Monday 18 July 2016

A Long Look at Sonic the Comic 1-100 Part 1: Hey, Boomers!*

2016 is Sonic the Hedgehog’s 25th Anniversary and I’ve been around since (almost) the start, in celebration of Sonic lasting so long I’m going to be posting a Long Look At Sonic the Comic issues 1 to 100, my favourite time period on one of my favourite comics and one of my favourite things about one of my favourite things – that’d be the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise- and this is that Long Look At.

Welcome to my Long Look At Sonic the Comic 1-100 my imaginary chums! Fleetway’s Sonic the Comic is genuinely one of my happiest childhood memories, every fortnight I would receive a new issue, at Christmas my mum would keep the
nearest issue back and put it on top of my presents. Launching on 29th May 1993 it soon began treating Sonic and his world the way I treated Sonic’s world: as a serious action-adventure and with Sonic SatAM so inaccessible back them it was the only place Sonic was getting that treatment (Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog only being available in specialist shops most kids didn’t know existed and anyway it was still mostly lost in goofy comedy). My original copies have been read half to death but then that’s the advantage of scanned things, you’ll never read the cover off a .cbr file, I obviously have all my issues ‘backed-up’ on my computer and the first thing I wanted to do with a blog was Look At one of my favourite comic series, Sonic the Comic won out, beating Transmetropolitan and Savage Dragon, which should say a lot about my tastes. This 19 part Look At will cover the first 100 issues, the ‘Robotnik Rules’ era of the book and the era that was my childhood, I’m planning to do the latter part of the series for some future date but I felt that at over 20 bloody parts this was long enough. Part 1 here won’t be in the standard Look At format as I’m just going to use it introduce everything and cover some issues that don’t need – or deserve – that format.  With that, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin:


The format of a UK comic is undoubtedly something we need to cover as it’s completely different to what the Marvel and DC faithful are used to1, and it’ll also help give a better understanding of how the stories work and why I’m recapping them in the parts that I am, and why recapping them is more complicated than it should be. A standard British comic is a magazine sized publication that is almost always an anthology series, with multiple comic strips in each issue, Sonic the Comic is unusual in that it only features a small number of strips – usually four – about 5-8 pages each, and has no 1 to 2 page comedy strips. Even the serious adventure comics of yore – Battle Action Weekly, Victor, Lion or Valiant would have some 1 or 2 pagers. In the beginning Sonic the Comic only devoted 1 strip per issue to Sonic’s world – the opening strip ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’, while the rest of the book was filled with multi-part adaptations of other Sega games (Shinobi, Golden Age, Streets of Rag…) but the Sonic feature turned out to be the most popular – amazing, in a comic called Sonic the Comic too, who’d’ve thought – so gradually strips set in the Sonic universe began to dominate the title. The first Sonic spin-off strip, ‘Tails’, began in issue 16 and the book continued on in this format - having ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ and one other spin-off strip (‘Tails’ ‘Sonic’s World’ or ‘Knuckles the Echidna’) – up until issue 47 when original character Captain Plunder received his first solo outing and a complete reversal of format had set in – from a Sega magazine with 1 Sonic strip to a Sonic comic with one other Sega strip… maybe, and it was usually Decap Attack.
From the point of view of sales and Sonic fans who were always clawing to see more of their favourite characters in action, including original creations like Shortfuse or Plunder, it was a good thing and it undoubtedly helped keep the quality of the main Sonic the Hedgehog strip so high as other strips could fulfil the co-editors’ need for humour as well as developing supporting cast characters beyond what a single Sonic strip or a comic in a standard American format could achieve (which is why it saddened me so much that Archie fumbled their turn as an anthology series so badly) but it did leave ‘Kid Chameleon’ on a cliff-hanger and we never got that second ‘Sparkster’ story-arc Nigel Kitching was working on – grr.
This format remained up until issue 133 when the rot started to set in the final strip of each issue was used to reprint an older strip (though always Sonic-related), With issue 155 it became 2 reprint strips per issue and in 157 three strips per issue putting us right back where we started with just ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’, the lead strip, telling new tales of Sonic’s world, albeit this time surrounded by reprints of his past glories I didn’t want to read rather than adaptations of great Sega games I did. This switch to reprints was due to Fleetway’s idea of a ‘five-year reader cycle’ (your readers change every five years as they grow out of the book) and they did it to their other big series Buster as well, funnily enough neither Buster nor Sonic the Comic are still being published. The last original ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ strip ran until issue 184 but they continued to beat the dead horse up until issue 223 as an all-reprint book, yes I’m still bitter about this. We will only be covering the Sonic universe strips (with one or two semi-exceptions).  
Oh, and UK comics are also published a lot more frequently, or were back when we had a comics industry, StC was fortnightly (or bi-weekly if you prefer) though a lot of our most iconic series (The Beano, The Dandy etc) were/are weekly publications. 

The Millar Issues

Possibly by accident, StC maintained a format of having two main writers for the Sonic strips – for most of its life these were Nigel Kitching who was the Main writer for ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ and ‘Knuckles the Echidna’ (as well as Captain Plunder strips) and Lew Stringer who was the main writer for ‘Tails’, ‘Sonic’s World’ and ‘Amy’/’Amy & Tekno’ (which is pretty much just what Sonic’s World developed into) as well as writing shorter sets of ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ strips, though there was a brief period where it was Nigel Kitching (on ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’) and Mark Eyles (on ‘Tails’ and ‘Sonic’s World’) and Lew Stringer alone. HOWEVER for the first 17 issues the main writers were actually Nigel Kitching and Mark Millar – yes, that Mark Millar, the man behind such stretches of horseshit as Civil War, Kick Ass and Clint was Sonic the Comic’s first main writer, responsible for the strips in 2, 3, 5, 11-13 and 15-16 and ‘Streets of Rage’, something I’m sure he’s immensely proud of (note: I know for a fact he isn’t). I’d take him being so dismissive of having worked on something as ‘lowly’ as Sonic the Comic as just another example of his utter knobery but it could also be sheer embarrassment at some of the work he turned in - have you seen the image floating around the interwebs of Tails being attacked by bacon? He wrote that2.

His work is typified by:
·          Elements appearing out of nowhere (even in one of his best stories, The Green Eater, Terra-bot’s weakness       isn’t really y’know, foreshadowed).
·          Moments of awful dialogue (“Rave! Rave! Rave! All Night Loong!” yes Sonic, rave)
·          laughably stupid things (in Robofox, which granted was his first story, Sonic puts on sunglasses and actually says “I’m Sonic – I sort things out” but then there’s the Hidden Zone having a bridge right to the Emerald Hill Zone – that was well hidden – and drunk troopers and then I want to punch him).
·          Sonic being an absolute douchenozzle.
I mean that last one, while StC Sonic will always be a bit of a dick he does seem to be a particularly huge penis under Millar; being rude for no reason (he insults a Flicky while the Emerald Hill Zone is MELTING in Green Eater for fuckssake) and coming across as bullying to Tufftee and Tails. I could be a little more forgiving, it was early on in his career and he was often lumbered with some truly terrible artists – his strips with later semi-regulars Casanovas and Mark Hadley are undoubtedly the best reads so it does seem that the amateurish scribblings of the likes of ‘Lost in the Labyrinth Zone’ or ‘Robofox’ may have had some effect (but then some of the best work Carl Flint would ever turn in couldn’t save ‘The Hidden Zone’ so maybe that’s bullshit), I could be forgiving but it’s Mark Millar – so I won’t, what you give is what you get and if you want to act like a prick Mark, I’ll act like a prick to you. Luckily his strips have no relation to the tight continuity and the continuous narrative that will be woven between the Sonic’s world strips post-issue 18, so much so that I’m not actually going to go into them outside of this part, thus I do want to just look at undoubtedly the best of the Millar strips: ‘Double Trouble’ (Sonic Strip, issue 13) which is my pick for ‘best underrated Sonic the Comic story’.

It’s not too surprising it works though really, because the whole concept is the only concept Millar does nowadays - because it’s the only thing he can pull off, the Millar Meme that is “what if ______ was a cunt”; Double Trouble taking it to its most farcical point and proving that that meme really is funny because it’s true, the concept of Double Trouble? ‘What if the extra-life box from the Sonic the Hedgehog games was a cunt’. I kid you not, The Extra Life, made by Kintobor before he became Robotnik (more on that to come), tricks Tails into releasing him from ‘The Box’ (a TV Monitor from the games) and wreaks havoc on the Emerald Hill folk, even being a match for the real Sonic before Tails traps him back in the box (and Sonic kicks it into outer space, but with Millar’s personal politics I’m not surprised he didn’t boot it into the sun). It’s just a good little one-and-done story, it doesn’t feel rushed and the threat feels very real – and it’s the only Millar issue where Tails doesn’t come across as a moron. It’s also the first work by StC semi-regular Mike Hadley (who’s admittedly still finding his feet, Tails is ginormously fat in one panel) – speaking of Hadley and Millar it’s also worth checking out ‘The Green Eater’ (issue 15) despite what I’ve said about it for some really atmospheric Hadley art (a speciality of his).

These Entries

Starting with Part 2 I will be working through the comic, with my usual Look At mix of recapping of events and personal thoughts, I’m not sure why I’m compelled to do this but if I start asking such existential quandaries of myself I may stop watching Diamanda Hagan videos and that will make me sad. Initially this will be quite simple with just the ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ strip and then just ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ and ‘Tails’ running in each issue but it will soon grow more and more complex and dividing up what we cover in each part won’t be as simple as splitting them up by issue numbers. 
We’re also going to have to stop occasionally and look at the StC spin-off material – it enjoyed a meagre 9 issue poster magazine series Sonic the Poster Mag, three summer specials and one Knuckles the Echidna 1-shot, the stories in which are all cannon and two actually directly connect to ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ strip stories.  
And then there’s Pirate STC…

So bear with me, hopefully it’ll all make sense as we go along, next up we have a look at a short run that would define the book for over 130 issues as we meet Nigel Kitching, Richard Elson, Super Sonic, Omni-Viewer and see the Origin of Sonic. 

1 though they do resemble their Golden Age comics of the 1930s and 40s a little closer, not that most people read those – hell, DC doesn’t even have a Golden Age anymore, or do they now #Rebirth has happened? Maybe it they stopped revamping things I’d be able to keep track.
2 It’s from issue 5’s ‘Lost in the Labyrinth Zone’

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