Monday, 14 April 2014

Comic review: MLP Friends Forever #4: Twilight & Shining Armor

MLP: Friends Forever comic, regular (A) cover
Clearly ascension to alicornhood also bestows the gift of dancing ability
All right, then: it's time for My Little Pony! What do you mean, it's always time for My Little Pony? You're right, though... here we (well, I) present a review of the fourth in the Friends Forever series. This comic gives us the sibling team-up of Twilight and Shining Armor. Rob Anderson's only previous outing was the reasonable but not brilliant Spike micro, but both Amy Mebberson and Heather Breckel have lots of past Pony. After the break, let's see whether this latest FF issue does the job.

This was an interesting choice for a pairing; after all, we know that Twylie (as her nickname is inexplicably spelt throughout) and Shiny were very close as foals; we know they still care deeply for one another; we know that Twi was devastated when she upset her brother during "A Canterlot Wedding" – but we haven't seen much of them interacting in their present statuses. Now, in what may or may not be a conscious echo of Twi's intention to spend time with Cadance in "Three's a Crowd", Ponyville's Princess is off to the Crystal Empire for a holiday.

Naturally, things aren't quite as simple as all that. Shiny is being kept so busy by his advisors that he can't even get away to meet his sister at the station; this does not go down well, unsurprisingly given what happened the last time he didn't tell her about something in pony! Instead, she's met by a couple of ponies who are apparently based on Mystery Science Theater 3000 characters. Amy Mebberson seems to really like this series, as there's also a pony based on Dr. Forrester. I'm not a big MST3K fan myself, so meh.

Castle advisors invade Twilight's bedroom
It's-a me, Mare-io! Except that I'm a stallion. But never mind
We're then introduced to a couple of plumber ponies who wear red and green, have moustaches and have a green pipe and a mushroom as their cutie marks. Not the most subtle references the comics have ever done, but never mind. That's followed by a truly lovely sepia-toned flashback to filly Twilight and her presumably recently-cutie-marked brother hunting for wood sprites and ending up running from a cave. (Nice namecheck for quarray eels there, as well as a brief foreshadowing mention of this comic's "monster".)

One panel suggests that something is making off with books! After a boring fart joke (aren't they all?) involving the Mario ponies, Twilight wakes up to find half of Shining Armor's advisory staff standing around her bed. Gee, guys, I know privacy issues are a bit different in a world where hardly anypony wears clothes, but come on. Another MST3K character (Dr. Forrester, green-framed glasses and all) is one of these advisors. They all run away when Crystal Ghosts are mentioned – except for Lexicon; after all, books are not only missing, they're overdue!

And now, of course, it's time for the Monster Trackers to get back together! Shining Armor and Twilight have some wonderful B.B.B.F.F. (and L.S.B.F.F., I guess!) moments in this section that really can't help but prompt a smile. They're having fun, and at times they behave (consciously, I'm sure) like little kids again. They're quite reminiscent of the CMC in some ways. However, it turns out that the castle cellars hold some real dangers... traps installed long ago by none other than King Sombra!

Young Twilight and Shining Armor in a flashback
"Also, Daring Do wants these helmets back later on"
No, Sombra doesn't actually appear in this comic, but it is nice to see that criminally underused villain's character fleshed out just a little bit. There's also an amusing nod to the "lots and lots of stairs" in "The Crystal Empire, part 2" when Shining Armor comments on how the steps they're descending must have been installed by the possibly-late unicorn dictator. (It's probably easier descending stone staircases when you have magic horns and don't need to carry a light source!)

The Crystal Ghost himself turns out to be... odd. I rather like his backstory: he's really a Crystal Bard and was captured by King Sombra long ago. Treated as a pet, he was forced (rather weirdly) to read stories to the tyrant monarch. However, one day he accidentally discovered a secret passage, snapped his chain and disappeared into the caved under the castle. He's been there ever since, having learned to avoid Sombra's mazes and traps and taking books to keep himself going. And now he's free.

There's no real problem with all of this, and it's nice that the guy is given a job in the castle library at the end. But the notion of an apparently scary monster who is in fact simply hoping for a way out through books is just too similar to the Bookworm arc in main-series issues #15 and #16. I'm also disappointed that he's never actually given a name. Okay, maybe Crystal Bards don't have one: then tell us! Finally, I'm not really sure about his design: it's certainly different, but it might be a bit too different.

Twilight and her B.B.B.F.F. descend into the caves
"But it might just be Rainbow Dash's stomach again"
Friends Forever #4 is a pretty solid comic, and it's impossible to dislike an issue that gives us a pony with a dead-parrot cutie mark doing a silly walk. I don't think it's quite as good as its predecessor, but it's perfectly readable and Twi and Shiny's interaction is immensely likable. As with the FF series in general so far, it feels as though it's going for a slightly younger audience; this isn't a bad thing exactly, but it does mean it doesn't really feel like a continuation of the micros. Recommended hugely for Twi/Shiny fans. Still recommended, but less hugely, for everyone else.

  • Twilight and Shining Armor have a really cute sibling relationship
  • The even cuter sepia-toned foal flashback scene
  • King Sombra returns from beyond the grave (sort of...)
  • Cave trolls! Ogres and Oubliettes! Flugelhorns!
  • That dead parrot reference...
  • We've seen too much of the "monster"/books concept before
  • Lexicon is a little underused (compare Kibitz in the Luna micro)
  • Fart jokes still aren't funny
  • "Twilie"? "Twilie"???

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