• Let's Review: Friendship is Magic #89

    The time has come for the start of IDW's Season 10! Heroes gather from across Equestria for Princess Twilight's newest initiative, though not all are eager. 


    Does this story start off on the right hoof or are we on a voyage to confusion? 


    Find out with the full review, and some spoilers, after the break!

    So here we are. Months' delay but finally we can talk about a new Friendship is Magic Adventure. And who better to illustrate this fresh start than the same artist who worked on issue #1?

    Hello, old friends!

    Andy Price remains my favorite of the IDW artists for the amount of detail and vitality placed into each story. Sometimes it's a sublte reference like Capper's honoring Garfield with a T-shirt. Or a background reference to past characters. Even if the show has contradicted some early-comic continuity, I see no reason to consign characters to the void. It's nice to see the earlier works referenced. 

    What I would give to hear the conversations taking part in this background.

    Yet the best part of Price's work comes from his expressions and use of shadows. In a story of pastel horses, it's easy to keep things bright and cheerful. Price's experience in drawing horror helps him utilize shadows to emphasize a character's anger or draw the eye to specific part of the page. The only visual hiccup I noted is a scene likely born of a miscommunication. Twilight offers a prompt to Starswirl to aid her presentation, but she appears to be conducting the whole event herself. I'm not sure how this contradiction arose but suspect that Price and writer Jeremy Whitley suffered crossed signals. 

    Wonder how all this looks to Starswirl. It's a product of both his choices and mistakes.

      Which leads to the purpose of Twilight's gathering. The day of her first sunrise, she's gathered heroes from across Equestria. From Rockhoof and Mage Meadowbrook to secret agents Lyra and Sweetie Drops; Discord to Spitfire. The benefit of these comics is that one can involve a greater cast without having to worry about a voice actor budget. 

    Take note: none of these characters know why they've been summoned.

    Twilight has commissioned her closest friends to assemble teams to reach out to different parts of the world. Though we're introduced to a variety of groups, the focus for now is on Applejack's team. Which might be the rockiest start as Applejack is stepping far outside her comfort zone. 

    I'm not used to seeing Zecora react so loudly.
    I'm freaking out, here!

     Applejack's strength lies in Ponyville. For a long time, that made it difficult to present her in a vulnerable state as he friends and family were always nearby. Events like Rarity's fashion show, Flim and Flam's manipulations, or struggle with Town Hall's bureaucracies were the few times Applejack didn't know how the navigate the situation. We see a lot of that same struggle here as Applejack hasn't thought much of this through. 

    This was a curious but beautiful style that one lasted for one panel.

    Rockhoof and Tempest seem like solid choices. Rockhoof is one of the strongest ponies out there and is also one of the most approachable. Whitley seems to be channeling the Rockhoof from Legends of Magic, which is the more fun version. I have seen fans lament that Rockhoof couldn't best Big Macintosh in a hoof-wrestling contest. This would be the same Big Macintosh that could drag a house behind him without noticing. Yet I don't mind this bit of humor as I've seen Big Mac on the receiving end before.

    Personal theory: Celestia leveled up Big Mac's hoof-wrestling game!

    Tempest is perhaps the smartest choice for any team. Of all the ponies, she's seen the world at its widest and darkest. Granted, much of that travel involved conquering other lands. Yet she serves as a counterbalance to Rockhoof's bombastic friendliness. In fact, her sarcasm often helps add a punchline the situation while hinting at her own vulnerability. Dostoevsky described sarcasm as "the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded." Tempest's experiences still keep her guard at full, but she's not as sharp or clever as she might think. Some time with Rockhoof and others might help smooth her edges. At the very least, she should stop wearing the Storm King's armor.

    "Hey, I'm supposed to be the broody, dark one!"

    Yet Rockhoof and Tempest are not the focus here. The heart of this conflict lies between Applejack and Zecora. What a conflict it is as Zecora unloads on Applejack, calling out her friend's carelessness.

    She is speaking a deep, hard truth. But something's missing...

    Zecora is correct in how this is unfolding, but I do feel the need to defend the circumstances around Applejack's position. For starters, if this really is taking place the morning of Twilight's first sunrise, then this gathering has unfolded with startling speed. Applejack likely didn't have time to reflect on her choice and ask questions. Furthermore, each team except Rarity's features a non-pony member, and each member is expected to act as a guide. Capper has expressed a desire to liberate or restore his home back in Nightmare Knights, so I doubt he's protesting. Captain Celaeno is more an unknown, but the impression I got is that she chose a pirate's life out of a desire for adventure more than any dissatisfaction. Zecora's position is unique in a large and hastily-produced plan.

    A prime example of Price's skill with layouts and Whitley's humor.

    It's also worth noting that while Zecora hits Applejack where it hurts by mentioning her late mother, she knows about this because Applejack was forthright about her past. Zecora has not given Applejack that same trust. It was a mistake for Applejack to assume so much about Zecora's past, but she's operating in an information void. So while the anger is justified, I do think Zecora has made mistakes as well.  

     Note that during the entire trip,
    Zecora never once opened up about her past.

    To reiterate: Applejack made an unwise choice, but not out of cruelty or selfishness. Limited time for reflection and planning often leads to unwise choices, and it's to Applejack's credit that she owns up to this and approaches Zeora with respect despite Applejack's pride nearly sparking further confrontation. 

     You could crack worlds with that frown.
    She likely has.

    What doesn't help Applejack's position is that she suffers further thoughtless moments when dealing with guest star Cranky Doodle Donkey. Back in seasons one and two, the whole "None Taken" joke with a mule was a fun play on words. But time and events like Neighsay's presentation have soured that humor. I think this is a joke best left in the show's early days. 

    Given what we saw in "The Last Problem", my shipping senses are going crazy!

    The journey beyond Equestria is too fun for me to spoil it. Just read it and take in a startling set of cameos, puns, and character humor. It's a treat. Though part of my enjoyment belied a growing uncertainty. 

     That building on the far left is a reference to the 15 Alice Lane Towers in Johannesburg, South Africa.
    Though only 17 stories tall, they stand out as their structure shifts appearance throughout the day.

    Having never seen Zecora's homeland, I wasn't sure how Whitley would approach the setting. Equestria features developments ranging from frontier towns to jungle temples and tribes to modern-day cities. So it was a gamble on how developed a civilization we'd see on the Farasian coast. I was relieved that Whitley went with a modernized setting like Casabronco (and not just for the pun). It helps establish the Zebras as a developed land with their own history and I hope we'll see the same for other locations. But first we get to witness the third known zebra!

    That streak in her mane makes me think of her as a quizzical sort.
    Or this universe's version of the Riddler. Could go either way.

    I say third because the franchise has shown at least one other zebra before. Braze–a zebra with fiery-themed stripes–appeared in GM Berrow's "Rainbow Dash and the Daring Do Double Dare". I have not read this, but I have seen excerpts. 


    Marini seems to reinforce the design idea that zebras feature coats in shades ranging from gray to white, but their stripes can be just as colorful as the ponies' coats. Yet Marini is just the start as we encounter entirely new creatures. 

    Gah! Social interaction. The horror!

    While Medley Brook and Crystal identify themselves as kelpies (taking the "Water Horse" idea rather literally), Dust Devil and Cactus Rose are something else. They're Abada; an African expression of the unicorn idea. They possess two horns, which are said to be able to cure poison and disease. It's even said that the Abada (also called Nillekma or Arase) can breath ice or fire. Given that the emphasis tends to focus on their virtue and healing, I don't think we'll see much of the fire and ice motif... Unless that's how Crystal stays frozen.

    Even their theme of "The Four Princes" has a symbolic meaning. Four is often regarded as the number for stability, order, and justice. It also represents a real idea set within the larger world. Pythagoreans have described the number for as the perfect number and believed that a tetrad symbolized God. So... big to-to, these four!

    Poor Spike. He must read from that book at least twice a week. 

    The thing is that they're all thrilled to see Zecora, but like Applejack we are left with only questions. In a conversation with Tony Fleecs, Katie Cook, and Trish Forstner I learned that the length of one comic is about the same time-frame as half an episode. Thus, we are at a commercial break. 

    Rockhoof: Hero. Legend. Bane of all spines.

    My hope is that–having committed many unwitting mistakes in this first part–Applejack will be Zecora's greatest support and will have enough of Zecora's trust to learn the whole history. I won't spoil what is promoted for issue #90 but I'm eager to see how other figures will present themselves. 

    I'm still not a fan of digitally pasting elements, but I get that no one would
    want to draw the Equestrian map multiple times over.

    This is an ambitious start to Season 10. The scope of the world is much larger, the teams more diverse, and thus we're witnessing favorite characters adapting to new roles. While it's uncomfortable to see Applejack making so many misteps, they're understandable and don't diminish the quality of her character. If anything, they're understandable mistakes that I could see many people making. Plus it's a treat to see the start of this new discovery and encountering beings we never witnessed in the show. 

    Here's to the start of Season 10 and hopefully some enjoyable adventures. I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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