Thomas Zahler had a lot of ground to make up in the two most recent issues of MLP: FRIENDS FOREVER, seeing as how his TWILIGHT SPARKLE script for the defunct MICROSERIES... uh, series... was easily the most vanilla-nothing, instantly forgettable of those wildly inconsistent efforts. I'm happy to report that he does much better here. Though each issue is not without its flaws, these scripts at least display some enthusiasm and some reasonable insight into how the characters involved work.
In #5, Fluttershy asks for Zecora's aid after the former's animal acquaintances suddenly develop the ability to talk directly with her. (I find it much easier to imagine Fluttershy using Twilight as her first-choice magical consultant, but perhaps Twilight was otherwise occupied with princess duties.) After more than a few overly repetitive false starts, Zecora ultimately figures out that the critters were given the power of speech by none other than Discord, who wanted to give 'Shy the experience of interacting on a more personal level with her little friends. This is actually a nice shout-out to the fact that Fluttershy was the pony primarily responsible for befriending Discord and turning him to the side of good (or, at the very least, away from the side of evil), a theme introduced in the TV series' third-season episode "Keep Calm and Flutter On" and carried through to the end of the recently completed fourth season. The presentation of Discord here is, however, somewhat problematic. You'd expect that a "kinder and gentler" Discord would be better behaved than is his normal snarky wont, but Zahler's Discord is just this side of somnolent; the only hint of his true nature (if it could be called that) is an elbow-in-the-ribs jab at Zecora's propensity to speak in rhyme. Zahler does better with Zecora, but some of the zebra's rhymes can be politely described as strained, and how would this purveyor of "natural magic" know anything about Rorschach blots and ESP cards? At least Zecora doesn't have all the answers right away, bumbling around a bit before finding out the truth. This is a vast improvement on the show's occasional tendency to use Zecora as a politically correct deus ex machina. I'm also pleased to note that Fluttershy is not treated as a completely hopeless and helpless shrinking violet -- a characterization that has long since curdled IMHO -- but as a character who at least has the sense to be proactive and try to figure out what is happening around her. Thanks to the somewhat more progressive portrayals of the protagonists, the good here ends up outweighing the bad.
Rainbow Dash is called to a distant land to, as it turns out, dig the devious magical con artist Trixie out of a self-imposed crisis which has cast the latter in the role of an unwilling Queen to a pack of (surprisingly benign, albeit stupid) Diamond Dogs. Trixie is incredibly popular with a certain segment of MLP fandom, and this is her first featured appearance in the comics, so I was paying particularly close attention to how she would be depicted. Well, Zahler gets the ego and the self-delusion right, but he completely bollixes Trixie's distinctive speech pattern, in which she refers to herself as "The Great and Powerful Trixie" and similar third-pony phrases. Here, it's strictly "I-I-I" all the way. Perhaps Trixie mended some of her self-centered ways after being humbled in season three's "Magic Duel," but I should think that her manner of speech would have taken a bit longer to refine. It's also never made clear here why Trixie chose to call upon Rainbow Dash for help. Because Dash can fly, ergo, make a quick getaway? I guess. I'm hoping for better, and more in-character, things from Trixie in the story arc that is scheduled to follow the recently-completed "alternate Equestria" arc in the regular MLP title. Another reason why this issue falls a little short compared to the Fluttershy-Zecora effort is the Agnes Garbowska artwork, which continues to be far too picture-book and Colorforms-ish for my taste. There's a hint of laziness in the constant use of panels featuring single-character, from-the-neck-up head shots. I will give Agnes some credit for a nice cover composition, with its subtle reference to the Elements of Harmony, but I greatly prefer Tony Fleecs' work in #5. (Thanks for dispensing with those disturbing mouth-distortion shots, Tony.) Despite the problems, I did find the end product reasonably enjoyable.