Katie Cook and Andy Price cast the hitherto characterization-challenged Princess Cadance and Prince Shining Armor as refugees from a John Hughes movie. Spitfire, the Captain of the Wonderbolts and thus something of an "aspirational peer" for the gung-ho Rainbow Dash, has a problem opposite to that of the Princess and her hubby; she has literally gotten a different characterization every time she has appeared on the show, and most of those did not exactly put her in the best of lights. Somehow, writer Ted Anderson manages to cut through the muck and give us a new take on the character that feels believable and does not entirely abandon what has gone before. It helps that Rainbow Dash, whose various foibles have been the subject of televised dissection more than once, gets one of her best "supportive adult" moments in any medium here.
** SPOILERS **
Think I'm kidding re: Spitfire? Glad-hoofing celebrity and partygoer ("The Best Night Ever"), bumbling co-conspirator in a surprisingly incompetent group of supposedly heroic pegasi ("Sonic Rainboom" and "Secret of My Excess"), bland sideline-watching executive ("Hurricane Fluttershy"), hardass drill instructor ("Wonderbolts Academy"), conniving bitch and colleague-betrayer ("Rainbow Falls")... Baskin-Robbins would be hard put to top the variety in that list. My hopes here were that Anderson would (1) not add to the damage caused by the character derailment in "Rainbow Falls," (2) bring Spitfire back to something resembling the "authority figure" setting of "Wonderbolts Academy," where I think she works the best, and (3) give her some relatable foibles without making her an overt figure of fun. All three missions accomplished!
Spitfire invites Dash to be an instructor at a "Junior Flyers Summer Camp" because... she simply isn't good at dealing with kids (beg pardon, fillies and foals). It seems that she doesn't know how to temper down her "mean" behavior as a Wonderbolt D.I. (I'd call it "demanding" rather than outright "mean," but potato, potahto...) and thus lets the littl'uns walk all over her. Dash suggests being "tougher" with the kids, but Spitfire promptly overdoes it, treating them just like adult recruits. Spitfire, however, does have a legitimate, inherent ability to motivate others -- though, as we are told in a flashback, it took a while for her to assert herself when she was a new recruit -- and Dash cunningly gives Spitfire a chance to literally show the little(r) ponies how it's done by whipping up a tornado for the Wonderbolt Captain to disperse before their eyes. (The meteorological danger is perhaps a bit extreme for the purpose, but, then again, this is Rainbow Dash we're talking about.) The "practical lessons" finally take, and Dash reminds Spitfire that the latter can always get better at working with kids by herself, yet still ask for a helping hoof when needed.
The plot is handled spot-on perfect. We get a look at what makes Spitfire the entire character, as opposed to Spitfire the icon/buffoon/meanie/bitch, tick. Anyone who has ever had to wield authority that they have earned, as opposed to authority that they have been awarded, will be able to both understand Spitfire's pride in her capabilities and recognize that any leader must be willing to keep learning, just as Spitfire does here. And all credit to Dash for being so understanding, thoughtful, and (what else?) friendly while playing a lower-key role than the "cheekily bombastic" one at which she normally excels.
The plot is strong enough by itself, but the artwork, by a newcomer named Jay P. Fosgitt (henceforth to be referred to "Fearless" for blog-obvious reasons), is really something special. It is at utter variance with any visual depictions of the MLP:FIM characters that we have been given in any of IDW's MLP titles, or on the TV show, for that matter: cartoonier, sweeter, softer-edged. I would even go so far as to call it "POGO-esque," but that may be setting the bar just a tad high, and, in any event, Fosgitt uses more exaggerated facial expressions and poses than Walt Kelly ever did. Having seen a preview page or two, I wasn't sure how this style was going to wear in a book-length tale, but it didn't take long for Fosgitt to win me over. It helped that the story, with its mix of slapstick, reminiscence, and sentiment, seemed to be complemented quite well by Fosgitt's approach. I don't think that the somewhat stiffer "official" visual versions of the characters would have carried the plot off with such panache.
This title continues to mix gems with relative clinkers. Perhaps I should do some research and try to come up with a numerically-based reason for the inconsistency... you know, like the thing about "original Star Trek movies" only being good if they're even-numbered.