Thursday, June 6, 2013

Comics Reviews: MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #1-#4 (IDW, November 2012-February 2013)

It took a while, but I've finally managed to read the first four-issue story arc of IDW's MLP:FIM comic. Long story short: while the animated series (or, should I say, the ten or so episodes that I've watched thus far) is very good, the comic is very, VERY good.  The hardcore MLP:FIM fans have a good three years' head start on me, so there's no way that I'm ever going to be anything more than a "fellow galloper" in their bubbly little world.  But concentrating on the comic series appears to be a reasonable option, primarily because the creative team is wisely targeting the book to as wide an audience as it can manage.  If the IDW title stays on its present course, then I don't think that I'll need to master X-MEN-style deluges of detail in order to get the gist of what is going on.

Artistically speaking, the MLP:FIM title works because the artists (Andy Price, in this first story arc) have found a successful "middle ground" between the flat, stylized, two-dimensional look of the TV show and the solider, more three-dimensional look that is required in order to make the characters seem more "real" on paper.  Now, admittedly, the Colorforms aesthetic has some distinct advantages, especially when the characters are as well designed as these.  If you're clever enough and your animators and designers are skilled enough, then the stylized approach can make for some arresting visuals.  For example, which of the following images is more effective at getting across the onset of an outburst of insanity?

Sorry, Scrooge, but Twilight Sparkle has you beaten here.  However, as funny as the poses in the animated MLP:FIM can be, I don't think that they would transfer all that well to a comic-book story, in which (and note that this is a personal preference -- YMMV) I have to be given some sort of aesthetic reason to believe in the reality of the characters.  The creators at Bongo Comics managed to turn the difficult trick of rendering Matt Groening's semi-abstract characters into acceptable comic-book form, but the MLP:FIM characters and settings are far more elaborate; simply replicating the look of the series would give the comic book the appearance of fancy wallpaper.  Price and the other artists working on the title solved the dilemma by altering the templates of the characters just enough to allow for more flexibility of expression (in terms of the eyes and mouth, mostly) and to make three-dimensional renditions of the characters possible without lunging way off model.  For all the attractiveness of the series, I actually prefer the comic-book appearances of the characters; I only wish that the kaboom! versions of the Disney TV characters had been this consistently good.

Katie Cook's script for the first story arc mirrors the artwork; in terms of wit and cleverness, it's a step up from the already-impressive writing for the TV series.  The ongoing byplay among the "mane 6" pony heroines is the highlight, of course, but Cook adds significantly to the fun by giving the villainess of the piece, the evil Changeling Queen Chrysalis, a bit more of a humorous edge.  There is a certain danger in this, of course, in that a wisecracking villain can quickly lose credibility if there is insufficient menace to balance the equation, and I think that Cook gets close to crossing the line on a couple of occasions here.  The comic script also resembles a number of the animated stories I've viewed in that, for all the bells and whistles, the underlying plot is really rather elementary.  But, on balance, these first four issues were truly a pleasure to read.

On to the individual issues...



Did you realize that MLP:FIM #1 was published under NINETEEN (!!) different covers?  Yes, I still have issues with the whole multiple-cover scheme, and I would have even if the six "pony solo" covers had been the only ones issued.  The book is already selling incredibly well, and artificially goosing the sales with gimmicks like this seems like opportunism of the highest order.

Anyway... Queen Chrysalis' Changelings are back after their defeat in the TV two-parter "A Canterlot Wedding," once again seeking to suck souls and leech off of others' happiness.  But wait, there's more... Chrysalis has an even more devious plan in mind and intends to use the three "Cutie Mark Crusaders" as bait to lure the six major heroines to her lair.  For the uninitiated, the "Crusaders" are three little ponies who have yet to determine their passions in life and thereby earn their "Cutie Marks."  You can imagine how such youthful sincerity might turn an evil queen's stomach... and, in fact, Chrysalis' increasing impatience with the girls is one of the arc's comedic highlights.

In #2, the "mane 6" go all "There and Back Again" on us as they embark on a quest to Queen Chrysalis' realm.  We even get some possible shoutouts to Gummi Bears in the form of a cave troll with a fetish for ponies and some decidedly goofy-looking arachnids.  Changelings try to sow confusion by disguising themselves as members of the "mane 6" and trying to turn our heroines against one another... and, completely forgetting that the Changelings had done just that in their first encounter, the "mane 6" fall for it hook, line, and sinker.  Given the series' constant harping on the importance of sticking together in friendship, you'll forgive me if I didn't find this contrived conflict to be all that convincing.  Surely one of our heroines should have tumbled to the possibility that such out-of-character behavior was a hoax?

#3 starts with some jet-black humor as we learn in flashback what happened to Chrysalis and her Changelings after they were literally blown out of Equestria: they landed in "Wuvy-Duvy Smoochy Land," inhabited by mindlessly loving little cats.  The place, of course, became the Changeling Kingdom in short order.  Chrysalis later ups the ante by smooshing one of the poor kitties right in front of the horrified "Cutie Mark Crusaders."  And Darkwing Duck fans thought that the "Cute Little Lost Bunnies" were a harsh dig at the Care Bears.  The "mane 6" spend most of the issue making up with one another, that is, when they're not fighting carnivorous jackalopes and petunias.  It reads better than it sounds.  An amusing framing sequence features Spike, the ponies' baby dragon friend and helper, hyping the action in the manner of a carnival barker.

The "Power of Friendship" conquers all!  Queen Chrysalis plans to drain Twilight Sparkle of her magic with the help of a celestial conjunction caused by the "Secretariat Comet."  (Insert "it's not Saturday, it's Friday") joke here.  Better yet, she'll drain Twilight of her love for her friends and then have her destroy them.  Twilight fights back and batters Chrysalis into submission, monologuing all the while about how the selfish Chrysalis can't possibly understand the power of friendship and love, etc.  Yes, we're quite familiar with such an approach from the toy-commercials-with-morals-tacked-on era of TV animation, but very rarely has the sentiment been ladled on with such slick efficiency.  The defeated Chrysalis gets the ultimate punishment: having the irritating Pinkie Pie serve as her jailer.

I think that this one's a keeper.  Who knows, I might even be able to attend the upcoming BronyCon in Baltimore and not embarrass myself.

1 comment:

Pan MiluĊ› said...

I got the comic book with first 4 isues and I must say - I LOVE IT! I was strongly sceptical of turning MLP into a comic book but who ever is in charge made an exelent job of translating the animated universe to graphic novel pages.