Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Comics Review: MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #8 (August 2014, IDW Publishing)

The next couple of issues of FRIENDS FOREVER are going to be... interesting?  Actually, a better word would probably be "challenging."  I have pre-publication details on all of the upcoming issues through #11, and all of them involve "friendship team-ups" that have already been explored in some detail in various episodes of the animated series.  I have long made it clear that this is NOT where I think this title should be going.  Nonetheless, I will have no real issue with the rehashes, as long as the creators can take different, and equally imaginative, routes in exploring the relationships between the characters involved.  Previous issues that featured hitherto-unexplored teamups could be examined in isolation on their own merits.  Now, the creators have burdened themselves with the double duty of doing something novel while still paying appropriate tribute to what has gone before.  How successful will they be?

In FF #8, Katie Cook and Andy Price set themselves quite a challenge by teaming up Rarity and Applejack in a cross-country travel epic, "Reins, Trains, and Carts with Wheels."  These two members of the "Mane 6," with their diametrically opposed sensibilities and aesthetic tastes, have previously butted heads in the animated eps "Look Before You Sleep" and "Simple Ways," with intermittently funny results.  Heck, they have even gone so far as to change personalities in the course of their quasi-duels.  So what more about their relationship can be explored without seeming to plow old ground (a metaphor that Applejack would appreciate) or stitch up an existing dress (ditto for Rarity)? Well, C&P actually do come up with something... namely, the mares' approaches to their respective businesses.  Applejack, traveling cross-country to strike an apple-peddling deal with some "Coltifornia" relatives, tries to keep things honest, simple, and straightforward.  By contrast, the "Type A" Rarity -- who, it must be remembered, runs the Canterlot Boutique as a one-pony show -- is all about employing up-to-date (at least in the Equestrian sense) business methods (including "social media" -- Celestia only knows what that entails in an Equestrian setting).  The duo don't exactly come to a "middle ground of agreement" as to how best to run a business -- they are simply too different for that -- but they do wind up apologizing for insulting one another on the matter.  Again, that is something we have seen before.

While the "business conflict" here is interesting and realistic in light of what we know about Rarity and Applejack, the accompanying humor is... problematic.  In their attempt to bring out the differences between the characters and exploit them in a funny fashion, I believe that C&P indulged in some unnecessary oversimplification... not quite as bad as "Flanderization," but of the same general variety.  The more extreme example of this is Rarity being cast as a guidebook-toting "overenthusiastic tourist" who goes into raptures over roadside features like "the largest ball of yarn in Equestria."   I can sort of see what C&P were attempting to latch onto here.  Because of her intense interest in aesthetics, Rarity often does become mercurial and overenthusiastic about minutiae.  The question is, which minutiae are we talking about?  Rarity being excited about visiting star-filled "Applewood" is one thing; Rarity acting like Goofy on the road trip in A Goofy Movie is quite another.  AJ slams this version of Rarity as "an unprofessional fluffhead," and I have to agree.  (Interestingly, I've read a MLP:FIM fanfic about a similarly "long and strange trip" through the Equestrian interior in which Rarity played the [comparatively] "straight," impatient role and Pinkie Pie played the giddy traveler.  That dual characterization makes much more sense, I think.)

Applejack herself doesn't get off scot-free, largely because her typical simplicity of approach is itself simplified to something approaching the point of absurdity.  Her "business plan" turns out to read: "Sell apples."  Come on, Katie and Andy, she's not THAT stupid.  Sweet Apple Acres is a thriving business and has been for some time.  You really don't think that AJ would have picked up a more sophisticated understanding of operating a family farm by now?  Even if one posits that Granny Smith and Big Macintosh play a more active role in farm affairs than it might seem at first glance, Applejack should certainly be one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, movers and shakers when it comes to running the place.

FF #8 is still a lot of fun to read, as one might readily expect when Cook and Price are involved.  We get C&P's usual complement of background "in-jokes" and movie references and some imaginative visuals (e.g., the last panel being made up of a series of touristy snapshots, each of which summarizes a small portion of what has gone before in the narrative).  We also get a clever foreshadowing of an upcoming adventure in the MLP regular series when a group of literal "Cattle Rustlers" disrupt the mares' stagecoach trip.  I can't rank this as one of the dynamic duo's best efforts, however, because of the previously-mentioned character issues.  I hope that the upcoming re-do's will have slightly better luck.

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