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Synopsis:

After an outing to see “The Bridle of Frankenstag” with the rest of the Mane Six, Twilight Sparkle and Spike are heading home to the Castle of Friendship only to find it has been broken into. The thief is still inside, a mysterious gray unicorn stallion, but he manages to escape with several of Twilight’s books after ransacking the library. Fearful about what just happened, Twilight calls the girls over for an impromptu sleep-over, and on ordering the remaining books she finds that none of the spellbooks have been taken but, rather, history books about monstrous figures from Equestria’s past. The next day, Twilight and Spike use a Location Spell she placed on the books to find them, but on finally tracking them down she finds the books abandoned in an alley with all of their pages blanked out. The girls split up in town, realizing the thief couldn’t have gone far, and through independent investigation find the culprit is a pony named Shadow Lock who has a specialty for book magic, including the ability to erase not only the contents of books but also the knowledge that the content gave to anyone who ever read that book. They manage to track him down to the Public Library just as he’s about to check out even more books, but on being confronted by the girls he uses his power to bring multiple monsters to life out of the books to attack them.

As the girls begin to struggle with the monsters, Shadow calls out that what he’s doing is for their own good; that he’s trying to keep “a darkness” from returning to Equestria. While the girls manage to stop the rampaging monsters by hurriedly moving to the end of their stories, he escapes in the confusion. Over the next few days the girls attempt to stake out classrooms, newspaper offices, and historical reenactment sites to try and corner Shadow Lock, but he either doesn’t show or manages to escape in the same way he escaped the library: unleashing more monsters. Finally, Twilight and the girls set a trap at the Canterlot Museum by holding a huge “History of Equestria” exhibit, then staking out that location. Sure enough, Shadow Lock sneaks in and makes for the archives, thinking the girls asleep, but on arrival he’s surprised to see Twilight Sparkle is awake and waiting for him. She stops him from summoning another monster from a book and offers to hear him out on his reasons for why he’s doing what he’s doing; suspecting that she has the upper hand in she can always call out to wake her friends up to help her. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that Shadow Lock already dealt with them by trapping them in a world brought to life by the museum exhibits.

Pinkie Pie and Applejack find themselves stuck in the cavepony exhibit, Rarity and Rainbow Dash are stuck in the Egyptian-themed exhibit with Queen Cleopatrot, and Fluttershy and Spike are stuck in the medieval exhibit with pony knights and a full-sized dragon. Shadow Lock, deciding to let Twilight continue to think everything’s fine, explains that he discovered he is the last descendant of an ancient pony who was corrupted by darkness into a horrible monster capable of dooming all of Equestria. He first discovered it on reading about him in a book, and ever since then he’s continually found more passages of him that has made him obsessed with the fear that he too will be corrupted by darkness into the same monster. He felt the only way to prevent it from happening was to erase all memory of his existence so that none will ever follow in his footsteps. Twilight, however, points out this won’t stop the inevitable of another tyrant appearing and that erasing and hiding from history won’t stop it; that one has to embrace both the good parts and bad parts of their history if they want to learn from it and keep it from happening again. Her point is proven when Shadow Lock realizes, to his own horror, that by using his spell he has already erased from his own mind how the monster was stopped the first time. Not long after, he is surprised as the rest of the girls show up; revealing they escaped the history traps that they had been stuck in by doing something different from normal history–further proving Twilight’s point. He apologizes for all he’s done and changes his strategy; instead deciding to go through Equestria and use history to find a way to stop the monster from returning and the same thing from happening again. As he departs, Twilight realizes she never got the name of the villain from him, but the girls brush it off. Meanwhile, in the Ponyville House of Antiques, a shoppony accidentally knocks over a blind buy barrel that contains an old journal marked with a star swirl and a picture of the same monster from Shadow Lock’s memory inside…

Review:

With this story arc, the combination IDW comic/main series arc of the Pillars of Old Equestria and the Pony of Shadows was officially launched. The timing was good as it came out prior to the start of Season Seven, even though the actual arc on the show wouldn’t start until midseason. Plotwise, it was an interesting and clever way to launch things to me.

Overall, this whole arc is well-balanced. All of the girls are given something to do although they are shoved into pairs for most of it. Each one gets their own lines, quirks, and gags, just like you would expect from any episode trying to use all of them. The girls treat the whole plot in a rather “light” manner even though it does have some heavy implications, especially when the audience doesn’t know what Shadow Lock’s intentions are exactly initially. The balance works out well in this one rather than being a sharp contrast such as in “Reflections”, “Chaos Theory”, and “The Ponies of Dark Water” (to a lesser extent).

On the “darker” side, the biggest standout is Shadow Lock himself. There’s been a number of OCs in the IDW Comic over the years; many of them just there to fulfill minor roles. Creating a new villain, and a stallion no less, was eye-catching a bit in and of itself. I’m a bit grimacing at the use of a cloak yet again, but overall there’s something about Shadow Lock personality-wise that makes him seem a bit different from the other Equestrians. His attitude seems a bit sharper and more severe.

Some of the last issue is a bit of a callback to the plot in #15 and #16, especially with more monsters coming out of books. I kind of kept thinking of that arc as this one went on, so if there was anything I would mark this arc down for that would be it. Nevertheless, it was still fun and made for some good jokes.

Seen in the context of the entire season arc, a point I will make here and will make later is that the comics went a long way into making the Pony of Shadows a much more intimidating, fearsome, and dangerous foe than the show itself managed. Liberated from the Y-rating and having much more room to work with as they could focus on individual characters, the comic overall did a much better job of promoting the stakes for the Season Seven finale, which itself had such character overload it really only had time for a 44 minute exposition dump. This arc, on the other hand, created an intriguing and foreboding villain in Shadow Lock, and the fact that he was trying to save Equestria from something far deadlier and went to such lengths to ensure it, not to mention the hints and hype that began in this issue, really geared me up more for the Season Seven finale than I would have been otherwise. In that regard, it did its job very well.

If you frame this prequel in the light of what we eventually got out of the show, it seems to downgrade its rating a bit. But keeping in mind how much better the comic did plus how effectively this started building up for the finale, I give it a higher rating it deserves.

Fun Facts:

This comic arc is the prelude to the IDW “Legends of Magic” limited series and the second half of Season Seven’s overarching story arc. The last page connects directly to Season Seven’s “Uncommon Bond”. This arc also, in part, fixes the plot holes of many of the Pillars of Old Equestria never getting mentioned, the Pony of Shadows not having any reputation from legend, and Celestia and Luna not remembering that the Pillars were real individuals, although the “Legends of Magic” arc would later explain that as well by having them purposely avoid making their presence known to either of them. (As well as a brief line from Fluttershy using the incident to explain why the CMCs are still in the same grade after seven years. :P)

“The Bridle of Frankenstag” is playing in the same theater from “The Ponies of Dark Water”, which was apparently rebuilt. Although the girls clearly point out it was a play, the IDW Comic writers seem to have forgotten that film exists in Equestria (as evidenced in “Hurricane Fluttershy” and “One Bad Apple”). 😛

I just noticed…instead of sleeping bags, rollaways, or even spare rooms, for sleepovers Twilight has entire beds in her own bedroom. Weird.

As a nod back to Rainbow Dash admitting to Scootaloo that scary stories got to her when she was younger in “Sleepless in Ponyville”, she’s the only one who had nightmares of Frankenstag.

This arc might be the first time Fluttershy has ever used her attractiveness to get out of a situation.

The cyclops pony bears a resemblance to Bulk Biceps. His Cutie Mark is an eyeball. H. Pony Lovecart is a parody of H.P. Lovecraft, whose horror writings often featured elderich horrors of monstrosities that included tentacles. Hence, nothing but a mass of tentacles comes from his book. Frankenstag’s monster is a parody of Frankenstein’s monster and, as if often the case with those who have read the book, he corrects the cast on misconceptions given from the popular media version. 😛

The “Marshans” are parodies of the Martians in “War of the Worlds”. In that story, the Martian invaders were eventually destroyed by contracting infections and sickness from Earth’s native bacteria.

The Mane-Iac briefly returns in a cameo.

Trenderhoof (from “Simple Ways”) cameos at the Canterlot Daily News office. (Were newspapers really around back in the days of the Pony of Shadows? :P)

Ponebert by Trot Adams is (obviously) a parody of Dilbert by Scott Adams. It seems, just like in real life, the quality of its humor is somewhat up for debate.

In Colonial Whinniesburg, Prancy Drew makes a brief cameo.

So ponies DO have bathrooms and they DO use toilet paper. 😛

Somnambula as a locale (rather than an individual) is mentioned for the first time in this arc.

This arc is the first appearance of the Pony of Shadows (although only as a drawing in a book).

It’s never explained how Shadow Lock managed to descend from the Pony of Shadows, although it’s safe to assume he isn’t a direct descendant of Stygian. It’s also never explained how he got the scar across his snout. Shadow Lock doesn’t look like it compared to the show version, but he does bear a slight resemblance to Stygian in “Legends of Magic”.

Some of Pinkie Pie’s attempts to talk to the caveponies include saying “Artoo Deetoo” or R2-D2, the droid from the Star Wars franchise.

Pinkie Pie randomly mentions the Matrix, complete with shades.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5