I think it’s about time I turned my nitpicking attentions to the IDW Friendship is Magic Comics, and subject them to the same stringent examination as in my episode reviews. My quest to over-analyze the franchise continues!
ATTENTION, FAIR READER! SHOULD THOU YET WISH TO PURUSE WITH THINE OWN EYES THE COMICS, WE BID THEE BE MINDFUL THAT MESSIRE SUNNY FOX SHALT MAKETH NARY THE LEAST ENDEAVOR TO AVERT SPOILERS! THUS HAST THOU BEEN CAUTIONED!
Thank you, Princess Luna.
The first four-issue arc of the comics follows the fallout following Queen Chrysalis’ fall out of Canterlot. While it’s entertaining to read, it has a few problems, which make it just a little less enjoyable than it could have been.
I’ll keep my commentary to a minimum in the summaries, which are intended more for readers who haven’t read the comic, and save most of it for the analysis.
Issues 1 to 4: The Return of Queen Chrysalis
Katie Cook: Writer
Andy Price: Artist
Part 1 Summary
It starts off with the Cutie Mark Crusaders busy (what else?) crusading for their cutie marks in Fluttershy’s menagerie. The more off-beat comedy as compared to the show is immediately apparent, including a hippo with a bow just like Apple Bloom’s, and a lion named Mr. McBiteyPants. Unfortunately, some of the animals seem to be a little on the “weirdly glowing eyes” side, and rush at the CMC to fillynap them.
The following morning, it seems the three fillies are fine, but they are acting very strangely, causing their sisters and honorary sisters some concern. But they’re not the only ones out of character; the rest of the town apart from the Mane Six and Spike seem to have become possessed, forcing our heroines (and hero) to lock themselves in the Library. Twilight tries to get hold of Princess Celestia, but she is incommunicado, due to a major magic surge caused by the approaching Secretariat comet.
Twilight soon concludes that the odd behaviour of the Ponyvillians is due to them having been replaced by Changelings, and the group resolves to find out where the real ponies are being held. Seeing an eerie green glow from City Hall, they burst in to rescue the townsponies. Even Spike manages to look badass here, although his dragon fire does little more than anger his opponents. Pinkie eventually ends the battle by trapping the Changelings with gum shot from her party cannon. They break all of their fellow Ponyvillians out of their pods, but can’t find Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle or Scootaloo.
At this point, Spike coughs up a giant green orb, which the Queen (now officially named Chrysalis) uses to communicate with them. She shows the Mane Six the three fillies she has imprisoned, and tells them they have only three days to rescue them, even providing a map to her location via the orb.
Despite the obvious trap, which Rainbow points out, Rarity and Applejack want to rush off immediately. Twilight suspects the three day deadline is related to the comet’s appearance, and that the Queen intends to use it against them somehow. Despite her misgivings, the Mane Six have no choice but to follow the map, and they set off, leaving Spike behind to continue trying to contact the Princess.
Part 2 Summary
The map leads the group to a mountain. Rainbow Dash wants to go over, but the rest of the group decide to stick together and go through a set of tunnels left by diamond dogs. The first obstacle they encounter is a enormous cave troll. Luckily, being a typical brony, he’s not hostile, but he still wants to play with his new pony “toys”. Rarity makes substitutes for him, and the Mane Six manage to sneak off.
Unbeknown to them, the Queen is following their progress in her crystal ball.
The Queen sends her flying monkeys Changelings to cause a cave-in which separates the Mane Six into pairs. They then turn them against each other by taking on their appearances and saying nasty things. This results in an argument breaking out, which is put on hold when a group of giant spiders attack them. Using their webs, they wrap the Mane Six up. Pinkie runs off and brings back the troll, who adopts the largest spider as his new “teddy bear”, allowing the Mane Six to go free. When they finally exit the caves, the argument flairs up again, and the pairs split up. Rarity and Applejack head off into the woods in one direction and Twilight teleports herself and Fluttershy away, leaving Rainbow and Pinkie together, but without a map.
Part 3 Summary
Out of all the parts, this one seems to have a subtitle: “Love is a many splintered thing.” Why none of the other parts have one, I don’t know. It seems a little odd.
Spike provides a summary of what’s happened so far. He also starts a flashback to Queen Chrysalis and her minions being flung out of Canterlot, as happened in the flawed but enjoyable season 2 finale. They landed in a land populated by cute little cats who love absolutely everything. The Changelings quickly drained them, ruining and corrupting their bright little land. Yep, we just had genocide in Equestria. Hands up, who still thinks the Changelings aren’t truly evil?
Hearing that they need time to regroup for another assault on Canterlot, the Queen says that she doesn’t care about that any longer; she just wants revenge on Twilight, who ruined everything. She’s going to use the power-up from the Secretariat Comet to drain her magic.
The next page reveals that the Queen herself is telling all this to her Cutie Mark Captives. Since the Mane Six are now split into the Mane Three Pairs, the Queen again sends out her minions to spy on them and report back, while she continues to watch Twilight.
Fluttershy manages to convince Twilight that despite her friends being mean (sigh) they need to look past it and reconcile. Meanwhile, Applejack and Rarity are having dinner, with Rarity insisting on good manners despite “roughing it”. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie are also shown; Rainbow is finally realizing the Changelings are responsible for the schism, and Pinkie brings out (rather frightening) costumes of the two of them to wear in case the Changelings try it again. Over the next few pages, each pair encounters monsters that they are forced to run away from, and in doing so, run into each other. Falling down a cliff, the Mane Six end up in a heap, and the various animals chasing them start fighting with each other, ending the danger.
The Mane Six finally reconcile, despite still not cottoning on to the way they were tricked, and they travel the last few hours to get to the final showdown.
Part 4 Summary
At their destination, they find themselves in a creepy castle. They open various referential doors, and eventually find the one the Changelings are behind. A fight breaks out as Twilight faces off against the Queen, while the others fight the Changeling minions. As the Comet nears, the Queen’s power grows, and she manages to trap the other ponies in pods with a powerful blast of magic. After seeing Twilight blast a giant hole in the wall, she decides that instead of draining Twilight’s magic, she wants her to come over to the Changeling Side and be her evil protégé.
When Twilight refuses, the Queen gives her a choice – watch her captive friends drained of their essence in front of her… or join the Queen, in exchange for not harming them. Twilight gives in, hoping that at least they can save themselves and return to defeat the Changelings – and her if necessary – later on. As soon as they are released, the ponies charge in to try to rescue Twilight, but the Queen blocks them with a force field.
The Queen then tries to renege on the deal: she’s going to drain out all Twilight’s love for her friends, and let the newly minted Evil Twilight do them in instead.
Furious at this, Twilight renews her struggle. Realizing that she can also use the power up from the Comet, she eventually defeats the Queen, and rescues her friends.
Outside the final dungeon, the Mane Six meet up with Princess Celestia and Spike, who have been battling Comet-Magic-empowered cockatrices in Canterlot. When asked where the Queen is, Twilight reveals that she and her Changelings are trapped in the castle by one of Pinkie’s costumes… which has been magically animated not to let them out until they can come up with a rhyme for “orange”.
Part 1 does a decent job of setting up the plot, but I feel that Part 2 drops the ball a little. A major flaw is the way the conflict between the Mane Six is handled. First of all, it’s a quintessential example of an idiot plot, where it only works by making usually intelligent characters be totally stupid.
Considering what they already know the Changelings are capable of, there is no way the ruse of “separate and impersonate” should have worked. The Mane Six should have seen through it easily. Instead, they get taken in hook, line and sinker, and it’s only much later that Rainbow Dash alone of all ponies gives any consideration to the possibility that they might have been tricked. How the Changelings know enough about each character to so accurately say the right thing to hurt them is yet another mystery.
Apart from that, if they had simply talked about what the “friends” had said and how they felt hurt by it, they would have discovered what had happened. A conversation like this should have been inevitable:
Pony A: “You said <<bad things x and y>> about me!”
Pony B: “I never said that, and I never would.”
Pony A: “Then who did? Either you’re lying about saying it, or it was someone who was impersonating you who said it.”
Everypony: “The Changelings can impersonate us! It must have been them!”
Q. Fucking E.D.
If the Mane Six needed to be separated for the story to work, why not just have the cave-in force them to travel to three distinct and mutually distant exits from the cave? Then you could still have the three separate journeys in Part 3 and avoid the need for the nonsensical conflict at all. Unless I’m really missing something, it could have (and should have) been left out entirely.
Part 3 really shines through with humour, letting each pair of characters banter with each other as they face various strange creatures and other hazards, with amusing interludes featuring the Queen getting more and more irate with her young prisoners. It’s easily the best part of the story. Unfortunately, it still has to spend time resolving the conflict from part 2, and again, I don’t think it was done that well. First of all, they STILL haven’t figured out that it was the Changelings who were responsible. Neither Rainbow Dash nor Pinkie brings up the idea at all. So they basically are forgiving each other for something the other didn’t even do.
Part 4 seemed more interested in cramming as many references as possible than advancing the plot. It sort of stalls for a bit, until they actually manage to confront the Queen and her minions. Of course, the final fight is pretty breathtaking, although for a series meant to emphasize the Mane Six all working together and supporting each other, it’s a little odd to see Twilight pretty much singlehoofedly finish off the opponent. Still, the idea that the Comet the Queen was relying on becomes the very reason for her defeat is a wonderful example of irony, so that’s a big plus.
You may be wondering why I keep referring to the Queen by her title rather than her name. There are some reasons for this. First of all, she was never named Chrysalis in the show. It was in the script, but no character actually says it. Even Celestia only called her "The Queen", and how they now know her name is left unexplained. Secondly, I think she's better represented as a title. Her position is the important thing about her. Of course, I'm in no position to criticize the tendency to use insect puns as names... the final reason is that "The Queen" just sounds much more intimidating and badass to me.
The art is fantastic, showing both Ponyville and its inhabitants in a new way. Particularly noticeable is how Queen Chrysalis is drawn. At times she seems actually quite beautiful, and at other times she appears as a hideous, slavering monster. Price has the ability to completely change her from one form to the other, while still making her recognizable in both, which is skillfully done.
I also was interested to see how large the wings of the pegasus ponies are in the comics as opposed to the show. It’s just a style choice, but you get a better impression that they could actually fly with wings as big as those.
The cave pony has some recognizable toys, including a Rubik's Cube, Optimus Prime, a magic Eightball and a slinky, and of course, the ponies provide the brushy brushy.
Triffids, Chupacabras, and Jackalopes, oh my!
Part 4: Too freaking many to list!
We actually get to see what was keep Princess Celestia and Spike busy during the events of the mane comic. The only problem here is that Spike implies in the mane comic that he rode a cockatrice into town, but the comic has him riding Princess Celestia into town to save the day instead. Minor gripe, and the rest of the short comic is fine.
Pros: Definitely great art. Parental bonuses galore. An exciting climax. Plenty of humour both dark and not.
Cons: An unnecessary Apple of Discord added in Part 2, which could have been done without and didn't really make sense.
5 – The Latest ‘Daring Do’ Book Rank: A great story. It will be re-read frequently.
4 – Starswirl’s Journal Rank: A good story, but with one or two problems that prevent it from being great.
3 – Twilight’s Sleepover Guide Rank: An average story. Positives and negatives are balanced.
2 – Spike’s Power Pony Comic Rank: Worth reading once. After that, let it vanish to parts unknown.
1 – The Astronomical Astronomer’s Almanac Rank: Get Spike to sneeze on it, immediately!
Keep on turning those pages, and as always, stay sunny side up!