Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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