Wednesday 20 July 2016

A Long Look At Sonic the Comic 1-100 Part 4: The Sonic Terminator*

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. 
It’s here, it’s finally here, after three entries and having to talk about Mark Millar’s crap one-off stories and boring you with things you need to know but don’t really care about the first Sonic the Comic epic has arrived to reward me and save you from tedium. The Sonic Terminator arc (or Sonic CD arc if you prefer) runs from issues 21 through 28 encompassing three Sonic strip stories ‘Girl Trouble’ (21-22) ‘Pirates of the Mystic Caves’ (23) and ‘The Sonic Terminator’ (24-28), it further builds on what Kitching’s been doing and introduces elements and characters that will be built on or used for years to come, some right up until the end of the book and still manages to be a pretty decent adaptation of Sonic the Hedgehog CD. 

Girl Trouble (Sonic the Hedgehog strips, issues 21-22)
Quick Summary: Amy has been going around saying she’s Sonic’s girlfriend, so Eggman sends Troopers to arrest her, it’s a dictatorship and Sonic’s a wanted man, what did she (or you) expect? Unable to stop her being taken, Sonic and Johnny Lightfoot go to Eggman’s Special Zone base to rescue her, but with Robotnik going through a metamorphosis dealing with them comes down to his chief scientist Grimer. Captured in a bubble-like prison because Sonic blundered in in another example of his ‘fuck it, it’ll be fine cos I’m awesome’ outlook on, well, everything. All three are set to become a new type of Super Badnik until Sonic uses his head and the bubble prison to escape, destroying the Suepr Badnik prototype as he goes, with Grimer having smashed the Toopers that could prevent such a thing out of sheer frustration. Amy is forced to stay with the Freedom Fighters for her own protection, Sonic isn’t happy.

Girl Trouble is fantastic, it’s exactly the right mix of action and humour (see: what Ian Flynn’s been doing on the Archie comic for years) for Sonic and that humour is genuinely humorous. Kitching has really perfected Sonic’s character and his interaction with his allies so the dialogue’s sharp as, well, the spines on a 4 foot blue hedgehog. It’s also cleverly written – and clever writing makes the hero and villain look clever and that is no bad thing, Weapon X (not that one) is a smart device from Eggman – it shoots spikes around its target, endangering civilians instead, perfect to distract a super-fast target that can dodge a blast, but will still take some time to catch all the spikes (that’s how they get away with Amy btw). More important characters arrive as well, Amy Rose obviously (though she still has a lot of character development before she’s the ‘StC Amy’) and Grimer; fun fact – Grimer was supposed to be Snively from SatAM, Kitching was under the impression that he HAD to use Snively and in fact the script for Girl Trouble Part 1 has all of Grimer’s lines attributed to Snively. It turned out he didn’t have to and in fact couldn’t use Snivelkins because Fleetway didn’t have the rights to those characters (I’m not sure how that works, but it does explain why none of the SatAM cast showed up in StC)1 so Grimer was substituted, and honestly? I like them both about the same, Grimer is completely different of course, being loyal and more subtle with his humour, wry and sarcastic compared Snively’s deviousness, tantrums and slapstick but both fulfil their role well and they could both easily co-exist in the same universe and not make the other feel redundant.

‘Pirates of the Mystic Caves’ (issue 22) follows. Amy has been captured because Captain Plunder, leader of the titular buccaneers, wants the Chaos Emeralds – why? Is he in cahoots with Robotnik? Does he want unlimited energy or Chaos magic? Nope, it’s cos he’s a pirate and he likes gems and you don’t get much rarer gems than Chaos Emeralds (in the StC cannon there’s only two sets, and they eventually join into just one set). I love Captain Plunder, he’ll get even better as the series goes on and he becomes a bit of what I shall a call a ‘fearsome stooge’. In a nice play on reader’s expectations Amy proves her worth by negotiating with Plunder and Tails gets out of being held captive all by himself. Although it doesn’t fit with the Sonic CD game’s backstory, I fully endorse the idea of having Amy around for a couple of stories prior to her being kidnapped by Metal Sonic, it gives the situation from that game a bit more weight if it’s an already established character being kidnapped.  And now the pay off…

The Sonic Terminator (Sonic the Hedgehog strips, issues 24-28)
Quick(ish) Summary:  Something fast and deadly gets the drop on Sonic, but it’s only a demonstration session for some new deadly creation of Grimer and Eggman. Over the Emerald Hill Zone the Pirates of the Mystic Cave make good on the deal they made with Sonic last issue and stop Robotnik Ship, but Filch (Captain Plunder’s second-in-command, a ghost who Plunder shot himself) tricks Porker Lewis into revealing the location of the Chaos Emeralds. At said location, The Frozen Zone2, Plunder and the Freedom Fighters rumble but Tails gets himself caught and is exchanged for the Chaos Emeralds. Not wanting to let them get away with ‘em, Sonic caches up with their ship only to find the Chaos Emeralds have absorbed all their ‘evil’ and turned them into hippies (the fuck?), meanwhile Metal Sonic descends on the Emerald Hill Zone – for absolutely no discernible reason.

Cut to…. some…time…later…? Fuck it, Cut to part 3 and Amy’s been taken hostage at Never Lake, with no Star Posts there Sonic speeds off and the other Freedom Fighters will have to catch up (it takes them a chapter, thus removing them and allowing a better Sonic CD adaptation). An awesome fight scene with Metallix, the Metal Sonic, is waiting for him, Metallix working out probabilities and matching Sonic’s speed, even when Sonic seems to defeat him but the robot is just playing possum and takes Amy to the Miracle Planet. The Freedom Fighters arrive just in time to see the Miracle Planet fade, on said planet Metalllix ambushes the two, but Sonic runs around the planet and hits him with the force he built up doing so. It’s useless though, Metallix is one with the Miracel Planet, now robotosized, and it’s powering him, a temporary save however comes a tiny future version of Sonic, who shrinks down the present day Sonic and gives him a Time Stone unfournately Metallix has repowered for the cliffhanger. Present Day Sonic runs to the past, leaving future Sonic to deal with Metallix, there he finds a seemingly living machine powered by… a Time Stone, he takes it and blows the machine, running to the future to save himself and creating a stable time loop, dodging Metallix’s blast until history catches up and he ceases to exist. There is a downside though, Sonic and Amy are stuck on the Miracle Planet together, alone, for a whole month!

Damn the second half of this story is great, it’s so great that it actually causes the story to have its only major problem – the first two parts just don’t need to exist, what does a two-part Captain Plunder story have to do with the Sonic Terminator?  Why not just make Pirates of the Mystic Caves a three parter and The Sonic Terminator a three parter? Why sully the Sonic Terminator with a joke about hippies? Also while we’re asking questions – why did Metallix attack the Emerald Hill Zone in part two? Other than ‘because it would make a cool cliff-hanger’? That’s the answer isn’t it? – Dicks.
But back to the good, I don’t think Metal Sonic has ever been more menacing (Sonic Universe #50 is a good contender though), he also takes enough bumps to stop him reaching Villain-Sue levels, he seems unbeatable, he says he’s unbeatable but we know he can be at least temporarily decked, very important that is. This story incidentally made me a Metal Sonic fan for life, literally, other than Sonic himself (obviously) I have more Metal Sonic merch than any other character, more than Tails, Knuckles, Big the Cat, everyone. Oh Richard Elson’s art is also brilliant, do I have to say that every time? I might do, just to drive the point home and over-hype him, I do wish he’d drawn the Time Stone as a gem and not a literal rock (lol) and drawn the Robotosizer on model to Sonic CD, but this was 1994 and you couldn’t just pop online and find the sprites for such things on the nearest Wiki, so I’ll forgive him.   

Ooh, while we’re here we’ll just have a look at issue 29’s Sonic strip, it’s the last of Kitching’s little run and will turn out to be quite important post-issue 100, though no one knew it at the time (including Kitching): 

The Sentinel (Sonic strip, issue 29)
Quick Summary: one of the periodic earthquakes in the Aquatic Ruin Zone brings The Sentinel to the surface, Kintobor Computer picks up on it and with everyone else busy, Sonic goes alone. He takes out some Wisps but gets caught under some rubble underwater, only for the Sentinel to save him. The Sentinel explains that he was built by ‘the Ancient Ones’ to guard the city, but seeing that it’s now ruine, he commit suicide, no, really.

Those ancient ones are gonna end up being something big. This story fascinated my ass when I was 7, I wanted to know more, thankfully years later, while looking for inspiration Kitching would give me my wish. Anyway the art for this is by Ferran Rodriguez who really wasn’t used enough on the series, he draws everything virtually perfectly on model to the games, and I like that, it’s something you so rarely see in Sonic media today, but it was especially rare in the early 90’s. the Sentinel by the way, is the large statue you can see in the background of the Aquatic Ruin Zone in Sonic 2, which if you pay attention you will notice changes to face you in the second Act, implying you’re now on the other side of the Zone. Giving a backstory, and a tragic one at that, to that background element I thought was genius, and as far as I can tell it did just come from Kitching seeing the statue and wondering ‘who IS that of?’. Also a character commits suicide, yeah it’s just a stone robot that collapses but it still commits suicide, in a kids book – this was July 1994, what was Archie doing in July 1994? Caveman Sonic and Eggman in Lederhosen. Although they did introduce Larry Lynx – Superjinx in that issue, so that balances it out a little. 

Next up! Tails is back in the Nameless Zone and Lew Stringer writes the same story twice as he becomes head writer on the Sonic strips for a while, presumably so Kitching can charge up in his Awesome Generator Unit for the upcoming Sonic 3 adaptation.

1 this fact makes me very sad for what could have been, as great as Johnny and Porker are it would have been great to have seen Kitching and Elson, or Kitching and Dobbin, tackle my the SatAM Freedom Fighters, especially the undisputed queen of my Sonic fan heart – Bunnie Rabbot. I’d’ve liked to have seen a bit of a flirty thing going on with her and Johnny, maybe that would have livened him up a bit and then things would have ended better for him.  
2 Part 2 explains that South Island (the location for the first Sonic the Hedgehog game on both the Mega Drive and Master System) is home to ‘The Hill Zones’ (Green Hill, Emerald Hill, Hill Top etc) and the Frozen Zone, amongst others, meaning that the Green Hill and Emerald Hill share a location (possibly to remove earlier mix-ups between the two zones), which is… unique, and that Westside Island doesn’t exist in this cannon. 

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