Along with its’ characters, Friendship is Magic earns the lion’s share of its praise for its setting. With lots of dynamic locations each having their own storytelling potential, there is a richness that is hard to not be attracted to. Due to both of these aspects, it’s very easy to see why there was so much hype for this story. Yes, alternate reality stories can be overdone, but the very notion of seeing everything you knew to be true being turned on its’ head is something that’s innately interests fans of strong settings. Does the final issue of this arc actually help this story to deliver on the inherit promise? Let’s take a look, shall we?
Over the past few months, “Reflections” has been an arc that has garnered a lot of discussion among the fan base, and through that discussion you can see how divided opinions about the story are. There are multiple angles, but most fans either appreciate the character dimensions this arc gives a relatively underused character, or find the comic to be a mess from a number of angles. As for where I stand, well, I find myself agreeing a lot more with the people who find this comic to be not up to snuff.
The first problem that I find myself having with this comic is how little of the world the reader gets to interact with. Now, this not being my first rodeo, I expected that I would be left a little wanting in this regard, and was prepared to accept that. Even “Days of Future Past” left quite a bit of the ruined world to be explored and it didn’t affect how amazing the story was. However, the difference between that story and that one is that we got to see our at least some of our protagonists interact with the world at large.
Up until this issue, the Mane 6’s interaction with the alternate Equestria was limited to engaging with that world’s Sombra and basically going through their most shallow character motions. Rainbow Dash was the jock, Pinkie Pie made inane jokes, Rarity swooned over pretty things, Applejack provided her own brand of level-headed snarkiness, and Fluttershy was… well, shy. Even Twilight Sparkle, who was the focus character of the group for this arc was stuck mostly doing deer-in-headlights exposition when the story did give her something else to do. If that was going to happen, it would’ve been better if the reader got to see these characters engage some of the interesting analogues that were presented in the art. Even a short scene with their opposites in this world would’ve done something to relieve the disappointment I had in this regard.
Continuing on the subject of Twilight Sparkle, I was quite happy that the creative team actually had Twilight said that she saw herself following more in Starswirl’s footsteps than Celestia’s. Out of all the ideas to explore Twilight’s self-doubt becoming a Princess, this was the one I praying that someone would do something with, because it actually explores the aspirations she had. Sadly, we never get to spend enough time with this compelling plot line due to the fact that it shares limited space with multiple others. Beyond that and the alternate Equestria story threads, we also had the Magic Mirror itself, Starswirl the Bearded’s own perspective and Celestia’s multiple story threads to make up the framework of “Reflections.” The end result however, only sees the Magic Mirror storyline being bought to satisfying conclusion (It seems like they left Starswirl an open book on purpose, though.), whereas the others either underwhelm or are concluded so poorly, that it leaves many readers with a worse impression of the main character.
Earlier in this review, I know I said Twilight Sparkle was the focus character of the Mane 6, but being a focus character doesn’t mean that she’s the main character. For Issues #17 – 20 the main character was actually Princess Celestia, granting the wish of many a fan. Granted, this isn’t the first time she’s starred in story in this medium, but “Reflections” does represent the first story where she’s the unquestioned star. After nearly 4 years, this was the first legitimate chance to officially expose the type of character Celestia could be, and after reading Issue #20, I can safely say that this story did not deliver.
When I put down issue #17, I was legitimately surprised that they would actually take Celesita in this direction. Up until this point, we’ve only seen her as the picture of grace and refinement, a character that has reached an ideal state with no possible cracks in her structure. The very fact that she was willing to play with magic so dangerous that it could destroy her reality could’ve been used to great effect and made her an overall stronger character. Instead, her motivations to continue endangering her world came down to continuing her romance with an alternate Sombra. Now, before anyone accuses me of being inheritably against Romance in this franchise, I am most certainly not, as I think a well done one would be just another feather in the cap. But, when this Sombra has about as much character range as Flash Sentry and their courtship comes down to them both sharing the burden of ruling their Equestria, you really don’t have much of a basis for a good development.
To make things worse, the bad developments don’t stop there. During this issue we learn that after Celestia banished Luna/Nightmare Moon, she dealt with her grief by forming a relationship with the Mirror World’s Luna. To make things worse, the reaction to such an action has nowhere near the impact it should’ve had, as while we do see Luna angry, it just gets shrugged off like every other mistake Celestia has made in this story. Despite the myriad of execution errors, there was still a way to somewhat salvage this story if it allowed Celestia the agency to both admit her mistakes and fix them on her own, something that does not happen. What ends up happening is that when Celestia finally decides to take action, Sombra stops her from doing so and ends up extracting the evil from the Mirror Celestia and Luna and puts it into him. It’s a sequence that’s beautiful to look at, but when you realize that both the main character was robbed of vitally needed agency and the resolution requires you not to question how the concept of evil works in this universe then Andy Price’s Art and Heather Breckel’s colors can’t save it.
The Final 22 Cents:
Wrapping up this review, I can safely say that the most tragic part of this comic is that its failure wasn’t due to laziness, but due to poor execution. In reading these 4 issues, I can definitely see what Katie Cook was trying to do with Celestia’s character and the story around her, but by not giving her a chance to find redemption or grow from those flaws, they leave the character in a state of weakness. Overall “Reflections” is yet another feather in the cap that’s defining 2014 for this franchise from a story perspective. Promise that’s rarely delivered upon.