• Let's Look Back: IDW Comics 2019

    Happy New Year, everyone! We've been without a new comic for quite a while but that gives some space to take a look back.

    2019 featured a variety of topics, characters, writers, and artists. How did it all stack up?

    You'll find my thoughts after the break!

    Beyond the Main Line
    Before diving into IDW's main line, I want to express my enjoyment for the mini series Spirit of the Forest and Feats of Friendship. Both stories featured strong artwork, likeable characters, and an involving conflict. 

    "The Student Seven". I like the sound of that.

    Of the two I would give the greatest preference to Feats of Friendship because of its mythological themes and Swift Foot's introduction. Yet Spirit of the Forest likewise introduced a new creature to Equestria's landscape while allowing us to catch up with Diamond Tiara. 

    Love the Crusaders, but this
    was Diamond Tiara's time to shine.

    I often find the comics are at their best when they take an element from the show left under-developed and play with the presentation. Early on in the run these comics were our only way to see into the lives of second-tier characters. These two mini-series granted us the chance to see the Student Six's dynamic at work while the Crusaders learned about effective means towards a goal. 

    Lesson here: blind rage is not effective.

    My only real gripe is that there were odd stretches between the individual issues. A concept with which IDW sturggled this year. 

    Hoping for a Swift Foot followup in 2020!

    Regularly Irregular
    One of the funniest parts to 2019's run was the strange release schedule. Looking over the release dates the MLP wiki, I realized how many dry spells we experienced with the main line. We had no new issues in February, prompting a March double-release. Then nothing for April which carried into a rapid-fire schedule in July. 

    Mark the calendars! This was the time Celestia got to succeed where
    the Mane Six struggled!

    Even now at the start of 2020 we expect December's new issue next week. I've heard but can't confirm that illness amongst the artists caused some delays, which shows the delicate nature to a series' release schedule. I recall it led to some start-stop reviewing on my end, with the strange milestone of having reviewed every IDW back-issue. I remember thinking I wouldn't know what to do with myself, though life quickly throws new challenges to fill the void. 

    Applejack is never far from her twitter.

    Though there was one aspect to this strange scheduling that brought some comfort. We didn't have to wait on multi-parters.

    Not the most involving scene, but I do love the artwork.

    Singular Sensations
    Aside from the "Cosmos" storyline, we didn't have any multi-part stories. Each story, presented by different writer/artist teams, was a self-contained venture within Equestria. 

    Familiar location. New, big elements.

    We started the year watching Zephyr Breeze handle the stress of a new job. A far cry different than the inept Royal Guard role we would later see in "Sparkle's Seven". Applebloom had to distract Mayor Mare as the town set up for an annual celebration, punctuated by Sunset Shimmer's surprise return.

    There's no Con like the Mane Con!

    Pinkie hosted an Ogres and Oubliettes session that went the extra mile, while Rumble learned about an icon Wonderbolt's history. Rarity became Cerberus' caretaker and trainer and Twilight played a delightful homage to Sherlock Holmes.  

    Still wishing that could have been
    a blue turtle shell!

    Ocellus became the focal point of the main comic's focus at year's end, running right alongside the MLP Holiday Special and her critical role in Feats of Friendship. November became an unofficial "Ocellus Month" and I have no problem with that. 

    Odd how comedic series can have
    great character depth.

    While these various stories didn't specifically focus on each of the Mane Six, there is an issue for each that at least gives them a prominent role within the story. I'd say Rainbow Dash got the least spotlight as her role in Rumble and Scootaloo's educate was very brief. Conversely, Twilight Sparkle enjoyed two stories where she had a great deal of autonomy or a mentoring role. Perhaps a way of compensating as she was brainwashed for most of the "Cosmos" arc?

    Like to think this is elements of each character shining through, but
    they spent most of the time under Cosmos' control.

    The only pony denied a place of prominence yet is Applejack, and that should be solved by her comic next week. Yet having to look all this up on a wiki reminds me that a good chunk of the stories from this year were just "okay". 

    A fun outing but little by way of characterization.

    Only story stands out as having a negative feel or bad moral: the Krumple Horn short from the My Little Pony Holiday Special. There were certainly plenty of topics to discuss. I wondered why the introduction of a glider to the Wonderbolts wasn't more celebrated within Equestria. Who would take up care of Cerberus once Rarity had finished? Who was the real focus of MLP #79 when the most stand-out moment was Sunset Shimmer's cameo? 

    The most interesting aspect
    stayed hidden most of the story.

    Yet for all these criticisms I can't say anything left a sour feeling. At the same time, it's not easy to point at and issue and highlight it as a stand-out moment for the character. The "Cosmos" arc stands out the most due to its large case, Andy Price's artwork, and the highest stakes within the comics. 

    So dramatic! So trippy!

    Unfortunately, some comics are more infamous due to a recurring problem.

    Rainbow to the audience:
    "Can you guess which episode I'm from?"

    Tracing the Problem
    MLP #79 featured modified vectors and artwork from The Journal of the Two Sisters. MLP #83 featured Spike in poses and expressions that were replicated from the show. Though not the first time we've seen something like this happen, it was a very overt expression.

    A little more forgiving since this required drawing the feet.

    Tangentially, I learned this year that Marvel's Star Wars comics fall under heavy criticism due to the artists tracing fan-made renders or models to create space fleets. At first it seems most direct to blame the artist, but I have many questions. What prompted this action? Was it lack of interest, time, confidence? How many comics is an artist working on? Is there an editor versed enough to catch these acts? 

    Much less forgiving of an incomplete vector.

    Though I can't say I like all the various art styles equally, I do enjoy seeing My Little Pony depicted in varying expressions. Some artists like Toni Kuusisto draw the ponies in a firmer style with heavy detail. Kate Sherron depicts them with much more rounded shapes and a looser feel to the poses. Andy Price lies somewhere in the middle. 

    Price remains my favorite for his solid yet flexible art style.

    The critical aspect is that I get to see the artist's work. Regardless of my opinion on the style, I enjoy the idea that My Little Pony and other shows can take a variety of forms. Yet when I know that the art I see isn't the artist's own effort, it loses a sense of investment. I'm not going to invest time on something which the artist themselves neglected. 

    I understand the need for shortcuts now and again, but this stretches the tolerance too far.

    I hope that the examples in 2019 were a dip rather than an indication of a decline. Thankfully, there is a topic that brings back some positivity, even to issues that struggled with art.

    "Try to trace me and I'll show you what malice can do!"

    The Brave and the New
    It's a strange balance. The "Cosmos" arc conveniently featured the mane cast and support re-visiting established locations. The newest element was Cosmos herself, and some of the nicest news in 2019 was hearing how many fans complimented Andy Price for her at Bronycon. I understand and agree there are elements to critique in the larger story, but I like seeing creators get some positive reinforcement.

    Yes... This deserves some positive reinforcement.
    And some time in my nightmares.

    Cosmos was something new. A risk. Just as each issue and the mini-arcs attempted to add something to Equestria be it a guardian spirit, a fourth pony tribe, or a new location with a variety of characters. We may never revisit these elements–which would be a loss–but I'm glad the comics are willing to try new things and aren't afraid to add their own elements to this world. 

    Most epic mane/beard combo in Equestria!

    That's not to say that a work should be shunned for bringing up the family. June 2019 featured the release of the My Little Pony Manga, a work that referenced a ton of show material. With the exception of the original character, Star Dancer, almost every part was a callback to a show element. This familiar playground allowed the manga to focus more on humor, making it the funniest piece all year. 

    We're close to volume 2.
    That's already a positive for 2020!

    So there's some representations for originality and for making full use of the familiar. Which raises a question about the coming year.

    Our future guard griffon, everyone!

    The Continuity! Limitation
    Time has rarely been kind to comics. Stories like "Nightmare Rarity" and "Siege of the Crystal Empire" have been rendered moot or left in the void. Some character presentations are undone by the show. That's part of the reason I appreciate when the comics are willing to introduce something new. It might indeed be undone down the line but at least they had the creative courage to try. 

    Who but the comics could take a Twilight recolor
    and make her Big Macintosh's bane?

    Yet now the show is concluded and this April will see the start of IDW's "10th Season" continuity. We know the endpoint thanks to "The Last Problem" but there's a significant span to cover. 

    Let's hope Spike gets more respect
    as her friendship counselor.

    With knowledge of the ending and creative liberty for the intervening years, I wonder how IDW's writers and artists will handle this. I think a big reason why the mini-series this year stood out so well is that they weren't afraid to develop the lead characters. With the Mane Six, there was a limit on how far they could progress due to the ever-evolving show. 

    Into every friendship a little competition must fall.

    Now that limit is removed and so I am cautiously optimistic about how the comics might change to meet this new liberty. We'll see what new avenues open and how the staff utilizes them. 

    This was a fun start to 2019. Hoping for more of the same!

    Whatever the case, I hope you all enjoy a wonderful year and look forward to covering more comics with you. I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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