Sunday, November 10, 2013

Comics Reviews: MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #11-12 (IDW Publishing, September & October 2013)

* SPOILERS TO THE MAX, OR SOMEWHERE CLOSE TO IT*

After receiving panel-to-panel raves for their impeccable handling of "The Return of Queen Chrysalis," MLP:FIM comic stalwarts Katie Cook and Andy Price apparently got a fair bit of blowback from a certain segment of MLP fandom regarding how they handled these two issues.  While their approach is certainly... let us say... debatable, they had a perfect right to handle the tale of the first meeting of Twilight Sparkle's brother Shining Armor and his wife, Princess Cadance, in any way they chose, provided that it paid at least a basic fealty to the parameters laid down in the TV show.  What the negative fan reax show is that some people interpret said parameters in a very narrow and constricted fashion.  You might say that I'm not surprised.

The two-issue arc -- which is mostly told in flashback, with Shining Armor getting to narrate #11 and Cadance #12 -- relates how the pair's paths first crossed in high school.  And not just any high school, mind you, but a ponified version of one of those halls of learning from the popular teenage movies of the 1980s.  It is quite possible that Cook and Price spun the entire concept out of a single scene in the episode "Call of the Cutie," in which the schoolteacher Cheerilee showed her charges what she looked like in H.S.  You can see the same sight in the lower-left-hand corner of Price's cover to #11.  C&P evidently grabbed this meager evidence and ran with it, packing their story with all sorts of references to 80s fads, music, and so forth.  Said shoutouts include a Dungeons and Dragons-style game called Oubliettes and Ogres, of which the teenage Shining Armor and his three nerdish buddies are devotees.  Princess Cadance, as a representative of Equestrian royalty (though her precise relationship to Princess Celestia is never established), plays the role of the untouchable "popular girl" who would normally be considered well out of a dweeb's league.  Shining Armor, not being your average nerd, is bound and determined to make her his "very special somepony" before a lunkheaded, arrogant "big stallion on campus" can muscle in.  The expected physical hi-jinx and emotional agonies ensue.

While I found most of this fanciful concoction to be clever and amusing -- even though I must confess to having missed a couple of the cultural tributes the first time through -- I can understand, in an intellectual sense, why this got so many Bronies' legwarmers in a twist.  The pinning of Shining Armor and Cadance's youth to a specific spot on the universal time line reminded me of the depiction of Goofy as a literal "child of the 70s" in the Disney OVA An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000).  I hated that twist, but the two situations are not really comparable.  Goofy's personality was well established long before AEGM and had never been tied down by any set of cultural references, except those that might be fodder for general parody, as in the classic House of Mouse short "How to Be Groovy, Cool, and Fly" (2001).  Shining Armor and Cadance, by contrast, were pretty much ciphers before these issues.  They played major roles in the TV adventures "A Canterlot Wedding" and "The Crystal Empire," but the focuses there were on action and outside threats to Equestria, rather than on the characters themselves.  There was plenty of room for character development; Cook and Price simply took a far different route than what most people had been expecting. 

One thing that Cook and Price unfortunately did not make clear -- an omission that probably explains a good deal of the vitriol hurled their way -- is how the "dork" version of Shining Armor managed to metamorphosed into the somewhat stolid Captain of the Royal Guard we saw on TV.  I'm sure that the relationship with Cadance boosted Shining Armor's confidence and all that, but what specific actions completed the transformation?  It also seems a little unlikely that Twilight, who, as a precocious young filly, helped her foal-sitter Cadance literally figure out that Shining Armor was the pony for her, had forgotten her key role in pushing the relationship along by the time of "A Canterlot Wedding."  On balance, though, these issues are great fun, especially for children of the 80s and those who wish they had been.

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