• Let's Review: Friendship is Magic #85

    MLP Comics! It feels like it's been forever! So nice to have something fresh on the table.

    Today's serving is a bit of history as we get a look into Applejack's fears while she and Applebloom face some modern-day peril. We also witness work by an author/artist/colorist trio not yet seen in MLP comics.

    Catch the full review, plus some spoilers, after the break!

    This comic was originally meant to fill the December slot, but for reasons I don't yet know it got pushed back. A pity since, thematically, it closes out a run of comics where each of the Mane Six was either a key witness or driving force. This time it's Applejack's turn to shine.

    Okay, one can "shine" in less than ideal environments.

    Before we talk about her adventures both past and present, let's talk artwork. This issue features artis Casey Coller and colorist Marissa Louise. I am enchanted by their work. Coller is a familiar artist even though I don't think he's worked on Friendship is Magic before now. I became familiar with his work through another set of IDW lines: Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye and Lost Light. Funny enough, a pinned post on his twitter reads "99% of my work is robots, though I am capable of other things... just waiting to show it." 

    I remember this long-anticipated issue.
    Getaway vs Rodimus had a lot of emotional history.

    My Little Pony seems to be one of the biggest shifts in style one could ask, and yet Coller represents the character and environments with just the right balance of detail. The ponies themselves remain simple shapes–with perhaps more linework in the manes and tales–but the real strength is how Coller is willing to draw them at various angles. In particular, he seems much more comfortable drawing theme speaking, with their faces properly angled. I've seen many artists struggle with such a display.

    How many artists have been able to pull off such angles and make
    them look believable?

    Within the environments he tends to place greater detail on the surroundings. Extra fine lines on stones or earthy slopes. Though the detail stands out against the ponies, it's never overwhelming. And the character proportions are so consistent and tight. I'm curious how much practice he had with drawing these characters before tackling the issue.

    Notice how much more detail is given a stormy lake.
    The heavy use of inks emphasizes the menace compared to the land.

    Complimenting this work is Louise' colors, which carry a similar consistency. The pastel tones used seem much more gentle than other issues yet still remain vibrant. Likely because no setting is dominated by a single hue. The current events take place at evening, allowing Louise to contrast an orange sky against Sweet Apple Acres various greens. The flashbacks often feature a bright lake set against the farms warmer tones, only to become a deeper green at a moment of crisis. 

    The near-poison greens work well against the Apples' coats.

    To sum up, I hope we get to see more from this team as their work highly compliments Mary Kenney's story. Though before going through the tale I'm going to address one of the biggest obstacles: familiarity. Long-time fans will likely see these events and draw comparisons to similar plot points. A fear of water due to an accident runs very parallel to Granny Smith's history in "Leap of Faith". Applejack herself recounted another fall in "Going to Seed". Even the climax can invoke callbacks to "Sonic Rainboom". 

    "What's that Winona?
    Applejack fell down the well?"

    A show that's run for 9 seasons with slice-of-life stories has covered many familiar elements. At this point I'm not sure it's possible to present a story and not draw some kind of comparison. So if you feel some deja vu while reading this comic, know that you're not alone. 

    I also enjoy the highlights Louise adds to the ponies'
    manes and tales. Adds a distinct look.

    What makes this story interesting is the juxtaposition of a current threat against a past struggle. This seems especially fitting for Applejack. Often the even keel of the Mane Six, Applejack's stories tended to fall flat when they tried to force her into an unreasonable role. The team needs at least one level-headed friend to offer advice so that others can ignore it, go to an extreme, and still have a safety net to catch them. So delving into Applejack's past and seeing how she reached this status might be the best approach. 

    It's a curious sight to see an active pony like Applejack
    stuck being a recluse. But it helps build her present nature.

    This appears to be a long story as Applejack and Applebloom spend most of the story trapped in a Wolf Fly-der's web. If we follow the backgrounds from dusk until a fresh sunrise, they're trapped all night. One might wonder why Kenney would upgrade the small Fly-ders into such a larger mix. This ties into the concept that many creatures in fiction–both classic mythology and modern-day stories–are combinations. 

    I have several words to describe this creature.
    None of them are appropriate for this blog.

    The best idea I've heard is that certain shapes such as a wolf's fangs or a spider's legs trigger a primal part of our awareness. We're hardwired to recognize these threats and react. So it makes sense to combine the most dangerous aspects of individual animals to make a fantasy construct that much more frightening. 

    I think spider webs might likewise
    trigger some sort of instinct.

    We get a glimpse into the larger Apple family as much of the flashbacks revolve around young AJ's dynamic with her peers. Most of the fillies aren't aware of Applejack's trauma falling into a well and thus appear unsympathetic. One of my favorite moments is when Big MacIntosh–a seemingly mellow but watchful older brother–catches Applejack mid-fall. 

    How fast did he swim to catch her before falling under?
    I enjoy Big Macintosh because he's so unassuming.

    A minor note is the some confusion about Big Mac's fetlocks. It looks like Louise tried to include them in some panels even though Coller's art doesn't imply the shape. I had to go back and look at some old screenshots to confirm that Big Macintosh didn't have fetlocks as a colt.

    Forget big shoes to fill. Little Macintosh had a big yoke to fill!

    Applejack's rejection of Big Macintosh's support and her family's misunderstanding is very relatable. I think anyone who has been in a moment of vulnerability and misunderstanding will see themselves in her angry expression. It isn't until a sudden storm threatens her brother that Applejack breaks out of her isolation.

    This is the duality of someone being vulnerable.
    Eager for others to understand, angry enough to push them away.

    I do wonder about this storm since ponies' ability to control the weather removes a sense of vulnerability. It's very likely that this storm is a scheduled counterbalance to the summer heat and the foals didn't know it was coming. Yet given the stormy's fury–complimented by thicker linework for the water–this seems like overkill. 

    I think swimming with said
    yoke on was a mistake.

    Both young Applejack and Applebloom's reactions to a loved one in danger brings up a term often misused: overthinking. Online, I often see it used to try and silence a criticism or dismiss a perspective but I think the real use of the word is how too much thought can lead to inaction. Both Apple sisters experience moments where they're so aware of the danger and their own fragility that they can't function. Applejack even loses her own composure as a very real threat looms close.

    Again, I'd have less eloquent reactions to something like that!

    Yet the fear of losing a loved one shuts out all other considerations. The protagonist can translate fear into action without other distractions. It's a nice comparison and features two moments worth celebrating. 

    If it's not safe, why did you go off without him?

    Turns out the Wolf Fly-der is a surprisingly reasonable creature. I think this is the only time in fiction where asking something to "Go to hell" actually works. Maybe Applebloom has learned a thing or two from Fluttershy.

    "What is this 'Fluttershy' you speak of?
    For some reason, this name delights me."

    While some plot points echo scenes from the show, I find that story has a unique enough spin that it remains distinct. I cheer for several characters and don't resent those who aren't in the know. This is a thoroughly enjoyable story and a strong showing for the Apple siblings. Give it a look and here's hoping we'll see more of Kenney, Coller, and Louise's work in future issues!

    I think comics could greatly utilize the extended Apple family.
    No need for a vocal talent budget.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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