Friday, October 24, 2014

Comics Review: MY LITTLE PONY ANNUAL 2014 (IDW Publishing, September 2014)

MLP ANNUAL 2014 isn't the first such animal... er, annual.  A 2013 version was published, but I passed on it, because it was an adaptation of the Equestria Girls movie.  I'm not into that aspect of the Pony fandom.  This annual, however, spun right out of the fourth-season episode "Power Ponies."  Better yet, it promised to showcase an adventure starring the REAL Power Ponies, rather than the approximations of same that the "Mane 6" were obliged to assume after the magical comic book sucked them into the imaginary world of Maretropolis.  (Just go with it, OK?)  Truth be told, this comic was fighting something of an uphill battle from the get-go, since the general consensus about "Power Ponies" was that it failed to deliver on what had been promised.  Could the "Real MareCoys" with the flashy suits and the snazzy powers (some of which, conveniently enough, paralleled abilities that the "Mane 6" themselves already possessed) redeem the concept and avoid the pitfalls that had tripped up the TV episode?  Unfortunately, no.


Let's begin in a logical place, by showing the real Power Pony lineup from the comic...

 ... and the "Mane 6" ripoffs of tributes to the same from the TV episode...

Spike, by the way, takes the place of the Power Ponies' "superfluous sidekick" character, Humdrum.  Not surprisingly, given the nature of this sort of thing, the "useless" Spike is the very character who saves the day after the "Mane 6" Power Ponies are captured and hair-sprayed into helplessness by the villain du jour, the cackling Mane-iac.  (Just go with it, Take Two.)  In the comic, Humdrum plays a similar role, motivating the Power Ponies to come back from what seems like a shattering defeat and exact revenge on their foes.  The reason why the Power Ponies sink so low in the first place... that's where I take some real issue with Ted Anderson's script.

After watching the Power Ponies put beatdowns on several single-traited villains (including a crazed would-be pharaoh, a fashion plate who is obsessed with stealing shoes -- yep, shoes, they do exist in MLP land -- and a misanthropic mime lookalike who spreads "sadness gas"), we see them go back into their HQ, and they immediately start bickering with one another.  We're talking really blunt and crude insults of the "I don't know why I waste my time working with you losers!" variety.  What's worse, in the previous panel, The Masked Matter-Horn (the Twilight Sparkle Power Pony) tells a gathering feting the Power Ponies' success that the PPs' victory was due to "teamwork."  Ladies and gentlemen, Our Heroes... jerks AND hypocrites!

I can see what Anderson was going for here -- a kind of Fantastic Four vibe -- but pulling that particular card out while playing the very first "trick"?  The Power Ponies are supposed to be popular superheroes in Equestrian pop culture.  If this is how they normally interact whenever they are off duty -- and, since this is the first time that we ourselves have seen the characters, I have no choice but to presume that it is S.O.P. for this bunch -- then I can't possibly imagine anypony (OK, I went there) ever learning to like the comic.  Even the Fantastic Four are "a dysfunctional but loving family."  Anderson's error lay in trying to create an existential crisis for the Power Ponies before they had even had an opportunity to face an external one. 

The Power Ponies' main villains, mistakenly assuming that the PPs' success against them is due to simple cooperation, decide to beat the good gals at their own game and form a villain's cooperative.  (They spend a good deal of time discussing the proper term for such an alliance.  How very meta.)  They wind up defeating and capturing the Power Ponies and, for good measure, transfer the PPs' powers to themselves.  The transformation scene itself is quite impressive.  Artist Ben Bates hadn't been seen since some of the earlier issues of the cancelled MICRO-SERIES.  In the interim, he seems to have upped his game; his art maintains its liveliness without being quite so sketchy on the margins (especially when it comes to drawing background figures).

With his comrades bereft of powers and hope, Humdrum steps forward and tells the Power Ponies that what they're missing is... the power of friendship.  He knows about the latter because he watches a TV show (My Little Donkey, hyuck-hyuck) with that message, you know.  OK, that's pretty clever.  So, too, is the somewhat mechanical manner in which the PPs go about trying to learn how to be friends, with The Masked Matter-Horn literally checking all the boxes on a "Friendship Bonding List."  To no one's surprise, their first attempt at revenge fails.  They ultimately succeed by, oddly enough, worrying less about their own friendship and more about making sure that the villains fall out.  This is accomplished by the usual method of voice-throwing.  Meanwhile, Radiance, the Rarity replacement, fixes up the villains' machine so that it will reverse the transformation process.  (Even in a different context, there really IS nothing that mare can't do.)  Things soon are "again as they were," with the villains captured and the Power Ponies thanking Humdrum for teaching them to act more like a real team.

The decision to make the Power Ponies bickerers from the off is arguably the biggest conceptual mistake that has been made to date in the handling of the entire IDW MLP:FIM franchise.  Not only is it a terrible choice for an initial Power Pony adventure, but it may just compromise any Power Pony stories that may show up in the future, since said stories won't make any sense unless the Power Ponies build on what happened here and continue to learn lessons about friendship.  In other words, any future Power Pony stories will almost have to parallel the development of the original My Little Pony series itself.  That seems like a waste of a halfway-decent concept.  I think that IDW would have been better off going the Super Friends route and simply treating these tales as light-hearted, cliche-tweaking romps, saving any unnecessary angst and character developments for the canonical show.


Mark Lungo said...

"yep, shoes, they do exist in MLP land..."

Do you mean horseshoes (which have been shown on the TV series) or human shoes?

Chris Barat said...


Human shoes. Take, for example, Applejack's rubber boots in "Somepony to Watch Over Me."