• Let's Review: Friendship in Disguise #2


    The second round of Ponies/Autobots vs Changelings/Decepticons is upon us! What do these team-ups represent and what challenges will they face?


    Catch the full review after the break but watch out for spoilers!


    So now the stage it set, the sides determined, but the outcome is unclear. We're in the phase where we get to see Pony/Transformer teams meet and form their own bonds with two examples. 


    Spike and Grimlock

    Our first story comes courtesy of Ian Flynn's writing coupled with Sara Pitre-Durocher's artwork. An artist with an extensive portflio of Transformers-based projects, Pitre-Durocher's style gets put to effect use as she emphasizes the difference in scale through some dramatic perspectives. Though while researching this, I realized that Pitre-Durocher's greatest strength is her profile image. 


    If you can't find this endearing,

    I worry for your heart!


    Her experience with drawing Transformers shows as she depicts Grimlock, the Constructicons, and a whole battle scene in wonderfully consistent detail. There's no shifting scales or awkward poses. She's got drawing these characters down to a science. 


    I'm betting Hook never thought
    he'd be used as dental floss.

    It's harder to say that about Spike. Though not called upon to have a combat scene like Grimlock, Spike's interactions with the environment demand a great deal of flexibility and stretching. To her credit, Pitre-Durocher uses Spike's poses to accentuate how hard he's trying just to interact with the Autobot base. It's more the scenes where Spike is standing on the sidelines where the art feels off. If Spike isn't committed to an action, then his poses feel very stock-based. Likely these were inspired by copying the show's style but could benefit from a more personal approach. 


    There's something about this that
    feels like a screenshot.


    It seems that the magic–spacebridge collission worked both ways, flinging Spike into the Ark. Having been ditched by his team last issue, Grimlock is now the standing guard for an otherwise deserted headquarters. Spike, often a voice for the audiences own thoughts, takes on the role of fawning over being in Grimlocks presence. I'm not saying that with any sarcasm or derision. I would be doing the exact same thing. 


    I'd be doing that too!

    Grimlock is one of the most iconic Transformers, and not just for his Tyrannosaurus alt mode. Whereas many Autobots are shown as devoted to their ideals, Grimlock is often presented torn between sides. He seems to identify with the Decepticon "might makes right" philosophy and often asserts his will over other Autobots. Yet he is also aware of his actions and quietly reflects upon this. 


    Dreamwave's stewardship of Transformers saw Grimlock switching sides,

    but it very quickly reset to the status quo.

    He's also been known to witness human beings and being impressed by their courage despite their comparable weakness. Even in the recent Cyberverse show, we witnessed a Grimlock trying to be social and cultured while transforming into a brute. It's because of this duality I'm often disappointed when Grimlock is presented as a mere simpleton. With the right creator, he can be a very dynamic character. 

    Me, Grimlock, risking shipping fuel!


    Much like Grimlock, Spike travels between two worlds. He admires the strength of dragon culture, but can't accept the tyrannical elements after being raised by ponies. He often brings the best of both cultures together, though is slow to realize is own self-worth. 


    Teletran One is all like,
    "Hey, I'm here too!"


    It's refreshing to see Grimlock welcome Spike's company. Though he uses the phrase "Tiny Spike", he never treats the little dragon as an intrusion. Maybe he likes having a fan around or perhaps Grimlock just values some company. It might also explain why Grimlock tends to boast while battling the Constructicons and forgets their ability to combine. 


    Points for the dinosaur jab,
    but I wish he had said, "Extermination".


    Of the Constructicons, there's less to say. They are likewise iconic as the franchise's first combiner. I especially like that they are a uniform size as opposed to the later "Scramble City" combiners like the Aerialbots or Combaticons. Yet there's an important aspect to Devestator's curb-stomping Grimlock.


    Ouch. Need a mechanic/chiropractor!

    Sometimes the Dinobots and Constructicons are presented as rival forces, but this isn't the case. While the Constructicons vs Dinobots was their premier battle, it was never a case of two equal forces colliding. Devestator is the Decepticon escalation to the Dinobots' strength. He was designed to surpass them and has done so in most of their encounters. While later combiners and other adventures would see Devesator made weak by comparison, I'll always see him as a threat that even the Dinobots can't surpass.


    Equestria's unofficial Twister champion!


    Which is where Spike's innovation wins the day. While Rarity talked about her accomplishments and stood alongside Arcee in a fight, Spike gets to demonstrate a more independent style, albeit through Autobot technology. Why the Autobots keep paper books around for translators I don't know, but it is a testament to Spike on how fast he can adapt, and Grimlock acknowledges this. 


    D'aaaaw! Grimlock!

    Pinkie Pie and Gauge

    We've had a sampling of Spike in the Autobot's world, which could explain why Spike seemed so dissonant with his surroundings. Casey W. Coller faces a more difficulty challenge drawing Gauge in the pony world. Not because Gauge looks out of place, but because the setting doesn't match Equestria. Pinkie is drawn with her full stretchible frame, excited expressions and exuberance. Her cooking show set, however, is perfectly straight lines. It looks much like the Ark setting.


    That is a well-kept, balanced, clean environment.

    So not Pinkie Pie!

    Which isn't a surprise given that Coller is likewise a Transformers' artist and is more used to drawing things in a realistic, balanced way. Yet this story calls for slapstick and extreme reactions. While Coller's art adds proper menace to Shockwave, the story itself is much more light-hearted and so the visual and narrative tones clash. 


    Stage Right. Stage Left. Easily confused.


    That's not to say that Coller fails to impress. Having reviewed these comics for a good while, I know how tempting it can be to take shortcuts with pony crowds. Coller renders Pinkie's audience individually, with several noteworthy characters and even recurring background figures. The fight scenes are dynamic and there's even a sense of weight as Shockwave stumbles around his opponent's unconventional assault. 




    At this point you're likely asking, "Who the heck is Gauge"? A fair question. Gauge is the youngest Transformer. I mean that in both a narrative and meta sense. The first part of Gauge's story came out two months ago, and part three is set to release the same day as this comic. Gauge is possibly the last spark to be ignited before the war's start. So much "Gauging the Truth" deals with challenging assumptions, waking up to ugly truths, and finding one's way in life. Because of this, I actually think Pinkie's a tough sell as a story partner.


     Wide-eyed youth indeed.


    Pinkie is very forthright. She knows what she wants and expresses that. She is very clever is literally setting the stage to introduce Gauge to Equestria through a cooking show. Ponies are not good at accepting change. A lone Zebra was enough to send Ponyville into hiding. How would they accept a race of mechanical lifeforms that fell from the sky? By introducing this smaller Autobot in a controlled setting designed to entertain, much of the apprehension is lost.  


    I'm surprised she didn't get this show sooner.


    Sounds like a perfect match, doesn't it? Yet perfection isn't always the best option in storytelling. Gauge is a character who is best used to explore uncertainty, doubt, and questioning assumptions. Somepony as direct as Pinkie doesn't give a lot of opportunity to explore these ideas. Gauge, I think, would be better paired with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. I think the real draw here is expressed in the Retail Incentive cover: Pinkie Pie vs Shockwave.

    Shockwave seems... grate-ful to be here!

    Eh? Eh?

    If you're a long-time fan of the Transformers cartoons, Shockwave is most recognized as one of Megatron's most loyal commanders, boarding on fanatical. He's one of the few Decepticons Megatron can trust to act unsupervised. If you've followed the comics, then Shockwave is one of Megatron's chief rivals. His cold insistence on logic naturally leads him to conclude that he is the ideal leader and should surpass the Decepticons' founder. 


    Double ow.


    In either case, Shockwave is most identifiable by his frozen features. A single eye and an omnipresent weapon. Rarely does he raise his voice or lose composure. He feels more machine than any other Decepticon. I do not think that Shockwave is pure logic as he and likely other fans will insist. There's an element of ego at play. Of course Shockwave would conclude himself the greatest candidate for leadership, or dismiss the harm that Decepticons inflict on other worlds. If it doesn't immediately benefit Shockwave, he can't see any value it in because he acts from the assumption that he is the central figure. In fact, that last IDW storyline featured him trying to compress the entire universe into his own consciousness.


     It's not what he said. It's how he said it.


    Which begs another question: why trade his signature cannon for what appears to be an egg whisk and cheese grater? His intentions are coldly malicious. These pastel ponies are loaded with an energy generically referred to as "magic", so why not see if they can be turned into a fuel source? A grim idea, so I think the story's comical tone is asserting itself to lighten the mood. One could easily have drawn Shockwave throwing several ponies into a sinister-looking blender. 


    He's trying to flip them off.
    Eh? Eh?


    I think the story could have done more to frustrate Shockwave's logic with Pinkie's fourth wall humor. There's a scene where she trips a Decepticon at least five times her size using only one hoof. Shockwave's logic circuits should be on overload from this paradox, but he mostly insists that they just hold still.


    "Logical". A term one never expects to be used around Pinkie Pie.


    After the blending of Arcee and Rarity plus Grimlock and Spike, this story relies more on a dissonance between characters. I don't think it goes far enough to highlight this. Humor is often linked to pain, and nothing is quite so painful or funny as offended pride. Overload Shockwave. Drive him nuts with Pinkie's antics. Perhaps the oddest moment is where Shockwave compliments Pinkie as logical. That alone should be a sign of the end times.


    So, has our beloved Muffin Mare adopted a new daughter?

    One odd aspect to all this is a sense of timing. Gauge and Shockwave imply that they willingly crossed the boundary between universes and had prior knowledge of Equestria. It makes me wonder if travel between these realms will remain an option, even after the series' conclusion. Time will tell.


    Fear of a new lifeform? Mass panic!
    Fear of a bad dish?  You keep watching!

    I highly recommend this issue, mostly for Spike/Grimlock vs the Constructicons more than Pinkie/Gauge vs Shockwave. Both stories involve fights and some slapstick, but I find its the character interactions and bonds that carry the day. Though one final thought occurs.


    Those Changelings must be thinking, "Hey, where's our ride?"

    We know that Chrysalis has at least a few old-school Changelings on her side. They've yet to interfere with any of these stories. Are they saving up for the final battle or will we see them mess with some Autobots in the next few stories? Whatever the case, I'm looking forward to more.


    How does one ask for the bathroom's location in Cybertronian?
    For that matter, how does one describe a bathroom's purpose?!


    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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