Siege of the Crystal Empire. "A enigmatic new foe brings together some of the most villainous characters in Equestria to attack the Crystal Empire!" "Most villainous characters", huh? Let's see how utterly wrong that statement is. Buckle up, kiddies. (Warning: Spoilers ahead!)
In Part 1, a pony appears in the Arctic North and makes her way south, dodging a furious hail of narration boxes. She assembles some of the most ruthless villains around to help her in her nefarious schemes:
Wow, only four pages into this story, and already the official synopsis lied to me. These are "some of the most villainous characters in Equestria"? Were Ahuizotl, Suri Polomare, King Longhorn, Garble, and (depending on when this story was written) Gilda unavailable? Right off the bat, I have reservations about how this is going to turn out.
(By the way, enjoy these guys while you can. They'll be gone before long.)
It's time for the Crystal Faire at the Crystal Empire, and the villains put their plan into motion. Flim and Flam smuggle in the changelings (the only sensible addition to this plan), making for a pretty cool entrance, Lightning Dust distracts Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, and Iron Will steals the Crystal Heart. And Iron Will is easily the most confusing part of this story -- he has no business being here.
Seeing this transformation of his from misguided assertiveness trainer to thief for the sake of regaining his lost charisma is jarring. (And it only gets worse in the next issue.) Queen Chrysalis appears too to challenge Twilight to a magic rematch, but after a bit of shenanigans and tomfoolery, the invasion is quickly quelled.
But as our heroes come to realize, it was all just a distraction for our villains' mysterious leader -- who turns out to be Radiant Hope from FIENDship is Magic Issue 1 -- to sneak into King Sombra's secret study under the castle throne room. To do what? To give the smoky king a brand-spanking-new body as the story shifts into Part 2.
"Long live the king" indeed.
Part 2 begins with a brief recap and continuation of FIENDship is Magic #1, and it's kind of a treat to see Jeremy Whitley's story and Brenda Hickey's artwork re-imagined in Andy Price's style. Plus, foal Sombra and Hope are adorable.
Hope's feeling a little down. Turns out losing one's only friend and home can do that. Who knew? Abandoning her magic studies, she returns to the Arctic North and meets Sombra's people -- the shadow ponies known as the umbrum. The umbrum and their world are some of Andy Price's most amazing work.
The use of thick outlines and muted colors does really well to make the umbrum stand out. I kinda wish the same had been done with the Nightmare Forces. (More on that in a bit.)
Sombra's eager to stretch his new hooves, so he storms outside and sets the captured villains free in the process. Time for round two. And as entertaining as this is, it only serves to highlight a point I previously mentioned: Iron Will does not belong in this story! Each of the villains here (with the exception of Chrysalis) has kind of a flimsy reason to be here, but Iron Will's is the flimsiest. He wants to get his public-speaking mojo back. He wants to be respected again. So to do that, he takes part in a regional invasion? Not just unwittingly either; Iron Will WANTS to do this. He's officially a willing accomplice.
- "Iron Will is ready to bring the pain!"
- — Issue #35 page 12
- "Iron Will means to do this!"
- — Issue #35 page 16
Ugh. You disappoint me, William.
Anyway, round two ends in the villains' favor, and this time the Mane Six are captured. But wait! Who's that over the horizon?!
It's Celestia and Luna! Surely they'll put a stop to--!
...Oh. Never mind.
You know, we in the MLP fandom like to joke that, throughout the series, Celestia and Luna don't help much in times of crisis. There's a reason for this: if they did, the story would effectively be over. So the story needs them to be out of the way, no matter how contrived the method. Celestia and Luna arrive for all of thirty seconds and are swiftly given the plot-removing boot. ...All hail the princesses?
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