Thursday, 21 February 2013

Review: MLP:FiM Micro Series issue #1: Twilight Sparkle

Cover A by Thom Zahler
Cover A, by some distance the best of the regular covers
I've been in two minds about the Micro Series of IDW's My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic comic for some while. Given the stellar quality of the main comic so far, could the spin-offs be anything other than a disappointment? For whatever reason (weather-related shipping delays have been suggested) Thom Zahler's debut, concentrating on Twilight, hasn't yet arrived on the shores of Blighty, so I bit the bullet and ordered this one from Comixology. I don't much like reading on a screen, but it only cost me £2.66. Was the comic worth it, though? Come with me past the jump to find out...

First up, there's no getting away from the fact that Zahler's artwork looks very different from that of Andy Price. It's rather closer to the show's own style, in that shading is flatter, expressions are more limited and characters' outlines are coloured rather than black. It certainly isn't as detailed and complex as Price's, and I'm not as much of a fan as I am of his work, though it's certainly not objectionable. This is rather more what I'd expect "a My Little Pony comic" to look like if I didn't know anything at all about IDW's main series.

The story, also by Zahler, is a fairly simple one, even by one-shot standards, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The comic's blurb is unfortunately misleading, talking about Twilight going on a "quest". She doesn't; she actually spends the great majority of the comic working in a library. I'd guessed the main "secret" — that "Summer Mane" is in fact reclusive author Jade Singer in disguise — long before the end, but then Twilight had done so as well. Again, this is like the show: the ending is predictable; the fun comes in the ride to get there.

Celestia gives Twilight her task
At least, it would look like the show with an actual background...
Detailed characterisation is limited to Twilight and Mane/Singer; Spike does appear for the first few pages, but is swiftly jettisoned, while Celestia has a couple of short appearances as well. The Princess's own revelation that she used to be Mane/Singer's friend is squashed in right at the very end, and I didn't feel that was done as smoothly as it might have been. Both Celestia and Spike use Twilight's full name more than I think they really would do, but on the whole Twi seems pretty well in character.

One really major difference between this comic and the main story arc is that the Micro Series instalment is nowhere near as dark. In issue #3 in particular, the main series has some moments that are really quite grim, especially considering the main target demographic of Friendship is Magic itself. The worst we get here is when Mane/Singer decides to send Twilight home; obviously it's not exactly a happy scene, but it's a world away from some of the things Chrysalis has been up to in the main comics.

Zahler has fun with literary puns and allusions, and some of them work very well. Jade Singer is the reclusive author of Canter in the Sky, for example, and one book shown is a guide to the Marble Universe; this was the joke I laughed most at. On the other hand, the extended gag about Mane/Singer getting Twilight's name wrong in a variety of different ways ("Try-right") does start to grate eventually. The relative lack of detail in the art also precludes some of the brilliant background jokes that Price includes in his own panels.

The librarian's true identity is unmasked
You'd think Twilight would like old-fashioned music
You can't really avoid comparing this to the first issue of the main series, and in my view there's no contest: it's not as good. That's not to say that Twilight Sparkle is terrible, since it's not. It presents us with a solid story, competently told and illustrated in a way that (once you get used to it) provides an ambiance not too far removed from that of the TV show. But maybe that's the problem: Zahler is putting the show on the page. Price and Cook have taken it that extra step further, and this first Micro Series comic can't compete. It's... quite good.

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