Monday 18 July 2016

A Long Look At Sonic The Comic 1-100 Part 2: The Origin of Sonic*

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. 

As discussed in Part 1 the dark secret of Sonic the Comic is that it’s first main writer was comics superstar and unforgivable prick Mark Millar, thankfully the comic’s (possibly unintentional) format of nearly always having two main writers for Sonic stories meant that his crap was split up by much better stories from StC’s second Main Writer - Nigel Kitching. From the start (and it’s not that grand a start) Kitching writes Sonic as a serious hero in a serious adventure strip*, his reasoning being that readers took Sonic serious as a hero regardless of him being a funny animal and thus the writer should too (I agree) and that British readers wouldn’t take the DiC Cartoon/Archie style class clown Sonic serious (I sort of agree). To put all the cards on the table as it were I shall say that I consider Nigel Kitching to be the best writer this franchise has ever had, both Ben Hurst and Ian Flynn come dangerously close and Lew Stringer is no slouch either but none of them quite measure up to Kitching’s work on StC and reading through them side-by-side as I have for many years (and am now) the difference in the styles between Kitching and Stringer are apparent even before Stringer was tasked to do more humour, Kitching’s stories read like the American comic stories whereas Stringers always feel like a Saturday morning cartoon. Kitching’s work is typified by:
·          A strong sense of continuity
·          Sharp, natural sounding dialogue
·          Long, high stakes adventures and even when the stakes aren’t that high threats that can be taken seriously
·          Engrossing, often twisting, plots 
·          Richard Elson and/or Nigel Dobbyn  
Not all of that comes out in his first strip though, ‘Day of the Badniks’ ran in issue 4 and in fact I thought it was a Millar issue – but reading again I can see it clearly isn’t, though Sonic is unnecessarily rude in places and the art’s pretty amateurish (I just associate bad art on early StC issues with Millar, sorry) you can see the Kitching to come poking through. We have our first instance of continuity (‘Robofox’ is mentioned) and just generally a story that feels more sensible, consistent and mature (three things that Millar still hasn’t grasped yet). It’s also the first issue you actually need to read, as it establishes Robotnik as based in the Special Zone. Kitching comes back a lot stronger with issue 6’s ‘Attack

on the Death Egg’ and the first (of only two) StC trade paperbacks chose to begin reprinting from this issue (a good choice); it’s nowhere near as important as 7-10 but it does give us the first appearance of a prototype version of the Kintobor Computer and allow Kitching to replace Millar’s Sonic/Tails dynamic (Tails is a clueless prat and Sonic is a cock to him) with his own which can best be described as the following: 80% of Sonic’s dialogue is said just to amuse himself and Tails tries to impress him, Sonic teases Tails when he messes up and Tails just sighs and shakes his head when Sonic does. Sonic’s still a little overly rude, Kitching wouldn’t fully get to grips with him until the next issue but he is starting to morph into a likeable character with attitude rather than a dick, the class clown elements you’d associate with Jaleel White and Ian Flynn are never present in StC instead he stays a more personable, funnier, version of Marvel’s Quicksilver, he’s impatient and impetuous (but then he’s a speedster), big-headed and sometimes grumpy but charming and with his ‘tude’ coming across mostly via (usually) good natured sarcasm or eye-rolling rather than being a turd to everyone for no reason.

Super Sonic, the lead Sonic strip from issue 7, is where things really start to be important and thus is where we are finally going to start our proper Look At in this series of waffle:

Super Sonic (Sonic the Hedgehog strip, issue 7)
Quick Summary: Sonic & Tails are called back to the Oil Ocean Zone (Sonic the Hedgehog 2) to help a clean-up crew but a genre savvy Aquis badnik nearly fries Sonic alive, in this moment of stress Sonic becomes Super Sonic, an uncontrollable yellow form with spinning red eyes who can fly and just wants to destroy things, this has only happened once before (according to Tails) when the events of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 happened in this universe. Super Sonic wears off before he can do any real damage though he is at the time planning to beat the rabbit that fell out of the Badnik to death.

‘Super Sonic’ is short, sweet and introduces two key figures in StC who will go on to be two of the best things about the series and two things that really differentiates it from other Sonic incarnations. First is the StC Super Sonic, who doesn’t really do much in this story other than look cool, smash an Aquis and blatantly ignore panel boarders but he makes an impression. Unlike in the Sega and Archie (and Sonic X) cannons, where Super Sonic is just a shinier Sonic who can do things no normal hedgehog could manage, in StC he’s kind of a mix of Captain Marvel and the Incredible Hulk, a gold flying nightmare who’s virtually unstoppable and just wants to destroy, though he serves the same purpose of saying ‘shit just got real’ the other Super Sonic incarnations do. The other is Richard Elson, who’ll be the main artist on the Sonic the Hedgehog strip and set the future style of the book; Elson is a majorly talent artist who has worked for Marvel, Fleetway and 200AD including Kingdom with Dan Abnett and Thor with Kieron Gillen and for me remains THE Sonic artist, I’m sure other fans disagree and arguments for the likes of Yuji Uekawa and Pat Spaz are completely acceptable but I’m sure they’d agree that he is at least THE StC artist. Fleetway did, when it came time for them to publish a ‘how to draw Sonic’ it was Elson who drew it, teaching you how to draw HIS Sonic because his Sonic was StC’s Sonic. The story? It’s good, the dialogue is great, there’s a character called Red we’ll never see again and honestly the best character is the Aquis, who has a dry sense of humour and some actual sense, pity he got smashed.

The Origin of Sonic / Back to Reality (Sonic the Hedgehog strips, issues 8-9)
Quick Summary: Sonic takes Tails, Johnny Lightfoot and Porker Lewis to the Special Zone so they can learn the origins of himself and Dr Robotnik from a large talking screen called the Omni-Viewer: while exploring, a brown hedgehog named Sonic comes across Dr Ovi Kintobor, a human scientist experimenting on Chaos Emeralds via his ROCC1 machine with the hope of ridding the planet of eeevil. When Sonic explodes a Kinetic Gyroscope Kintobor was using to test his speed and a new pair of shoes dubbed ‘Power Sneakers’ he became blue and streamlined, when Kintobor explodes the ROCC while carrying a rotten egg (really) he becomes Ivo Robotnik. With the story over Omni-Viewer freaks out and traps the animals inside himself only to…drop them back to Mobius the next issue? Eggman’s orders weren’t specific, he told Omni to get rid of Sonic, so he did – just not permanently, it’s been 6 months since Sonic entered the Special Zone and Eggman is now ruler of the planet, after taking on some new tougher Badniks including Troopers, Sonic lays down the law to Robotnik via Egg-cam.

For the newer, or American, Sonic fan – and by newer I mean anyone who started playing Sonic games after about 1995 – a lot of what I typed must seem like complete madness from the mind of some nutty limey bastard, probably on shrooms, and tea, but that origin for Sonic was, at the time, the official Sega-born origins for Eggman and Sonic in the west; they call it the ‘Early Sonic Cannon’ nowadays. The dialogue’s not quite as good as ‘Super Sonic’ or ‘Megatox’ but this is undoubtedly far more important than either, in fact it’s probably the most important story in the series. This simple two-parter sets up the status quo up until issue 100 and that strange origin will be built on throughout the series, being especially important to the Brotherhood of Metallix and Shanazar arcs, we also meet two more important figures in the series, Omni-Viewer and Eggman’s Troopers, analogues to Archie/SatAM’s SWATbots and Sega’s Eggpawns; Troopers don’t require Organic Batteries so Sonic can wail on them to his heart’s content but that’s something that niggles at me - how come? All of Eggman’s other robots need them, why use that technology only for the Troopers? If it’s just because Eggman enjoys turning people into Badniks (and who wouldn’t?) then why not give the Troopers Organic Batteries? Maybe it was a cost saving measure? Speaking of niggles - What is up with the colours on Origin of Sonic? The credits just list Richard Elson for all the art but it’s nothing like his style of colouring, which is a flatter, more reserved pallet instead of this shinier, higher contrast style; I reckon someone else, possibly Mike Hadley or Richard Elson’s cousin’s first wife, did it and they just didn’t credit ‘em.

Megatox (Sonic the Hedgehog strip, issue 10)
Quick Summary: by posing as penguin Bob Beaky, Sonic frees slaves from part of the Chemical Plant Zone (Sonic the Hedgehog 2) but ignores their warning about the place being haunted and leads them out through a Mega Mack2 pipe. The Mobians were right, Megatox, a scientist bonded with the toxic sludge is down there, Sonic uses physics to get rid of him before he poisons everyone.

This is one of my favourite StC stories and has been since I was little (this was also, I believe, the first issue of StC I bought) it’s a one-and-done that isn’t particularly important other than introducing the Bob Beaky disguise (I love that disguise, it’s so mysterious and yet so adorable) and Megatox will only appear once or twice again at, I believe, the behest of Kitching’s kids. But it’s just so creepy; Elson’s art and colouring are atmospheric anyway but combined with a ‘ghost in the sludge’ and setting most of the story in a pipe and it leaves an eerie impression indeed, even the Grabber badnik is creepy. I could have done without the commentary from Sonic’s inner monologue on the last page though, it’s pretty clear what he’s doing even to a kid – make a hole then speed up Megatox being sucked through it, I’m sure most children have seen a bath/sink plughole in their little lives, it’s not obnoxious or anything mind, just a little unnecessary. 

Kitchen will only write one more issue before what Part 3 will cover and that’s Hero of the Year (issue 14) a completely skippable affair (even he doesn’t like it) with one good two-panel speech by Sonic. The art’s done by someone called Brian Williamson who, going by his art, I’m going to assume was 8 and used only Crayolas, it does feature Bob Beaky and Mega Mack, as well as these Badniks:

These fuckers turn up every so often in the series, they appear to be original to the book, or else taken from unused Sega designs I don't know about, they’re not important or anything just one of those little things you notice once you’ve read a series over and over since you were 7.  The final issue needing a mention is the very weird but ultimately good story ‘Sonic the Human’ from issue 17, it’s really the perfect issue to bridge the gap between the unfocused first 18 issues and what’s to come. All by an Ed Hillyer it’s completely in the style of the non-Kitchen/Elson issues but contains the atmosphere and tension of them all the same. Sonic is trapped in a genuinely nightmarish ‘real world’ where he’s a human and ultimately breaks free by his own strength of will (not exactly ground breaking stuff) but it is genuinely nightmarish, all German Impressionist film and every shade of vomit, freaky stuff for a comic aimed at 8-year olds.

Next time: We’ll have a look at the first solo adventures of Tails and thus begin to juggle multiple strips in each part as the book switches to a consistent, continuous narrative.

1 Retro-Orbital Chaos Compressor
2 the purple water that killed your ass all the time in the Chemical Plant Zone, remember it had no air bubbles and then you had to navigate those moving platforms? That stuff. Alternatively known as Mega Muck in SatAM/Archie

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