After suffering a few minor setbacks on the delivery front, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic #3 is on store shelves. The latest installment in IDW Publishing’s official comic, #3 continues the story written by Katie Cook, drawn by Andy Price, and colored by Heather Breckel. If #2 raised the stakes for the Mane Six, #3 put them on a Wonderbolt flying at Mach 3. Read on to find out!
It should be noted that this review will have discussion of significant plot events and gags from the comic book. Needless to say, if you haven’t read the book, there might be some spoilery elements here. If you’re looking for a more general overview of the comics, check out our review of issue #1. Want to read the comics? You can find them at your local comic book store, buy printed copies online from a site like Things From Another World, or procure digital versions from Comixology and iTunes.
Gonna Make a Jailbreak
Issue #3 continues the story set out in the first half of the first story arc, with our intrepid horsey heroines split apart due to a nefarious changeling plot. This sets the stage for #3 where, against the backdrop of the ever-watching Chrysalis and her changeling kingdom, the Mane Six must find a way to reconcile for the greater good. The opener of the book is a very pleasant surprise, featuring an old-timey handpainted recap by Price. The old-timey Disney animation style is a complete surprise, and is a treat for those who already know the score from issues #1 and #2. That’s the right way to do a recap that won’t bore your already invested audience to tears. Now if only the show would do them that way too!
The narrative structure of issue #3 is a bit different than the first two issues as it follows four simultaneous viewpoints. The Cutie Mark Crusaders, held captive by Chrysalis, act as the glue to tie the three separate paths that split up the Mane Six. The opening scenes finally reveal the true nature of Chrysalis’ plot, and more of her character as well. Chrysalis, so far, is the only villain who has any attachments, though they are to her hive-like minions. It’s a very Borg-esque relationship, with the sentient queen commanding her horde to take over all they see to benefit their society. Though their hunger for love is unsustainable, the reader can understand her actions. She is doing her duty to sustain her kingdom, much as Princess Celestia would. She’s not a tyrant, as easy as it would be to make her into that. No, Chrysalis is a competent leader who has the support of her hive; a sort of shadow version of Celestia and her kingdom. We even sympathize with her a bit over the constant noise of the CMCs, as fans often get tired of their antics at times too.
Previous issues have been criticized for being a bit heavy on the action and light on character moments. While I haven’t thought the prior books were too bad on that front, #3 manages to slow things down a little bit before the climactic showdown that is due in issue #4. Splitting the group apart and giving them their own little paths to follow helps put focus on the individuals by giving each of them something to bounce off without the pressure of interacting with the whole group. It’s probably the best “character” issue in the series so far, particularly with Applejack and Rarity. Cook appears to have really gotten a handle on their voices. Instead of just having the two squabble, Cook has managed to mold them into a sort of equine Felix and Oscar dynamic. Poking a little fun at one another’s opposite nature is Applejack and Rarity’s way of reconciling their differences. Instead of pushing them apart, it brings them closer together as each pony’s strength picks up for the weakness of the other.
Cause They’re CMC, They’re Dy-No-Mite
The tone of this comic arc overall has a grander, Lord of the Rings larger-than-life fantasy adventure feel that the show hasn’t really explored since the pilot. It’s expressed in a lot of ways—and the Filly-ship, as it were, have bigger challenges than just making friends. While the overall conceit of friendship and relationships is present (the girls must reconcile their differences to come together, of course), the overall tone of the comic has been one of an adventurous romp, more in line with traditional entertainment targeted towards the eight-to-twelve demographic.
Whether or not you think this is appropriate for the franchise might be subject to debate. The show has built its brand upon its unique mixture of self-improvement, slice-of-life storytelling, and adventure which finds appeal across all sorts of boundaries. It manages to find a balance between all of these to bring together a world of character growth that gets us invested in what happens to the protagonists—like any well-written media should. It’s fair to say there’s a bit of mandate to send the show that way, as opposed to having the Mane Six exploring the uncharted areas of Equestria. While Hasbro clearly holds some influence on the plot, they have let the comic team push the boundaries of where the girls can go. It’s a far cry from the E/I days of the show, when it was a battle to simply let Rainbow dig at Twilight by calling her an egghead.
Cook mentioned in the past that this issue would be the “darkest” of them all so far, and that’s true, to a degree. There are two genuinely dark scenes mixed in with a whole lot of fun and friendship. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention one panel in particular. To show the panel in context, I’ve included the preceding panels along with it.
What exactly went on here? Well, I’m not quite sure… and that’s a big part of the charm. In the story, the Changelings “feed” by sucking the essence of love from whatever they can find. They can also zombify unsuspecting creatures, like they did in the first issue. But this is neither, and due to creative cutting, we might never know. You could assume the worst, or you could imagine something a bit less scary, and you could still be right in either case. Implication is a powerful thing. This is one case where censorship might actually have made things creepier or scarier than just explicitly showing what happened.
What the scene does is reinforce how villainous Chrysalis can be; that she is fully committed to her plans, and that her threats are not empty. The CMCs will definitely think twice about challenging Chrysalis, and it shows exactly what Twilight and company are up against. Defeating the Queen will be no cakewalk, and there’s a real and palpable threat that we hadn’t seen since the last time Chrysalis showed up!
And She Made It Out… With A Flower on Her Head
The art team, meanwhile, continues their steady march forward, the groove now fully dug by the wheels of consistency. You can expect more of the same quality expressions and body language that you saw in issues #1 and #2, with little to complain about. Something to note is the comic’s continuing ability to insert new and different creatures and environments that seamlessly blend in to our known world of Equestria. Because the ponies have never ventured far beyond settled areas or the Everfree Forest in the show, we don’t really have much of an idea as to how the world behaves outside the borders of Equestria.
It’s inventive and amusing to see Rarity picking giant flowers, enticed by their aesthetics, only to unwittingly stumble upon a group of carnivorous lilies—Little Shop of Horrors, anyone? I am unsure as to how much Price himself is responsible for these character and design directions for environments, or whether he is getting assistance or direction from others. Regardless, the execution is well done, with the chupacabra and jackelopes mixing in with the as-yet-unseen residents of Wuvy-Dovey Smoochy Land as newly discovered residents of the world outside Equestria. It’s a theme that I’ve noticed used several places in these issues—what looks terrifying might be friendly (Troll Jim), while what looks cute and cuddly is actually eager to eat you alive. Price and company play it straight enough times—for instance, the cute love kitties—for the trick of an evil cute-monster to keep you honest and on your toes. The themes of deception don’t apply just to Changelings, after all, since danger could be lurking under any cutely covered corner.
Breckel returns on colors, and the good news is that, for all intents and purposes, she’s the full-time colorist on the mainline series now. This is a good thing, as she flexes a lot of creative muscle in this issue. Each of the environments displayed in the issue, whether it’s Rarity and Applejack’s forest of flowers, the Changeling Kingdom, or Pinkie and Rainbow Dash trying to make camp, all have their own distinct atmosphere created by color. It’s a smart way to distinguish all four simultaneous story threads going on in this issue. Perhaps the most visually interesting are the pages where Rarity and Applejack explore a forest, where they find the aforementioned killer flowers. The range of colors and depth are just brilliant to look at, giving a feast for the eyes. Her job, primarily, is to create atmosphere and direction for the reader, and she continues to be an under-appreciated, important asset in this book’s aesthetic. The only real flaw I could point out is that the ponies’ general palettes tend to remain the same throughout the various lighting conditions. I would have expected a more muted night palette for Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie when trying to start their campfire, but this is a nitpick that most readers probably wouldn’t notice.
A change that only I will notice is that Robbie Robbins did not letter this issue. Neil Uyetake tackled lettering duties for #3, and, save for a keen eye in a few cases, you wouldn’t notice a difference. I noticed a few minor lettering errors (some of Chrys’ balloons weren’t colored properly) as well as a general series of flaws and inconsistencies that only letterers would point out. There’s panels where I would quibble with the balloon placement or layout of tails. I noticed many tails that weren’t pointing at the source of sounds, and balloons positioned in what I would consider a suboptimal order, causing me to have to scan some panels more than a few times. In one case there wasn’t much he could do with what he was given—when the CMCs are poking holes in Chrysalis’ plan, there’s a question as to who is talking because two balloon tails almost point at the same character. I didn’t notice these types of issues in the first two installments, which is what makes their presence here a bit of a downer to me.
Ain’t Nopony Told You—Who Made Who?
A snarky reader might call issue #3 filler. But not every issue or story has to be a bombastic delivery of dramabombs to have important narrative weight. Having some time for the Mane Six to settle their interpersonal differences—mixed in with some physical comedy and sight gags—is just what the doctor ordered before the climactic conclusion in issue #4. It’s a palate cleanser before the main (mane?) event, and skipping it would be a bad decision if you’re invested in the series.
It’s hard to believe that the first arc of this comic will be over in a scant few weeks. While the preview pages for issue #4 don’t exactly reveal much, the stage has been set for an epic showdown between Chrysalis and Twilight Sparkle, wrapping up this epic test of the Mane Six. It also means that Price and Cook will be on hiatus from the mainline series until August’s issues of the book. In the meantime, they will produce the Rarity micro-series issue. With a second creative team set to alternate arcs with the upcoming issues #5-8, Heather Nuhfer and Amy Mebberson have a tough act to follow. Readers thinking of them as a B-team would be unfairly underestimating their talents—Mebberson and Nuhfer are both talented creators with nothing to apologize for, and consummate professionals. I encourage everyone to give the next arc a shot, because the more good takes we get on these characters, the better.
Let’s not forget the upcoming micro series comics either, which will give readers who aren’t into the large, multi-issue stories something to chew on. With the show going on hiatus after next week’s season finale, the comic is going to be the only way (besides fancontent) for people to get their horsie fix. More and more eyes will be looking upon them, and hopefully this will have some spillover effects. While not every reader of these books is a comics enthusiast, each reader is an opportunity to grow the broader reader base of comic books. When you’re done with your books, share them with a young boy or girl that you know that likes the show. You might just help create the next comic artist or writer. ■