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Synopsis:

A mysterious hooded pony appears in the middle of the Arctic and walks south into Equestria. Once there, the individual recruits the Flim-Flam Brothers, Iron Will, and Lightning Dust; offering them the chance to get their pride back and/or revenge against the Mane Six if they agree to work with the unseen figure. Cut to soon after, where the Mane Six are helping Shining Armor and Princess Cadance set up the first Crystal Faire since the one that was held when the Crystal Empire reappeared. However, suspicions are stirred when the Flim-Flam Brothers show up with a new “lemonade squeezer” along with Iron Will supposedly acting as a tourist and Lightning Dust being there just to harass guests. Things explode soon after when the lemonade squeezer turns out to have been used to smuggle in a fourth ally that the hooded pony recruited, Queen Chrysalis, and a swarm of Changelings. They, along with Lightning Dust, cause a diversion that allows Iron Will to seize the Crystal Heart and try and run off with it. The Mane Six and Shining Armor leap into action and manage to catch everyone, imprisoning them in crystal cages until Princess Celestia and Princess Luna arrive; but Chrysalis taunts them, saying that the whole point of everything was to leave the castle unguarded. Sure enough, the girls and Shining Armor discover that the Crystal Heart was swapped out of Iron Will’s possession. The hooded pony has it now and takes it into the palace, entering in Sombra’s old secret passages (unknowingly followed by Princess Cadance). On arriving in his old study, the figure reveals herself to be Radiant Hope, somehow still alive after 1,000 years in spite of still being a unicorn. A shadow with a disembodied horn, what King Sombra has managed to rebuild himself into, appears and accuses her of betraying him 1,000 years earlier and having come to finish the job. However, she insists that she came to “make things right”, and uses her power on him…causing Sombra to once again regain his physical form.

The backstory from “Fiendship is Magic #1” is briefly recapped, and shows what happened afterward. After the Crystal Empire vanished, Hope studied briefly with Celestia and Luna, but couldn’t stop thinking about the loss of her home and, moreover, felt that she had betrayed Sombra. She ended up following where he went into the Arctic and encountered the same crystal he did, and ended up speaking with the Umbra. Although they couldn’t escape, the Umbra brought her into their prison, where she saw them as delicate, friendly pixie creatures. Hope became convinced that the Umbra were innocent and merely wanted to be free from an unjust imprisonment, and now seeks to help Sombra, as their “champion”, to free them. Sombra is doubtful, having already seen himself as a monster reflected in the Crystal Heart, but on seeing that Hope has the Crystal Heart and it can’t be used against him doesn’t care; he bursts forth to conquer the Crystal Empire a second time. After emerging, he frees Chrysalis and her minions, Iron Will, Lightning Dust, and the Flim-Flam Brothers, and joins in with them. The new alliance is too powerful for the Mane Six and all are captured, with Shining Armor and Twilight Sparkle having their magic sealed as well. However, at that moment, Celestia and Luna arrive. Sombra cuts Luna off before she can reveal the existence of Cadance to him, and he engages Celestia while Chrysalis engages Luna. For a moment it looks as if Celestia will get the upper hand, until Hope intercedes and shoots her while she’s distracted, and Sombra uses the moment to turn both Celestia and Luna to stone.

Sombra turns his attention to Twilight Sparkle next, who defiantly refuses to submit. Fortunately, due to only recently regenerating, Sombra lacks the power to finish her and decides to leave her be and focus on the other Umbra. Yet when Chrysalis overhears that, she grows upset. She reveals she was alive before the Umbra were locked away and claims they were horrendous, destructive monsters that only brought despair, and as they plan to bring all of Equestria the same despair they’ll leave nothing for her and the Changelings to feed on. Once Sombra and Hope retreat to the palace, Chrysalis and her swarm move to leave Equestria all together in search of more food, leaving her “allies” behind but also pulling Twilight Sparkle out of the cage so she can suffer being unable to stop Equestria from being destroyed. Back in the palace, Sombra gives Hope the cold shoulder and retreats to his study, brooding over something. Once Hope is alone, Cadance reveals herself to her. After some arguing, Cadance learns from Hope about her encounters with the other Umbra and how they kept her alive and young for 1,000 years so that she could assist Sombra now. After hearing her side, Cadance asks to be shown the Umbra. If they are truly as innocent and peace-loving as Hope says, she agrees to help free them; but if they are truly monsters then Hope must help her stop Sombra. Hope agrees and teleports her to the crystal, and both enter. Although the prison area is ghastly, rotten, and foul smelling, Cadance meets with an Umbrum named Rabia and finds her as happy, cute, and innocent as Hope described. Nevertheless, Rabia says they don’t fully trust a princess and Cadance must agree not to use even the smallest amount of magic while in their realm. Cadance agrees and is led with Hope to see the other Umbra. She’s nearly convinced they’re truly innocent until one Umbrum plays a hide-and-seek game, and Cadance, forgetting her promise, uses a small spell to help find her. As it turns out, the power of her love-based magic, the same as Princess Amore’s, causes the Umbra to revert into their true forms: hideous, ghastly, rotten monstrosities with matching twisted and horrendous natures. They reveal they had been tricking Hope all this time by telling her what she wanted to hear: that Sombra was really an innocent pony on the inside. To her horror, they reveal that Sombra is truly as horrible and grotesque as the rest of them. They used their power to hide his true nature behind a veil of pony flesh so that he could escape the prison and prepare the way from the rest of them, going so far as to hide his true nature from himself. They also reveal their hate for Hope as her attempts to help him in the past kept keeping him from manifesting his true nature. Using her magic (which the Umbra can’t stand), Cadance brings herself and Hope out of the prison, and Hope then teleports them to Sombra to get him to stop. As it turns out, Sombra long ago discovered the door locking the Umbra away in their prison; but he never opened it because, in spite of his wickedness, deep down inside he feared that the Umbra were good and pure and that he was the only “monster” among them. During this time, however, the Mane Six have united their power to enable Twilight Sparkle’s magic, allowing her to free them, and they have rushed to confront him. Twilight charges her magic to blast Sombra down in revenge, but Hope jumps in front of him and takes the shot. While the blast doesn’t kill her, the injury alone is enough to push Sombra over the edge; causing him to free the Umbra.

Cut to some time after. The Umbra have conquered the Crystal Empire and instated King Sombra now as “Emperor Sombra”, with Hope, while still recovering, as Empress. However, Twilight, Shining Armor, and Cadance covered the escape of the others and destroyed the train tracks behind them so they couldn’t be chased down. In retribution, the Umbra turn Shining Armor to stone and move to do the same to the two princesses, but Twilight manages to trick them into doing it in the same place the Crystal Heart once stood so that everyone can see them defeated. The Umbra begin to bring out everyone to watch, and Sombra goes to get Hope; still looking unhappy and unsatisfied in spite of his position of victory. On seeing how Sombra is going to continue to conquer until there are no enemies left and the Umbra have destroyed everything, Hope finally turns hostile toward him and begun to call him a true monster; something that causes him genuine discomfort and hurt. When Sombra says this was always his destiny, Hope bitterly points out that the Crystal Heart also said she would become an alicorn princess, but she chose not to accept that destiny so she could instead help him; hoping that by now he would have realized he could choose his own destiny. At the dias for the Crystal Heart, before Sombra can act, the rest of the Mane Six with reinforcements attack; now seeing the princesses out in the open and attempt to rescue them. Unfortunately, the Umbra are more than a match for them and they tell Sombra to turn Twilight and Cadance to stone now to destroy their final hope. However, Hope interjects and brings out the Crystal Heart instead; saying that if he destroys that the Umbra can never be sealed away again. Sombra takes the heart and looks at it, mentioning aloud he sees nothing now other than himself exactly as he is. He then says “thank you” to Hope before restoring the Crystal Heart to its previous position, sealing away the Umbra even though it means sealing himself away too. As Sombra begins to fade, he expresses happiness that he finally saw the Crystal Faire. He tells Hope not to hide herself away again but to share her talent and bring good to Equestria. However, Hope refuses to let Sombra be sealed away and tries to use her power on him again. Alone she can’t do it, but the four alicorn princesses, forgiving Sombra and to thank him for saving the Crystal Empire, unite their power with hers and are able to turn Sombra into a normal unicorn. Now having a “second chance”, Sombra announces his intention to find the pieces of Princess Amore and restore her to life. Hope goes with him, and the two friends run off together out of the Crystal Empire; the lesson being that true friends can see goodness inside you even if you can’t see it in yourself.

Review:

I should dislike this arc a lot more than I do.

The fact of the matter is it’s rather clunky. All of the normal main characters are there for gimmicks or are effectively side characters. This might be the least contribution we’ve ever seen from the Mane Six, and the humor and intrigue they add is minimal. This might be the least important Twilight Sparkle has ever been to an arc. This arc is all about Sombra and Radiant Hope, pure and simple. It’s nothing more than an extension of Fiendship is Magic #1. When you boil it down to just their part of the story, there isn’t much going on in this one. Hence why there had to be a complicated “villain team-up” in the first part of this arc.

That, to me, is the biggest dud portion of this arc. That part is just…odd, and it seems as if the writers couldn’t really get it to work out. Similar to “Magic Duel”, which elevated the Great and Powerful Trixie into dangerous villain levels after simply being a minor antagonist in her other appearance, now we have that happening three-fold, and it’s far more unbelievable. The Flim-Flam Brothers want to make profits by conning ponies. There’s a rather wide gulf between that and wanting to unleash an army of monsters under the promise of getting wealth. Iron Will has already shown off his “softer side” in the “Friends Forever” issues, which this comic alluded to with Fluttershy. While he may be rough and mean at points, I don’t see him honestly trying to assist in the conquering of Equestria after that arc. Lightning Dust was never supposed to be a “nice” character, but this arc pushes her into OOC range. Based on the timing of this issue, I think I know what happened. The writers planning this arc originally wanted it to be Gilda Griffon, but about the time they had to be writing up the panels “The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone” would have come out. Obviously, there’s no way Gilda would have gone alone with the villain team-up after that episode, so they had to swap her out with Lightning Dust. (Honestly, you can imagine the pre-Season Five Gilda substituted in for Lightning Dust, especially with her taunting and insults.)

The worst, however, is Chrysalis. While the other villains seem to have been pushed “too heavy” in this arc, Chrysalis has been pushed “too light”. She seems to be almost more of an annoyance than a threat in this one. I remember as this arc came up I was rather stunned at the thought of a team-up between Chrysalis and King Sombra against the Mane Six. I expected something rather dramatic and dynamic from that. Instead, Chrysalis is treated almost like a comic supervillain regular; one who just pops in to harass the superheroes for an issue or two before popping out to fight another day. The comic has devoted considerable time and energy to making Chrysalis genuinely malevolent, cunning, and diabolical. And yet it treated her the same as the throwaway antagonists like the Flim-Flam Brothers.

I actually like the scene where she briefly “butts heads” with King Sombra. It’s a rare opportunity to get more in the heads of two villains at a time. And yet, after that, Chrysalis has no more relevance to the plot and simply flies away. Really? She’s just going to leave it at that? She’s not even going to try and feed on Twilight or the Mane Six? It has the feel of both wasted potential and a plot hole. Worse than that is what happens to the others. They literally just…disappear. Did they evacuate the Crystal Empire? Did they run and hide? Did they stay together and decided to do a smaller team-up? Did they end up having no more relevance to anything so the writers dumped them off panel?

When it’s awkward to bring villains together, the only thing more awkward is making them suddenly disappear. It makes you wonder why they bothered having them there at all.

This arc does something anyone who reads my reviews knows I dislike: a Have-It-All ending. Now granted, if you read this regularly, you’ve seen my review of the “Reflections” arc. In retrospect I may have been a tad too hard on that arc, but I mostly stand by my rating, so you’re probably thinking that I’m just never happy…slamming that arc for ending too badly and this arc for ending too well. Well, let it be known that the main reason I penalized “Reflections” for the ending was because it manufactured a plot device to have a bad end; suddenly making good and evil physical quantities that could easily be removed and transferred rather than a reflection of one’s identity, desires, and choices. In this case, similarly, a plot device was kind of manufactured to allow Sombra to both make his sacrifice as well as exist after it was done.

There’s a character who, on the second reading, I’m kind of starting to get a sour feeling about: Radiant Hope. The fact that as soon as Radiant Hope reveals herself she’s normally drawn with an innocent-seeming expression and a big “doe-eyed” look serves to cover up the fact she wasn’t a terribly nice or innocent character for the bulk of this arc. Even her “good intentions” are mostly blotted out when you think about the fact she genuinely planned to let the other villains have their way…including by letting Chrysalis and the Changelings devour/conquer their fill of Equestria. Or the fact that she was willing to let Sombra not only petrify her former teachers, but was likely willing to let them do the same thing he did to Princess Amore. Based on her actions in this arc, it’s likely she has little love for the other Crystal Ponies as well as she ignores how Sombra enslaved and tortured them, which was clear in the Season Three premiere. (That sort of makes sense given her background, but it’s also another point against her.) So in the end, when you think about it, the only reason Hope got angry at all and confronted Sombra really had nothing to do with his plans of conquest but rather was because “the Umbra weren’t cute anymore”. They literally could have done almost everything else, and so long as they “looked sweet and innocent” Hope would have been fine with it. Possibly her only complaint would have been them conquering more than the Crystal Empire, although she was perfectly fine with Chrysalis doing that instead. That’s…pretty damn shallow. It’s starting to make her look like another certain character who is canon who was willing to destroy Equestria to accomplish one selfish and petty end…

Last but not least, it’s the Nightmare Rarity arc again in many respects. A character gets manipulated by evil, non-corpeal entities that want to take over Equestria. Many of the Umbra, as horrific as they look, remind me a lot of the nightmares both in terms of manner and speech.

So with all of that said, one might think I should loathe this storyline. Yet as it turns out, I find myself biased toward the good aspects.

One is Cadance. You’ve heard me complain for a while that she has no real character or purpose for being there, other than she’s a “fairy princess”. While this arc may have not fully knocked that view of her aside, I think it made some giant steps. This is probably the first arc in which Cadance not only feels as important as Twilight Sparkle but not in a “forced” way; that there’s reason for her to be there other than as a plot device. Season Five made a lot of attempts to make Cadance more “regular” on the show, but the fact of the matter was she still wasn’t doing much of anything in her appearances. The comic has handled that better.

I honestly like the interaction with Hope in Issue #36. She’s at first opposed to Hope’s idea, and understandably so. If the Umbra really are what all the legends say they are, then she really can’t afford to let them out to “check”. She’s the ruler of the Crystal Empire now. She has responsibilities and ponies to protect. But when she hears that there’s a way to meet with them while they’re still imprisoned, she’s actually understanding. She says: “Alright, give me a chance to meet them for myself. If you’re right, then alright, I’ll side with you.” And this is after she saw her brother and sister-in-law imprisoned and Celestia and Luna, one of which is her adopted mother, turned to stone. That…might actually be a virtue above “being nice” to start giving Cadance her own character. Willing to hear the side of her enemies and give them a berth. Willing to see the side of her tormenters in that situation. And if you notice, even when Cadance accidentally reveals the true nature of the Umbra, she doesn’t immediately “think they’re bad”. While she’s put off by the appearance, she doesn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that they’re evil.

And the other nice part, a bit to my own surprise, was the character of Sombra.

For a while I thought the comic writers were starting to rely on him too much as a gimmick. Too much to use him for a character for a given situation. But then, I made a realization. It was the actual show that was using him for a gimmick. Just for a generic evil antagonist for the Season Three premiere. By comparison, that makes him perfect for the comic. Literally the less that was known about him in the series, the more the comic writers are free to do what they like. In the series, he barely had any lines and reformed himself just to get whacked. That basically allows the comic writers to go nuts with backstory, sequels, and character. A character like him is an untapped gold mine; someone who was important to the series and yet largely a MacGuffin.

Fanfiction writers are free to take any character and do whatever they want with them. By comparison, the IDW writers need to keep all the established ones not only in character, but be mindful of future development. Since Sombra has neither problem…yeah, I actually agree that all of this material they did with him both in “Reflections” and “Siege of the Crystal Empire” is actually good.

The writers have actually managed to turn a show character into a (potentially) regular male character for the comic series, which is something as male characters are still lacking in the actual series. And I thought it wasn’t too bad of a turn.

Lastly, “Reflections” still left a sour taste in my mouth, and I don’t think I was alone. While this ending was Have-It-All, it wasn’t quite as bad as some Have-It-All endings. The writers clearly wanted to give some, pardon the pun, hope for the future after the conclusion of that arc by having a happy ending to this one. And with a character that the comic has “claimed for its own” being free to do with as they like, there’s nothing wrong with that.

The arc honestly does have a ton of flaws, but…I don’t know. They’re a bit easier to “overlook” on this one. Does it necessarily make it good? It makes it more dramatic. The character interactions are probably slightly too mature for the show, but here they work out fairly well. Still, if you’re a Sombra hater or only see him as “Pony Sauron” after the Season Five finale, it’s unlikely you’ll like this arc. Conversely, if you’re ambivalent toward him…that’s enough to rate this arc just slightly above average overall.

Fun Facts:

My Little Pony: Fiendship is Magic #1” was essentially the prelude to this entire arc.

This comic indicates, at least in the “comic universe”, that the Crystal Empire existed long before Equestria.

I couldn’t help but notice the word “everybody” is frequently used in this arc…instead of “everypony”. :3

Iron Will’s seminar features a schedule showing that an investment seminar by Well-To-Do has been canceled. Mr. Well-To-Do was another minotaur from the earlier arc “The Root of the Problem”. Presumably it was canceled because he was devoured. 😛

In the flashback, Hope appears to be talking to a Breezie and a Parasprite. As a result, it’s never really clear if the Umbra were tricking her even as a foal or if she was just not “quite right in the head”.

In a bit of a plot hole, King Sombra remembers Twilight Sparkle, but has no knowledge of Princess Cadance in spite of her being the one who shattered him as well as the one who’s been living in his former palace and going through his things.

Another reference to the Attica Prison Riot, when Pinkie Pie shouts “Attica!” after being locked in the cage.

Cadance is able to finally pull off the spell that opens the way to Sombra’s private chambers, with Hope pointing out that you can only do it if you feel genuine rage. This is something of an allusion to the true power of the Crucius Curse in “Harry Potter”, which can only reach its full potential if the user genuinely wants the victim to suffer. At any rate, it’s hinted that Cadance’s own rage is uncontrollable. Whether this will lead to a future arc or not is ambiguous.

The Umbra are genuinely very disturbing looking…probably too much for a Y-rated show. At any rate, in one panel they say “we’ve waited thounsands of years”.

The whole bit with trying to coerce the truth out of Cadance and the “Canterine” mention she makes is a rip-off of the scene in “Star Wars: A New Hope” in which the Empire threatens to destroy Alderaan unless Princess Leia reveals the location of the rebel base, and she gives them the fake location of Dantooine. Many of the lines in that scene are ripped directly from the film. While I think it’s kind of a clumsy ripoff, it’s actually a rather good allusion. The entire arc has pretty much the same theme as the original Star Wars Trilogy: a character still seeing good in an individual who has given himself over to evil, and, ultimately, redemption at the price of their own life.

Maud Pie makes (her first?) comic appearance, although she has no lines.

Rarity’s parents make a cameo appearance.

Discord helps in the final battle…a little. 😛 At any rate, he’s reading a comic. What comic? IDW’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, of course. 😀 The back of the comic has an ad for all the little gimmicks and doodads that were popularly sold via comic in the Silver Age. One of the products is Powdered Toast: an allusion to “Ren & Stimpy”.

Derpy and Thunderlane flank Rainbow Dash. Rainbow crashes right next to Hope. 🙂

In one panel, the Mane Six are stunned at the resolution…except Pinkie Pie, who simply offers cake.

When Hope says “you…killed her”, I think that’s the first time in the entire franchise the word “kill” has been used.

After Sombra becomes a unicorn, there is a tent behind him in one panel that advertises “Reflections – Custom Mirrors”. My guess is the writers were alluding back to the “Reflections” arc with that one. At the end of that arc, the “Mirror Universe” was supposed to now reflect Equestria rather than be its opposite. Does this mean Celestia’s old flame Mirror Sombra has also been restored? Time will tell.

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5

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