Instead of direct introductions or slow exposition, "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" #1 by Katie Cook and Andy Price draws readers into the comic with villainy and mystery within the first two pages. Cook and Price assume some knowledge of the animated TV series, and readers like me who are unfamiliar with the details will have to do some homework to get their bearings. However, there's no shortage of routes to Ponyville and Equestria. Whatever Hasbro doesn't cover, Brony and Pegasister fandom will provide.
The younger Cutie Mark crusaders, Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo are abducted, and it's up to their elders to rise to the occasion. The structure of the plot is simple but effective: attack by an enemy, then rescue accompanied by hi-jinks. The reconnaissance and rescue team are, of course, the Mane Six: Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, with Twilight's baby dragon assistant Spike in tow.
Cook gives each character panel time, no doubt in part to please fans of individual ponies. Price's art makes the ponies recognizable and easily distinguishable, which is critical for a story with a large ensemble cast. Also, Price's facial expressions and body language are excellent, and his drawing captures the frenetic and upbeat tone of the show, which is reinforced by colorist's Heather Breckel's bright palette. Price's visual humor and pacing are also excellent, and the scene where Pinkie Pie says, "Then…I want you to…to…um…smile? No…wait. Don't smile," is comic gold, although Cook's dialogue takes much of the credit there, too.
Cook's humor is kid-appropriate but sophisticated enough for adult fans. There are a ton of cameos and references are made to Donald Sutherland, the Blues Brothers, Magnum P.I., among others.
Another aspect of Cook's humor is embodied by the villainess Queen Chrysalis, the Changeling Queen, who steals the spotlight in her scenes. This opening story arc is founded on her machinations, and even the first page bears the title "The Return of Queen Chrysalis." Chrysalis is one of the most enjoyable types of antagonists -- arrogant and power-hungry, with a touch of charisma. Her sarcasm, wry intelligence (in conversation, if not in the execution of her evil plans) and world-weary persona are an enjoyable contrast and counter to the relentless high spirits and cute, bordering on saccharine, wide-eyed earnestness of the Ponies.
The greatest weaknesses of "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" are inherited from the show. It is a closed world with simplistic morality, and its setup is designed for eternal reiterations of the core cast and core themes, without ever getting too weird or straying too far. Any surprises are in the dialogue and jokes, not in the themes, commentary or plotting. The Mane Six have just enough quirks and light vices like vanity or gluttony to be accessible and identifiable, but they are types, and every action is designed to play them off one another.
While a writer like Cook can enliven character through humor and dialogue, ultimately "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" #1 doesn't transcend the limited depth and scope of most TV sitcoms or cartoons, where fans tune in for more of the same formula. However, the winning formula of safety, joy, tolerance and innocence in Ponyville and Equestria is a large part of the show and comic's appeal.
The story arc pauses at a natural-feeling resting point, with a good exit line delivered by the irrepressibly excitable Pinkie Pie. "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" #1 is a strong launch that will please both kids and adult fans of the show, and due to Cook and Price's enthusiasm and skill, it's a lot better than it needs to be for a property with an existing, devoted fanbase.