It’s that time of the month again—at least, for those of us who weren’t lucky enough to go to Wondercon—and that means a newly printed issue of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic! Issue #6 continues the story of the Mane Six tussling with the fearsome Nightmare Forces of the moon. Written by Heather Nuhfer, drawn by Amy Mebberson, colored by Heather Breckel, and lettered by Neil Uyetake, the latest monthly installment of the adventures of the Mane Six is sure to entertain.
Let’s take a look after the cut.
Needless to say that this review will spoil some parts of the book in its analysis. While outright spoilers are kept to a minimum, it will necessarily discuss some particulars of the book. If you are interested in getting an overall judgment without any hint of a spoiler, skip to the conclusion of the review. 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.
Voyage de la Lune
Issue #6 starts right where #5 left off, with Rarity kidnapped by mysterious whooshy shadows. However, the Mane Six are undeterred and have enlisted the help of the royal pony sisters, Princesses Celestia and Luna, to aid them in stopping the shadow menace and rescue their friend. The issue starts off with a fantastical feat of magic—lassoing the moon to bring it within travel distance of the Mane Six. It’s an over the top event—people on the forum were jokingly remarking about the damage that would result from coastal flooding from tides—but it fits in a universe full of fantasy. Of course ponies would lasso the moon.
Heather Nuhfer pens the story, and fills the book with a page-turning slice of adventure that’s expertly paced. Compared to the first arc, issue #6 might feel glacial, with very little comedic antics and switching between points of view—save for the dream sequences. But Nuhfer is taking this story in a different direction, and it would be out of place for the moon to be full of zany cartoonishness. Once on the moon, the otherwise calm tranquility one would expect is replaced with a creeping darkness, a sheer force that even when beaten back by the Mane Six comes back for more. The Nightmare Forces are creepy and unsettling, with the reader feeling Princess Luna’s unease at tangling with a former frienemy. It’s the kind of suspense the TV series wanted with King Sombra, but the Nightmare Forces feel much more threatening, thanks to some actual characterization from Nuhfer.
Dialogue stands out in this issue, and Nuhfer’s got a subtle knack for getting you to hear the character’s words in their voices. An audiobook version of this comic read by the voice actresses would fit right in with the show. It’s a testament to Nuhfer to be able to understand the characters and evoke this kind of response in her first story. I kept reading Shadowfright’s lines as if they were spoken by the late, great, Tony Jay, with an insidiousness that evoked his tones in my imagination. From Pinkie Pie’s comedic one-liners to Fluttershy’s brand of bravery in the face of danger, it’s a charming tour of what we love about the ponies mixed in with a dash of danger and suspense. Balancing the Mane Six in a story featuring all of them is challenging, but there is something for everybody here, and no ponies are left out. Even Spike is getting a bigger role, since he is often left out of adventuring, and he is shaping up to be even more critical to this book. About the only thing that didn’t work for me was, surprisingly, a little bit of slapstick from the shadow creatures. I got what she was angling for with the gags, but it felt a bit too Murky and Lurky for my taste. If that’s all I can pick out as a negative (and it’s the lowest of nits to pick), it’s pretty easy to call the writing a win in this book.
Overall, the book feels like the second half of the first part of a two-part episode. The twist and cliffhanger is reminiscent of the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “The Best of Both Worlds,” with Locutus of Borg staring back at the crew of the starship Enterprise. It’s funny how we keep coming back to Trek with ponies, but the comparison is just so apt that it feels a bit intentional, especially with more parallels in the events of this story that lead up to it. Thankfully, we only have wait a scant few weeks to find out what will happen next instead of six months.
Warning! The following segment analyzes major plot points from the book. If you do not want these spoiled, scroll down to “Celestia, We Have a Problem…” to skip!
Ready? You’ve been warned!
Before issue #5 had even been put to press, details of the upcoming arc were revealed in December and January. We knew Nightmare Moon was coming back, but who could it be? The synopses were extremely vague, only noting that it was someone “close to our ponies.” The forums buzzed with activity, guessing that it could be anyone from Trixie to Princess Celestia to Sweetie Belle. It wasn’t until an astute poster noticed that Rarity was missing from the covers of #6 and #7 that the puzzle was solved: Rarity would be the new Nightmare Moon.
Now, Rarity is my favorite pony, and I’ve been wondering just how they would execute her transformation into a wicked mare of darkness. The author can’t just go “well, I’ll make someone into Nightmare Moon,” because that cheapens what is otherwise a very personal struggle for Princess Luna’s character. Nuhfer is cognizant of this, and has put considerable thought into both Rarity and Luna’s portrayals to make such an idea plausible. Back in the days of season one, Lauren Faust posited on DeviantArt that that a dark force of magic could have helped Luna’s fall to Nightmare Moon. Nuhfer has run with this idea with the Nightmare Force, and she has made it clear that it cannot do anything on its own—it’s dependent upon a host. But it doesn’t seem to be able to take said host by force. It lures the host by exploiting its fear until it willingly agrees.
So why Rarity, and not one of the other Mane Six? I find it is because she is very similar to Princess Luna. Aside from sharing a voice, the two share a common bond: the fear of rejection. Rarity is an artist who very much wears her heart on her sleeve, but she’s not without her internal doubts and problems. Her nightmare was the only one that dealt with rejection by the Mane Six, fueled by her desire to be giving and helpful. Like many, Rarity’s generosity is rooted in the satisfaction that she gets from helping others. What else could you feel but despair when your closest friends refuse your gifts, your raison d’être? Exploiting her insecurity opens up just enough of a door to let the Nightmare Forces in. This was true for Princess Luna as well—her jealousy of her sister and the refusal and ignorance of her talents and nature were her own flaws that allowed the forces to take root. It’s believable instead of hokey, and still keeps a measure of agency in the victim of corruption.
On the other side of the Nightmare coin is Luna, and Nuhfer portrays her involvement in coded terms. Luna was clearly hiding the true power of the Nightmare Forces from the Mane Six via lies of omission. She knew the entire time that Rarity becoming a Nightmare was a possibility—on page three, her hushed worry that they are too late is a prime example—and shielded the Mane Six from this terrible thought. Instead, her omission let them think Rarity was merely being held hostage. Luna is even willing to sacrifice herself to prevent the corruption of Rarity, shielding the Mane Six from one of their friends becoming a tool of evil. Shadowfright pointedly, almost mockingly, pokes Luna’s fear and deception without playing his hand, perhaps hoping that Luna, who is unaware of Rarity already being corrupted, will join them anyway. I doubt the Forces would willingly let Rarity go, and I wonder just how many ponies they could corrupt if given the chance. Ultimately, Nightmare Moon is a problem of Luna’s creation, and the guilt over what she had done is coloring all of her actions. Until Luna can clean up the mess that she has created, everyone will be at risk. The most important interactions of issue #7 will be those between Rarity and Luna, as it will reveal the most about their characters and have the highest potential for drama.
Celestia, We Have a Problem…
In the visuals department, issue #6 largely carries on from the tone and style set in the opener, and this is a very good thing. Amy Mebberson’s attention to detail and consistency is remarkable, given the deadlines involved in producing these books. What’s more, she’s managed to slip in her own visual cues and expressions to enhance the standard Friendship is Magic look, which were nice surprises to see. A great example of a small but effective touch is the magic coming from Celestia and Luna’s horns. It takes the form of their respective domains (the sun and moon) and seeing Celestia’s power form a miniature sun and Luna’s a crescent moon was a clever touch that just makes sense. Even Twilight’s stars show up for her spells, so she isn’t left out. Knowing when and how to expand a style, adding in new features and details while still feeling like a natural part of the already established universe is a tough act to pull off. This is why I’m happy to see multiple creative teams tackling these books, because each artist has managed to put their own stamp on the world, and they’ve been able to bounce off each other in succession. A great example is seeing the gremlins from Rainbow Dash’s Micro Series comic show up here. It’s a nice bit of continuity, and in fact makes that story a bit grimmer in retrospect—they’re gathering up all the townsponies’ tears to drown them in sorrow, literally.
With the Mane Six traveling to the moon, this means an all-new environment for the art team to explore, and Mebberson’s moon full of shadowy monsters drips with character. It’s desolate and full of fear, corrupted by the billowing forces of nightmares. The shadow creatures are alien and irregular, with curly lines that play against Mebberson’s established consistency and cement them as extraequestrian in our mind. This is the feeling that the show wanted to capture with King Sombra in “The Crystal Empire,” but couldn’t quite nail due to the limitations of TV animation. She subtly brings this back in to the nightmare dream sequences, where the billowy curls infect the panel borders and even the drawings and characters inside. This was true back in issue #5, but here it’s used even more, carrying across multiple pages and connecting the link further for the reader, giving them a clue that it’s just a dream.
Mebberson’s excellent artwork is paired again with Heather Breckel’s colors, and in this issue Breckel’s contributions are finally recognized with a credit on the cover. It’s an appropriate one to start, as this comic is her most ambitious (and probably time consuming) issue of FiM yet. Her use of lighting in particular is strong throughout the issue, with horns and magic providing dramatic, high-contrast light in the dark side of the moon. Playing to the strengths of comics instead of trying to imitate the show is what gives this so much appeal, as this kind of dynamic lighting is very time consuming (and expensive) in animation. The digital colors complement the traditional inkwork by Mebberson, best utilizing the strengths of each medium to enhance the comic’s look. Breckel also busts out colored lines on primary characters for the first time, with the shadow creatures effectively using the technique to appear even more misty and ethereal. The palette used for the moon is full of purples and blues, which is a stark contrast from the lush greens of Equestria. Alien and dreamy, the colorful ponies contrast harshly against the environment, but it’s a credit to the design that it still feels like a natural extension of the universe. The Mane Six do not belong in this place, and they know it.
Lastly, but not leastly, Neil Uyetake provides the lettering for this book. Longtime readers will be familiar with my criticisms of his lettering treatments in these books, and there are a few lettering errors in this issue (like a balloon intended for Pinkie pointing at Twilight, and some nitpicky stuff) but in this issue he puts in a serviceable performance capped off with a special treatment. I absolutely loved the dialogue lettering given to Shadowfright and his dim-witted companion. It’s a perfect use of contrast to the regular dialogue and the choice of font combined with the red text just makes it drip with evil. It’s a great example of how the right lettering treatment enhances the story and draws the reader in to the characters. Thankfully, he uses these special treatments judiciously. I don’t expect other characters to get a special treatment in this arc, because too much of it is a bad thing, but it’s just so right that it greatly enhanced my appreciation of the shadow creatures.
One Small Step For Mare…
MLP: FiM #6 runs with the torch lit by issue #5, and with the first half of the story completed the team has set up the real stage for the arc, which will present itself in issue #7. If you haven’t bought issue #5, it is required reading before this issue. In fact, getting into this particular story without reading any other issues of the arc would be a very bad decision. The team is not making many concessions to those who jump in midstream. Fortunately, the quality of issue #6 is just as good as #5, so if you are interested in reading a story that is character focused and has stunning visuals, the current arc of the pony comics is a pretty good relief from the off-season of the TV series. The writing and art quality still rival anything else you could read, standing out in a sometimes forgettable sea of general audience comics. Do yourself a favor and sit down with a member of the target demographic and share these books with them. You’ll help create a new generation of comic readers and reward a creative team who are not phoning it in. ■