Thursday, 16 January 2014

Comic review: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic issue 15

IDW MLP:FiM comic #15, cover A
I wasn't bowled over by any of the covers this month, so chose the one with Fluttershy!
Time for a comics-related post! As it happens, the December and full-2013 sales figures are out, but a discussion of those will have to wait a little while. For now, just be reassured that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic remained IDW's best seller last month. This month we have issue #15 of the main series to consider. It's written by Heather Nuhfer, who most will remember as the writer of the Nightmare Rarity arc. The interior art is drawn by Amy Mebberson, who's perhaps better known for her covers but did draw the Celestia micro. Past the break we go, everypony!

It's fair to say that this two-comic mini-arc wasn't being as anticipated as it might have been. I won't spoil too much, but suffice it to say that it's issue #17 that's really got people talking. That won't matter, though, if #15 turns out to be unexpectedly good. And is it? Well... yes and no. There are some really great ideas in here, but some of the writing seems very uneven and I'm not sure the pacing is right. The artwork is up to Mebberson's usual standard (helped by Heather Breckel's consistently fine colours) but doesn't quite pack the punch of the Nightmare Rarity issues.

The plot is a simple but promising one: Twilight's precious library has been invaded by the dreaded bookworms! We've seen her books being damaged before – first by parasprites and then when Discord ate some – but this is a whole new level of threat. Especially as new pods are appearing at a rate of knots. (Pinkie calls them "schmarfelpods"; I have no idea why.) Twilight is not happy about this. For some not entirely explained reason, she can't use magic to sort things out, so it looks as though her library will end up being utterly ruined!

Twilight reacts angrily to the destruction of her books
Twilight has lived in libraries for years, but doesn't defend against bookworms?
This is where things start to go a bit haywire in terms of the comic. Spike suggests going into the books to try to sort things out. A nice idea, but also a very obvious nod to "Power Ponies". I'll admit, my heart sank a bit when I saw that. Still, there's plenty of potential for fun in the ponies acting the parts of fictional characters. Which leads me to the other problem: Daring Do. In this comic, she's clearly just that... but "Power Ponies" came after "Daring Don't", so the Mane Six should know that Daring is in fact real.

An extra layer of trouble is produced when, later in the book, Applejack apparently doesn't recognise the name Ahuizotl. Again, this fails to convince in a post-"Daring Don't" world. When the fictional (probably) Daring later gets pulled out into the real (ditto) Ponyville, things get more confusing... and when Rainbow Dash starts acting the part of Daring within the book world, in a way that reminds us of "Read It and Weep" – when for all the world it looked as though Dashie (not "Dashy", surely?) was doing a self-insert, brains start to fuse.

Enough of that whinge now, though it is unfortunately a major one. The ideas in this book are really very interesting indeed. There are some nice little touches within the stories, such as "Raritunzel" letting herself out of her prison tower with her own long mane. There are some truly terrible puns, such as Twilight playing the part of a "Marey Man". And the bookworm him/itself remains enigmatic and (possibly) dangerous right to the end, giving us a good hook into next month's concluding part.

Rainbow Dash takes on the role of Dashing Do
"*Gasp*" is a rather strange middle name
Most fascinating of all, though, is the sequence near the end of the comic. Here, the bookworm has destroyed so much of the book that the comic's panels, already being eaten away at the edges, become completely white. Pinkie has a hoof erased in this manner, replacing it with an (occupied) shell. She also asks Rainbow if they've "bit the big one", to which Dash replies that it doesn't look like "The Great Beyond". Kudos to Hasbro for approving this: we now know that (at least some) ponies believe in some kind of afterlife.

Oh yes, references. Some nice ones this month, a few of which are quite obscure (the romantic stallion is based on a real-world leading man in Mills & Boon-type fiction) and some of which are much more obvious. That goes particularly for the last few panels, in which we can find the likes of Gandalf, Loki, Sweeney Todd and Voldemort. And a suspiciously Disney-esque evil queen, apparently a fusion of those from Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Oh, and Derpy, thankfully!

I wish I could be kinder about this book, especially given the really interesting ideas and concepts it presents. However, the writing is rather uneven and the pacing seems off: the Mills & Boon segment seems too long; the Daring Do one too short. Getting the continuity to mesh properly with the series seems almost impossible... in which case, why make such a blatant reference to a specific episode? I freely admit that the fact that I didn't much like "Power Ponies" doesn't help either. Buy it, read it... and hope that #16 is more satisfying.

Rainbow and Pinkie Pie in the whiteness
The Element of Loyalty strikes again...

  • The fascinating pony "afterlife" discussion
  • The white panels late on look good
  • The bookworms are potentially interesting
  • Some nice comedy moments near the end
  • Continuity problems re the series
  • The writing seems below Nuhfer's best
  • Occasional problems with the art
  • Fluttershy does virtually nothing of note

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