Although still months away, Twilight Sparkle is already planning Hearth’s Warming Even gifts for next season and decides, for Princess Celestia, to go to the Castle of the Two Sisters and pick up some of the nicer ones for her as a gift while sorting the old library in something she calls “Book-sort-cation”. She decides to also roll it into a lesson in thoughtful gift giving by bringing Starlight Glimmer along; who, in spite of being tired from friendship lessons, is eager for the chance to see if there are magic books there written by Starswirl the Bearded. On arrival, however, Twilight, Starlight, Owluiscious, and Spike find the place is rather dusty and a mysterious vine is spewing spore dust everywhere, making Spike sneeze and, as a result, causes him to head out with a book on “Ferocious Flora”. While he’s gone, however, Twilight and Starlight start getting into a progressively more heated argument about the best way to sort that eventually turns into personal insults, all while the mysterious vine grows bigger and more widespread. Spike eventually finds out from the book that the vine is a “Squirm-Spore”, a hive-like spore-based creature that generates animosity in ponies and feeds off of it to grow bigger and stronger, eventually reaching dangerous proportions. As the Squirm-Spore starts animating suits of armor and stonework in the castle ruin to attack, Spike rushes back and tells the girls the news, and they realize it has been fighting off of their hostility. Realizing this, however, the two are able to resist the effect and work together, combining their magic along with Spike and Owluiscious to weaken and repel the monster back into Everfree Forest. Following the incident, Twilight reads more and discovers Starswirl the Bearded himself once fought a monster like that, which was triggered into growing into monstrous proportions by an argument between him and Melvin the Manticore. Hearing this, Starlight realizes that even somepony like Starswirl needed help from time to time, while Twilight realizes even somepony like Starswirl didn’t always know everything. The two reconcile, Twilight marks off Starlight as having completed this “lesson”, and, without distractions, the book sorting resumes; much to Spike’s chagrin.
This is…an interesting one.
In a way, I kind of think this is a wasted arc. Starlight Glimmer is a fairly unique character on the show, and in many ways represents what would happen if a “normal person” was suddenly in the magic land of friendship that is Equestria. She definitely has a way of thinking more maturely and treating things with more human-like neuroses and reactions. Pairing her with any other character, therefore, would be interesting just for her to have to adjust to them. The fact they paired her with Twilight Sparkle, the character she already interacts with far more than any other character, seemed a bit of a waste. But considering this was so soon after “The Cutie Re-Mark”, it might have been appropriate.
At the time this came out, Starlight Glimmer was still relatively new as a cast fixture. And because her personality had shifted so much between her time as a villain and her time as a regular, it’s understandable that the writers would have had a hard time pegging down her character (because I know I sure did, and I think the show writers did as well). Because of that, this arc makes some character flubs. Starlight tends to be a compulsive overachiever, and she overcompensates for her lack of social skills by trying her best to be a people-pleaser at times, even when she shouldn’t. While I can see her being tired of friendship lessons, it wouldn’t be something she would profess in this case because she’d have a chance to “impress her teacher”. Furthermore, although Starlight is awkward in most social settings and interactions, she still longs for them. There’s never been a moment on the show in which she hasn’t been invited to participate in an activity or had a subordinate task in which she hasn’t felt “left out”.
The lingering animosity between her and Twilight, on the other hand, is something that could be potentially appropriate. Starlight did, after all, have a rather quick turnaround, and it’s hard to believe she’d just throw off all of her years-long mindset just like that. Parts of her might still long for her commune and a more controlling society. It’s a topic that would be interesting to pursue on the show, but in this case it gets a pass in any event because we can attribute Starlight having been affected by the spores.
Also, I find something rather interesting about this arc. One of my issues with the main series is that Starlight is still failing to “integrate” into the Mane Six. In Season Seven, there was only one episode, “It isn’t the Mane Thing About You”, in which Starlight felt like she was fully on the same level as the rest of the girls; no better and no worse. Most of the time she either stands above them or stands apart from them…and, granted, while the second of those two might be what the writers ultimately want, it enhances her reputation for being “Mary Sue”. I like this one because it’s the first real time that Starlight and Twilight had to work together on something (unless you count their very brief scuffle with the Pony of Shadows in the Season Seven finale).
Aside from that, one other thing I want to mark this issue down for is the monster. It’s basically the same modus operandi as the Dazzlings all over again, and connected to Starswirl the Bearded to boot. I thought they could have gone with something a bit more original than that. It’s a small complaint, but still.
The characterization confusion on the part of IDW is understandable in this issue, but nevertheless makes some of it fall flat. Aside from that, while colorful the plot isn’t all that remarkable even for “Friends Forever” standards, and it doesn’t really offer anything new to Twilight and Starlight’s relationship other than hints that she still clings to her old way of thinking. If I forgive the confusion, it’s still pretty middle-of-the-road.
While Jay Fosgitt’s art style for ponies is fairly signature, Spike’s own design is more-or-less the same as on the show.
The mention of crafting friendship lessons for Starlight places this story in the middle of Season Six.
Two of the comics Spike takes with him are “Flying Mouse” and “Arachnerd”, possibly insults for Batman and Spider-Man, respectively.
Spike gets to experience being a full-sized dragon again…kind of. 😛
Starswirl the Bearded is still in his “pre-legends” canonical form.
Melvin the Manticore is a character from, shall we say, the “expanded lore” of MLP:FIM; first introduced in “The Journal of the Two Sisters” by Amy Keating Rogers.
2.5 Stars out of 5