Thursday, 23 January 2014

Comic review: MLP Friends Forever #1: Pinkie Pie & Applejack

MLP:FF #1, sub cover by Andy Price
Andy Price's sub cover is brilliant. What might have been...
Last month, the My Little Pony Micro-series came to an end with the excellent Luna issue. This month, we see the release of the first in a new series: Friends Forever. From what we saw in the lead-up, this looked like being a team-up comic, an idea which was very favourably received by the fandom. The first issue is a jump into the unknown with writer, artist and colourists (yes, plural) being entirely new to Pony comics. After the break, I'll tell you if it was the smash hit we hoped it would be.

Well... no. It's not. At all. I hate being harsh on an IDW comic, because they've given us so much since late 2012, but this one just isn't up to scratch. Despite both writer and artist being experienced and accomplished professionals, they've misjudged this badly. I'll go into a bit more detail in a minute, but the overall impression is of a comic aimed at young kids. Doesn't work, I'm afraid, because the IDW comics have been going long enough now that nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition a kiddie comic.

Let's start with the interior art. It reminds me a bit of the The Magic Begins book, which consists of show screenshots with speech bubbles added. The only other IDW comic that came close to doing that was the very first micro, Twilight's – and I didn't like it then, either. There are things I like in here, such as some of the supporting characters (Jumbo Don, Blade Sparxx, the buffalo and griffon) but they're outweighed. Summer van der Hoof is particularly bad: she really does look like a Fluttershy recolour.

Applejack and Pinkie Pie
"I'm thinking it's time we got out of this comic."
As for the story, it's... well, it's not at all what I'd expected. I was imagining some hi-jinks revolving around Pinkie Pie and Applejack having a good-natured rivalry as to who was the best baker. Instead we get a Great Equestrian Bake Off TV show. Pinkie and AJ are themselves almost reduced to supporting pony role at times, something which probably comes down to there just being too many characters. The pacing is weird, too: most of the last six pages seem as though they came from a backup story rather than the main tale.

The comic has a principal antagonist, who is a pony by the name of Marine Sandwich, who bizarrely has an interrobang cutie mark. One of the main points of the story is a mistaken-identity plotline involving her and AJ. This doesn't really convince, being trivially easy to have sorted out. Almost throughout, Marine gives off a worrying "Cupcakes" vibe, going so far as to use lines like "You will become my latest masterpiece!" She even has a decidedly Pinkamena-esque mane and facial expressions and goes completely insane near the end. Maybe she's actually The Mane-iac from "Power Ponies"!

The other main newcomer is Toffee Truffle, who explains that the restaurant she once ran – the Cherry Pit in Dodge City – has closed down. This news comes as quite a blow to Applejack, who was apparently a fan while she was off visiting family there. She and Pinkie decide, in a sequence utilising a sledgehammer Pinky and the Brain reference, to try to lose so that Toffee can win. On the plus side, we then get to see some scenes from the baking contest, which are quite nicely done snapshots. The colouring and (especially) lettering do have their moments.

Marine Sandwich goes on the rampage
Nah: Pinkie could just eat her way out
This is not as full of references and memes as the average Cook/Price/Breckel comic, or indeed as Rainbow Dash's micro. There are some, but not many. There's the aforementioned Pinky and the Brain reference: that could have been kept in but done a lot more subtly. I didn't get the Milk & Cheese reference until someone pointed it out. I did like the in-series continuity to the Z&R Party Cannon from Pinkie's own micro. A special place in Tartarus, though, for whoever thought :D was suitable for an actual speech bubble. Seriously.

The colouring is not up to Heather Breckel's standard. In fact, it just looks sloppy in places. I did try to make myself believe that it was a deliberate style – but if it is, then I'm not sure it's any better to try to look sloppy. For example, look at the top of page 5, where Summer van der Shy Hoof introduces herself. Just outside the bottom right of her ear is a small blob of yellow that shouldn't be there. It's not the only error of its kind, either. In fact, there are more on that page alone. I don't know why two colourists were employed, but it didn't work.

There's no point in a review if the reviewer isn't honest, so I'm not going to beat around the bush: this is my least favourite of all the IDW comics so far. It comes below the likes of the Twilight micro, for example. There's the germ of an entertaining story in here, but it's not realised very well. Carla Speed McNeil is not a bad artist, but then neither is Jill Thompson, who did the poorly-received subscription cover for the very first main-series issue. It would seem that all concerned simply had an off day here. Buy this one for the covers first and foremost.

Marine makes an entrance at the judging
I have to admit, I do like the griffon and buffalo characters
Yays
  • It's nice to see buffalo and griffon representatives
  • Some of the lettering is fun, bold and inventive
  • Standard, RI and Sub covers (in ascending order) are good
Neighs
  • The main art style just doesn't work for me
  • Summer van der Hoof's Fluttershy origins are distracting
  • A startling number of apparent colouring errors
  • Pacing is very strange, almost grinding to a halt late on
  • Marine Sandwich verges on "Cupcakes" territory
  • That smiley. No. Just no
4/10

6 comments:

  1. Unfortunately I think IDW let themselves down very badly here. I'd have to agree with this review, but personally I doubt I'd have given it more than 3 out of 10. The story as you said appears to be aimed at squarely at young children, and the whole point of the IDW comics was to provide stories that leaned more towards the teen fans and adult fans. The colouring just seems to vary from garish to faded, and just looks a mess. And the story seems very stilted and - while not difficult to follow where the storyline is concerned of course - it just doesn't *read* well. Like when a poem doesn't scan properly.

    Carla Speed McNeil IS a good artist, but clearly isn't cut out for pony art. Her artwork in Finder and in Bad Houses ( http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-woMoBa20KgI/UsYyurh5z1I/AAAAAAAABgs/TmklYnf_skw/s1600/badhouseconflict.jpg ) is perfectly good enough, but it seems she's better at humans than ponies. (The same could be said of Jill Thompson. She did some extremely good art in the Sandman books, but the MLP cover just didn't do it for me at all. And yet she drew this Sandman based pony which seemed perfectly okay - http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m6e4uaI5Ub1r0dt51o1_500.jpg )

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    1. I hesitated quite a lot over the final mark for this one. On UKoE my first choice was 5/10, but that was certainly too generous. Possibly even 4/10 is, but I *did* like a few things so I thought I'd give it credit for that. It's a shame in some ways, but I doubt we'll see this creative team working on Pony again. We've never seen Jill Thompson do another cover, after all.

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  2. Marine does look like a recolored Pinkamena, and oh boy...I do NOT like Cupcakes (never read it, never plan to).

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    1. Cupcakes is not actually quite as bad on that score as it's sometimes made out to be. I don't like it, and it's not very well written, but for a gorefic it's relatively tame. You're not really missing anything by not having read it, though.

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  3. Thanks for letting me know your thoughts :) I didn't know it wasn't that graphic...

    Pinkie is my favorite of the Mane Six (along with Twilight), but I don't like it when fans portray her like that...

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    1. I think a lot of people only think of the silly, random aspects of Pinkie's character, which is unfair as she's a more complex pony than that. "Pinkie Pride" is a good example -- she was really hurt when her friends abandoned her for Cheese Sandwich, but she didn't want them to be upset so she covered it up. (That scene with Twilight just before "Pinkie's Lament" is heartbreaking.)

      But this comic? Yeah, reading this review again, I was too kind. This is the worst IDW MLP comic ever published.

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