Monday, 2 February 2015

Comic review: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic issue #27

IDW My Little Pony comic, issue #27
Andy Price's Cover A is one of this issue's highlights
It's My Little Pony comic review time again, and once more Level Seven did me proud with selling and posting me the thing. With the announcement of April's five villain-tastic Fiendship is Magic comics, the main series will be taking a short breather after the one-shot issue #29. Here, though, we have a new two-issue Cook/Price/Breckel comic arc. Cook especially didn't cover herself in glory with the Western-themed arc last time, so can she and her colleagues produce something a bit more satisfying this time around? Read on, MacDuff!

This time round, the Everfree Forest seems to be attacking Ponville! I was really rather intrigued when I first heard about this storyline, as one of my biggest beefs with the show in recent seasons is the way it's downgraded Everfree to "generic scary wood" rather than exploring its unique nature in Equestrian terms. The synopsis also reminded me somewhat of the S4 premiere, "Princess Twilight Sparkle". So this could have been a fantastic issue. Unfortunately... it wasn't.

I absolutely hate agreeing with 4chan's continual over-the-top whinging about the comic series, but I'm being reluctantly compelled to accept that they have a point when it comes to Katie Cook's writing. Her first few arcs were wonderful, but recently she seems to have become increasingly divorced from canon in her plotlines. This comic isn't as bad as the last arc, with its absurd Twilight, but it's still pretty disappointing. And I don't know who was responsible for lettering Celestia's letter to Twilight, but there are two very obvious typos in there.

Zecora shows the Mane Six what's happening to Ponyville
The only pony here with the right idea is Granny Smith
Andy Price's art, on the other hand, is lovely in this issue, starting with his Cover A and continuing right the way to the final page. (The writing on that last page is another matter.) His ponies aren't always that show-accurate – and his Spike is even less so – but I don't think that matters; they look right in context, and I enjoyed the use of light and shade here with good colouring from Heather Breckel. Price also makes a pretty good job of the deer, especially King Aspen, while the way he uses vines to add to borders is nice.

And now... oh deer. (Sorry. Honest.) This is where the story goes wrong. Everfree has always been represented in canon as governing itself; the idea of a "guardian species" just doesn't sit right with me, especially as the one deer we've previously seen was in a pen as a pet (see "Filli Vanilli"). Worse yet, they come across as the worst kind of sub-Tolkien elves – arrogant, self-centred, borderline racist and living in a very elven palace – while the minotaur running the theme park development has a character more like that of Iron Will: not exactly nice, but not noticeably worse than the deer.

As for the whole theme park thing, all I can say is that "incomers harm traditional land" thing was done with considerably more subtlety in "Over a Barrel" back in S1 of the show. In that, both sides had decent arguments, including among themselves. In this comic, we're beaten over the head with a Ferngully-style ecological message, to the extent that Fun Fun Land even advertises its huge parking lot. (And what vehicles would that be necessary for anyway? Even in Manehattan, there's not much traffic besides cabs.)

King Aspen of the deerfolk
"Shall we take them to Lothl├│rien?"
All right, so now to things I did like. It was nice to see the pegasi treated as something other than background ponies. I liked the way Twilight was confronted by Bramble after her thoughtless destruction of a tree for a bridge. Twi's royal status was used with restraint, and Aspen's angry rejoinder was very well judged. Deer magic being like zebra magic somehow made perfect sense. Clich├ęd as it is these days, Angry!Fluttershy was amusing. Cook's backup plan of Fun Fun Land is, well, fun. And, oh yes, "H(e)art of the Forest" is a nice pun.

I didn't spot a huge number of references in this comic; either Cook has been told to tone them down by Hasbro or she's simply running out of jokes to make, since the reduction from the early issues is very noticeable. I can't work out who Pinkie is channelling on p5 (anyone?) but I did notice Spike reading a Locke & Key comic, another of IDW's properties. So, overall? Better than last time, but frankly that's not a very high bar to clear. Still not as good as it should be for this creative team. I can only hope they click back into gear before long.

Yays
  • The artwork is generally excellent
  • Several nice puns, including a good stealth one
  • It is nice to see deer characters after all this time
  • The pegasi are used better than usual for this team
Neighs
  • The deer are so unlikeable that you don't care for them
  • Breaks with show canon in several respects
  • Horrible spelling errors in Celestia's letter
  • The absurdly sledgehammer green message
★★★ (just)

4 comments:

  1. At least Rainbow Dash wasn't used for comic relief (even if she wasn't used very much in it!) But reading this does make me wonder if Katie Cook needs a brief hiatus to recapture the spark that she had when she was writing soild stories like the Big Mac arc.

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    1. That might be an idea, actually. Give her some drawing to do (cute cover art, maybe?) and go with other writers for maybe four to six months. I re-read the Big Mac arc recently and it was still hilarious. I don't know why, but that spark isn't there any more.

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  2. I didn't mind this issue all that much, certainly compared to the last two, but then that wouldn't have been too difficult all things considered. I wish I knew what had happened where the story writing is concerned. Maybe, as suggested above, Ms Cook has had a lot of work to do on various things and could do with a break working on something else. It just seems like some of the enthusiasm isn't there any more. Where the art is concerned, I've no complaints about that whatsoever. (Well okay, there is the disturbing lack of Pinkie. Is it really asking too much for her to be included at least once in each panel? Exactly.)

    I do think a big part of the problem is something you'd mentioned. When I read the story, the eco message was like being hit over the head with a brick wall. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but the deer characters were just plain unlikeable. If you're trying to get a message across about something like the environment etc, it pays to make the characters in question somewhat more likeable. Otherwise it can backfire pretty badly.

    Ah well... I don't hold out particularly high hopes for the next issue, but hopefully issue 29 will be better and those "villains" issues in April should be a treat!

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  3. To me, a better name for King Aspen would have been King ASSpen, get it? That's how much I hate him here.

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