• Let's Review: Friendship in Disguise #1

    Autobots, Ponies, prepare for friendship crossover!

    Long delayed but now we get to witness two franchises meet. How does the setup and first team-up play out?

    Find the review, plus some spoilers, after the break!
    Who ever thought this would be a crossover? That's not to say the idea hasn't been joked upon before. Case in point, the G1 My Little Pony made the briefest of appearances during a Transformers vs. G.I. Joe crossover.

    Were he conscious, I'm sure Megatron would be screaming.

    We had a brief crossover in a promotional comic where Twilight and Co. helped retrieve the Matrix of Leadership. This was set as the imagined play between brother and sister.

    I cut this some slack, given it was a two-page toy promo.
    Still, obvious vectors against hand-drawn Transformers and a Micronaut.

    A full-out crossover, however, with character interaction and an overarching story, seemed too ambitious to dream until the MLP franchise gained enough momentum to stand alongside Hasbro's most successful creation. Transformers has had a longer run with greater iterations than any other series. If anything, I look to Transformers' success with hopes that My Little Pony will enjoy similar diversity.

    I never knew I wanted to see something unit it was right before me!

    Transformation is Magic
    Combining the two carries many challenges, including artistic. During a video panel at Ponyfest Online, I had the chance to talk with Fleecs about this upcoming series and the challenges in drawing the two franchises together. Fleecs commented that one of the biggest challenges was having one style creep into the other. The Transformers could become more rounded and organic or the ponies straighter and more rigid.

    This reminds me of the G1 animations.

    Fleecs is no stranger to drawing Transformers, as he's worked on several lithograph pieces before. Yet there's a distinct style to how he draws Cybertron's residents. Their bodies are often more rounded with the overall pose matching a curved action. Most notable is the size of the eyes, as both Autobots and Decepticons seem to feature shadows around their optics. This makes the eyes seem much smaller, perhaps to differentiate from our wide-eyed equines.

    Friends come in a variety of sizes!

    On the pony front, his experience with these characters is on full display, especially drawing the cackling Queen Chrysalis. Equestria lends itself more to the organic shapes Fleecs employs, from the pony and Changeling body types to the actions, such as a crash landing through a field or the Transformers arcing through the sky.

    We never do find out what happened to that guard holding on to Arcee...

    Add to that very few of the panels rely on just a gradient for backgrounds. Almost every encounter tries to highlight the setting, adding more context. Chrysalis' spell is cast high atop mountains, emphasizing just how far the displaced Cybertronians have to fall.

    Normally a Maleficient,
    Chrysalis is trying to stir up some "Night on Bald Mountain!"

    Why is Chrysalis summoning beings from another dimension? For that, we have to question the very continuity Quibble Pants complains about in the opening. At first, I figured that this story took place within the comic's own unique storyline, with Chrysalis complaining about her "recent" imprisonment back in The Return of Queen Chrysalis. Yet further events made me question that.

    She brought the Royal Guard! Princess Twilight,
    giving them a chance to redeem their image!

    Twilight interrupts the ceremony with a team of royal guards at her back with no sign of Celestia and Luna. After the Transformers are summoned across the dimensional boundary, Windblade encounters Rainbow Dash in full Wonderbolt uniform. Given all this, I wonder if this is implying Chrysalis found her way out of her stone imprisonment and found either a holdout group of Changelings or "produced" some new ones.

    Remember what happened to your last set of friends?

    Whatever the case, Chrysalis seems the perfect villain to pair up with Megatron. Out of all the MLP villains, she's often been the most gleeful while causing destruction while also combining comedy and menace. A good match for the selfish Megatron.

    Evil meets evil. Camp meets camp. A match made in the seventh circle!

    One important note is that this series will not be "My Little Pony vs. The Transformers". Because there is very little "versus" to be seen. This flies against many crossover stories in which the lead protagonists often start as opponents. Sometimes it's due to the villains' machinations, or a terrible misunderstanding, or competing egos. Whatever the reason, it's become expected. So it's refreshing to see Twilight not only acknowledge the Transformers as living beings, but she sees Optimus' friendship with Bumblebee and starts by talking. Were he genre-savvy, I bet Bumblebee would wish G.I. JOE could offer the same courtesy.

    He got better! Actually, he became Goldbug.
    I don't know if that's considered better.

    That doesn't mean someone like Windblade and Rainbow Dash might start off on the wrong servo, but this seems to be taking the view that protagonists aren't all "shoot first and ask later" types. For that, I consider this a very strong introduction and the following story only reinforces that.

    Shine Like A Diamond
    With the introductions out of the way and multiple Transformers displaced throughout Equestria, we begin the first duo story: Arcee and Rarity. At first glance, the reason for this pairing sounds obvious. Despite previous and future female Autobots, Arcee is "the girl" of the Transformers franchise. The one most easily recognized. Rarity is the most feminine of the Mane Six and so this might seem like a gathering for superficial reasons. Yet I'd argue there's a deeper connection.

    My favorite would be Prime's depiction of Arcee. A balance between nurturing and aggression.

    Arcee has featured in many iterations, updating her role to reflect cultural shifts. IDW's comic series and Transformers Prime emphasized her warrior aspect, even making Arcee an omega-level threat that had to be detained.

    And here I thought only the ponies
    would look adorable.

    Yet throughout all these presentations, two themes remain constant. Whatever the storyline, Arcee is often bearing some form of trauma. In the 1985 movie, she expressed the most emotion at seeing fellow Autobots die. In Prime, she struggled with the death of her partner and the toll the war demanded. IDW's Arcee began with her vengeful campaign against the mad scientist Jhiaxus, who had experimented on her. Even a Botcon-exclusive comic set between Generation 1 and Beast Machines featured Arcee coping with the death of a loved one. Though not always a centerpiece, Arcee tends to carry a great deal of pain.

    A scene from the end of a different crossover.

    How does she overcome this? Often, it seems to come from caring for someone who needs protecting. Whether it be Daniel, Jack, or even becoming a nature-lover in Cyberverse, Arcee gravitates towards roles that requires compassion. At the end of her initial IDW run, Arcee left the battlefield behind to teach young protoforms and organics. She can still be an aggressive warrior, but she's at her most relatable when she shows concern for others. Fitting then that her first act is to rescue Rarity and her employees/friends from Starscream's bullying.

    That kick has a car's momentum behind it!

    Rarity is a constant example of how "feminine" is not synonymous with "weak". She handles ordeals, one after another, but with her own style. I've said before that in many other media aimed at young women, Rarity would be cast as an antagonist; a rejection of the classic feminine concepts. Yet she embraces these ideas without sacrificing independence, autonomy, or competence. Whether it's thwarting Diamond Dogs, browbeating a rampaging dragon, or fighting a triad of evil, Rarity is never lacking.

    Rarity's greatest power: flattery!

    So yes, it is a team-up between "the girls", but it's also a bonding between two individuals who are a lot stronger than many would give credit.

    Ah! She said it! She said it!

    Though after Arcee gets to demonstrate her combat, Rarity is more dialog-heavy. Her recounting her own adventures feels less present than if she had aided the other ponies' escape during the fight. Part of this might come from the fact that artist Jack Lawrence is coming at this from the opposite direction of Tony Fleecs. Lawrence has served as both a cover artist and main storyline artist for several Transformers series, including my favorite entry, Lost Light.

    Cameos come at a heavy price.

    Lawrence draws the Transformers with a strong devotion to the G1 designs. That's not to say he does the ponies a disservice as he manages to faithfully represent Coco Pommel and the other members of Rarity's Manehatten boutique. Given that many of these characters didn't have speaking roles, that's no small bit of research.

    Arcee missed her calling as an insurance agent.

    Yet look beyond the characters at how the city is rendered. It is wonderfully loyal to perspective with plenty of detail, but if not for the story's context I would think it was Rarity who was transported to Earth. Lawrence seems more comfortable with the straight linework of a Transformers universe, so some of Equestria's style can feel absent. Both halves of this comic demonstrate artists going beyond the norm and showing their own style in a new setting.

    However, there's one Transformer who I think gets the short end. Not just in this story, but even in the roll call.

    I beg your pardon, but Starscream is not "A Decepticon". He is the Decepticon. Even more than Megatron, Starscream represents the guile, selfishness, and self-destructive flaws that define that faction. For this story, however, he doesn't get to show his worst. Any Decepticon has the size and strength to bully the ponies into submission. Starscream is the kind of the character who would either try to drain their magic for his own use or convince them that he was the victim and the Autobots the aggressors.

    No, Starscream!
    Bad things happen when you wear that!

    If Arcee and Rarity compliment one another by their strength, Starscream seems less a foil than he would be against someone like Appleack. As it is, I think the threat he represents comes from aerial advantage and the backup from Skywarp and Thundercracker. This trio works well to put Arcee on the backfoot, but combining her assault strength with Rarity's defenses help show how the Seekers' teamwork is fleeting.

    Dude, you lost to Spike. The human Spike. You don't get to criticize.

    My hope is that Starscream will get to show some of his personal worst later on in this series. As things currently stand, I think one could swap in a brute like Blitzwing or another plane-themed Decepticon and achieve a similar result.

    Mobile cover: the ultimate luxury!

    Arcee and Rarity, however, are wonderfully unique. This story is a celebration of their strengths, both in combat but also in caring for others. If all the entries can match this level of connection between seemingly opposite franchises, then this will be a series well worth celebrating.

    Aw, Grimlock. Don't settle for the Spike treatment!
    I mean the dragon Spike!

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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