My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ IDW My Little Pony: Legends of Magic Annual

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Synopsis:

Many years ago, in the nearly-complete Canterlot Castle, Starswirl the Bearded shows off a hall of mirrors to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna; each of which serves as a stable method of going to another world. As Celestia and Starswirl talk about the risks and benefits of having stable portals like this following the incident with Luna (in the first “Legends of Magic”), all of the mirrors suddenly let out dozens of shadow creatures who try to seize the princesses–calling them “the destroyers”. Starswirl ultimately fails to save them as he and the girls fall into the mirror portals, and all mirrors save one are shattered. Meanwhile, in Rockhoof’s village, the rest of the Pillars of Old Equestria are taking some casual time as the pegasi of the Royal Guard are put through an obstacle course made by the Mighty Helm. The exercise is ruined, however, when a drained Starswirl suddenly pops into existence, having just managed to teleport himself back to his world of origin. He explains that the princesses have been captured but sets out to try and rescue them himself, only for Stygian to actually show off his anger for once in insisting that the rest of the Pillars come with him. On arrival back in Canterlot, Starswirl finds that the remaining portal has been destroyed from the other side, leaving no way to easily get to the princesses, which causes Stygian to chastise him again for being irresponsible. In the end, Starswirl makes a new, albeit very temporary, portal to take the group in after them, and they arrive in the same dark, bleak world where Luna was taken when she was abducted. Although he has a spell to key in on the girls, it won’t take effect until the group gets close to them, so they split into three groups: Stygian and Rockhoof; Somnambula, Mistmane, and Meadowbrook; and Flash Magnus and Starswirl. While searching, Rockhoof points out that Stygian is growing increasingly upset with Starswirl’s nature and says he’d follow Stygian if he was willing to speak up more. The two are attacked by a gang of monstrous lightning bugs, but during the encounter Stygian finds, much to his surprise, that they obey him when he gives them orders, and so he commands them to lead them to the princesses. As for the ladies, Mistmane points out that the entire world they are in seems to have been permanently corrupted with anger and hate. On being attacked by corrupted Lumber Bears, Mistmane is further distressed to find even she can’t purify them. Finally, Flash Magnus and Starswirl run into a monstrous “pony of shadows”, who recognizes them from their counterparts in this world. He easily defeats Flash and turns on Starswirl, saying the version of him in this world betrayed him and tried to stop him, and in return he destroyed him along with the rest of this world’s Pillars of Old Equestria. Before he can do the same to Starswirl, however, Stygian and Rockhoof find the unconscious princesses and launch a signal. Although all of the Pillars see it, the shadowy pony is able to teleport there before any of them. On arrival, he confronts Rockhoof and Stygian and reveals he kidnapped the girls to corrupt them into their malevolent alter-egos Daybreaker and Nightmare Moon, then use them as his enslaved minions to destroy all other realities and corrupt them just like his own world. However, although he doesn’t recognize Stygian, he hesitates to attack Rockhoof, saying he’s the only one he “misses”, and that allows the rest of the group to arrive. Knowing Stygian can command the shadow pony’s legions, Rockhoof overrides Starswirl and tells him to lead the charge. While the rest of the group battles the corrupted creatures, Stygian goes to save the princesses. The shadowy pony tries to stop him only to get a shock when he and Stygian annihilate each other’s attacks. He then attempts to order one of his minions to grab the princesses, but is thwarted when Stygian calls out a command over his and the monster instead gives the girls to Pillars. As they make their escape, the infuriated shadow pony demands to know who Stygian is. Reveling in his chance to be the hero for once, Stygian tosses his name over his shoulder in a one-liner. Once the group is back home, the mirror is smashed, Starswirl takes the girls aside to their rooms to wake up, and, as a result of sleeping through the whole thing, they again only recall Starswirl ever had anything to do with their rescue. The rest of the Pillars, however, praise Stygian and Rockhoof decides to take him out to try the “oat boat” challenge. Meanwhile, back in the dark world, the shadowy pony realizes who Stygian was on hearing his name as well as how he was able to thwart him, as he lowers the darkness around him to reveal himself to be that world’s version of Stygian.

Review:

As I mentioned before, part of the reason I was rather underwhelmed with “Shadow Play” was the fact that they spent so much time building up to the villain and he ended up being rather underwhelming. Ultimately, in the main series, the Pony of Shadows was quite literally all shadow and no substance. While he talked more about darkness than Xehanort from “Kingdom Hearts” on a cloudy day, that’s all he really ended up having. Other than the fact that the Pillars of Old Equestria seemed incapable of beating him on their own, it wasn’t exactly clear what threat he represented or potential he had.

While most of the “Legends of Magic” arc handled Stygian and why we should feel more for him and his relationship with the others, it was this annual that escalated the Pony of Shadows into one of the greatest and most terrible villains.

If we can assume that, left unchecked, the Pony of Shadows from the main universe would have eventually become the one from the alternate universe, then he is one of the most fearsome and heavy foes ever encountered. In his universe, he not only killed Starswirl the Bearded and most of the Pillars of Old Equestria, but it’s heavily implied that he committed pony genocide. No ponies, enslaved or otherwise, are ever seen in his universe–indicating that there aren’t any left. If that wasn’t enough, his entire world is permanently corrupted. Even Mistmane can’t purify anything there. All of the animals have been consumed by his anger and hate, and it looks as if nature itself right down to the trees and weather are the same way. And if all of that wasn’t enough, the Pony of Shadows isn’t satisfied with being an evil thing of darkness and hate on a consumed world. He wanted to do the same to every world out of a mixture of malevolence and madness by turning two kids into his enslaved personal attack “dogs”.

Definitely the worst.

However, it’s a bit interesting that, in spite of this arc making Stygian one of the worst villains ever, it showed that he still clung to one thread of his humanity(pony-ity?). I’m not sure if it was just a side-effect of him being the first one Stygian recruited, but the comic brought his relationship with Rockhoof full circle when it showed even the Pony of Shadows still clung to his memory of their old friendship. There’s the part where he says that he’s the only one he “misses”, of course, as well as admits he was the only member of the Pillars he didn’t kill himself but who died in an accident. Yet even more than that, note that on the previous page when the Pony of Shadows appears he doesn’t immediately attack but tells Rockhoof and Stygian to run away and never come back…showing out of all the ponies he’s massacred Rockhoof is the only one he’s willing to spare.

Well, the big factor of this issue out of the way, let’s talk about the rest of it.

This was more the kind of issue that I wish the entire “Legends of Magic” series has been–adventures featuring all of the Pillars of Old Equestria. As it was, this once again covered older territory by having the villain from the series, but even so it was nice to have more chances for them to be all together. I will say it was kind of a disappointment for ones like Mistmane and Somnambula to once again have little to nothing to do or add, but the good relationships it had already established in the earlier series were strengthened.

As we see was eventually his biggest fault, we have another issue where Starswirl once again assumes he knows best and tries to head up everything by himself. Once again, we see this isn’t really entirely based on ego but based on the fact that his reputation has fed in on itself. Everypony always expects him to know best and do the best, and so he expects himself to know best and do the best. This time, however, we get to see the beginnings of the eventual “breakup” between Stygian and the group, although his anger is mostly centered against Starswirl in this one. He starts to call him out not only on his bad decisions but is actually snide at a point or two. However, as the issue progresses, we can see that some of that is still misplaced. Once again, Stygian suffers from his perpetual self-doubt and inadequacy, and that this is likely being projected as a result.

There’s a lot of good dramatic moments and action alike in this one, just as I always hoped. I do have couple few beefs with it. It never quite explains whatever happened to the dark universe’s version of Celestia and Luna. The text indicates Starswirl tried to protect them from the Pony of Shadows and died trying, but the fact that the Pony of Shadows obviously didn’t succeed in getting them means he had to have done something to keep them from being captured. Did he banish them? Turn them into stone? Possibly kill them to keep them from ever being used, as we know Starswirl might sacrifice? It also ends, surprisingly, by leaving me wishing for a bit more explanation and follow-up. On the last page, for example, it’s not exactly clear what happens from here. This annual came out well after the Season Finale for Season Seven, so everyone already knew Stygian and the Pony of Shadows were the same person long before the end. Therefore it doesn’t really come as a huge shock to see the alternate version of Stygian at the end. However, if Starswirl opened the portal to his world, it seems likely that Stygian could open a portal back to Starswirl’s without a mirror. So I’d say they haven’t necessarily seen the last of him. In that case, what does the last page mean? Was it just put in for whoever hadn’t seen the final episode of the season? Or does it mean there’s still a touch of hope for that world’s version of Stygian?

Those beefs are very minor, however. Overall, this was a great annual and a great way to cap off the “Legends of Magic” series. If you’ve seen “Shadow Play” and liked it, or if you didn’t like it and wanted the backstories of the core characters fleshed out, I recommend it highly. It will give the season finale the weight and force that it was going for all along.

Fun Facts:

This issue serves as the conclusion to the “Legends of Magic” series. Chronologically, it obviously happens between the defeat of the Dazzlings and Stygian’s turn into the Pony of Shadows, but it seems to be closer to the latter than the former. Stygian is no longer timid but actively calls Starswirl out on his behavior, clearly beginning to grow angry with him.

At least in the comic universe, this episode hints more at Luna having a pacifist nature. Even when being attacked by dark creatures, she still sees them as creatures and doesn’t want to counterattack.

Mage Meadowbrook’s offer of a cure to the dragons was so great it led to a treaty, namely the “Treaty of Meadowbrook”. 😛

Rockhoof has a banner in his room saying “Oat Boat Winner”.

Stygian predicts that the princesses will ensure Equestria remembers Starswirl but will forget the rest of the Pillars of Old Equestria, a prediction which turns out to be completely true.

In the main series, the Pony of Shadows was made to stand out from the rest of the cast by being hand-drawn rather than flash-animated. In the comic, he again stands out by having a different font and black word balloons.

This is the first appearance of an “ogre” in the series.

Technically, this is the first time Daybreaker has “appeared” in the comics.

When Stygian and the Pony of Shadows attempt to attack one another, their spells cancel each other out in spite of the fact the Pony of Shadows is far stronger. This indicates that a unicorn can’t overcome his or her own magic, and could be something of a similar effect to the “Priori Incantatem” of Harry Potter lore in which two wands of the exact same nature can’t overcome each other if a spell is cast from both at the same time.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ IDW My Little Pony: Legends of Magic #7-#12: (Untitled)

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Synopsis:

Following the events of “Shadow Play”, Sunburst is (cheerfully) preparing to rewrite all of his history notes based on the events he went through. Yet just as he is getting started, he gets a mysterious book and a note on his front doorstep, reading only that the individual wishes to tell his “side” of the story and signing it “S”. Guessing who it is, Sunburst digs in…

Stygian the unicorn was never brave, wise, magical, or considered himself a hero. He lived a quiet scholarly life studying the sea and looking to it for answers about where ponies came from. One day, however, he heard a voice calling to him from the sea and was surprised and delighted to find three “sea ponies”. The creatures introduced themselves as the Dazzlings and said they were sirens, and asked for his help in holding a concert in which everyone in the town could hear their voices. When Stygian hesitated, however, they suddenly grew vicious and angry for a moment, scaring him into running off. On looking at one of the guidebooks of his idol, Starswirl the Bearded, he discovered that while no one had ever seen a siren, he suspected that they thrived on the negative energy of others. Nevertheless, after calming down, he decided to research more about them and then meet with them again to see what he could learn about them, but first had to go and help with chores for a local elderly mare. Yet when she failed to return long after nightfall, Stygian went searching for her and found his entire town in the hypnotic grip of the Dazzlings, whose songs were driving them to fight with each other as they fed off the chaos that resulted. Being too far away for their song to hypnotize him as well, Stygian fled home but, not knowing what he could do, instead looked to his books and identified six of the greatest heroes of Equestria. He decided to recruit them to defeat the Dazzlings and set out to find them. After journeying for weeks, he finally arrived in a northern town at the edge of a volcano searching for the first on his list, only to find the villagers worried before suddenly falling into a hole that seems to appear out of nowhere. Not long after, however, a mighty stallion with a warshovel appeared to help him out.

Stygian recognized the pony as Rockhoof of the Mighty Helm, who was digging a new trench about the town in preparation for another volcanic eruption. Unfortunately, he seemed unable to help Stygian with his problem as Captain Steela needed his help with another problem: allowing a school of filter fish, which kept their water clean, to reach their destination while trying to fight off a swarm of lumber bears. The tasks seemed impossible as the river ran through a forest, where the lumber bears could rebuild themselves as soon as they were smashed. Stygian, however, got an idea to reroute the river around the forest, allowing the lumber bears to be defeated while sparing the fish. With Steela and Rockhoof helping him, he managed to enact the plan and help the town; and thereby got Rockhoof to willingly join him. Now with a companion, Stygian found the next leg of his journey much more bearable until they reached the swamplands of Equestria. Shortly after arrival, they were assaulted first by a vicious bunny and then a swarm of forest creatures, but were rescued by a blue pony in a bird mask. After mistaking her for a hippogriff, she removed it to reveal herself as Mage Meadowbrook. However, she declined to join the group as she needed to cure whatever was making the animals of the forest vicious first. When Rockhoof and Stygian offered to help, she initially declined based on how she had just saved them, but an off color remark by the two allowed her to realize that only the herbivores of the forest were going wild while the carnivores were hiding in fear of them–leading her to conclude the culprit was a local fungus affecting the plants. She returned to her home to start making a cure, but Stygian and Rockhoof soon found she wouldn’t have long to prepare it as the herbivores were massing for an attack.

To try and buy some time for Meadowbrook to finish her cure, Rockhoof barricades the door with his own body while Stygian goes upstairs; directed by Meadowbrook to use her potion collection to fend them off. The potions have mixed results at first, but eventually Stygian accidentally throws a strength-granting one that makes the attacking bunnies a group of hulks. Fortunately, they break in just as the cure is finished and Meadowbrook rapidly disperses it to all the animals. The next day, Meadowbrook agrees to help out the group and they set off again, but not before she cooks them a meal that even manages to sate Rockhoof. On the next leg of the journey, Rockhoof and Meadowbrook begin to grow close to each other, but Stygian grows increasingly worried about the fate of his village. The group finally arrives at the training ground of the Royal Guard, where they get accosted by Royal Guard member Grimhoof. After “exchanging pleasantries” with Rockhoof, they ask if they can speak to the fastest of their order, Flash Magnus, only to find he’s otherwise preoccupied with a a coming war…against the dragons.

Stygian broke up the epic battle between the pegasi and the dragons by shouting out his request to them. At first they ignored him, but Rockhoof got their attention again by taunting them until Flash Magnus went down to see what they wanted. While Stygian talked with him, however, Rockhoof had Meadowbrook talk to the dragons and got them to retreat by giving them a cure for their scale rot (which is why they were attacking Equestria in the first place). Freed of his need to protect the skies, Flash agreed to help the group, and on the way Rockhoof explained he didn’t know if Meadowbrook could have gotten the dragons to retreat, but counted on either her or Stygian being able to resolve the issue without a fight. Stygian also revealed that individual talents alone weren’t his sole reason for choosing the six heroes that he was looking for…that he suspected, in reality, they all have a special quality about them that made them important when united. The four made their way to Southern Equestria in search of Somnambula, but instead found a hoard of mummy ponies hungry for brains. Rockhoof, Flash, and even Meadowbrook leapt into the fray to try and beat them all off, but there proved to be too many until Somnambula quite literally dropped in. Seeing them as a group of legendary adventurers, she readily joined up with them without hesitation and explained that this was all happening due to one pony in particular bearing a cursed gem. The five quickly worked out a plan that made use of all of their respective abilities that allowed Somnambula to shatter it; revealing that the whole thing was a nightmare Prince Hassan was having when he accidentally put on an evil enchanted emerald from his enemies. The land saved again, she enthusiastically set out with the group for their next destination. Meanwhile, in a far distant garden and greenhouse, the unicorn Mistmane addresses her plants saying that she will need to leave them for a time soon, only to suddenly be eaten by one of her own massive flytraps.

On arriving at the greenhouse, the group found it locked from the inside. Rockhoof and Flash’s attempts to force their way in went rather badly, but in doing so they discovered the plants inside themselves were barricading the way in. Getting an idea from that, Stygian and Meadowbrook used one of Meadowbrook’s own plant growth potions as a bribe to trick the plants into opening up, but Flash (still groggy from hitting his head trying to dash inside), accidentally revealed the deception and got them all assaulted by the monstrous plants. Fortunately, Stygian and Rockhoof were able to open the flytrap that ate Mistmane, who, on emerging, revealed the plants were just afraid to let her leave and calmed them all down into releasing the others. She further revealed she knew they were coming all along; that she detected a change was coming across Equestria. She also guides them correctly to the future site of Canterlot and the nearly-completed Canterlot Castle for the final member of their group: Starswirl the Bearded. As he is Stygian’s idol, he initially feels to humble and afraid to even address him, but with some coaxing from Mistmane he approaches Starswirl. After first getting detracted by giving his personal account of what he thinks of Starswirl’s focal figures in “Great Heroes of Equestria”, revealing how much love and admiration he has for all of them, Stygian finally managed to explain why he came and introduces the wizard formally to the other five.

Before beginning the final portion of the story, the narrator of the book again explains that he isn’t a hero, and that he should have followed a rule about being a scholar – “Never meet your heroes”.

Starswirl the Bearded was marveled to meet the legendary heroes of Equestria but almost immediately began to overlook Stygian. On hearing about the Sirens, he joined the group but almost instantly supplanted Stygian’s role as the unofficial leader. He refused to let Celestia and Luna know about the group’s existence as well, as he believed that they wouldn’t be there forever and the two girls would eventually have to rule Equestria without them. As Starswirl began to connect with the others and largely overlook him, Stygian’s feelings of inadequacy continued to grow, right down to the point where Starswirl cut him off in the middle of him formulating his plan to defeat the Dazzlings with his own plan. He further supplanted Stygian’s own theory about them all having something special about them with his own version of it, believing they represented Sorcery, Strength, Bravery, Hope, Healing, and Beauty, and represented the “Pillars” on which the power of Equestria was upheld–that united they could wield a power that was far greater than any one individual could. However, when the others asked what Stygian’s virtue was, he refused to believe he contributed anything to the group, and despite the others assuring him that he had put himself through danger time and again to bring them together and that the friendship he displayed was it’s own virtue, both Stygian as well as Starswirl refused to see any value in it. Starswirl ended up rejecting any plans to try and reason with or reform the Dazzlings, declaring that “ponies don’t change” and that they needed to be banished to a magicless dimension instead. After a long pause, Stygian decided again he wasn’t a hero and deferred to Starswirl’s judgment. As a result, he was forced to stand to one side and simply be a spectator for the climactic battle with the Dazzlings. Right as Starswirl managed to banish them, he was happy that he had saved his town…but also told himself he should have been fighting the battle as well. The story ends with Stygian discovering a way to give himself greater abilities by borrowing a bit from each of his six heroes.

The story over, Sunburst seeks out Stygian in the Crystal Empire, who, following his time as the “Pony of Shadows”, feels more weak and unheroic than ever. Sunburst, however, points out that Stygian brought the element of friendship to the group and says that, under a different set of circumstances, he could have been his generation’s “Twilight Sparkle”–something that brings tears to Stygian’s eyes. As the two walk off, Stygian admits he has other stories besides that journal about the Pillars of Old Equestria, and Sunburst proposes the interesting theory that, given all of his mess-ups, Starswirl the Bearded might secretly be the greatest villain in Equestrian history.

Review:

Now this is what I “paid to see”.

I considered “Shadow Play” to ultimately be a failure for all of its buildup due to a combination of factors. The one that impacted both it and the comic was the need to cater to a younger audience and thereby had to water down some of the stakes and relationships, but aside from that there was the fact that it had so much character overload that it ended up being mostly an exposition dump. Not just for the plot itself, but for the character relationships. Most of the Pillars of Old Equestria didn’t even get a chance to speak more than a couple lines, and Stygian himself was largely a plot device. Unlike a similar situation with Tempest Shadow, who managed to not only have some emotional buildup but managed to tell her story by showing the audience rather than orating it to them, everything was so thrown out at once that we had no chance to connect with any of the characters.

The nice thing the comic did, especially in this six-part miniseries, was not only get into greater detail about who the main characters were but actually formed some solid relationships between them, and ones that didn’t require the narrator to spell out.

Finally, in this comic, we get a sense of who Stygian was. In a sense, one can see him as the sort of reluctant hero or individual who needs to step out of his comfort zone and realize his own potential; sort of like a Bilbo Baggins type character. Just like the titular character in “The Hobbit”, Stygian initially doesn’t expect much out of himself and is content with his peaceful, quiet life. Yet when disaster forces him to be spurred into action, and he finds himself reluctantly going on an adventure, he gradually shows that that he does have a spark of true bravery and heroism in him.

The difference, however, is that unlike Bilbo, Stygian never realizes he has greatness inside himself. And one can attribute that difference from something like “The Hobbit” to Gandalf vs. Starswirl. Gandalf always saw “the spark” inside Bilbo, and he always treated him as if it was there even when Bilbo adamantly refused to believe it was. By comparison, Starswirl snuffs him out as soon as he begins. Whereas Gandalf eventually threw the burden of responsibility and leadership on Bilbo, knowing that he was ultimately capable of handling it even if he didn’t at the time, Starswirl seizes the role of leadership from Stygian just as it begins to become clear to him that he has that capability, and, through his actions, destroys what self-confidence Stygian has and leaves him forever feeling “less” than the Pillars of Old Equestria…completely forgetting he was the one who gathered them together. Having no faith in himself, he stands aside and lets the history books erase him even from the footnotes and his “idol” gets all the glory.

In a way, this is probably one of the more mature ways the series as a whole has ever portrayed a “villain”. Starswirl the Bearded is often called a jerk in the main series, and with some good reason. Here…you can’t really blame him. He’s an individual used to everyone always looking to him for answers and wisdom. He’s a wizard who’s accustomed for everyone to come to with problems they need solving. There are a few moments in the last issue where, if Stygian had more confidence in himself, he might have changed his mind. He didn’t, however. He kept repeating a mantra of self-depreciation and failure: “I am not a hero”. As a result of this, it’s mostly another mark against the Pony of Shadows. The hate and animosity he built up against Starswirl was, in fact, partially his own fault. He blamed Starswirl for what was essentially his own feelings of inadequacy. And even at the end of the six-part series, Stygian still doesn’t quite believe there’s anything to him even when Sunburst says that he’s the same kind of individual Twilight Sparkle herself is.

To sum up, the series does everything that the main series tried to do with Stygian in 44 minutes: it establishes his character from when he was still a good pony who nevertheless never had enough faith in himself, it shows that his corruption was partially due to external factors and relationships, but it also does not fully absolve him of his own role in his own corruption. In doing so it takes him from being a friendship plot device to a genuine character you actually care about.

That was the main thing that was good about this arc. There are other good things, but…they’re watered down by other factors.

This comic is now likely the “canon” introduction to the Dazzlings in their original forms, usurping the rather comedic, tongue-in-cheek version from the “FIENDship is Magic” series. It works well in establishing how, even in their native forms, they prey on the innocence and friendliness of their victims; relying on the natural inclusiveness and friendship of ponies to seize upon them. It also clearly shows this is all nothing more than deception toward their truly vile and hate-filled natures, as when Adagio snaps viciously at Stygian when he hesitates. However, it makes Aria and Sonata pretty much carbon-copies of Adagio as well. Aria’s more hostile personality is omitted as is Sonata’s cluelessness.

One opportunity that this arc had was for the Pillars of Old Equestria to finally be seen in relation to one another, getting a chance to dig into their personalities and teamwork and interactions with each other. And it seized upon it…a little. Rockhoof is shown to be something of a mixture of Applejack and Thor. He definitely has a bit of an ego about his own athletic prowess and feats but not an overbearing one, and, just as Stygian says, he has a nice vibe with him that looks like an older-brother/younger-brother dynamic. And that’s great, because that’s something the show has never touched on before except extremely briefly in “Marks and Recreation” with Thunderlane and Rumble. Mage Meadowbrook is also good. In spite of her caring personality, she shows she also has a touch of personal pride and ego about herself. Like Fluttershy, she prefers to work alone and without involvement of others, explaining her isolation, but not from a perspective of being naturally shy and timid around others. Quite the contrary, she actually is very self-sufficient and independent and actually has a bit of tomboyishness to herself as well as a desire to prove herself, but none of it is overbearing or in your face as her character. And, of course, the romance they hinted at between her and Rockhoof was a really nice touch that I really wish the main series had rolled with in “A Rockhoof and a Hard Place”.

Yet after those two, the series starts suffering from the same thing the main series did: character overload. As more Pillars of Old Equestria got introduced, less time was devoted to them and their relationships. Flash Magnus has a bit of a nice attitude in spite of his own ego, but other than him puffing himself up in a Rainbow-Dash-like manner we never see much of it. Somnambula is pretty much in her own little domain most of the time, much like Pinkie Pie. And Mistmane fulfills the role of most of the sage-ly types you find in this kind of group and is pretty much just there to look wise and mysterious. Stygian even says the only thing about her is her mere presence is calming, rather than anything she says, does, or how she acts. Neither this arc nor her stand-alone ever draws attention to the fact that Mistmane is not an elderly pony…she merely looks that way as a result of the spell she performed. Mentally, she should not only still be in the prime of her life but still have a more youth-orientated world view.

The biggest disappointment, however, and what ruined the potential for the group to be shown interacting with each other was the fact that the entire series was merely building up to the Pillars of Old Equestria’s first major challenge: defeating the Dazzlings. Not only was this already seen in the main series, it eliminated the chance to see them working as a group or team on any other threats they could have encountered in original stories. Granted, this was something of how it had to end since it was mostly about Stygian and how he faded into the background once Starswirl joined, but it was another possibility that had to be eliminated in the end.

In conclusion, there was a lot to like in this arc, but not as much as there could have been. It did its main job well and much better than the main series, but as for all the “side quests”, so to speak, it only managed to pick up some of them. The ones it did do were done so well, however, that it increased the feeling of disappointment that it couldn’t cover everyone.

Nevertheless, a good arc and, in my opinion, one of the more solid ones in the entire series, and a chance for the IDW writers to shine.

On one final note, one thing that this series failed to do was enhance the prestige of the Pony of Shadows at all. He had considerable buildup in both the comic and the main series, but when push came to shove he was an even bigger letdown than King Sombra ended up being. I had entertained some hope that the comic could fix that issue. This arc failed to do that, but as it turned out there was one entry left that would…

Fun Facts:

Stygian’s appearance in the comic is slightly different from that on the show, making him a bit “cuter”. To emphasize looking weak and unremarkable, on the show he had more of a body type akin to Snails with smaller pupils. In the comic, his neck is thicker, his eyes are larger, and his head isn’t quite as elongated, making him more similar to other characters.

The appearance of the Dazzlings in this arc effectively retcons “FIENDship is Magic #3” completely. The original story in that one was radically different from how they entered Equestria and encountered Starswirl the Bearded. See my review for details.

Ms. Malus, the Latin word for apple, is likely an ancestor of Applejack’s family.

Stygian spells out his logic for his selections for the group throughout the story. Rockhoof’s job is to hold off the worst of the hypnotized ponies. Mage Meadowbrook’s job is to break the hypnotic spell. Flash Magnus’ job is to serve as a diversion to the Dazzlings. Somnambula and Mistmane’s jobs were to provide their own brand of unconventional wisdom.

In referring to taking on a challenge, Rockhoof says: “Remember the oat boat?” That was the first eating competition Rockhoof won in his stand-alone “Legends of Magic” comic.

The attack of the rabbit might be a reference to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

“Every good party needs a healer!” Basic RPG Logic. 😛

A “William Wallace” bunny breaks into Mage Meadowbrook’s house.

Somehow, Meadowbrook has spray bottles in spite of the time period. Also, in true Southerner fashion, she treats Stygian and Rockhoof to lemonade and rocking chairs.

Mage Meadowbrook mentions she stopped traveling after she ran into a town of zombie ponies, a reference to her own stand-alone “Legends of Magic” comic.

When Rockhoof is trying to remember Flash Magnus’ name, he throws out various “pony-fied” names of individuals who were the Flash of DC Comics. (Such as “Mare E. Allen” = Barry Allen.)

Flash Magnus tends to act a lot like Rainbow Dash, having something of an ego and being raring and eager to go into the first sign of a battle. However, this is perfectly canon considering the fact in “Shadow Play” the two hit it off so well they pretty much imitated each other.

When bombarding the fake mummies, Somnambula yells “Stay on target!”, an allusion to “A New Hope”.

Flash Magus nicknames Somnambula: “Cleopatrot”.

Somnambula is worried the site of Canterlot Castle might have snakes around, a reference to her own stand-alone “Legends of Magic” comic.

When Stygian meets Starswirl the Bearded and says he read his book about “Great Heroes of Equestria”, he mentions that he made Somnambula sound “a bit stuffy”. This might be a subtle way of trying to harmonize the IDW comic portrayal of Somnambula and the main series version by explaining the reason she didn’t act more silly and cheerful in “Daring Done?” was because that wasn’t actually Somnambula but rather Starswirl’s interpretation of her.

Celestia and Luna briefly reveal they can pull off the same instant teleportation that Twilight Sparkle is infamous for.

Rockhoof states that there’s actually been several “warshovels”, saying the first was ruined by the cherufe in his stand-alone comic.

Somnambula nearly says “friendship is magic”, but in the end says “friendship is…not nothing”.

The fateful moment in which Stygian is told to decide what is to be done about the Dazzlings mirrors Twilight Sparkle’s own moment in which she had to choose to follow Starswirl’s advice or try and save Stygian in “Shadow Play”, only Stygian elected to go with Starswirl.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Devotional #165: “Separation Anxiety”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Surf and/or Turf”

I think we all wish life was as simple as this episode.

The hippogriff Terramar finds himself in a difficult situation when his father elects to move back topside and live as a hippogriff full-time while his mother elects to remain in the sea as a merpony–leading him to think he has to choose between the two of them. The dilemma has a rather handy solution when it turns out he doesn’t have to choose at all and can live between the two as he pleases, which is something both of his parents approve of.

Many saw this as the show making attempt at a metaphor for the issue of children going through a divorce. To me, it’s a bit unfortunate that they danced around it with a metaphor at all, because we are at the point where over half of all marriages in the USA end in divorce (and the number only looks to keep rising) so they might as well face reality. Yet even more unfortunate is that the resolution was so neat and tidy as, in my experience, divorces rarely end so “neatly”.

What I have seen more in my own life is the two individuals involved in a divorce having the absolute worst brought out of them; turning into deranged, irrational, hate-filled “creatures” (because “human” is a rather loose term at best in those cases). Everything becomes bitter, everything becomes hostile, everything becomes about one trying to get an edge on the other, and, in the middle of it all, both of them try to leverage their children as emotional weapons against one another. With few exceptions, I never see people at their most malicious, twisted, and depraved than when going through a divorce.

And of course, every time, it’s all “the other person’s fault”.

When it comes to social problems, a favorite target for a lot of Christian preachers is to rail against divorce. For them, that’s often an indicator about how “corrupt” and “godless” our society is becoming. I do think that’s a bit biased and oversimplistic (It seems one reason marriages last so long around the world has nothing to do with a want to breakup but rather the fact that society and the law frowns on the idea of divorce and often leaves one partner [almost always the woman] with little recourse to obtain a divorce or financial means if they go through with it; even if they are in an outright abusive relationship.), but that being said, I will admit…one of the reasons I think divorce is so commonplace in the USA at least is because we’re all addicted to the notion of instant gratification and hedonism. If it feels good, do it. If it looks cute, get it and get it now. If it feels bad later, then it can easily be disposed of and a new one obtained. That goes from everything from soft drinks to relationships.

As a member of a number of fan communities, I can tell the only criterion for wanting to see two characters as a couple is if they look cute together. Whether they have opposite personalities, no common ground, they’re enemies, or even if neither of them is interested in a same-sex partner…that doesn’t matter. It looks good together so do it. In the end, making a “cute couple” seems to be the only important thing. So it’s no surprise to me that I see younger people getting married while still having outstanding relationship problems or ones on the horizon that could cause a severe interpersonal strain, expecting that “love will let us work through it”, only for those same issues to never be resolved and cause a breakup later.

The very idea of instant gratification and hedonism is the natural antithesis to self-discipline and commitment. On one hand, you only ever pursue what gives you pleasure or satisfaction. If it gives you pain, the solution is to immediately seek out what gives you more pleasure and to abandon the old thing. On the other hand, self-discipline and commitment starts off by promising nothing but pain and discomfort with the idea of a reward either over the long term or in the future. Hence, you can’t emphasize one side without de-emphasizing the other. And since our society embraces one it’s natural the other will suffer.

Any couple that has lasted a long time together will tell you the same thing: marriage is a commitment. Like all misfortune in life, conflicts in a relationship are inevitable. Assuming that you are going to enter one and never have any is more of a fairy tale than a show about talking, pastel-colored ponies could ever be. And people will inevitably lose their temper or give in to their anger, frustration, or hurt and do or say things particularly bad and mean-spirited. What’s important is what you do in those times and what you are committed to doing no matter how painful it gets and how much work needs to be put into it.

Christians often quote Jesus in passages like Mark 10:8-12 when talking about marriage and divorce. However, perhaps they should also quote Luke 14:28-32. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.” While Lord Jesus was referring to the cost of being His disciple in this passage, the same can be applied to marriage because, after all, the reason marriage is considered a sacred institution is because it represents the relationship of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). And as both relationships are lifelong commitments, then one would think it would make sense to not only plan for a long haul, so to speak, but to prepare to stick by it even when times are rough and relationships become rocky.

Finally, if divorce really is inevitable (and in many cases it will be), a Christian has a much greater responsibility to keep themselves from degenerating into hate and spite as so many divorcees do. Doing so means the hardest task of all: being honest with oneself. Contrary to what many exes would believe, it is a rarity that any relationship difficulty is simply the fault of one individual. (If nothing else, the other individual allowed a bad behavior to happen unchecked until it became an irreconcilable issue.) Strive hard to see and be humble enough to admit what was your part of the problem, always maintain a good attitude and Christ-like view of everyone (including the ex), and, like in this episode, make sure that your child never feels pressured to “take a side”.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for relationships and for the institution of marriage. Please grant that all of my relationships, especially those with my significant other, will personify the love of Christ and His people. Please also grant me the strength to be Christ-like in all times of interpersonal difficulty of my relationships, even if it comes to the point where a breakup is unavoidable. Finally, please help me to be honest and open with myself so that, in any difficulty, I will face what I am contributing to the problem and responsibly overcome it. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

 

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ IDW My Little Pony: Legends of Magic #6: “Mage Meadowbrook and the Abandoned City”

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Synopsis:

Starlight Glimmer sees Sunburst off from Canterlot for home in the Crystal Empire, but he’s eager to keep reading Starswirl’s old legends to discover something about history before Twilight Sparkle. Wanting a story with a touch of “realism” in it, he goes for a story about Mage Meadowbrook…

Following becoming a healer, Mage Meadowbrook traveled far and wide all over Old Equestria helping ponies wherever her services were needed. One day, however, she ran short of supplies and was caught in a downpour, forcing her to go to the town of Mareidin for shelter. On arrival, she found the town abandoned until she tried to get shelter in the Inn. On lighting the lanterns, she found the town filled with zombified ponies. Determined to cure them but also not wanting to get infected by the same thing that plagued them, Meadowbrook made a series of daring escapes until she managed to barricade herself inside the town’s oats barn, where she found a large swarm of Nilson Swamp Frogs eating the oats. Realizing they contaminated them, she was able to make a cure. Following that, she opened the doors to let the swarm of sick townsponies in and splashed or force-fed them all; curing the town. They tried throwing her a victory feast in honor but, unfortunately, all of the town’s oats were contaminated, and soon after Meadowbrook bid farewell and went on the road to find another town to cure.

Sunburst begins to critique the story when the train suddenly arrives at the Crystal Empire, knocking out one of the books from his “blind buy” onto his head. He realizes the journal has the same emblem as Starswirl the Bearded and begins to read it, but doesn’t get very far before he screams he has to get back to Canterlot and Twilight Sparkle…

Review:

And with this, the first half of the “Legends of Magic”, that was devoted to individual stories about the Pillars of Old Equestria, was concluded. As far as the note it ends on, it’s fine. It’s a solidly average entry for Mage Meadowbrook. Unlike the other stories which had a bit of a moral to them, this one is simply a short adventure for the healer. It relies on zombie ponies again but doesn’t go for nearly as many gimmicks as, say, “28 Pranks Later”. There also aren’t too many gags. About the only thing that sort of sticks out is the narrator’s somewhat unusual reading compared to the others, since the narrator is pretty much the only voice in it other than Mage Meadowbrook talking to herself.

Because of that, there’s really not much to say. It’s likely IDW wanted to hurry up and close the first half of this series because they needed to get going on the much more plot intensive and character driven second half, not to mention had to meet show deadlines on releases. And so I don’t have much to say either.

Fun Facts:

Chronologically, this takes place after “Uncommon Bond”. The final panel leads directly into “Shadow Play”.

A recurring joke in this one is for the narrator to agree with Meadowbrook every time she states the obvious.

There’s technically a bit of redundancy in this one. Meadowbrook says that the Nilson Swamp Frogs are poisonous only if they’re ingested. Technically, by definition “poisonous” means it’s harmful if you eat it. “Venomous” refers to something that can be toxic or harmful without eating it.

Meadowbrook magically gets her mask (having abandoned it with her cart).

Was “Funky Ninja Action Music” actually written into the legend…? I’d be skeptical too.

Rating:

2.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ IDW My Little Pony: Legends of Magic #5: “The Legend of Somnambula and the Snake”

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Synopsis:

Sunburst is puzzling over the right way to pronounce the main character of his latest story (“Somnambula”) when it runs into Pinkie Pie fresh off of her adventure with Rainbow Dash and A.K. Yearling and planning a Canterlot party. On seeing it’s a story about her new favorite legend, she insists on hearing the story, and then insists on reading it to Sunburst when the latter informs her he doesn’t “do voices”…

Shortly after completing the challenges of the Sphinx, Somnambula was summoned by Prince Hassan again–this time to deal with a snake the size of his palace attacking the kingdom and threatening to devour it. Taking only a wooden pole with her, Somnambula approached the snake and tried to talk with it only to be promptly eaten. However, once inside, she began to proceed through the body of the snake, encountering numerous buildings and ponies it had eaten already. She talked to each one she met before giving them a piece of her glowpaz to light their way back to the mouth of the snake, and discovered that the snake had progressively gotten bigger with each new pony it ate. Finally, at the end of the snake, she ran into an old pony magician, who admitted that the whole thing occurred because he tried to catch a pesky snake that kept eating his ingredients by giving it a charmed rock that would make it grow larger with everything it ate. Somnambula found the rock and, trusting to hope that removing it from the snake would make it shrink, she flew the wizard back to the front of the creature and had everyone use the wooden pole to pry open the jaws just enough to fling the rock out. Her hope ended up justified as the snake shrank and vomited everypony out, and Hassan and the kingdom learned a lesson about never giving up hope.

Sunburst, seemingly emotionally scarred from hearing Pinkie Pie’s knack for voices, quickly excuses himself with the book and vows to read the next story by himself, this one about Mage Meadowbrook…

Review:

Alright, I’m not waiting for the “Fun Facts” section. Let’s kick this off with the elephant in the room.

Whereas the comic and the main series managed to be cohesive on most characters, there’s little mistaking that the Somnambula portrayed in the main series and the Somnambula portrayed in the comic are two different characters. While she’s one of the least-covered from a personality standpoint in the main series (not even getting a voice actor until “Shadow Play”), she comes off as sagacious, reserved, and taciturn. By comparison, while she still is wise in her own way in the comic, she’s also cheerful, optimistic, and seemingly trusts to hope so much that she appears downright flippant in many situations. In other words, she asks like a somewhat wiser and more mature version of Pinkie Pie.

It’s a bit of a cheat at attempting characterization to me–essentially making her, in most ways, a transposed version of Pinkie Pie with wings. Yet nevertheless, it does make sense. The fact is by making Somnambula the way she is in the main series she’s virtually indistinguishable from Mistmane other than in style and origin. And by giving her this sort of personality it makes sense that Pinkie Pie would gravitate to her.

As for the story itself, eh…to me it was just alright, but that’s just me. Even if the characters are more varied to give the whole “Legends of Magic” a broader range, which is never a bad thing, the fact remains that since it’s a disconnect from the main series it seems a bit OOC of everyone. I’ll give it some credit for the moral being a bit better than the one in the original story, where Somnambula succeeded by first being clever and then being able to walk in a straight line…which doesn’t require relying purely on hope for too much. By comparison, here she didn’t know for sure that she’d be able to save the palace, get the other ponies out, or even save herself; but she chose to hope that she could, directed everyone accordingly, and as such when opportunity came to pass they were all ready. Not the most solid of lessons, but appropriate here. However, the fact is Pinkie Pie is one of the members of the Mane Six who I don’t always jibe with, and the fact that it’s happening again here isn’t lost on me. It doesn’t help that Somnambula often seems to embody one of Pinkie’s worst traits, which is where she gets so cheerful she reaches the point of flippancy. So that kind of irked me.

Nevertheless, I found it better than the last one, and if it gave Somnamubla more character to admire than simply “an Egyptian-themed pegasus”, more power to it.

Fun Facts:

Chronologically, this takes place immediately after “Daring Done?”.

Pinkie Pie, the only member of the Mane Six to appear in the “Legends of Magic” series, pops into this issue. She’s present to throw a comic-exclusive character a birthday party: Tiberius (Luna’s opossum).

Somnambula uses her glowpaz similar to emergency fluorescent lighting, breaking off a piece and shaking it to light it up.

Rating:

2.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ IDW My Little Pony: Legends of Magic #4: “Flash Magnus & the Royal Legion”

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Synopsis:

Sunburst gets a surprise visitor in the form of an irate Starlight Glimmer, upset that he apparently forgot she was in town and didn’t make plans to do anything with her while there. To “make it up to her”, she reclines in his bed and has him read her Starswirl’s story about Flash Magnus…

Long after Flash Magnus’ heroic incident with the dragons, an incident with the Cloudsdale weather factory accidentally created a legendary superstorm that now threatened to destroy Cloudsdale itself. Hoping to head it off while it was still building strength over Griffonstone, Captain Ironhead picked himself and the four strongest members of the Royal Legion to lead an advance attack to break it up before it even hit the city; with Flash Magnus being one of the four. On reaching the borders of Griffonstone, however, the griffons accused them of using the storm to attack Griffonstone and refused their help, saying that any attempt to cross the border would be considered an act of war. Angry at their stubbornness, Ironhead ordered the group to pull back despite Flash’s protests until the storm crossed the border. However, not only did the griffons fail to stop the storm themselves, but a griffon town on the border was now in danger. As the weather began to hit and grew too violent for the griffons to escape, Flash disobeyed Ironhead’s orders to leap in and try to save the civilians, prompting his three comrades to do the same. Once the civilians were safe, they rejoined Ironhead to decimate the storm as well just as intended, but at the end of it Ironhead commended them for their act rather than reprimanded them. As a result of the incident, the griffons lauded the pegasi as heroes and the tradition of both pegasi and griffons attending Junior Flyers camp began as a result.

Starlight remarks it was a nice “fairy tale” but she’s interested in learning about the real reason pegasi and griffons attend Junior Flyers camp together, with Sunburst remarking that he and Twilight’s bookwormishness is rubbing off on her.

Review:

Oh boy…you read too much into this one and you start getting into a rather controversial lesson.

Again, I suffered a touch of disappointment that one of the more “warlike” members of the Pillars of Old Equestria was relegated to stopping a natural disaster.  Unlike the previous entry with Rockhoof, however, this one doesn’t have a terribly good moral in it. The fact of the matter was there was a bit more at stake than hurt feelings and wounded pride in Flash Magnus not being able to jump in and help the griffons. The griffons had considered it an act of war if they tried. And just like Captain Ironhead said, they would have made the situation worse if they had to deal with not only the storm but a war in the aftermath. The fact that everything not only worked out in the end but Flash Magnus became a hero is not only a case of getting lucky…it’s possibly a rather biased social commentary.

The USA frequently gets slammed, for example, for considering itself to be the “world’s police”. For intervening in conflicts around the world in the name of helping protect more lives in the long run. Not only do these intentions often backfire, it often earns the ire of people both within the countries we’re trying to aid as well as world-wide at the ethnocentrism…basically asking us who are we to tell them they need us to protect their interests. The situation in this story isn’t too far removed from that. Any way you look at it, it was a more powerful country deciding that this other country needed them to violate their laws in order to “rescue them”.

And knowing how grumpy griffons are in the show? They probably would have normally lived up to their threat of declaring war while the griffons themselves probably would have been less than grateful. So even the reactions of the griffons are a bit OOC, even if it does explain the minor mystery of how griffons and pegasi attend the same event in spite of being rather hostile species to one another.

Because of all this, I mark this one a bit down compared to the others.

Fun Facts:

Sunburst is staying in the “Royal Suite” in Canterlot, the same room Rarity stayed in “Sweet and Elite” and Twilight Sparkle stayed in “Princess Spike”.

One of the Royal Legion pegasi says the emergency has something to do with “chocolate milk rain”, a reference to Discord’s first appearance in “The Return of Harmony”.

Nimbus Dash tends to act and talk a little like Rainbow Dash, but given the unrelated nature of most pony names it’s highly unlikely she’s an ancestor.

The situation in this story is actually similar to Star Trek’s infamous Kobayashi Maru test AKA the “No-Win” Scenario…although, in true MLP:FIM fashion, the protagonists get to have-it-all.

Rating:

2 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ IDW My Little Pony: Legends of Magic #3: “Mistmane”

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Synopsis:

Following his somewhat disastrous “story reading” to Princess Luna, Sunburst decides to read the next story, one about Mistmane, in privacy. Unfortunately, Starswirl’s enchanted book refuses to allow itself to be read until he goes into the Canterlot Gardens with it:

Years after her infamous act where she sacrificed her beauty for the sake of her friend and country, Mistmane was wandering through the forests of Equestria and befriending the local wildlife when she heard a clamor nearby. On investigating, she found the site for the new Castle of Canterlot being constructed, but apparently the work crew was running into numerous setbacks; including having their work undone overnight and hazard endangering life and limb. Although none of the workers recognized Mistmane, when she offered to rid the place of the disturbance they allowed her to stay there alone to find and stop the cause. That night, Mistmane got a visitor in the form of the young Princess Luna who was looking for the one responsible for ruining her future castle. Mistmane responded by showing her the local wildlife, who soon revealed themselves to be the ones responsible for the damage to the construction site. Luna immediately tried to stop them by force, but Mistmane cautioned her to stop and listen to them. When Luna insisted she couldn’t speak “animal”, she answered that there were other ways they could speak to her besides words. Luna ended up sitting down and listening to them and found they were distressed as the future castle would destroy their home in the forest. Realizing their valid point, Luna worked with the animals to draw a plan not for a protective fortress but for a castle that would be a “beacon” of hope to all Equestria, and would feature a large garden where the animals could reside. Luna ran off and showed Starswirl and Celestia the plans, never realizing Mistmane had disappeared during the discussion, and on accepting it the modern Canterlot Castle was built…this time with the animals secretly aiding its construction rather than sabotaging it. When Starswirl himself went to apply the finishing touches by making the gardens, he was stunned to see they were already done…and thought he caught a glimpse of Mistmane herself briefly moving through it.

Sunburst finishes the story only to think he sees Mistmane himself briefly, but on seeing it was just an optical illusion he laughs at himself for ever thinking Mistmane was a real pony and picks up the next book off the shelf: this one about “Flash Magnus”…

Review:

Another pretty good one. It kind of amazes me how much story they manage to put into these single-issue comics. There used to be a time where I could get through an entire comic’s story with a short paragraph, but most of these stories take a page just to sum up.

This one is much in the same vein as Starswirl the Bearded’s one, only this time we get a bit of lore put into it: namely the story of the founding of Canterlot Castle. I’ve kind of slammed the IDW series over the years for their depiction of the adult Princess Luna, but now I have to dial it back a bit as the “Legends of Magic” series not only paints a more show-canon version of her but one who has a child depiction that’s more continuous and understandable.

It’s kind of hard to tell if this story comes before or after Starswirl’s own comic. Celestia’s few scenes have her continuing to act like a snob and dismissive toward Luna, although that could simply be a case of “old habits die hard”. Luna’s own depiction is a bit interesting. A far cry from the “ruler of the night”, here she’s more like a somewhat-spoiled princess herself who thinks her own title somehow insulates her against the dangers of the world and makes her inherently important enough to command respect and obedience. Naive, but understandable for a child. She gets an important lesson in empathy while still retaining more lore from the Journal of the Two Sisters in her reactions to the animals. She thinks they have no right to ruin her castle because she’s the princess, but at the same time she still calls them”cute animals” and, in the end, may not quite be like Fluttershy but still “understands” them. It was kind of an interesting move that they had the young Luna be the one who came up with the design for the modern Canterlot Castle…and adds a touch of irony to the show’s own lore.

Mistmane, on the other hand, doesn’t get to do much by her own admission. In a way that’s akin to the better depictions of Princess Celestia, she simply gives Luna a nudge in the right direction and then lets things play out. On one hand, that helps accentuate her sagacity and wisdom as well as her passive nature. On the other hand…it doesn’t really give us anything new to like about Mistmane. Whereas with Rockhoof we got to see him have a character flaw that he recognized and worked past, Mistmane clings to the same problem most of the show depictions of the Pillars of Old Equestria has: she’s nice and brings beauty…and that’s it. Kind of ironic, because Mistmane actually did show off her own character more than the others on the show by willingly making a permanent personal sacrifice for the sake of others. On this one, though, she kind of gets upstaged by Luna and Starswirl.

However, it is worth noting that we once again see one of Starswirl’s more “negative” characteristics in his original plans for the Canterlot Castle. Although I think that the MLP movie kind of showed that they can’t always count on “being nice” as a defense against potential enemies.

It was still a nice little story with a bit more lore to it, however. Maybe not fantastic, but still good.

Fun Facts:

Early cover art for this issue concealed the fact that Mistmane had lost her youth as part of her origin story by depicting her in her younger form.

The rabbit attacking the castle uses a karate chop to break boards.

Celestia loves the design for Canterlot Castle that Luna proposes so much she gets hearts in her eyes.

The continuity of this story is a bit off, but not necessarily inconsistent with the show. The Castle of the Two Sisters was apparently only abandoned when Nightmare Moon partially destroyed it, at which point Princess Celestia moved to Canterlot. This only happened after Starswirl and the rest of the Pillars of Old Equestria became stuck in Limbo with the Pony of Shadows. Considering how young they are in this story, the fact that Starswirl the Bearded actually set foot in the newer Canterlot Castle seems to mix up the continuity. However, there’s always the chance that this part of the story occurred years after the bulk of the events in it, as it’s pretty unbelievable that Canterlot Castle would have been built in a few weeks, months, or even years.

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5

My Little Devotional #164: “Why, Back in My Day…”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Grannies Gone Wild”

Rainbow Dash learns one of life’s basic lessons in this episode about older folks: they know a thing or two. After trying to simultaneously ditch Granny Smith and her friends in Las Pegasus on “safe” activities while unsuccessfully trying to sneak a ride onto the Wild Blue Yonder for the bulk of the episode, she learns only late in the trip that the Gold Horseshoe Gals are Las Pegasus VIP members which allow them priority seating on any ride–meaning she spent a great deal of time worried for nothing because she never asked them for any help. Granted, it was likely Rainbow thought they wouldn’t be interested in the ride in the first place, but seeing as they had a lot more experience being around Las Pegasus than she did she might have bothered chancing some advice.

When all of us are growing up, we all go through that phase in our lives where we start growing more knowledgeable and self-sufficient, and at that time we look back on parents, older family members, or simply older individuals around us and figure “they just don’t get it”. We start thinking of them as outdated, obsolete, or applying a mindset of a different era to modern problems. We tend to often conclude, as is the egocentric view of most young adults, that we somehow got it right and they never did because they’re idiots from an idiot era. It not until we get a little older that we start to realize some of these older folks actually do know a thing or two, and we find ourselves going back to them for advice or, at minimum, their own experiences on things we do that are new. That’s not to say that the older generation didn’t make mistakes of their own or that they always know best, but often when it comes to things like doing home repair, buying a car, looking for a life partner, or especially raising your first child, they tend to have quite a bit of experience and know-how that we could learn something from.

The tendency to consider sources of advice obsolete and outdated isn’t limited to adult figures and older people, however. It also applies to certain traditions, beliefs, or philosophies. And among those things, for both Christians and non-Christians alike as they get older, is the Bible. And it’s a fair point to make. There are quite a lot of things in the Bible that really don’t apply anymore. One can point to the obvious being most of the Law in the Old Testament. I’m not about to ritualistically kill a bull or a goat the next time I go to Church or lose sleep over wearing clothing that’s made of two different kinds of thread.

However, there is a lot more in the context of the Bible than just that which now seems to make the bulk of the content antiquated. We aren’t living in a society that’s mostly poor with just a few rich people in power. We aren’t in an era where the only medical care we can get is prayer and animal sacrifice. At least in the Western World, we aren’t in a society where women suffer dishonor for not being able to get pregnant and are dependent on males. We aren’t surrounded by temples devoted to idols from every nation for a thousand miles. We aren’t an agrarian economy where marriage is mostly a land and business deal and children are raised up for extra farm hands or insurance on the family legacy either. Hence, critics of Christianity often raise the point that what is said in the Bible doesn’t really apply to modern society any longer, and that many of its precepts and concepts are archaic and obsolete.

I will agree that traditions and customs shouldn’t always be upheld, especially if they are only being upheld for just that–tradition and custom. That includes religious ones. There are a lot of older practices and beliefs that we would honestly all be better off without. And it is indeed true that a lot of things have changed throughout history. Technology has changed. Countries have changed. Society has changed.

But the reason so many Christians still defend the Bible and look to it for answers about people is that we believe human nature doesn’t change, whether it be now or thousands of years ago.

Everyone wants food, water, and shelter and those needs tend to take priority, but people aren’t satisfied with just having those needs met. We’re all social creatures. We all feel the need to be understood by someone else. Maybe some of us like large social gatherings and maybe we don’t, but all of us want at least one person to fully understand us and accept us for who we are. Nobody wants to be completely alone. Everyone wants to feel loved.  Everyone will eventually have to come to terms with their own mortality. Everyone will have regrets in their life and wish they had done or hadn’t done something. Everyone will go through a dark period when they feel alone or helpless without any control. And everyone will sit down one day and call into question their own worth as a human being and the value of their own lives.

Society has indeed changed, and science and technology has enabled us all to live easier, more comfortable, and more connected lives than earlier generations ever dreamed possible. But you need only look to those around you to see that none of this guarantees happiness. None of it guarantees peace of mind. None of it guarantees a feeling of self-worth. Those of us in the USA live in a land of abundance, comfort, and plenty. And yet we still deal with depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, and abuse because we still have needs that this alone doesn’t satisfy. Celebrities who make more money that I could ever dream of somehow still go bankrupt because nothing they can buy gives them happiness. Politicians who have power and respect the likes of which most of us will never come close to possessing throw it away on illicit sexual relations and affairs because it still doesn’t bring them satisfaction out of life. In spite of the fact many of us in the Western World live in reasonably safe societies where we don’t have to worry about starvation, homelessness, or joblessness, we still commit suicide because we still feel hopeless and worthless.

Christians feel these things the same as everyone else, and that is why the Word of God is as valuable to us today as it was over 2,000 years ago. We believe it holds the key for a human being to become complete and fulfilled because we believe that it was written by the Creator of human beings–that because the Bible is the Word of God itself that it holds the key to having not only a fulfilling life in this world but in the next one to come.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”” (Matthew 4:4)

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

I can’t speak for every Christian, but for me personally the various things of this world often do leave me temporarily enthused, happy, or entertained, but they don’t grant me fulfillment and they don’t satisfy my desires beyond temporary boredom, recreation, or relaxation. And they don’t support me when I feel I am crushed beyond measure, facing horrible odds, in fear for my own life and safety by powers beyond my control, or I’m at my most depressed and hopeless. It’s this book, this book that many non-Christians scoff at as being an antiquated set of millennia-old fairy tales, that sustains me. And it’s this same book that’s changed my life, many of my family member’s lives, and countless other lives for the better.

For those of you looking for more in life but think that the Bible is nothing more than worn-out words by doddering old folks, I invite you to “taste and see” (Psalm 34:8).

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your Sacred Word, which brings life to all who look to it. Please give me a deeper love for it so that, by examining and studying it, I might better understand you and make choices that lead to greater life for myself as well as greater building of the Kingdom of God. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ IDW My Little Pony: Legends of Magic #2: “Rockhoof & the Mighty Helm”

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Synopsis:

Sunburst inadvertently mentions to Princess Luna that Starswirl had a “sequel” to the original legend of Rockhoof and the Mighty Helm. As that is her favorite myth and she’s eager to hear it, Luna half-asks/half-commands that he read it to her:

After Rockhoof saved the village, he was lauded as a hero and taken before the captain of the Mighty Helm, Steela Oresdotter, for a reward. His only desire was to become a member of the Mighty Helm, which he did. On his first day, he started off with his normal training routine and showed himself to be the strongest, fastest, and best of the Mighty Helm members. After a great day, however, two of the Mighty Helm members invited him to a party and oat-eating challenge to celebrate his success. Feeling that he could spare one day off and wanting to fit in with the group, he agreed, but woke up the next morning with a food hangover that made him slightly weaker and sloppier during training. However, the next day the same two invited him on another party and food-eating challenge, and he consented to that one as well. Soon this repeated itself and Rockhoof neglected his training routine to constantly go out on celebrations, and gradually began to become sloppier in his training. One day, the same volcano began to exhibit new activity in the form of magma bombs flying from the top of it, and Rockhoof (now quite out of shape) was tasked to find the source and stop it. He took along his same two “party buddies” for helm, but both of them constantly whined and made excuses up the mountain, and between that and his own poor physical state it took forever to get to the top. On arrival, Rockhoof found the source was a monster called a cherufe that he immediately attacked, which not only went badly but made it angrier than ever before chasing him and his companions back down the mountain. Forced to confront Steela about his failure, she ended up berating him for getting lazier and sloppier since he joined; a fact which Rockhoof acknowledges. He ended up going back to his old routine and made it twice as hard until he was once again back in shape, before accompanying Steela herself to confront the cherufe again. This time, on arrival, he noticed that the cherufe was throwing all of the lava bombs at the same spot on top of the volcano. Getting an idea from that, he used his “warshovel” to dig at that same spot and discovered that the cherufe’s baby was trapped underneath it. As a result, Rockhoof became a hero again. However, in spite of returning to his old routine and devoting himself to his new guard duty, he was still lonely at having no friends, until one day the captain invited him to a team party and he agreed; showing him he could still afford to take it easy once and a while.

Luna considers the morals of the story acceptable and “permits” Sunburst to read her more stories in the future, while Sunburst himself sweats in relief.

Review:

Again, I found this one a bit better on the second reading, but I always liked it a bit better than the first. The biggest issue with the original story of Rockhoof as presented in “Campfire Tales” was that it had a bit of a weak lesson. Simply “wishing” for something to happen doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, which is largely what happened in that episode. Rockhoof just suddenly and miraculously became the strongest pony alive pretty much because the story said he had to, which is the only reason he succeeded in his superhuman task rather than any effort on his part.

By comparison, the lore of this particular story makes it clear that even when he was still scrawny Rockhoof was dedicated to joining the Mighty Helm not just in terms of wishing for it but actually working at it. That’s far more commendable. Even if his natural strength prohibited him from ever being good enough, it shows that he still committed himself to hard work and self-discipline each and every day in an established routine that had the clear goal of getting into the Mighty Helm with it. As a result, the lore alone allows for a bit more respect for Rockhoof.

It also clearly sets out the difference between wanting something and making an effort to get it later in the story, when Steela berates Rockhoof for simply “wanting” to succeed and not actually taking the steps to do it; instead losing his edge and self-discipline and indulging himself on parties. It also clearly shows the dangers of how easy it is to slip out of self-discipline. There are countless stories of individuals trying to turn themselves around with an exercise and diet routine only to have the beginning of the end by saying: “I’ll just skip this one day…”

The moral, on the other hand, is a bit muddled. Most of it is concerned with not taking one’s own talents for granted and being responsible for yourself. In the climax, Rockhoof applies his own disciplined mentality to the new issue with the cherufe, realizing that he needed to see the problem differently. However, the last page suddenly tacks in some verbage that amounts to: “Oh…and Rockhoof eventually did go to parties again because he realized he had to be balanced too. The End.” That seemed like the writer being a bit too scared that they were somehow telling a message that you should isolate yourself and become a physical-training-devoted machine if you want to succeed in your goals. The story as a whole definitely wasn’t focusing on balance, however. It was definitely an either-or situation. I think by trying to pass that message in at the end, if it wasn’t clear enough from my synopsis, kind of mucked up the resolution a bit. Even Luna seems to go from liking the story to saying it’s “passable”.

Nevertheless, it’s a nice little tale. Again, lots of creative artwork of “Olde Equestria”, which is pretty much par for the entire series. I’m a bit flummoxed that one of the most physically active members of the Pillars of Old Equestria ended up doing a solution that would have been somewhat more akin to Fluttershy, especially since the end of Season Eight confirmed, yes, some bad guys just need to be thrashed, but it was still a pretty good one that helped me gain more appreciation for Rockhoof than simply “Norse-themed pony”…at least, until Season Eight’s “A Rockhoof and a Hard Place”.

Fun Facts:

Princess Luna lets out one of the series’ characteristic “squees”, the first time she’s ever made that noise.

Many of the Cutie Marks of the Mighty Helm are rather…unintimidating (such as fruit and a swirly heart).

The mailpony is a pony version of the mailman from “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”.

A cherufe is a monster from the myths of the Mapuche people of Chile. An evil thing made of fire and magma, it supposedly could only be satisfied by human sacrifices being thrown into the volcanoes where they dwelt. While they’re normally considered humanoid, the cherufe in this one is one-eyed and crab-like.

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ IDW My Little Pony: Legends of Magic #1: “Starswirl the Bearded”

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Synopsis:

Sunburst arrives in Canterlot looking to research the history of Equestria, and to aid him Princess Celestia offers Sunburst access to Starswirl the Bearded’s old study and his private records. On looking inside them, Sunburst discovers a section marked “Legend of Magic” that included Starswirl’s own records of myths and legends of ponies in folklore. He discovers one that he wrote about himself: “The Great Starswirl the Bearded, the Two Sisters, and the Magical Vortex”…

Shortly after the founding of Equestria and the completion of the Castle of the Two Sisters, the great mage Starswirl the Bearded found himself (unhappily) tasked with acting as the tutor of the juvenile alicorns Celestia and Luna. Both earned his criticism: Celestia for being arrogant and self-centered and Luna for being childish and unable to keep up. After failing at a magic lesson and being reprimanded by Starswirl, telling her that her “best” might not be good enough if she needs to defend Equestria in a life-or-death situation one day, Luna, eager to prove herself, stole one of Starswirl’s books to practice a bubble spell at night. However, she still failed at it, and when Celestia came out to start teasing her about her failure Luna tried a much more advanced spell to open a dimensional gateway. While she succeeded, evil, dark things were there and called out to Luna’s dark side (especially her jealousy and anger toward Celestia) in a voice only she could hear before sucking her through the portal. Celestia, now scared and panicking, ran to get Starswirl and, on telling him the situation, he reprimanded her for choosing to mock Luna’s shortcomings rather than encouraging her to overcome her weaknesses. Starswirl informed her that as Luna was unable to control the spell, a “darker power” from a dimension where evil has taken dominion opened it as a way of trying to get into their world to devour it as well. He reopened the portal and led himself and Celestia in after Luna, but Celestia, growing more fearful for Luna’s safety, broke off on her own. She found her in the grip of golem-like creatures that were trying to force her into a dark suit of armor. She freed Luna, who said the voice she heard thought she was someone else meant for greatness and also told her to destroy her own sister, but she also believed that something else was actually responsible for controlling the creatures and the world. She was unable to elaborate further when a colossal golem attacked, which Starswirl held off to allow them to escape. On returning home, the two reconciled, especially Celestia for the way she had been treating Luna, shortly before Starswirl rejoined them and closed the portal behind. He mentioned that he was confident nothing would drive the two sisters apart again and that, if the voice Luna heard was to be believed, they avoided a great tragedy.

Later, Sunburst gives the story to Celestia, which was Starswirl’s closing wish for the tale, and she and Luna share some snickers over it (either at their old behavior or the irony), while he moves on to the next story about an individual named “Rockhoof”…

Review:

It pains a die-hard fan like me to admit it, but the glory days of the MLP Fandom are over and it’s on its way out. I still remember it in its heydey in the aftermath of the Season Four finale and “Rainbow Rocks”. At that time, the show seemed to be running on all eight cylinders and what came for years to come afterward, including the feature film, mostly was a legacy of its success at that time. But what many fans might not realize is that this was also when IDW was cruising off of its success. It’s attempt to run an MLP:FIM comic ended up being a smash hit no one expected.

Even so, it seemed like a rather crazy idea to me for the two series to try and pool their collective success in creating a massive cross-over event between the main series and the IDW comic. The “Legends of Magic”, an arc of comics running cocurrently with new episodes of Season Seven focusing on the mythological “Pillars of Old Equestria”, was a crazy idea but nevertheless got me enthused as a chance to highlight a whole new cast of characters as well as to expand on the largely untapped and/or incoherent lore of the history of Equestria. I’ll admit I also admired the chance to do things in a more fantasy based setting with lots of sword and sorcery action as well. The way they handled it was clever too, synchronizing releases of new issues with the time the characters were being introduced in the main series via their “story” episodes.

Well…I already went over what we eventually got in the main series. Now it’s time to touch on the other half. As for my thoughts on the series as a whole, well…it’s complicated. I ended up liking the story on the whole, especially when capped with the annual, and yet not nearly as much as I thought I would. As much of my thoughts on it go issue-by-issue, I’ll save the bulk of my answer for the series proper.

Suffice to say for now the “Legends of Magic” series can be thought of as split into two halves. The first half focuses on individual stories that simply reinforce the legends that were seen on the show. The second half, however, focuses on Stygian’s story and his relationship with all of them. Needless to say, I prefer one over the other.

Let’s jump right in…

I didn’t care for this one too much on the first reading, but on the second I appreciate it better and not just because it ties into the “crown jewel” of the series that was, in my opinion, the annual. It involved quite a bit of IDW Comic Lore retconning in order to finally harmonize Starswirl the Bearded with the main series, but they still managed to throw in some details about Starswirl knowing about the existence of multi-dimensions such that one of the more infamous arcs of the IDW Comic, the “Reflections” arc, wasn’t totally negated.

It’s a bit funny that this one is supposed to focus mostly on Starswirl the Bearded when the real stars of it are the juvenile Celestia and Luna. It was probably not an easy job to work them in, needing to harmonize not only IDW Comic Lore but also with the backstory of the main series lore. At first, I was a bit put off that Celestia was depicted, quite honestly, as repulsive. Prideful, arrogant, and quite honestly a bit of a bully, this is a very far cry from how Celestia normally appears on the show.

Yet on reading it again, I think it actually makes sense. While I tended to think of Celestia as normally being a goodie-two-shoes and possibly a teacher’s pet as a child, this depiction makes sense too. Maybe she wasn’t always as kind-hearted, gentle, and graceful as she is now. Maybe she did have to grow up quite a bit to be the figure she is now. And, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, this version of Celestia makes it far more plausible for Luna’s eventual turn into Nightmare Moon. Even if Celestia really did change her ways after this storyline, personal hurt at bullying and feeling inferior doesn’t necessarily go away that easily. It’s likely Luna would still have this old treatment of her lingering in her memory, and every time ponies would flock to her days and ignore her nights she likely remembered it. So yeah, I have to give this issue some props for making Nightmare Moon more plausible.

And while Starswirl the Bearded might not be the highlight, it does show a bit more of his character and his weaknesses. While his criticisms/advice to Celestia and Luna may have been justified, it was still authoritative and, as a result, both of them still made bad choices. The conflict started because Luna was eager to prove herself to him after getting the bad report, and Celestia herself broke off from him to try and make up for her own mistake. Furthermore, Starswirl ended up being incorrect in thinking the matter was closed at the end of this. Yet in spite of all of that, some of his comments and actions show he really does care about Celestia and Luna, clearly enough to sacrifice himself for them–he just didn’t always show it that well.

So all in all, this gets my pick for one of the better ones of the first half of the series, even if it serves mostly as a teaser for the annual and takes us over ground we’ve mostly tread before.

Fun Facts:

Unlike most other comic arcs, the “Legends of Magic” arc was completely written and drawn by Jeremy Whitley and Brenda Hickey. Most other series in the IDW franchise usually alternate writers and artists.

This was one of the bigger retconnings that IDW has ever had to do. Within the “Reflections” and FIENDship is Magic comic about the Dazzlings, IDW had already presented their own concept of Starswirl the Bearded’s past. With the main series getting into it in Season Seven, most of those depictions were rendered totally obsolete. The comic canon as well as the show now more closely follows Amy Keating Rogers’ “The Journal of the Two Sisters”, a junior novel produced separate from the main series.

The show’s legacy has never quite outlived the animation in the pilot episode, which depicted Princess Celestia as having a pink mane (as she did in her original concept) only to have her end up being rainbow-maned by the end of the episode. The idea since then in the fan community has been that Celestia’s mane was originally pink but later became that way. This comic somewhat endorses that by showing that young Celestia’s mane was predominantly pink with only the edges being rainbow-like. Luna, naturally, is in her “young” form that she was in at the end of the pilot episode (a whole other fan community canon).

The comic makes a couple of side references to serve as a “bridge” between the Journal of the Two Sisters (main canon) and the “Reflections” arc (comic canon). When Luna accidentally burns up the bush she’s trying to bubble, she cries out that she hopes there weren’t any creatures in it. This is canon with the Journal as Luna was the more “animal-loving” of the two alicorns. The concept of multi-dimensions, on the other hand, was elaborated on in “Reflections” and plays a big part here.

This issue ends up as a set-up for the annual, which would close the series.

Rating:

3.5 Stars out of 5