• Let's Review: Friendship is Magic #100

    This cover says it all. We’re nearing the end of the run, but what a milestone! How many comics can claim to have reached 100 issues?

    So let’s toast this achievement with a story that’s for the birds! We join Rainbow Dash and crew on a trip to Captain Celaeno’s home.

    Check out the full review after the break but take care! Spoilers of a feather flock together!


    A double-sized issue features both the whole story plus a world-building. As such, this story features the combined efforts of artist Andy Price and Brenda Hickey, with Heather Breckel providing colors for Price’s work. There’s a lot to cover here so rather than talk about all the art in one go, let’s break it down as characters appear. Though as an Andy Price work, there’s at least one given. There are going to be a ton of references to motifs like the Watcher Pony and pop-culture references. You’re likely going to re-re-re-read this volume just to spot all the Easter eggs.

    Top of the world, Ma!

    The story within this issue is in a tough spot. As the fourth adventure to a foreign land, experienced readers know how the play-by-play goes. As the penultimate storyline before the finale, there’s a lot of buildup for the final conflict. So one major difficulty is a sense of impatience. “Find the last tree and get to the major conflict”… is what other people might say. Totally.

    But are you willing to replace your divots?
    It's the ambassadorial thing to do.

    I think Jeremy Whitley was aware of this tug-of-war for attention when he set out for this last tree story because a lot of it turns things on their ear. For starters, we don’t need to find the tree. It’s already a central fixture within the Ornithia power structure. There’s some double-humor in that Rainbow was ready to dig up half the kingdom looking for this ancient power, and she’ll still have the opportunity to do so!

    That glowing would become a real eye strain after a while.

    Ornithia may claim the Tree of Love, but its segregated society speaks of something else. Raptors rule the main city. Parrot-types are further down along the mountains. Even Celaeno–who lived in the castle as part of the staff–admits to feeling out of place. Our first shot of the residents shows them casting dirty looks her way. For a place with an active Tree, there’s a great deal of dissonance at work. 

    Seedbucks is for the birds!

    I enjoy how price depicts the residents and royal family, but outside the Hawkman-themed guards there are only two new characters that draw my attention. Like Celaeno, the royal family’s names all harken back to Apollodorus’ recounting of the three harpies and their lineage. The only difference is that the Queen is named Ozomeme rather than Electra, possibly to avoid conflicts with Marvel. As mythological figures, the harpies were beings that served a sole purpose: make the hero fail. They are a purely antaongistic force associated with storm winds. So the names are the only true similarity, as Celaeno’s childhood friend Ocypete is anything but antagonistic.

    She makes it sound so simple.

    Given her plumage and color schem, Ocypete seems based more on a cockatoo than a raptor. She’s the most welcoming and excited of the bunch. Though I find it odd that the art team decided to give her gray feathers. In this world of pastels, it’s rare to see such a monochrome design. Her dress and crown help offset this but I find it an odd mix given her lively personality. There’s also a great deal of history between her and Celaeno. They’re often described as being close as sisters; though we have no flashback. Unlike Capper and Chummer or Zecora’s recollections, we haven’t had a chance to experience this history outside of second-hand accounts.

    Someone is loved when they have many names!

    The second important character is the raven-based Prince Huginn. Another odd naming choice as Huginn is one of the Norse god Odin’s two ravens. Huginn and Muninn would fly all over the world and whisper information directly into Odin’s ear. Though Huginn is immediately suspicious, we’ll quickly learn that he has no intelligence or cleverness. He’s not even smooth as he recuses himself, drawing the scrutiny of Team Dash’s own spies. 

    This was the internet's reaction in 2011.

    Ocypete serves as a kind of narration as she explains the history and purpose behind each of the temples we witnessed. I had thought that lone lit bulb from Zecora’s homecoming story represented Equestria but our favorite ponies are outside of this legend. Instead, the temples are dedicated to the five bonds: Love (Ornithias), Family (Diamond Dogs), History (Farasians), Purpose (Abyssinians), and Patriotism (The Knights). This idea might run parallel to Confucianism and it’s five bonds, which emphasize relationships between both individuals and societies. 

    Ocypete explains it all!

    Heather Breckel’s art for this sections is gorgeous and is so distinct that it really does feel like a fairy tale taking form. This is certainly helped by the texture effect used on several pages, but also the added details. It’s a real treat to see the various species depicted in a unifying art style. It helps make this overall story feel more unified. I also see a theme of wind around the Knights as they seem to breeze across panels. Yet this praise for the Knights feels more like propaganda as the Knights of Harmony are presented as so selfless that it completely conflicts with the idea that they’re season 10’s final antagonists.

    Folks to up and disappear usually aren't the good guys!

    The old saying is that history is written by the winners. I’d like to modify that. “History is written by the winners and questioned by their successors”. This tale presents how the Knight should have been, but after today this legend is going to be under heavy scrutiny. 

    Hello, Watcher Pony. Good to see–
    Is that Spike?

    I’d like to pause here to study the aspect of this Tree of Love. Unlike the other Trees and their identically-themed elements, this Tree only shares Kindness and Generosity. Protection, Trust, Perseverance, and Hope are unique. At first this seemed to break up the predictable nature of the various Trees, just as having the Tree already active breaks with the rhythm we’ve witness. Yet when I think about Ornithian society, along with some information that will be revealed as Celaeno and Ocypete talk, I would argue this tree and the structure around it are the weakest so far. 

    I get the sense Price is very proud of Reflections.

    The premise is that the Tree of Love will not reach full power unless represented by three couples that match the various Elements. Thus the power behind the monarchy relies on them being able to literally fill the seats to the point where this arranged marriage for Ocypete is completely lacking any genuine feelings. King Thaumas tried to embody protection by bribing Celaeno to leave, so long as she stayed well away from his daughter.

    Admit it. How many of us could durn down a ship bribe?

    Even the legend states that the ruling class made no effort to reach out as the lights started to go out. No concern for other creatures who at least shared on bond under the Elements. Instead, they sought isolation and took the opportunity to put physical distance between the various birds. All of this seems to twist the Tree’s theme into something selfish.

    The closest we'll get to an overt declaration!

    Consider what happened with the other Trees. First we would witness a healing of a relationship between broken parties, follow by the Tree’s activation which mended a larger wound in the land. The Farasian Shore reclaimed water. Abyssinia received magic again. The Diamond Dogs’ home did not fall to a quake. In Ornithia, the Tree is in almost-full splendor but the society is heavily segregated and even the ruling family seems to not care so long as they’re all paired up. There’s no call for the love of the leadership to expand to the public. No call to be a better people at all. It’s no wonder this Kingdom has been targeted. It’s the most vulnerable.

    What is it with this universe and
    disasters at weddings?

    The treachery reveals itself as we follow the two agents of S.M.I.L.E. This is Lyra and Sweetie Drops’ chance to show their dynamic and comedy. Lyra has been very blunt about her role, even telling Spitfire that they’re off to do spy stuff. While Sweetie Drops may be more professional and experienced, it’s pretty fun to see them sneaking their way with equal lack of subtlty. Sadly this is their one chance to shine as they’re discovered and the whole group is in turn captured.

    Bond would be proud.

    Thus is Celaeno’s time to shine as she rescues the team from her own crashing ship. Apparently, she ferried this group solo as her crew is nowhere in this story. I don’t know why other than the very meta answer of having too many characters in addition to these new introductions. But this is now two ships Celaeno has lost in service to Equestria. Here’s hoping Twilight compensates her for the ship. We get to see Celaeno thinking under pressure, exhibiting great courage and strength, prioritizing, and even having faith in her ship that it will hold together. In essence, we are witnessing Kindness, Generosity, Protection, Trust, Perseverance, and Hope all in one character. 

    This ties back into the flaw with Ornithian society. Instead of inspiring these traits in all, the ruling class has made them exclusive. 

    Three-talon discount on thrones!

    Sadly, Spitfire’s time to shine is acting in tandem with Rainbow Dash. She joins the unfortunate ranks of Rockhoof, Big Mac, and Pinkie Pie as the least prominent members of the team. That’s not to say she’s worthless as a teammate but there’s not a moment where I can say that we get to see Spitfire’s truest character on display. I’d argue that title still belongs to Friends Forever #11. Yet Spitfire’s efforts help set the stage for Celaeno to confront the false prince and establish herself as the Element of Perseverance.

    Don't fight the shipping!

    Given all we know about the setup around the Tree of Love, this news is a clear signal. Celaeno and Ocypete weren’t just as close as sisters. If they survive all this, Calaeno will be trading the pirate’s life for being a new member of the royal family. And for all the quiet attempts to keep her distant, there’s no way the King and Queen can resist this while keeping face or maintaining their strongest defense.

    Missed chance to have "Heart"!

    Yet I’m frustrated because this feels like a hurried development. I barely know Celaeno beyond her appearance in the movie and her role in the Prequel comics. It’s a strange aspect of being a pirate. I don’t wonder about their original culture because the very act of piracy separates one from the larger society. It’s a different life and rule set. I never gave much thought to her origins because life as a pirate seemed more of a hard reset. Now add to that we just met Ocypete in this double-sized issue with only one meeting/argument as clear interaction. Shipping a journey, and this Tree of Love seems like the ultimate speed dating app. I’m not at all against this relationship and I wish we could have invested more time into getting to know them as individuals and as a potential couple. 

    I want that cummerbund!

    Time is in short supply both within the story and within the comic’s run. Because the ultimate reveal here is not another Tree of Harmony but the first Knight of Harmony. Princess Ceridwen bears a name from Celtic mythology. Described as either a goddess or a sorceress, she holds the power of transformation and rebirth; able to inspire beauty in others. Yet as I look at this being I get more of an Aztec esthetic. Equal parts bird and serpent, but also possessing powers of transformation. She truth-bombs quite a few facts; including that the new Knights hold a grudge against Equestria and are on their way to destroy it.

    Hello, new antagonist!

    So now the focus shifts not only to Rainbow Dash but an emergency return to Canterlot. Dash has to leave behind all her friends to take care of their home. In a way, she’s facing another test of loyalty similar to the season 2 premier. She shows a greater presence of mind now as she makes sure to bring back a tablet hinting at the varied crossword forms for each Knight. 

    I come away from this comic anticipating the final two-parter, but also frustrated. Ornithia featured many interesting ideas. A society built around an ideal that has become selfish. A strafed society that is going to be challenged by Ocypete and Celaeno’s union. Could these two change the place for the better or would the royal family try to maintain the status quo and make Celaeno a token. There’s a lot ripe story potential there but we have to drop it in order to hurry back for the final conflict. 

    Price is a Trekkie. How could you not expect this?

    There is a fun Katie Cook one-shot as well. A little jab at the patience lesson the Cutie Mark Crusaders have had to learn. It’s fun and light-hearted. Nothing too deep but good for a chuckle.

    She got to dig some holes after all!

    This is the 100th issue. A milestone for any series. I don’t think any of you need my recommendation to get it. Instead I ask that you allow your mind to go back to Ornithia and think about what could change. We don’t see the same resolution as we did in other lands, but that doesn’t mean change is denied. This is a watershed moment for several cultures, and I think that’s always worth considering. After all, good storytelling asks how these events shape the future. 

    Those two gotta work on their tans for their own wedding!

    I’m Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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