Ah, Friendship is Magic. You've given us on the wiki a lot to think about ever since Season 1. There have been good episodes and bad episodes. Everyone knows that. Some are universally good, such as The Return of Harmony. Others are universally bad, such as The Mysterious Mare Do Well. But then again, you're more than just episodes, aren't you?
That is what the guildmaster is here to discuss today, fillies and gentlecolts—the bad that is beyond the show that first acquainted us with Twilight Sparkle and co. Among the five series of comics by IDW, including the annuals, the total number of comics is sixty at the time of this post, if I'm not mistaken. That almost amounts to as many comparable units of storytelling as the first three seasons of the show. There is enough for some of it to be called good and for some of it to be called bad, especially in light of recent "heavy-handed" stories.
So, which stories are particularly repulsive? Well, that's the question of the blog.
There are still a few issues that I have not read, namely the My Little Pony Annual 2013, the My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Holiday Special, the obscure Halloween 2013 edition comic, and a few even obscurer items. They will not appear on this list because I cannot comment on them appropriately. If they are outstandingly bad, notify me in the comments.
There were a few comics that I nearly put on this list but left out.
- Manehattan Mysteries—it may be predictable, and it may be some of Garbowska's blandest illustrating, but the story itself is not that bad; the interaction between the Mane Six and the police is frustrating, but that actually works in the comic's favor because Babs Seed's victory is consequently more satisfying
- The Root of the Problem—it is very similar to the arc that precedes it, but I think this arc actually did a lot of things right where the previous arc failed; the villain is extremely contemptible, the reader can at least perceive that the situation is not as black-and-white as it appears even if the ponies do not, and the humor is better all around; most importantly, our heroes do not outdo the villains in villainy here
- Return of the Mane-iac—this forgotten little devil lurks at the end of the 2014 Annual, and I nearly put it on this list because Ted Anderson does NOT know how to write the Mane-iac (even in the annual issue itself) and because it defies even the flimsy alternate universe logic the series already has; however, the artist actually manages to do a decent job, and the humor is passable... albeit lacking the Mane-iac's touch; Anderson's Mane-iac sounds like a completely different character
For the start of a new series, the successor of the Micro-series no less, Friends Forever Issue 1 (also known as "The Pie's the Limit") is a confusing and underwhelming story with little to like. It features Pinkie Pie and Applejack as its protagonists in a culinary competition, but they interact between themselves little. They both just decide to help the same pony, a rival contestant named Toffee Truffle, who does manage to save the story from becoming a total pity party by convincing the two heroes not to let her win. Nevertheless, the feeling that Pinkie and Applejack intend to go through with their promise is soon lost. Pinkie Pie promptly pies one of the judges in the face in the final round, and Applejack presents to the judges... an apple. They are still letting Toffee win.
Ah, and there is a villain in this comic too. She is a cook named Marine Sandwich who accidentally loses her place in the competition to Applejack. For some reason, she happens to be incredibly vindictive, so she bursts into the scene and literally freezes the judges and the spectators in frosting. To stop Marine, the heroes and their rivals band together and use their dishes to ruin
Mister Freezes's Marine's frosting gun. What do we learn? Something about teamwork? Apparently.
Also, the art style is unappealing. Carla Speed McNeil came up with some very interesting designs, especially for the judges, but the ponies themselves look weird. Marine Sandwich looks like a recolored Fluttershy, and Toffee Truffle's mane resembles curdled milk. From the story, to the characterization, to the artwork... almost everything about this comic is unpleasant.
Considering how often Spike is around dangerous magical phenomena, he acts more like Scootaloo or some other foal than Twilight Sparkle's No. 1 assistant in this comic. He thinks releasing Peewee was the right thing to do, but he still wants a pet. So, what does he do? He orders some "sea beasts" from an ad in the back of a Daring Do (comic?) book. Twilight and Fluttershy, seemingly under the belief that it would be best for Spike to face the inevitable disappointment by himself and learn from it, leave for the pet show without him. They leave him alone in the library.
First problem: Spike proves himself untrustworthy. He goes and uses a potion from one of Twilight's books to turn the "sea beasts" into sizable frog-like creatures, which then multiply and take over the library. He does something out of line, and instead of repenting, continues to push the envelope even after the sea beasts have grown considerably.
Eventually, he realizes that they are ruining the place and ponders how he can fix the library. This leads to another problem. Spike learns his lesson by walking outside and watching a mother lecturing her foal. Nothing changes within him or without him. He just sees an alternative to magical augmentation and tries to teach the sea beasts without such augmentation. Spike's lesson is a matter of common sense, which only underscores how much common sense he lacks in this issue.
On an unrelated note, this issue is dry and humorless. The closest thing to a joke is when Spike teaches the sea beasts to call Angel "Stinky," but since he does not even do anything wrong in this issue, it is not anything he deserves. I wouldn't call it mean-spirited, but it comes out of nowhere. Spike is all over the place in his Micro-Series comic... and not in a good way.
Also, he releases the sea beasts into the world outside, so here's to environmental disasters.
Oy vey. Never has an MLP comic been as condemned as this two-issue arc. This story lives in infamy in the memories of bronies everywhere and for good reason. Basically, the gang travels down to a town sustained by Applejack's relatives only to find that some criminals have driven those relatives away. The leader of these criminals, King Longhorn, decides to acquire the ranch by legal means with Applejack's relatives gone. Our heroes then decide that this cannot be allowed to happen.
Where to start? The most flagrant problem with the issue is Twilight Sparkle's role. Many fans think this is the worst depiction of her of all time. I disagree, but this one is still undoubtedly bad. While King Longhorn beats Applejack and the Sheriff, burns down a barn, and otherwise ruins property all around the town, Twilight does nothing because of her new role as a princess. As a royal, she finds it unbecoming to use her magic against citizens of Equestria.
Her blindness is frustrating. Not as frustrating as some other things on this list, but it's way up there. As a princess, Twilight is part of the government. The government is responsible for seeing to it that the law is being upheld. King Longhorn is an absolute monster of a criminal. Therefore, as an executive of the government, Twilight Sparkle's job is to... let a lawbreaker lay waste to the town?
To make matters worse, Twilight decides to punish the villain not in accordance with the law but in accordance with comic goofiness—i.e. the exact opposite of the law. Twilight binds and gags the clerk responsible for Longhorn's claim to the ranch and stows him under his counter. Talk about unbecoming for a princess.
That said, this story is not quite as bad as most bronies say. Twilight Sparkle outperforms the villains by hypocritically using her magic against the law-abiding citizens instead of the criminals, but aside from that, there is not much else to criticize aside from the cyclical routine by which Applejack and co. move Longhorn's camp off of the property he tries to claim. Longhorn himself is an enjoyable villain, even if his lackeys are unremarkable and idiotic. The story is incredibly frustrating, and the humor is rather bland, but it amounts to something mediocre when taken as a whole.
It pains me to put Nightmare Rarity on this list, but it needs to be done. This story is bad. Conceptually, it was gold—the essence of Nightmare Moon possesses one of the Element bearers in order to guarantee her invincibility during her second attempt to take over Equestria. In terms of execution, however, it turns out to be pretty darn lousy.
So, what ruined the return of Nightmare Moon? Comic relief turned into comic prevalence. Nightmare Moon was a little over-the-top in the series premier, but Nightmare Rarity takes the character to a whole new level. She is downright campy in this story, spouting corny lines that should belong to the likes of Discord. She even refers to cinematography, even though Nightmare Moon was trapped on the moon for one thousand years.
If Nightmare Rarity is supposed to be a corrupt Rarity, she takes the lunacy of Nightmare Moon to an unprecedented level. If Nightmare Rarity is supposed to be a reincarnation of Nightmare Moon, then she really should not be drawing on Rarity's knowledge to make witticisms that she herself hardly seems to understand. Her dialogue is clunky. As if that is not enough, there is also a fart joke about her. Go figure.
So if the main villain of the story is brought down to a level of comic relief, surely the creature responsible for her metamorphosis is diabolical, yes? Well, no. Shadowfright, the leader of the Nightmare Forces, is continuously referred to as Larry because his minions forget their role as minions and call him by his old name as though they were not corrupted themselves. Additionally, the clown responsible, Jeremy by name, loses the key to Pinkie Pie due to sheer incompetence and allows our heroes to win. The goofiness of the Nightmare Forces is what saves the day.
Artistically, this one is also a mess. It gets stranger and stranger with each page, culminating in the purification of the moon animals, who all look more like Digimon than something from the series we've come to love. Spike also camouflages himself with these weird moon slugs to sneak into Rarity's castle, so the problem is not limited to the last few pages. The moon looks nothing like anything anyone expected. In fact, considering the wildlife, it looks more like Star Wars than anything that should be orbiting the earth.
The plot also has problems. Throughout the quest, Luna is plagued by an internal turmoil that is rather hard to pin down. It has something to do with fear and failing her saviors, but it also has something to do with forgiveness and being accepted into society again. There does not seem to be any clear connection, so Luna's development in this is just confusing. Furthermore, time is spent going through each of the Mane Six's nightmares a second time in the second issue of the arc, so there is loads of space that should have been used for other matters, such as Luna's mysterious conflict.
Now, many of you probably guessed this one would be on my list. After all, I'm one of those anti-EG grumps. Yet, surprisingly, the sirens are not the problem with this comic. In fact, the sirens are the most enjoyable part of it. They interact with each other, experience failure together, and actually go through a little development. At first, it's shaping up to be a good issue, even though Hellenistic Canterlot is a little confusing.
But then Star Swirl the Bearded, if he can even be called that, comes to ruin everything. Both Anderson and Garbowska are to blame. The Star Swirl of this comic is a bland cardboard cut-out which replaces the perkiness of the sirens' rise to stardom with a forced plot for their downfall. Everything is going swell, but then this expressionless automaton appears, and everything likable about the story—the wit, the suspense, and even the dialogue—goes out the window.
At the height of their fame, the sirens lose everything to a wizard who cannot best them in music and resorts to magic to banish them from Equestria. He shows up, wastes several pages of the comic with pop culture references in a lamentable battle of the bands, and then gives up and banishes them. There is supposed to be some emotion behind this, since Star Swirl later writes that he considers the affair his biggest failure, but nothing in the preceding pages supports that statement.
FIENDship #3 would have been much better if Star Swirl had only caught onto the sirens at the end and concluded the comic with a cliffhanger. There would have been more time for us to see the character of the sirens instead of their performances in writing. Even leaving Star Swirl out would have been better than tossing this lame depiction of him into the plot so that the comic can end with a tie-in to Equestria Girls. FIENDship is supposed to be about villainy, and unfortunately, this comic lacks anything greater than some slight mischief because the sirens fall before they even rise.
On a loosely related noted, while making this list, I've realized that Ted Anderson and Agnes Garbowska do not go well together.
This is another story that makes me wonder just what the Mane Six are thinking. A pirate ship appears out of nowhere, so they all board the pirate ship and end up stuck on a fruitless treasure hunt with
Captain Jack Sparrow a loon called Hoofbeard. Poor communication leads to poor communication, which then leads to further miscommunication.
Hoofbeard's stubbornness compels the Mane Six to mutiny. As if that was not bad enough, they do it via one of the campiest duels I've ever seen. "Argh! Foiled by fashionistas!" says Hoofbeard as Rarity swaggers up the plank, waving her elegant sword. *Sigh.* The humor is out of place. Whenever there is supposed to be suspense, comic relief takes over and defeats it entirely. This was one of the woes of the Nightmare Rarity arc, but here, it is not only distracting but also nonsensical.
The other annoying element is the Mane Six's attempts to be actual pirates. It is somewhat reminiscent of something out of SpongeBob Squarepants, but no one really rebukes the Mane Six or points out that they look like idiots. The story is fantastic to the point of being unbelievable for this reason; I daresay it is perhaps the most childish story of all in the history of MLP comics. The Mane Six are able to get away with just about anything, and they clearly know they can get away with just about anything, even though they are supposedly dealing with hardened adventurers.
The end tries to be touching, but it highlights the previous miscommunication to such an extent that the reader cannot help but notice how avoidable some of the earlier hijinks were. Sure, there had to be some way to make Hoofbeard talk to our heroes, but transitioning from a mutiny, to his imprisonment, to his immediate release is cumbersome for how much is going on at the same time, since the latter two coincide with the arrival of the mermares. Therefore, pacing is another problem.
Unfortunately, this one is wonky both in concept and in execution, so the story might need some revising for it to turn out well. Also, Brenda Hickey seems to have drawn some inspiration from the moon animals of Nightmare Rarity when drawing the monsters of this story, so that's another nail in this coffin.
Poor Tirek. Instead of an account of his rise to glory and power, he gets a comic about his daddy troubles. I do not intend to spend too much time on this one, since the main problem is obvious enough already. FIENDship is about villainy, and all we get in this one is a spoiled brat.
The other problem is this: nothing happens. The story begins (A) with Prince Tirek and his brother living with their parents and (B) without any recent interaction between Tirek and the traveling Sendak. The story ends (A) with Tirek and his brother living with their parents and (B) without interaction between Tirek and Sendak. The brief return of Sendak to the gargoyles' land instills in Tirek a lust for power because Sendak had kidnapped an Equestrian unicorn, but Tirek's new attitude is the only significant change in the status quo. Tirek fails to drain the unicorn's magic. The unicorn is freed. Sendak is arrested. Tirek gets grounded. Life soon goes back to normal for everyone but the transient Sendak.
Is it too much to ask for the sweet prince to get caught in the act and exiled? Or for him actually to acquire magical power and wreak some havoc? Tirek does something childish, and he is punished as one would a child. Presumably, everyone forgives Tirek after King Vorak clears everything up for Celestia.
Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!
Behold what is undoubtedly the worst official depiction of Rainbow Dash outside of Equestria Girls. I am fairly certain that this is the only MLP comic that Ryan K. Lindsay ever wrote, but this one comic remains as a monument to horrible writing for firmly established characters.
In her own Micro-Series comic, she goes from calling cloud gremlins "meanies" and crying when they bully her to proclaiming herself "20% faster" and unleashing a "Double Rainboom." She somehow transitions from being grossly out of character to being grossly flanderized, back and forth, over and over, ad nauseam. I don't know what Ryan K. Lindsay was thinking when writing this, but I'm guessing that pandering to the nuttier fans was high on the agenda.
The humor is bland. The plot is cyclical. Applejack has a considerably deep presence here for some reason, making this either a bizarre precursor to Friends Forever or Lindsay's idea of a shipfic.
To top it all off, Applejack seems to suggest that the zap apples from Sweet Apple Acres are a product of Rainbow Dash's "Double Rainboom" (Ick). This explanation is actually more believable than what we're told in Family Appreciation Day, yet it still contradicts what we're told in that episode. The comics have been inconsistent with what the show tells us before, but never before or since has there been such an egregious denial of official lore.
Tony Fleecs actually does a fair job as an illustrator, but that does not save this comic from deserving to be forgotten.
Ugh. Reactions to this issue have been rather mixed, but I, for one, believe that it is among the very worst. Most important to note is that this issue deals with an addiction, namely Pinkie Pie's injurious addiction to a snack called a... "PheNOMNOMenon." Pinkie turns to Twilight Sparkle to cure her addiction, and so we have our plot.
First of all, this is a terrible depiction of Pinkie Pie. She is an unstable nincompoop whose dialogue for most of the comic consists only of babble about the pastries and who goes as far as breaking Twilight's windows (repeatedly) to escape to the vendors. Worse yet, she takes all of her anger out on Twilight, the pony she asked to help her in the first place. Her condition is disgusting, as is the way she treats her best friend because of it.
Secondly, this is a terrible depiction of Twilight Sparkle. She agrees to aid Pinkie Pie but eventually concludes that the best solution is saying "Woe is me" and guilt-tripping her into saying no to the treats, since Twilight's difficulty with the task is the only thing that restores Pinkie Pie to her senses. In other words, admitting failure and hoping for the best is Twilight's answer. Additionally, we see her in a most wretched state after she tries the treat for herself.
Now, Pinkie Pie has allegedly had this addiction for some time, so there must be a reason why we never hear of it until now. That reason is that the snack is only available during an annual event. This presents another series of problems. The addiction goes away with time. Therefore, whether our heroes succeed is of little consequence, since Pinkie will be fine later. The conflict is unrealistic and null, even though the comic pretends that it is otherwise and even vilifies the annual vendors of the snack at one point.
Friends Forever #12 is my least favorite comic of all time because it shows two of our heroes almost at their absolute worst and suggests that addictions can only be broken by forcing the addict to sort things out on her own or waiting for her to sort things out on her own. And if I hear "NOMS" one more time, I'm going to break a window myself.
Although Friends Forever #12 may be my absolute least favorite, there is one which I must admit is even worse—FiM #29. I posted my analysis of this issue on its article, so some of this may sound a little stale, but it needs to be said. Issue 29 is unexciting, absurd, and categorically awful. What do you need to know? Cheerilee has an identical twin, who happens to be a professional wrestler. They do not like each other. Rarity, upon finding this out, tries to get them to like each other. When Cheerilee's sister injures herself, our darling Rarity encourages Cheerilee to take her place as a wrestler. Things ensue. Ugh.
As another user astutely pointed out recently, there are some weird relationship dynamics at work here. Rarity tries to mend the gap between Cheerilee and her sister and also tries to drag the rest of the Mane Six into the matter because "awkward social situations always go easier with friends." This suggests some kind of friendship between Cheerilee and the Six, which is something we have never seen before. Their sisters see Cheerilee regularly, but there is a huge leap in how close they should be. More on that later.
The "wrestling issue" is unexciting because action is minimal. Some parts are supposed to be suspenseful, but a large number of things contribute to them being just the opposite. Many collisions happen off-panel. When somepony is thrown, they are rarely seen colliding with anything, Pete being the exception. This does not become a problem until the climax—Cheerilee vs. Iron Hock—when other factors come into play.
The main event is a cycle of Cheerilee diving, Iron Hock evading, and Cheerilee getting back up again. This happens three times. She even lands in the exact same position two out of those three times, making this one of the most boring bouts in the history of comics. Even the duel in Friendship Ahoy is thrilling in comparison. Eventually, the bout ends when Cheerilee lands
Chekhov's her sister's signature move, which does not even get a "Bang!" or "Wham!" in recognition. When something finally happens, it's a dud. What is supposed to be a climax features no action. Where's the kaboom?!
But what's this? Holy pony pugilists, Cheerilee, there's a tag team round! Or not. The surprise tag team round is skipped completely. In Friends Forever Issue 15, which was released at about the same time, a crisis was passed over in a similar manner. However, it was not a centralizing point of tension, and it only happened so that Mayor Mare could demonstrate her leadership when suddenly called upon. It was a climax, but it was supposed to be handled with stunning speed and natural skill.
This second round in FiM Issue 29, however, was not.
Cheerilee's time in the ring is the climax of the issue. When it is announced that there will be a second round, there should be a second round, especially after that inglorious first round in which Cheerilee gently pacified her opponent. Instead, it is over in an instant. The comic cuts to the aftermath because the tag team round was just setup so Anderson could shoehorn Rarity back into the plot for one final joke. That joke happens to fall flat on its face because there is nothing else to supplement the sudden "But there's a second round!" moment besides the fact that she is one of the three protagonists in this comic. And since Cheerilee's sister was supposed to be competing in the tournament in the first place, where did her partner go? Rarity had to have replaced someone to get into the ring.
So here's the deal. My theory is that this was initially supposed to be an issue of Friends Forever starring Rarity and Cheerilee, but because of Cheerilee's twin-sister being a third wheel or some other reason, it got moved to the main series—possibly to fill space in preparation for the next multi-issue arc. The Mane Six are in this issue at the sisters' reunion because it needed to be adjusted to fit into the Friendship is Magic series instead of Friends Forever. They are as out of place in the story as the comic is in the series.
Speaking of Friends Forever, this comic had the exact same dev crew as Friends Forever Issue 11, which is already notorious for making the Pegasi look like top-heavy balloon animals (Thanks, Fosgitt).
The art style is bizarre. The story is riddled with holes. The action is absent. The relationships are spontaneous. Everything is sloppy.
Friendship is Magic Issue 29 is, by far, the worst comic of them all.
Thank you for reading. Comment to your heart's content.
EDIT: Ted Anderson confirmed in March that Friendship is Magic Issue 29—now yclept Ponymania XXIX—was first pitched as a two-parter, then as a Friends Forever, then as a single issue in the main series. Props to User:(7)6(four) for locating that post.