IDW’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic; Or; How I lost all respect for myself.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic vol1

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic vol1

So I’ve been hearing a lot about this new My Little Pony series. And I must admit, of all the 80s properties I’d expected to receive an injection of life, this was the last. There just plain isn’t a lot going on with it. There’s no real conflict between the characters. So little in fact that you’d think Gene Roddenberry had written it.

My Little Pony was born of a different era in television, where children’s shows were very much based on a gender demographic rather than an age demographic as they are today. Whereas then you had shows like Jen and the Holograms that was clearly marketed towards girls and shows like Transformers that were clearly marketed towards boys, nowadays you get gender-neutral shows like 4-Square and Jake and the Neverland Pirates that are marketed toward a certain age-group but made to appeal to either gender.

Which makes My Little Pony’s transition into the 21st century even more perplexing. How would it fit in?

Well as it turns out it fit in very well, as a whole crop of make viewers (given the name “Bronies”) have cropped up who can’t seem to get enough of whimsical Pony adventures. A friend of mine, after seeing The Canterlot Wedding Part 1, shooed his wife from their computer so that he could download the next episode to see just how the drama unfolded.

I came to this story innocently enough. My best friend has two little girls whom I am very close to, one two and one six. The six-year-old is just getting into reading, and one thing that made me excited to read at that age were comic books. Now I’m not stupid enough to try and push Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on an unsuspecting child that has no interest in it, but IDW has been good enough to produce a new title called My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic based on the new series. So I picked up the first three issues and gave them to the girls as a Valentine’s Day present.

Once they got over “oddities” like speech balloons and how to follow the panels, both children dove right into the comic. In fact, the art in the comic was the first that really drew me in, while reading over their shoulders. It’s bright and expressive and colorful, and possible the most cartoon-accurate of any title IDW produces. So I started to flip through (Issue #3) and came across an image of what I can only describe as a group of shadow-vampire ponies with bat-wings eating a bunch of innocent creatures to feed on their love.

So I decided I should read these through to make sure they’re appropriate for the girls. (Sidenote: I’m apparently way to overprotective, and have forgotten that we all kind-of like being scared as children, as long as everything turns out right in the end).

So in reading issue #1, “The Return of Queen Chrysalis,” I’ve discovered that the art and writing is possibly the best I’ve seen in a modern comic book. It has a Doctor Who level of sophistication, in that (one some level) the creators are aware that this is going to be read to children by adults, and have therefore made the material accessible to both. That’s actually not an easy task, I can tell you with some certainty. And I applaud it. I have a theory that we should not expose our children to drivel. That if we expose them to good fiction as children we’re ensuring that they will demand good fiction as adults, thus ensuring good fiction continues to be produced.

The issue opens with the Filly’s (young Ponies) being kidnapped and brainwashed by a bunch of animals with glowing eyes while they’re camping at the zoo, trying to earn their Cutie-Marks. (Cutie-Marks being a much better term for the tattoos then what I always called them. Re: Tramp Stamps.) Right off the bat the book gets it right, knowing how to mix comedy and thrills to make it accessible to children. There’s a panel where the animals are closing in on the Fillies and they look absolutely terrified, but it’s okay, because the panel just before it has a bear wearing a tu-tu riding a scooter.

Yes, it’s that kind of series.

Page three is, possibly, the biggest treat. There are so many in-jokes on this one page I could make a whole review of them. It’s a splash-page the way a splash-page is supposed to be, a huge, sprawling Where’s Waldo type image that sets up our main setting but wastes not a micron of space. Rainbow Dash is asleep on her cloud, there’s a brawny pony dropping an anvil on a pony while another pony laughs, there’s a Doctor Who pony cameo, there are Men In Black ponies, a mustache shop… there’s just everything here. There’s very little dialog, just a colorful and imaginative image that will hold your attention for longer than some entire issues of Spider-Man or X-Men will lately.

The Fillies are now behaving as though they’re soulless, and it doesn’t take main cast members like Twilight Sparkle, Apple Jack, Pinkie Pie, Flutter Shy and Rainbow Dash long to take notice. There are Pony Puns aplenty (like saying everypony instead of everybody), but this isn’t where the humor lies. It’s in the dialog between the characters and the expressiveness of the art. Just simple dialog and great timing that would work for any character, Pony or not.

They realize that the Fillies (and now everyone but them) have been infected by the shadow-vampires (who apparently are called Changelings), just like happened during the Canterlot Wedding. There’s a hilarious bit where Rainbow Dash has basically blacked out the entire wedding because she drank too much of the punch that Pinkie Pie brought… was that an alcoholism joke? In My Little Pony? Don’t worry, parents of the world… it’s explained pretty quick that Pinkie Pie just put a ton of sugar in there. Which is hilarious in its own right. Equally funny: Rainbow Dash exclaiming “It’s Clobbering Time!” Again, jokes that are clearly in there for my generation who are reading them to a younger generation. Then on the next page, Pinkie Pie explains how to “walk like a zombie,” which I want a t-shirt of… and it’s hilarious.

Suffice to say, I simply can’t fit a full review here. This is the first part of a four-part adventure (the girls have demanded, and will receive, the fourth part and anything else IDW chooses to release on the subject of Ponies). The issue ends with the Ponies walking off into the sunset in classic Western style, but not to an ending… they’re beginning their quest to save the Fillies from the evil Queen Chrysalis of the Changelings… and even this is undercut with a well-timed joke.

This book, and series, is great. The writing by Katie Cook is great, the art by Andy Price is great, everything about it is just great. There’s an attention here that proves why IDW has become my favorite publisher: it’s because they just put more effort in, typically. And there is literally one joke on every page that made me laugh-out-loud. And I never laugh-out-loud. I’m one of those people that typically will only hum to show how amused I am. There are too many jokes to point out. Once all four parts are released, I may do a companion review just pointing out all the sight-gags and references. Not even the amazing dialog jokes, just the sight gags. It would take a full review. I’ve only touched on the comedy in this issue, and I’m already over the word count Geeks v. Nerds had set for me. Such is life.

Pick up this series if you have children or have young children in your life. Read it with them. It’s an experience you should not rob yourself of. The comic $3.99. The experience with your family is priceless.

Okay, picking up where we left off last time, we have “The Return of Queen Chrysalis, Part 2.” Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and AppleJack are setting out on a quest to save the Cutie-Mark Crusaders from the clutches of the evil Queen of the Changelings!

… this shouldn’t sound as epic as it does.

One complaint I didn’t mention last time follows through here is that the comic avoid standard convention in that it never tells us the character’s names, you have to already know. I wasn’t familiar with all the Pony’s, and had to rely on my friend’s 6-year old to tell me that the white Pony was named “Rarity.” But I guess IDW is aware that the typical person buying a licensed comic is already familiar with the show and its characters and doesn’t want to patronize, so I can kind of respect that.

This issue follows out six heroes as they venture through the Appaloosan Mountains to get to the land of the Changelings on the other side, and once again in addition to being well-written and dramatic, it’s funny as all hell. I mean hilarious.

Soon after entering the cave, the Ponies encounter a cave troll (named Jim. How do we know? Because Pinkie Pie asked, duh). At first he seems monstrous, picking up Fluttershy screaming Po-Nays!, but as it turns out he’s quite docile, and combs their hair and plays with them, much the way a toddler would the My Little Pony toys… and as your mind registers the fact that the troll is proportionately the size of a toddler compared to the Ponies, your gave shifts slightly right and sees a defeated Optimus Prime sitting on the trolls shelf. It is priceless.

After escaping the troll in an ingenious and non-violent way, the Ponies are split up by a cave-in caused by the minions of the evil Queen. Now is when the trouble really starts, as the Changelings take the form of different Ponies and say mean things about other Ponies, sowing discontent among the team. It plays on each character’s insecurities about themselves, and the devious thing is the things said are lies wrapped in truth. The Changeling-Twilight Sparkle calls Pinkie pie annoying… and, well, Pinkie Pie is annoying. The love her and accept her because she’s their friend, but she still is a very annoying character.

I feel the author, Katie Cook, is subtly infusing a lesson for younger readers here, in a very good and not beaten-in sort of way. Seeing how these words hurt the characters, like Pinkie Pie above, will help children understand that saying mean things about other people it hurts them. Even if those things might be true, in your opinion. The comic does not feel the need to state the message outright, it gives the reader the respect of coming to the conclusion on their own, which I think most children will. Most children are very empathetic and astute.

The Ponies are at each other’s throats when they emerge from their separation, but they team up to fight a giant spider who sprays them with webbing (from it’s butt) with the sound effect Thwip! … That can’t be a coincidence. This comic is just full of little gems like that.

Pinkie Pie saves the day in a genius and hilarious manner that I will not spoil here… but after the danger is averted, the friends are still hurt and go their separate ways, leaving Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie the worst off of them all, trapped in the forest without a map!

This comic is awesome. The writing is wonderful and hilarious, I haven’t even mentioned the best jokes and dialog. Andy Price does an amazing job on art, making it expressive and cartoon-accurate. There are no homogenized faces or expressions: each Pony is given their own voice in every panel they’re in. The colors by Heather Breckel are equally amazing.

I look forward to the next instalment. Everyone should pick up this book, especially if you’re looking for a way to connect with young children or siblings.

Alright, so what we have here is yet another stellar issue of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic from Katie Cook and Andy Price. This is the third issue, and it only gets more epic and funny here. This book is quickly become a must-read for me, and is by far the most consistently good of IDW’s titles.

Last issue left the Ponies (Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Flutteshy, Twilight Sparkle, AppleJack and Pinkie Pie) separated into groups of two, as the Changelings led by the evil Queen Chrysalis had fooled them into thinking they were angry with each other and split them up. This issue actually begins with a flashback told by Spike (who hasn’t been used much at all in this series thus far) narrating how Chrysalis got this way to begin with. As it turns out, after her defeat during the Canterlot Wedding episode, the Queen crash-landed in Wuvy-Dovey Smoochie Land, a place that was seemingly inhabited only by Teddy Bears, Bunnies, and Kittens constantly holding Valentine’s Day cards. To regain their strength because they feed on love, the Queen and her minions proceed to eat the cute and helpless creatures.

It was at this point that I closed the book, looked at the six-year old I was reading this to, and asked “Is this a little much for you?” To which she replied: “No. Happens all the time on the show.”

Apparently My Little Pony is epic. Who knew.

Anyway, cutting back to our present story, Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy fall through some trees and get twigs stuck in their hair so that they look like goats. It’s at this point they are spotted by a Chupacabra… which translates into “goat sucker.” The fearsome creature, mistaking them for goats, chases after them with the intent on killing and eating them.

It was at this point that I closed the book, looked at the six-year old I was reading this to, and asked “Is this a little much for you?” To which she replied: “No. Happens all the time on the show.”

Apparently My Little Pony is scary. Who knew.

Applejack and Rarity are roughing it as the Pony Odd-Couple, with one being unbearable neat and they other a country girl, until they’re attacked by giant flowers intent on killing them and run like the wind.

Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie make the book though, with some of the funniest dialog I have ever read in a comic. The timing and the back-and-forth banter of it is absolutely pitch perfect, as the overly-optimistic Pinkie tries to encourage the realistic pessimist Rainbow. It’s a great match, made better when Rainbow begs Pinkie to just stop singing, and then Pinkie Pie breaks out suits of themselves… that she’d apparently had on her at all times. They’re eventually attacked by a herd of vampiric jackalopes and flee.

This comic is best when it’s random and gleefully acknowledges its own randomness.

Speaking of fully, there’s lots of great jokes and puns in here. When the team breaks up the Queen comments that “The Filly-Ship is broken.” The Queen herself quotes the Wicked Witch of the West several times, and Rainbow Dash laments her lack of thumbs while trying to start a fire. That and so much, so much more. All the dialog with the Cutie-Spot Crusaders is just spot-on and hilarious.

In the end the team is back together and ready to storm the gates of the Changeling capital and ready to take the fight to the Queen herself, hopefully in the epic and hilarious conclusion next month.

As I said, this book is amazing. Really everyone should be buying. It may be the best written book on the shelves right now, and the art by Andy Price is top-notch as well. I hope neither of them ever leave this book.

So here we have it people, the climactic conclusion to possibly the best storyline yet of 2013: “The Return of Queen Chrysalis.” Think I’m being sarcastic? I’m not. This issue is all kinds of epic, featuring the sort of conclusion you’d want to the sprawling, many-charactered, Lord-of-the-Rings style narrative that the title has produced to this point. It also manages to still be funny as hell, with verbal puns and sight gags to make the ribs of any-aged reader ache.

We start with the Ponies (Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Apple Jack, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie) finally making it to the Castle of Queen Chrysalis. But their long journey isn’t done yet. When we get into the castle we get an awesome splash panel of its interior: stairs everywhere in the style of MC Escher. The remarkable thing about this title is that it manages to do things that have been done before in such a fun and romping way that you forgive clichés such as the Escher reference. Sure everyone’s done it, but that’s what makes it a cultural touchstone. And introducing these touchstones to a new generation of readers is important.

Unsure which door to go into, each Pony tried a different one and behind each is their own worse fear… which leads to some hilarious sight-gags for a horror fiend like me, including Pony-versions of Mola Ram from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom appearing a Apple Jack and holding out a flaming apple instead of a flaming heart, a Pony version of Pennywise the Clown from It, the little girls from The Shining, and even the Phantom from Phantom of the Opera appearing and wooing Rarity… he nightmare version of “a guy who lives in a basement falling from her. Yuck.”

We cut from that to Twilight Sparkle opening her door, and that being the right door that leads to Queen Chrysalis. Now one could interpret that as dramatic convenience: after all, someone had to pick the right door to move the story forward. But I think this is some great, subtle writing on the part of Katie Cook, because the Queen is Twilight’s worst nightmare. So I think only she could have opened the door to her. And that point is never addressed openly, it’s left for the reader to decide if it the Queen would have been behind that door for anyone, or only for Twilight. That’s giving a lot of respect to your readers to not simply give them the answer, and makes for great storytelling. Above all else I really feel Cook respects the intelligence of the readers of this series, both young and old.

They’re presented with a riddle to get through the door: “How is a Pony like a writing desk?” An obvious homage to Alice in Wonderland, with the hilarious result of bypassing the obvious answer of “they each have four legs” in favour of Pinkie Pie answering by saying “she doesn’t know the answer” and that being correct.

An epic magical battle ensues between the Queen and Twilight Sparkle, each of them empowered with extra magic due to some plot-device I didn’t bother to learn about. Battles aren’t my thing, I prefer character development. At the end Twilight almost wins, but is given a terrible choice: stay with the Queen or she’ll kill her friends. This is the type of sadistic-choice thing that superhero comics are famous for, best remembered from the first Spider-Man movie. Here Twilight Sparkle clearly chooses her friends and stays with the Queen, only to be double-crossed! The Queen threatens to turn Twilight into a Changeling and have her kill her friends!

By the way, they never actually say kill. They have lots of fun ways to get around that, but for the purposes of this review let’s just call a horse a horse… so to speak.

Twilight eventually wins the day and saves the Kingdom, and Queen Chrysalis is trapped in her castle by the most horrible thing ever… the sentient Pinkie Pie costume from last issue, asking her the answer to the riddle of “What rhymes with orange?”

This comic has been great so far, and I can’t wait to see where it goes after this with issue #5. Will it be more standalone stories like over in the micro-series? Or a new, different, epic multi-parter? Only time will tell, but everypony here is waiting to find out.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Volume 1My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Volume 1 by Katie Cook

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

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