Adding a fourth tribe is a bold move and opens up a lot of story potential. It does run the risk of contradiction, even with the show now complete, but part of what I enjoy about IDW's comics is when they're willing to make the attempt. It's also worth noting that Swift Wind demonstrates some kind of communication magic that we haven't seen before. Even more surprising given that the only Thracians we see are earth ponies.

    The Thracians still overpower Equestria with their beard techonology.
    Even Starswirl is powerless before it!

    Then again, we only see one family. A highly dysfunctional family. Inspired by the Mares of Diomedes, the King of the same name has sired some pretty rotten offspring. Thrace itself is a harsh environment; and such places are known to produce stern people. But "stern" and "cruel" are not synonymous. Their attitudes suggest a few things, including that the found King Thrace wasn't as innocent as his descendants think.

    Too bad they didn't have realtors back then.

    Swift Foot's recounting makes it seem like Thrace was excluded by the other tribes. It's just as likely that he rejected them without making any attempt at unification. Without any self-awareness, the Thracians are attempting to instill the same sense of victimization in the Student Six. If you think you're the only wounded party, any action can seem justified.

    Terri Belle is likely doing all this as payback for her name.

    King Diomedes' plan is probably the weakest aspect of this story. Foiling one group of friends will not undo Equestrian's unifying philosophy, and I don't see how he has the influence or military might to impose a new philosophy or rule. Though I don't dismiss his plan or the danger within. We are invested enough in the Student Six to not want their friendship torn apart. Yet it's not a world-spanning threat yet. Diomedes strikes me as a king suffering delusions of grandeur, and the real threat lies with his eldest.

    "Sister, are we the bad guys?"
    "I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you."

    Terri Belle–who has the best pun name in the family–encourages her father's delusions while also demonstrating that she knows the most about manipulation and intelligence gathering. If we're lucky enough to get a sequel, I think Terri Belle will be the real threat and power behind the throne.

    In perspective, they're too petty to be a world threat.

    Swift Foot
    Torn between these two worlds is our main character. Author K.M. Weiland has said on character development that a story's protagonist beings the tale believing in a lie, and that the story is their journey towards discovering truth. Twilight Sparkle started her journey believing that friendship was unimportant. Swift Foot starts by believing it is weak.

    She would eventually eat that thought bubble.
    We're meant to shift Swift Foot's manipulations from herself to her family's orders, but I think it's more believable that she went at this with enthusiasm and only started to doubt because she is aware. So it's good that's not totally absolving herself while at the same time demonstrating that she's open to outside thoughts. I also appreciate that there isn't a lightning bolt moment. Rather, her change is a gradual moment that solidifies when the Student Six reconcile.

    I'm trapped in a steel cage of emotion!

    One recurring criticism I see in entertainment at large is the "Liar Revealed" storyline, especially in children's stories. Think of stories like A Bug's Life or Rango. This story is an interesting take because there is no moment where Swift Foot is revealed. In fact, none of the ponies are any the wiser after she departs. Rather than being a liar revealed, Swift Foot acknowledges a new truth and decides to live up to what the others think about her.

    There goes her composure.
    Adieu! Adieu!

    Yet while Swift Wind is now committed to the idea of friendship, she hasn't learned enough to be its champion. Because if she had, she'd be asking for help. I expect her return to Thrace to go badly and she'll need help. A part of me would have liked to see a twist where Twilight revealed she knew about Swift Foot's origins but let her participate, knowing that the Student Six could help her. I truly hope we get to see a follow-up story for her as this is too good to just leave a loose end.

    If your father commanded you to jump off a cliff...
    Would you chuck your sisters off first?

    The Other Friendship Games
    Speaking of Twilight, she created a unique "competition". To highlight this I need to borrow from the real world. I've heard that there is a policy in football that, if an opponent is knocked down, you are not to help them get back up. To do so could present an opportunity to injure yourself or be taken out of the game. I've always found that disappointing, as I'd like for sports stars to really embody higher ideals.

    Still think Applejack was looking for
    a free harvest.

    The Feats of Friendship seeks to do just that because the games themselves are meant to bring out the best in one's self rather than ask who is better. The largest example being the bridge building exercise at the Stable Rapids. Keep that name in mind. It carries its own importance.

    She is really good at inventory.
    Egads... Those horses are holding glue...

    The only way for the teams to succeed is to trade and share resources. Perhaps a very savvy team could forge just the right alliances to get a majority of resources, but I think they'd actually be docked points for missing the true goal. None of these games are meant to reward the outcome, but reinforce the process.

    Rainbow Dash: master of subtlety.

    It's fun to see the Student Six realize this, just as it makes sense to see them in second place. Granted, having victory tiers seems contradictory to the Feats' theme, but it helps drive home an idea. Swift Foot and the Student Six thought that the closest team of friends would be the automatic winner. At the very least, the outcome reflects their friendship. Instead, it's all meant to separate the contestants from the dependence on outcomes. You're supposed to enjoy the process and work through it together. That's why the main team's truest success is a record-setting defeat of a projected Hydra.

    I sometimes wonder just how big a Changeling can shape-shift.

    It's All Greek to Me!
    Speaking of Hydras, there's a classical theme throughout all these elements. Though not a complete set of twelve, each contest has been inspired by the Labors of Hercules. One Labor was to take the golden apples of Hesperides. Another feat required that he steal a heard of red cattle that were guarded by a two-headed dog, the Orthus. So what do we get as the first competition? Gather red apples while dealing with the two-headed Orthros.

    I try to picture Hercules slaying something like this.
    I cry.

    Hercules also had one day to clean the Augean Stables, home to over a thousand cows and 30 year's worth of filth. To do this, the hero diverted two river bends. While the contestants don't have to deal with anything quite so filthy, there's a reason why the next feat is based in the Stable Rapids.

    She's getting away!
    Shake your fist more!

    Hercules had to face down the Nemean Lion, and the Students faced a lion plus two additional heads. The Chimera is a stand-in, though the same idea rings true.

    Remember, if you kill the students the your parole is void.
    Plus, Celestia will turn you to ash.

    Even the second issue's B cover references Hercules facing the Stymphalian birds and the third issue's B cover is a tribute to the Ceryneian Hind.

    This is even funnier in Hind Sight!
    Boo harder. I can't yet taste your rage.

    The Hydra is a very overt reference, but did you know that Hercules also had to steal the Mares of Diomedes? Though there was no actual theft involved, the Student Six managed to free Swift Foot from a cruel herd. Perhaps that's the most important analogy.

    This is the first sign of a hidden vulnerability,
    but at the time I wasn't sure if it was signaling her bitterness.

    The Twelve Labors were part of Hercules' own attempt at redemption. Driven mad by Hera and killing his family, Hercules sought to atone. Many historians and artists, from ancient Greece to the Renaissance, saw the labors and Hercules removing or slaying the vices that plagued an individual. He often did so by looking at a situation and interpreting it in a novel or nonconformist way. By that same notion, each test caused the students to show their worst so they could then confront their feelings, thereby becoming their best. They can only do so by letting go of a need to win or allowing perceived expectations control them.

    That line was more obvious.
    I'm surprised no one raised an eyebrow... Oh wait. Do they have eyebrows?

    Which means that while the Mane Six have limited appearances in this story, the competition they set up is one of their best teaching moments. Given my criticisms of season 8 and My Little Pony #71, this makes me appreciate the story even more.

    The bitter fear of every student: hidden lessons!

    So All in All...
    Whew! I don't know if I've ever had this much to cover in a series. So many characterizations, ideas, and classical references. It's shorter than most series yet bursting with topics. I'd say this is one of the best mini-series IDW has produced. My only real gripe is the fear that we don't know what will next happen.

    You think he's mad now? Wait until you return and tell him
    he and his plan are full of horse apples.

    So all I can plead is that you all do go buy the issues. Give IDW and economic incentive to continue. Post on social media if you enjoyed it. #SwiftFootSequel! Whatever the case, I hope that Ian Flynn and Tony Fleecs will team up again. This was a great story with a deceptively simple premise. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as I've enjoyed talking about it.

    And thus the Sandbar ships war began!

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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