So once again, Princess Luna has emerged to satisfy fan cravings...and she isn't drawn by Andy Price this time. And she's teaming up with Pinkie...because, you know, the last time they interacted went sooooo well.
Our issue opens with Twilight re-organizing all the books in the library, much to Spike's chagrin. (I guess when you're a princess with no actual responsibilities yet, you have to make your own work.) She is only jostled out of her zone when Luna breaks down the door with her ROYAL CANTERLOT VOICE, as she has an important mission for the purple one: to teach her how to tell jokes in public. Turns out Celestia set up a feast called “Chuckle-lot” right after Luna became Nightmare Moon, which is dedicated to the princess dropping the royal mask and acting silly to connect with her subjects. And since Luna has a rod permanently shoved up her rear, she needs help if she's going to make her subjects like her.
Twilight initially agrees and does some research, but that isn't enough to help Luna, so they go to the one pony who knows laughter better than anypony: Pinkie Pie. And Pinkie immediately rehashes the “NIGHTMARE MOON WILL EAT US ALL!” joke...only there's no kids nearby, so she comes off as an even bigger jerk. Even so, she can tell when a pony is in need, and sets out to teach Luna the intricacies of comedy, pranks, and timing. But is Luna hiding an ulterior motive? And how will Pinkie react to finding out she's been used?
This Luna feels noticeably more show-like compared to the more exaggerated Cook/Price version. While she still has the old-fashioned air of nobility and aloofness, she doesn't call her subjects “peasants,” has pretty good control of her emotions, doesn't treat those helping her like crap except out of a misunderstanding, and uses the ROYAL CANTERLOT VOICE sparingly. This is reflected in Tony Fleecs' art; she looks very natural and proper here, whereas the Price Luna is more rubberized and prone to making silly faces at a moments' notice.
Pinkie Pie, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. Her introduction is head-slappingly bad; of all the things you could have called back to, the “NIGHTMARE MOON!” gag was very much not one we requested. But once we get to the Funny Farm, her character picks up significantly. The return of her insanity-induced “friends” was hilarious, as was Luna apparently buying into them as a part of the training.
One thing that is kind of puzzling is that Luna needed to be taught how to prank ponies. We saw her scare Rainbow Dash in “Nightmare Night,” and the Journal says that she was a natural prankster in her youth. Then again, she is being asked to do this in front of her subjects, which is probably something she isn't comfortable doing after who-knows-how-many-years on the throne. She's a pony that demands respect...
Which leads into what makes this issue beautiful. Luna's real reason for participating in Chuckle-Lot wasn't to make ponies laugh and be happy, but to make a mockery of Celestia and lap up the respect everypony would lose for her. And when Pinkie figures this out, she's heartbroken. (There's also a couple hints that she knew what Luna's real goal was; she even demands to know why she would want to learn how to make others laugh.) Those two pages are works of art in their own right, showing a budding friendship falling apart as one party feels used and the other lashes out at them for their own failings.
And then there's this panel:
Ladies and gentlemen, this is Pinkie Pie. Not the random spewer of gibberish writers love to reduce her to. Not the pony who makes Fluttershy cry and turns an entire town against a lonely princess as a prank. Not the pony who turns other ponies into cupcakes or can break the fourth wall. This is the Pinkie from days of old, the one whose goal in life was to make everypony smile. She's an intelligent mare who's more responsible than she lets on, and who sees making others laugh and be happy as a fulfilling life goal.
Luna's motivation ties in perfectly with what we've seen before. She became Nightmare Moon and attempted to institute eternal night because she felt like everypony was ignoring her hard work in favor of her sister. (The fact that ponies need to sleep seems to have been lost on her, but after a century or two of doing the same job and not getting as many accolades, you'd probably be pretty unhappy about your lot in life as well.) And back in “For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils,” she commented that she knows how it feels to have your sister overshadow you. And now she has a chance to make Celestia, the seemingly perfect one, fall. Of course she would take it.
And yes, Celestia isn't perfect. That's been well-established by this point. There is such a thing as perspective, however, and that's what Luna lacks. Considering that this is obviously before Celestia's colossal error in judgment in “Twilight's Kingdom,” as the library is still standing and there's no castle in Ponyville, all she has to go on are Celestia banishing her (something that Luna instigated), Sunset Shimmer (which she was not there for), and Celestia's seeming contempt for acting like a royal. And yet, everypony still praises her and loves her. So from Luna's point-of-view, Celestia is held up as a perfect idol, while she's just the little sister that tried to destroy the world.
The comic ends in a predictable way. Luna leverages her serious nature to score a pie into Celestia's face, and when she gets tripped up by her own trick and makes a humiliating spectacle of herself, she finally manages to laugh at her misfortune. What was a nice touch is that Pinkie doesn't open her booby-trapped present until after she sees Celestia get pied; she even reacts with dismay at Luna getting her a gift, something she would normally be ecstatic over. And Twilight gets a nice pie, too; after all, she's not perfect, either.
Yeah...I should probably cover Twilight here. For the most part, she's not important to the plot. They could have had Luna meet Pinkie any number of ways. That being said, her researching comedy was a hilarious page, and she's just as adorably nerdy as ever.
Overall, this was a really good issue. Luna was show-perfect, Pinkie was wonderful outside of a very poor callback, and the story was pure fun with a good message.
Next time, Applejack and Rarity go by plane, train and automobile...