• Let's Review: The Draytona Breach

    The last of what I like to call "Phase 2" continuity has reached its conclusion. How did this two-parter stack up and how does each character contribute?

    Catch the full retrospective after the break. Would be good to have read the issues beforehand.

    Looking back on this story, I feel that there was a great deal of tension built up but not full utilized. Ideas and opportunities expressed but not totally explored. A great deal of this comes down to the characters, and we'll talk about them shortly. First, though, I want to give props to Tony Fleecs.

    I think the truth is only one of them stopped
    being the other's friend.

    The artwork throughout all of this is just fun. Character designs such as Silver Streak and Sacks Roamer immediately reflected their personalities and roles. Both of these characters feature darker, less saturated elements that stand against the main casts brighter pallets. Sacks Roamer is trouble from the get-go as he's all grays and dark violet mane and tail. Even his eyes are colder. By contrast, Silver Streak has a colder mane but there's some warmth in his coat, as if he's midway between ally or antagonist. Even their clothing reinforces this approach.

    Roamer is going to suffer cardiac arrest at some point.

    Lumpy fulfills Fleecs' tribute to his Thunder Gremlins. It's impressive how much he's maintained their presence throughout the comics through background cameos. His character is mostly expressed through his small stature and bigger eyes. You can tell he'll be the more emotional character but he's forced into a subordinate role.

    No more jokes about the sound effects.
    I think I've played that tune long enough.

    The environments are not so readily characterized. Much of the race takes place in the Equestrian/Yakyakistan border, and we do see a transition from green hills in part one to brown and blue tones in the second issue. Yet because the cold is an important factor to both Roamer's plan and a deadline for the protagonists to thwart him, I think there could have been greater emphasis on the encroaching cold. In particular, snow on the track would be a great obstacle for the race.

    I can only imagine the first ponies who traveled this trail.
    They must have been completely lost!

    The Draytona Breach
    One thing that has consistently impressed me is the comic's willingness to create new events and locations. Some comics have stayed close to the familiar and never seemed to stand out from the source material's shadow. Not so here.

    Apple cameo!

    Admittedly, the Draytona Breach does run up against some continuity conflict with Yakyakistan's isolationism. Yet this isn't so huge a conflict that it detracts from the story. A simple awareness, followed by a shrug. We don't get to meet most of the racers because while this event is the central setting, it is still just a race.

    "Hey, we're back here too!"
    "Main character introductions only!"

    I'm not a big sports fan, but from what I've witnessed a game takes on greater meaning when there's a personal investment. We celebrate stories of athletes who came from humble beginnings. Opponents aren't just competitors to a goal, but often we emphasize a personal rivalry bordering on hatred. How many sports movies come down to a do-or-die last game with the players' futures on the line.

    Rainbows motive: A temper tantrum.

    Which is where we talk about Big Macintosh and Silver Streak.

    Is Big Mac staring at this chin?
     I know I am.

    Friends Made Rivals
    This is the story's real heart. We know Big Macintosh as a quiet but loving character and so want to see him in a positive situation. Silver Streak's passive-aggressive greeting and the wear it takes on Big Mac's spirits catch the audience's interest in the first part and we want to see a positive outcome.

    Less characters would mean less backstory!

    I went in to part two fully expecting Big Macintosh to save Silver Streak and show their friendship meant more than victory, or possibly the reverse. I do think it was more powerful to see Silver Streak claim victory, only to have it turn hollow. He seems to have spent so much time viewing Big Mac as a rival that he never noticed the void forming in his own life. There is a powerful moment when a character gets what they want and realizes it's not what they need.

    I'm jaded enough to see this as drawn out
    but I think younger readers would be enticed.

    There's also some fun humor as this one-way rivalry keeps getting interrupted. Especially by Rainbow.

    Ah, you're making progress.
    You still call him a friend!

    Rainbow Dash
    Big Mac is too easy-going to initiate the story, and so he needs a push. Rainbow Dash–in both this story and the Equestria Girls collection–is a great character for initiating a story. She's one of the most extroverted, expressive, and aggressive characters. It's often her role to get characters going even if she has to push them out the door. Plus we get some buildup as we witness a one-page training montage.

    Student cameo!

    If this had been a Rainbow Dash-centric story, I think we would have seen her interact with more racers. Perhaps be tested in seeing how aggressively she'd be willing to compete to win. Yet Rainbow has no emotional stake. Her pride is omnipresent, but these are all strangers. Instead, Rainbow serves a good part of the race as Big Macintosh's advocate.

    Perhaps the real lesson is to not let friends pressure you?

    She could have been a rival against Sacks Roamer, except that she doesn't even know about him for most of the story. Instead, she's the unwitting target and the hook that keeps people coming back for the second part.

    I don't think it wise to tick off a Wonderbolt.
    You'd get the whole team after you.

    Sacks Roamer and Lumpy
    I had fun reading about these two bumbling antagonists, but by the end I felt let down by Roamer. The fun lies in their conflicting personalities. Lumpy is an idiot savant whose primary role is to make things worse and set Rainbow and Roamer on a collision course. Once that role is achieved, he withdraws from they story in a pretty fun way. Even as a kid I never understood why henchmen would stick around with an abusive boss. Lumpy shows a greater autonomy by saying, "I'm out."

    Roamer has the self-aggrandizing personality that so fits a dirty racer. He wants everyone to think him the smartest stallion in the room. Problem is that while many racing villains would want to sabotage the other racers, Roamer's goal is not victory. His personal goal is to reclaim the idol and escape across the border. So that means he cannot do anything to actually interfere with the race.

    Not since Doctor Doom has text been so bold!

    Though I realize as I type this: he didn't even need to chase Rainbow Dash. If she got her cart across the border, he could swipe the idol shortly thereafter. His flaw is that he thinks so much of himself that he doesn't know how to handle when plans change. So he actually drew attention to himself and Lumpy by trying to control every aspect when laying low would have been the smarter option.

    What good is a foolproof plan made by a fool?

    Spike and Yona
    Foiling Roamer and Lumpy falls to our supporting cast. Spike certainly gets some heroic moments but because these take focus away from the race, they feel less satisfying. Instead, Spike's critical role is giving voice to Big Macintosh's personal history and helping the others understand this situation.

    Yona's role is even briefer. With Spike acting as a voice, someone else must take on the role of comedic setup and observation. That's Yona's strength combined with a quick foiling for Roamer. I love watching Yona when she's this bundle of emotion and raw power, but at the same time I feel that she's gotten a lot more attention recently. Hoping more of the Student Six could have some solo adventures or accompany the Mane Six at points.

    Might want to get that dragon a coat or something.
    International relations

    Looking over all these characters, however, I realize that the immediate critique is that there are simply too many plot threads for a two-parter. Our focus keeps shifting between conflicting groups so nothing has a chance to really stand out. By the end, it feels like much has happened yet we're not as invested as we could be. And I think that comes down to one critical issue.

    In case of plot need,
    break imaginary glass.

    Big Macintosh the Stoic
    Big Mac has always been a pony of few words, but in this story he hardly even cracks a smile. Even his classic "Eeyup" and "Nnope" are in short supply. He is mostly a mystery, even as his former friend seeks to reconcile. I think this silence is what necessitates so many characters.

    Wait, those dragons dressed smarter
    than the actual agents!

    Rainbow is needed to both get the story going and to serve as pupil. This highlights Big Mac's racing experience. But because Big Macintosh needs someone to explain his past and give voice to his thoughts, Spike is brought along. As I mentioned earlier, Yona then takes over the role of joke setup alongside Spike.

    Again, give Sugar Belle tips!

    Part of me wonders if Lumpy and Roamer are there for Spike to attempt to thwart more than to be a challenge to the lead racers. While I enjoyed their banter, neither boss nor hench-gremlin held much of an emotional impact. Even Roamer's crashing against Rainbow could be swapped if the first-time racer simply had an accident.

    Not gonna lie. That is an impressive feat.

    All of this comes down to one fact: most of the need for certain characters stems from Big Macintosh's stoicism. Imagine for a moment if this story were told from Big Macintosh's perspective with word boxes expressing his thoughts. You could reduce the number of characters without losing the story's heart. No need for Spike and Yona to be forced into the story as we would know Mac's thoughts.

    Has saying that ever worked?

    I point to "Zen and the Art of Gazeebo Repair" as an example. Big Mac didn't lack for ponies to play against but we never need to wonder about his thoughts. Though in fairness, this story requires more setup to get him to venture beyond Ponyville's confines.

    Big Mac is probably like, "Now what?"

    This was a fun story and I celebrate that the staff gave Big Macintosh more history, a larger social circle, and a fun spectacle. Yet I think by shaving elements away they could have given the central conflict more time to be fleshed out. I'll mostly remember this for its place before Season 10, but on its own it's not something I'll often quote.

    It is impressive how quickly she learned.

    Sadly, news about IDW's delays and Diamond Comics closing down, it's not known when we'll get another My Little Pony comic. I don't know what the future holds but I still affirm that a creative effort can find momentum again. In the meantime, there's plenty of material to discuss, ideas to present, and weird jokes to make.

    Romer's pariticpation prize:
    A shattered spine.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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