Dear Loyal Watchers, Interested Visitors, and Confused Passersby,
First, let me start off by saying how much I've appreciated the support and compassion of so many people during my long, long recovery. I'm most grateful, and it has been a bright spot for me as my long weeks of isolation here in my home have slowly gone by.
Second, and to the point of this blog post, I have made a purchase of some of the MLP comics! As I indicated months ago I was hoping for just such an occurrence, as the topic at hand was something that has been driving me in this fandom since my first day. The good folks at Imagination and Design Works Publishing (IDW, as you may have guessed) took the time to have Mr. Anderson produce a story that was then drawn, inked, and painted by Ms. Hickey that proved to be quite relevant to my interests.
If you have to ask why, then you don't know me at all:
It's filly Twilight and 'bitty Spike. What else does a man need?
It's been so long since I bought comics that I actually was surprised at how crisp and clear the art has become. I did purchase some other comics from IDW a few years ago, and I remember thinking the same thing then, but compared to the X-Men and Legends of the Dark Knight books I was buying from my now-defunct local comic shop in the 1990's these things look like illuminated pages from the Book of Kells as hand-drawn by medieval monks.
Apart from the quality of the artwork, I'm genuinely happy overall with the story. People who know more about the comics than me seem to be a bit divided on the quality, or even how sensical it is. I'll let those who know more about that then me go into the details of the plot description. Dark Link 22, whom I've always turned to for my comic information, has a reasoned and unbiased examination of the comic and why he think it sucks which I can point you towards without reservation.
Long story short, Twilight is given responsibility for Spike quite literally as she walks in the door on the first day of school at Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. Spike then becomes the cause of all of her earthly woes due to him being a baby (an actual baby, that is... not a "baby dragon," which has been long revealed as the most banal statement in the course of the show) and that she can't take it. In the end he ends up making a mess in front of her parents, the princess, and a bunch of stick-up-butt-ponies and she yells at him. Spike then reveals that he wants to be "like Smarty Pants" with his first words, showing that he wants to be a source of encouragement and support for Twilight—and her friend—and she names him after the syllables he's attempting to string together. It then ends back in the present and she makes him cocoa as an apology for waking him up from his nap.
Yeah, there's not much there, really. Of all of the criticisms heaped on the this comic, I can certainly agree with the idea that it was too short. Apparently there have been a lot of multi-part ones recently, and I guess that a story about the origins of the dragon qualifies as not important enough for a multi-parter. Pfft! Their loss... I was offering my money, they didn't want it. Really though, there needs to be more of an ending that Twilight offering to make Spike cocoa. Like the new Chevy Trax, there was nothing wrong here that another 50 horsepower couldn't fix.
If your main selling point is "It's not as ugly as the Buick Encore!" then something has already gone horribly wrong.
In the case of the comic that "horse" that needed to show it's "power" was Twilight showing how her realization that Spike was an opportunity and not a burden came to be important in their relationship. Like the series, it needed a big hug and a "I love you, Spike."
But, like the series, that's apparently not a thing that's going to happen in the comics, either. Oh well.
Another complaint that I see frequently is that it didn't make sense in comparison to the series' canon, with Shining Armor being Twilight's first friend, not Spike. Let's be honest with ourselves here, though—having a Big Brother Best Friend Forever is like taking your cousin to prom. My brother is dear to me, and understands me in ways that no non-blood friend ever could. But, being blood, he can't step back from our shared familial history. We know from canon that Spike was with Twilight, and his imperfect friendship with Twilight in the show more aptly demonstrates how her not knowing what friendship really is until she arrives in Ponyville can relate to her having Spike around in this time of transition in her life. Before she received her Element of Harmony, Twilight was bad at making friends, and was a bad friend. She would have been even worse at it if she'd not had Shining Armor. With this comic as evidence, she would have been utterly miserable at it if she hadn't had Spike. It fits.
Another small issue I see people saying how bad it would have been for Spike to be raised in such a situation. I'm glad that this is now becoming something worth discussing—as only myself and about four other people in the fandom seem to have given a damn about it before. I've always been under the impression that a lot of ponies took care of Spike, but when it comes down to it Spike raised Spike. Suggesting that Spike did not have a perfect childhood—when none of the other principal characters whose childhoods we've explored have had one—is not much of a stretch. No one has a perfect childhood. Not you, not me. It's the way we go through these earliest days of our lives and the people who are there to guide us as we do—says your Descy and his adult career in early childhood education—that determines our personality. You are who you are by the time you are five years old. Spike was told, point blank, by Twilight that he was causing her pain and anguish because "You can't help me!" He then offers to try to be like the one person Twilight is comfortable relying on and whose comfort she seeks... Smarty Pants (as sad as that is.) Twilight accepts that offer. Hence, the Spike we know today in the show—one who defines himself by his usefulness to Twilight and to others.
That's horrible, you say? So's life.
Of course, the biggest complaint that I see is with the very idea that Celestia somehow dumped Spike on a child to be raised, and that Twilight was crushed under this unfair burden that Celestia placed on her.
Except, however that she didn't.
Celestia did not make Twilight Spike's sole guardian. She repeats three times—three times!—that she is asking for Twilight's help. Her help. Rainbow even repeats that in a frame afterwards, just in case you're one of those "You can't trust a Princess" types. The first thing that I thought when I did my read through of the comic was that Twilight was showing an early version of her characteristic neurosis... a first iteration of Lesson Zero and The Crystal Empire Twilight, the one who can't stand to let Celestia down. I think that it is pretty clear that Anderson was implying that Twilight made things worse for herself than she needed to. In his personal blog, Anderson writes:
Pages 6-7: Celestia’s actions might seem questionable here—she’s basically putting a preteen in charge of an infant! My intention, though, was to show two things: first, that Celestia was trying to teach Twilight a lesson about responsibility and friendship and treating others like people instead of nuisances. Celestia is a “learn by doing” type of teacher; she wants Twilight to come to this understanding through hard work and effort.
Second, her line about “you won’t have to watch him all the time” was meant to show that, in reality, she’s doing a lot of the parenting as well. But since we’re seeing this from Twilight’s perspective, we’re seeing the stress and work that Twilight went through. It’s not like Celestia just dumped Spike in Twilight’s lap and went off to get a massage.
So, while the "Raising Spike" issue is certainly "a thing" there's plenty of ways out of it for Twilight. People seem to fall down on Twilight's side of the argument very often. That's natural, of course. She is the main character, and we tend to see things from her perspective, as Anderson states. I think that this is my argument as to why the books should have been longer. Once Twilight figures out that having Spike with her, not taking care of Spike, was the reason for Celestia asking her to help it changes the tenor of the comic. I would have liked to have seen it carried out farther, even just a page or two more of them interacting in positive ways. That's why I bought the two cover variants that I did and not the "endless torments" third cover... it couldn't have been all bad.
The comic wasn't what I was hoping it would be, but it wasn't a catastrophe that many people are making it out to be. In the end it supported some of my major concerns, namely that Spike has been part of Twilight's life from his earliest days, and didn't actively promote anything that would alarm my Spike Justice Warrior sensibilities. In the end, the balance was that I didn't get what I wanted but nothing bad happened either... plus I got to see Baby Spike and Filly Twi, so in the end it was a "minor win." Four of Five Stars: Not disappointed that I bought two copies of same issue, especially considering the Retailer Cover Variant will never be opened or removed from its protective cover/touched by human hands.
There is one thing that I will disagree with Anderson about, though. In his blog he states:
It’s the kind of story that probably wouldn’t get told in the show, since most of it can be assumed or inferred, but seemed perfect for a comic. I needed a hook, though. 20 pages of cute filly and baby dragon antics wouldn’t be enough; there needed to be something unique to this story.
I don't think that implying anything or inferring anything in the show is a good idea. I've gone on and on about it for nearly five years now, but Twilight's imperfect relationship with the child in her care remains troublesome on a number of levels. The show is not designed to handle ongoing psychological or relationship issues, but the fix remains right there... hanging just out of reach.
Also, I would so buy book about cute filly and baby dragon antics. I'd subscribe to a freakin' mini-series of that shit.