• Let's Review: Friendship is Magic #90


    Zecora's awkward homecoming continues! We get to learn more about her past, realize the threat in the present, and see how the future might unfold. Plus, Tempest might be suffering a villainous relapse.


    All this and more (plus some spoilers) after the break!


    Last month left us hanging with mysteries about Zecora's history and why she was so adamant against returning. There's no preamble or recap this time around, just diving straight into her persepective told through a golden-age comics homage.


    A callback to Zecora's first appearance?

    By that same notion, I'll be holding off on talking about the art until later as much of this issue revolves around character design while still keeping to Andy Price's style. Though of note is that Price's usual background references seem to be reduced. Likely because this issue is taking a more serious tone. That doesn't completely omit them, of course. 


    Not sure if I'm releived or sorry that's not
    "Uhura's House of Feather Fans".

    We get a point-counterpoint view from both Zecora and Marini. Both stories take the perspective where the POV character is the offended and rejected party. Yet I would argue all this can be traced back to one fact. These characters had a terrible teacher.


    "Remember, class, most of you are mundane!"
    I do not like this lady, even though I really like her mane!

    There are only two instances where a character would use, "as we all know". One being an obvious signal for incoming exposition. The second being a terribly condescending attitude that's really saying, "Everyone else knows this. Why don't you?" This unnamed teacher is basically telling her class that you're either born special or you're not. It's not that surprising that Zecora would push back against this.



    I guarantee that one of them is getting an "F" by the test's end. Maybe followed by a "U".

    Equally disappointing but more understandable is her friends' lack of support. Being younger and less experienced, it's seems natural that they wouldn't encourage a friend on what seems like a crazy endeavor. Marini's emphasis on Zecora's withdrawal from the group really highlights the cost that can come with such dedication. At the same time, Zecora's hurt feelings at this betrayal–especially Crystal's actions–makes it clear why she was so upset to return home. That's not to say her outburst against Applejack was justified, but it can be understandable. 


    Well, she's upset now.
    Fraid your strategy backfired!

    It is worth noting that despite the teacher's approach, the magically-gifted members of this troupe still look to the "normal" zebra Marini for leadership. I'd see this as them rising above their teacher's bad lessons. Yet above all this new information is challenging what we assumed about Zecora.   




    Being the only zebra we witnessed, many fans naturally assumed she represented the norm. This story is putting forth the idea that Zecora is the odd one out in both cultures. Folks asked last issue why she was more upset about returning home than she was when Twilight and friends accused her of being an evil enchantress. I think it's because Zecora has grown used to having others make assumptions about her, but having to go back and face those she viewed as betrayers was something for which she hadn't prepared. 


    "If looks could kill" indeed!

    We don't yet witness a reconciliation, and I'm curious to know more about these individuals. Especially Crystal, who seems to have a far nastier streak than the others. 


    This is doubly-cruel. A violent act on its own,
    but it's also flaunting the magic Zecora envies.

    However, this will have to wait as we're introduced to the external conflict: the Grootslang. I knew about this creature in mythology before the IDW solicitation, so I was eager to see how Whitley and Price would present it. Odds are you've come across something bearing the Grootslang name in entertainment, from Final Fantasy to The Secret Saturdays. However, these entries only emphasize the physical aspect. The Grootslang is meant to be a creature combining aspects of an elephant and a snake. Some artists emphasize the elephant and others the serpent. 

    Behold the many faces of Grootslang!
    Odds are some of you have killed some rendition herein.

    What often goes unremarked is the creature's origin. New to this thing called "creation", the gods screwed up royal when they crafted a being of strength, cunning, and intellect. The Grootslang is as old as the world and is a terrible, cruel creature based on sadism and greed. It is creation gone wrong. A being so malicious that there's no hope of it fitting into the natural world. What a perfect villain for a fantasy world based around friendship.


    "I am Grootslang!"
    Had to be done.

    The Grootslang we see here doesn't seem to carry many elephant elements. Perhaps the frills around its head could be inspired by an elephant's ears, as other cryptid enthusiasts have suggested. Instead, its serpentine aspects are enhanced with draconic traits, including forelimbs and claws. Yet the malice is on full display as it attacks town after town. This isn't a hunter looking for food. It's attacking just to inflict harm.


    Childhood trauma!
    Have fun, kids!

    While Applejack and the others have served as mostly comedic relief for this issue, it's here that they become moral support for Zecora. Tempest was particularly funny as she's still studying landscapes from the eye of a conqueror. Yet I think from here on the focus will be on Zecora's former friends and their shifting perspectives. Seeing Zecora wield magic flies in the face of not only their history, but their beliefs. Yet it's with Grootslang's temporary defeat that we start hitting some familiar territory. 


    Zecora's aggression just leveled up.

    I mistakenly thought that "The Four Kings" from last issue were the Abada and Kelpie characters, but not so. It seems that the rulers in this part of the land feature greater physical stature, just as Equestria's princesses tower over their charges. The parallels between Prince Abraxas and Princess Celestia are pretty apparent, right down to the regalia and flame motif. I'm not sure if his violet stripes are a nod to Twilight as well, though I appreciate the inclusion of a dashiki/kitenge design to emphasize Abraxas' own style.


    The necklace works but I'm not sold on the crown.

    However, Abraxas is both a contradiction that needs exploration and a hint of things to come. Starting with the latter, we know from solicitations that this won't be the only parallel between Equestria and the Farasian Shores. There are strengths and weaknesses to such a presentation. 


    Whoa. Dude has got verticality!


    When I first read about Twilight's plan, I considered the most cynical interpretation. That the enlightened ponies would be bringing their insight to the dark, wild parts of the world. The similarities we witness here shatter that interpretation. It's clear that the Farasian Shore is Equestria's peer, with its own developments, beliefs, faults, and strengths. In that way, these parallels can be comforting.


    Zecora and Shining Armor host a LARPing session!
    Who's with me?


    From an entertainment aspect, however, this runs the risk of losing readers. Once we begin to see the template at work, the expression loses interest. It's harder to view Arbraxas as his own character if we think of him as a Celestia proxy. Since "Abraxas" is the name of a Egyptian and Persian sun god (along with many other interpretations), it's easy to assume that there is a moon-themed king out there. Likely with a name similar to the moon god Khonsu. This can be fun to imagine, but at the same time one realizes that we're building off Equestria's model with a different character set. 


    "I bet I can whip the Prince twice as fast
    as I did Celestia."
    "Lady, you are headed for a time-out!"


    Abraxas also serves as a contradiction to Zecora's past conflicts. The central premise is that Zebras cannot wield magic; yet here we have a flame-cloaked zebra casting off bursts of light. Immediately this seems to go against what we've been told. Thinking on this, there are some explanations. Perhaps the magic is part of the King's regalia. Or it's a power bestowed upon the King rather than something with which he's born.


    Some folks compare young Zecora to Twilight.
    I would sooner compare her to Moondancer.


    In both cases, one should ask why Zecora didn't seek this path instead. If wielding magic is her goal, then she would surely look to the kings as inspiration. This issue does a lot to solidify her character, but it's her presentation within the show that provides an answer. While a fantastic advisor, Zecora has never sought to take command of a situation. She was wise enough to know that she wanted to practice magic without taking responsibility for the land and its residents. 


    "Abraxas help us."
    "Celestia help us."
    I shall continue to hold out for the Flying Spaghetti Monster!


    Likely she won't be taking command of this party either. Despite the teacher's lessons, the group dynamic isn't based on natural ability. Marini is both the group leader and town mayor based on the qualities she's developed. Hopefully we'll get to learn more about her and the others as this quest against the Grootslang unfolds. As of right now, Crystal seems the most interesting character as she's established to have an aggressive, antagonistic streak of which even her friends weren't aware.


    Oh Medley Brook, you are far too innocent for this world.

    The struggle with a second issue in a four-part arc is that it doesn't have a solid role. Tension is building, but hasn't reached its peak. Characters are teased, but not fully expressed. Actions begin, but are not yet fulfilled. In essence, the second issue is one big "wait for it" moment. 


    Young Zecora! I demand that you say the 
    three words before reading that book on the bottom!

    So we've gained some insight into Zecora's past and how she came to be the reclusive sage we know. We understand a little more of the conflicts that shaped her. I don't think seeing the past from Marini's perspective has reconciled the two groups, so that's something to anticipate.

    Older Zecora! If you frown any harder
    your face will invert!

    Going over this comic I find I'm wavering between interest and frustration. How much of this new setting will be unique and how much will be a parallel to Equestria? Nothing is yet solidified so I'm eager to see the next part. Until then, I feel the need to look up if there are any gods of Love or Friendship. 


    To be fair, she's at least 2/3 correct on this one.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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