IDW’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic #5-8 Review
25 Jun, 2013
If you haven’t read it, here’s my review of IDW’s My Little Pony #1-4.
The first story arc of IDW’s smash hit series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was exceptionally well done. Even as someone only modestly interested in the cartoon, I found those first four issues to be some superb all ages reading.
For their second story arc, IDW changed up the creative team (so as to give Katie Cook and Andy Price lead time to work on the third story arc). This new team of Heather Nuhfer (story) and Amy Mebberson (art) is quite different from Cook and Price, but they bring many fresh and unique elements to the table. Let’s see how they stack up.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic #5-8
Written by: Heather Nuhfer
Art by: Amy Mebberson
Colors by: Heather Breckel
Letters by: Neil Uyetake
Edits by: Bobby Curnow
This untitled, 4-issue arc takes place sometime during season 3 of the animated series (apparently after the episode “Magic Duel”). Despite that, it’s more a narrative follow-up to the series premier 2-parter, “Friendship is Magic”, focusing on the true nature of Nightmare Moon and shedding some light on Princess Luna’s thousand year banishment. The story sees the nightmare energy that corrupted Princess Luna kidnap Rarity and whisk her away to the moon. There, her insecurities, fears and doubts are exploited and she is possessed, becoming Nightmare Rarity. The Mane Six (sans Rarity, of course) hoof it to the moon to save their friend, while Princess Luna confronts her past and rallies an army to defend Ponyville from the oncoming shadow creature army.
Nuhfer’s storyline is very ambitious, if that summary didn’t tip you off. We’ve got the truth behind Luna’s transformation into Nightmare Moon, insight into Rarity’s insecurities and fears, a center stage role for Spike, an epic pony vs. shadow creature war and plenty more. Nuhfer’s arc is packed with spectacle as well as introspection and there’s a wagon’s load of sweeping, grand concepts to be found. But when it comes to the execution of those ambitious plot elements, the end result felt a little unpolished.
For starters, the “Nightmare Rarity” arc seeks to provide an explanation for what corrupted Princess Luna a thousand years ago and what her banishment to the moon was like. We learn that “nightmare energies” were drawn to her jealousy and loneliness, manipulated those emotions and possessed her, transforming her into Nightmare Moon. While it’s certainly an explanation, I find the idea a little problematic as it dilutes, if not completely removes, Luna’s responsibility for her ill-deeds as the villain Nightmare Moon. While it was still her envy and anger that attracted the nightmare energies, once she became Nightmare Moon, Luna was put on the backburner and everything from then on was the handiwork of the nightmare energies (likewise, Rarity is shown to be trapped inside the entity of Nightmare Rarity while the energies control the attitude and actions of the villain). The idea rather conveniently absolves Luna of much of the guilt for her behavior by having it be the work of an outside, exploitative force. Some may like that explanation, some may not, but personally, I was always fine with the earlier idea that she made the decision to become Nightmare Moon consciously, but likewise knew when to put it all behind her and turn over a new leaf.
Then there’s the moon-itself. Let me just say that I absolutely loved the visual of Princess Celestia lassoing the moon, Luna pulling it closer and then the Mane Sixe tightrope walking over space to reach their destination. It’s this great fairy tale-like image that makes sense in the fantasy world these characters live in and illustrates that they don’t adhere to the bland reality we’re familiar with (or at least, they don’t die horribly in the vacuum of space).
Now, my problem starts with how ill-defined the moon is, exactly. They refer to it as “the nightmare dreamscape”. But, it’s the moon. So… do all ponies go to the moon when they fall asleep? How can it be a “dreamscape” if the Mane Six can waltz over there while they’re wide awake? It’s not really a dreamscape so much as it is just another foreign land to explore. While I like the idea that there’s a population of shadow creatures living up there and an actual kingdom on the moon (the ruling of which, I suppose, occupied Nightmare Moon’s time for a thousand years), it really didn’t make sense as a “dreamscape” in any manner other than that’s where the vague and nebulous “nightmare energies” originate from.
As for the Mane Six (for reference, that’s Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie and Rarity), they’re of course a major part of this story arc. And Spike, too, considering he’s been in love with Rarity since the show started and that sort of mushy stuff is needed to resolve the conflict. After Rarity gets kidnapped and transformed into Nightmare Rarity, the remaining posse spends the rest of the book working together as an inseparable unit (save Spike, who goes commando). This results in a lot of dull banter between them as things sort of happen TO the ponies and they react with weird quips. They spend almost half the arc locked in a dungeon, catting at each other.
I found Spike’s solo efforts to save the day more interesting (and more useful) than Pinkie Pie shouting nonsequitors and Rainbow Dash blathering nonsense ideas in the background (she was uncommonly irritating in this arc). Nuhfer highlights Spike’s infatuation with Rarity as an important sticking point, which is to be expected since it’s a major part of his character in the cartoon, but when writers go a little too far with it… it starts to get sort of creepy.
I mean, Spike is routinely referred to as a BABY dragon. No matter how precocious he may be, and how odd the dragon life cycle may be (as spelled out in the episode “Secret of my Excess”), he’s still a toddler; maybe a kindergartener like the Cutie Mark Crusaders if you’re being generous with his age. Rarity, meanwhile, is a young adult. She’s graduated from school, she owns her own business, she lives independently… she’s an adult. When the “romance” between Spike (a child) and Rarity (an adult) goes beyond Spike having a crush on her and Rarity either being unaware of it or thinking it’s “cute”… we enter a very awkward area. There’s a scene in this comic where Nightmare Rarity tries to seduce Spike and it’s just uncomfortable.
The story is also rather serious. Nuhfer attempts to add levity via background noise from the characters (the aforementioned Pinkie and Rainbow dialogue), but the majority of the arc is a lot of serious business. I’m fine with the comic exploring deeper and less comedic angles than the source cartoon (just as long as they don’t get too carried away), but the humor seems added on as an afterthought and rather haphazardly. In every issue you’ll encounter lengthy soliloquies about letting your baser emotions and doubts corrupt and control you and how they can transform you into something you don’t want to be. A perfectly fine lesson, but man, they hammer the point HOME. It’s a high stakes story with everypony being worried about everypony else and so beyond those “peanut gallery” ramblings, all dialogue exchanges are torturous and grim rambles about losing friends forever and being scared and oh god don’t let the demons take me I’m coming apaaaaaaaaaart!
So that last bit’s an exaggeration, but the moral is spelled out by the characters a little too much, even for a show that ends every episode with the characters spelling out the moral in a correspondence letter.
Amy Mebberson’s art is excellent. Quite a different style from Price’s, but I appreciate that IDW went with an artist that offered a unique look rather than try to ape some ill-conceived “house style”. She has a tendency to shorten the snouts to the point where they look more like noses, but her compositions are lively, her characters are expressive and her original designs are fantastic. I particularly liked Nightmare Rarity, but the shadow creatures looked good, too.
There are times, though, when her layouts don’t really fit the flow of the script. By that, I mean a character will have two dialogue boxes, each expressing a different emotion. Mebberson will draw the character expressing only one of those emotions but use that single image for both pieces of dialogue and it just seems off. Like Pinkie, here, from issue #8:
But really, that doesn’t happen a whole lot. Heather Breckel continues to apply her excellent colors to the book and I was impressed with how well she utilized “glow” effects. There are a LOT of glowing horns and magic spells and energy waves and light shows and so forth in this batch of four issues. I’ve seen a lot of colorists in the past really overdo it with glow effects in comics to the point where it drowns out or just completely obscures the art. One of Breckel’s strengths has been her ability to apply colors and effects with modesty so that they compliment the art rather than try to compete with it.
On another note, I’m glad she’s one of the colorists who chooses to leave the line art black. Some of IDW’s other colorists (on their My Little Pony microseries) elect to give the characters and props colored outlines to match the look of the cartoon. While that style works fine in animation, in the comics, it causes the characters to get lost in blobs of color and makes their outlines and actions less defined.
- Strong images and ideas
- If you’re a fan of Luna, she plays a central role
- Mebberson’s art and Breckel’s colors work very well together
- A bit too stuffy and serious for its own good
- An adult seducing a kindergartener…?
- Maybe a little TOO ambitious
Is It Good?
The “Nightmare Rarity” arc is packed with ambitious ideas, but it unfortunately fumbles them here and there. At the core is a solid story which I think most fans will appreciate (unless they fiercely disagree with the Nightmare Moon “retcon”, that is) regardless of any shortcomings in the script’s presentation. It’s a good-looking comic and though I do prefer Price, I think Mebberson has a lot of talent and I hope IDW keeps her around for some of their other Pony projects. At the end of the day, this arc just doesn’t read as smoothly as the previous one and, as I think I said near the start of this review, it probably could have used a bit more polish.