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.
Continuity’s still a little to cock in these issues (it’ll get even worse next part) with Revolution ending the Brutus Trilogy at the same time as a whole new direction was being taken with the main Sonic strip so this part’ll be dealing with everything EXCEPT the main Sonic strip (Running Wild) for issues 80-83 (oh and the Knuckles strip from 83).
Ghost Ship (Knuckles strip, 74-79)
Quick Summary: Captain Plunder’s ship crashes on the Floating Island after coming across the Ghost Ship of Tantaragor, Knuckles is absolutely delighted to see them, obviously. Because Knuckles is a gullible twat in every universe, Plunder convinces him he has some ancient parchments that could solve the problems caused in The New Master Emerald (such as the Island’s forcefield being down) and he takes the Floating Island up to the Ghost Ship, boarding with the Sky Pirates and helping Plunder steal the Idol of Tantaragor. Responding to screams on deck the find that the ghost ship is actually a slave ship run by three Tantaror – very powerful anthropomorphic animals, not Mobians, but something else, something more. Plunder, Knuckles, Filch and Simpson barely escape via the idol, which is a transportation device (why Plunder wanted it in the first place), and end up in Pirate Town, where it turns out Plunder actually DOES have the documents. Knuckles of course wants to free the slaves, Plunder’s not having it, a scuffle over the idol ends up with the two running into Zorabel, the Pirate Queen, who is pissed off Plunder stole the idol, as they argue they are transported to another realm by Ekkletos, The Spiritual Leader of the Tantaror. Ekkletos is also pissed, but not at Knuckles or Plunder, he thought he was getting the Heretics, the three Tantaror on the Ghost Ship, who are taking slaves to build a pyramid for their dead boss Orkym-Ro, Knuckles wants to go and beat them up and save the slaves, Ekkletos obliges and sends him there. Knuckles gets his arse kicked but it’s ok, Ekkletos was just using him as a distraction long enough to remote-activate the idol again, he takes them off to be punished. Zorabel gives Knuckles the chest and asks for her knuckle dusters to ‘discuss’ a few things with Plunder
Need to get this out of the way first – on the first page Plunder knows exactly what the Ghost Ship is and is nonchalant, next panel, he’s shocked that it exists – how can you be that inconsistent between two panels on the same page? Also how did Filch, a ghost who cannot touch anything hit Simpson with a mirror in part 2. Anyway, moving on Kitching and Dobyn’s excellent run on Knuckles continues with a story that’s fucking filled with atmosphere but short on everything else, and kudos to Kitching for writing a story where not a lot happens but you don’t feel like you’re getting short changed until you sit and think about it to write a blog. I suppose because in a way you’re not getting short-changed – you get a set of memorable and excellent scenes - but you don’t get a lot of story in your six-part story. You do get Plunder though, and I love Plunder, he remains funny throughout, though with all the ghost ships and god-like beings he and Simpson don’t go too far into the comedy side of things, which is fine, it would have ruined things I think, been too inappropriate and jarring to the overall tone. They’ll get to yuck it to full effect later on under the same team in The Spice Maidens anyway, and it will be great.
I’ve also been fond of the Tantaror ever since I first read this, in my child mind they were always the big power in the Sonic Universe, the Old Ones, who existed in another realm behind Sonic’s and were so far above them that they barely considered them. They’re exceptionally powerful, very mysterious and look really cool – the Heretics look like Egyptian statues (they’re based on Egyptian gods surely? Anubis, Bast and Apep?) and Ekkletos looks like some all-powerful shaman via Ghandi (and an elephant). Sadly they’ll only be used once more – in a one-shot story. This of course allows them to retain their main appeal, being so enigmatic and so powerful, but it also kinda leaves their potential unfulfilled, *sigh*.
With Knuckles using up all the epic allowance the Sonic strips are all short, mostly one-and-dones, killing time before Revolution and Running Wild. Hidden Danger (Sonic’s World strip, issues 77-78) is a pretty crappy little two-parter, doing something the series will sometimes do that I hate – using Sonic’s World stories as a second Sonic strip, give the Sonic’sWorld strips to Sonic’s World, not him (they’ll later give these strips the name Double Sonic, which I don’t mind at all because that’s clearly Sonic’s strip). Robotnik sends a robot with a cloaking device to the Tropical Jungle Zone, and them being ignorant spear waving savages as all of Africa is think its bad magic, Sonic gets knocked-out for a cliff-hanger then uses his brain to cover the invisible robot in stuff (water, then leaves and mud) and then short circuit it by exposing it’s wires and letting it fall of a cliff. Grimer can’t make any more because he turned the plans invisible by accident – ha, ha, ha. It’s a waste of space – Stringer writes a clichéd story that ends with a rubbish joke and Kitching draws in an even more ugly style than usual, everyone looks like Hanna-Barbera Characters cut out of wafers – I’m guessing they banged this out to fill pages between important stories – Steve White’s on colours and is completely unsuitable for Kitching’s art, he doesn’t really seem to be bothering much either though, everything is far less shiny. Voice of the People (Sonic strip, issue 77) is much better, a nice Kitching/Elson one and done just to show that Sonic is making headway in his crusade to free Mobius and Eggman is going to get serious on his ass, it’s mostly about knocking down a statue though, which while nice and symbolic is kinda dull, Sonic phoning Eggman up and telling him he sucks was great though.
As far as I can tell Plasma, another Kitching/Elson one-and-done, is a bit of a cult favourite (in a book that’s a cult favourite, making it a cult-cult favourite?), I hope it is, cos I really like it – there’s a nice scene with Sonic moaning about people calling Amy his girlfriend (during a high tension break-out) and Amy teasing him, calling him sweetheart, it’s genuinely funny and nice to see how far Kitching and Stringer have taken Amy since her debut, now Sonic’s going on about dating her and Amy’s making fun. In fact the story is less a Sonic story and more an Amy story, it’s Amy who figures out how to beat Plasma (and does so) and lets Sonic take the credit, in fact it really succeeds in selling Amy, she comes across very well. But it is just a fight scene, with only the first page moving the story along by showing Eggman getting tough in the wake of Voice of the People (hence me putting Hidden Danger before Voice’). Return to the Miracle Planet (Sonic strip, issue 79) finishes the filler trend and it’s really sad to see the Miracle Planet downgraded from a big set piece to the setting for a filler strip – it’s also (amusingly?) the opposite of Plasma, as Amy is the butt of the joke, Sonic stopping an arrow of hers and claiming ignorance (so as to wind her up and not freak out the bird). Plot’s fairly simple (but there’s more of it than the last two issues) – the Miracle Planet’s back over Mobius skies, Sonic, Johnny and Amy take Kintobor Computer up there so he can interface with the Alpha Device and turn the Miracle Planet back to normal, they get attacked by a Metallix but its’ not really one, just a former captive (a bird) in disguise, Sonic stops Amy from killing him by mistake. Corona and White are back on art (Kitching’s writing) and complement each other as good as they always do, but White’s colouring kinda screws the story up – he colours the Metallix disguise completely wrong (the colours of the Emperor Metallix) meaning it would have been a pretty shit disguise and creating a plot hole where there wasn’t one – how could the bird have used it to survive if it was bright fucking red when everyone else was blue? It also takes him three pages (out of 7) to get Sonic’s arm colour right.
But don’t think we’re done with one-shot filler yet! With Running Wild, Revolution and The Chaotix, then Knuckles, taking up all the other strips with such stupidity as dramatic story-telling and art, or fucking silliness like story-arcs,someone’s got to pick up the slack and turn out those essential throwaway space wasting one-shot stories. Thank fuck Tails is here, fully transforming his strip from epic and fantasy to irrelevant and skippable. Grounded (Tails strip, issue 79) is completely throwaway, Tails has to defeat a flying badnik when he himself cannot fly, he bollixes it up but wins anyway, set in the Aquatic Ruin Zone, Rob Corona’s art is nice. Fleabyte Returns (Tails strip, issue 80) manages to suck out all the threat from the titular character but actually ties into Revolution (it’s going on at the same time) as Tails gets distracted in the Casino Night Zone and gets locked up (and escapes) with Fleabyte, and then defeats him too. The bounty hunter won’t show up again, but then that was probably for the best as he’d only be another worthless comedy antagonist in a Lew Stringer strip. Tails agrees to help the Casino Night Zone which is being overrun by badniks, which carries over to his next strip Shock Tactics! (Tails strip, issue 81) where he teams up with Mark & Sparks (GROAN!)* to find the evil robot base, then electrocute ‘em all at once, and also makes an enemy out of Max Gamble, a local casino owner and lizard. There’s some clunky dialogue but an interesting art pairing between Mike Hadley (who brings his trademark unnecessary creepiness with him for full effect in the hideout, badnik swamp and Max) and Steve White (on colours) and it’s far from offensive. Changing Times (Tails Strip, issue 82) is the best of this bunch I find – Tails finds The Echo City Zone, which has time running backwards, no explanation is given (it’s brought up that Tails doesn’t know why time is running backwards because he’s Tails, not Porker Lewis) but Carl Fucking Flint and Steve White team up to give us one really atmospheric and very creepy little strip, also it has this fish guy, who I like, and whose blatant corpse you seen earlier in the strip:
All of these brought to you by the pen (typewriter? Keyboard? Crayola?) of Lew Stringer, Fleabyte Returns and Shock Tactics are important for the overall narrative of the comic, but the other two can be skipped, though Changing Times is worth reading. With all that out the way, back to story-arcs, yay!
The Fundamental Four (Chaotix Crew strip, issues 80-81)
The Chaotix get a solo story, woo! Quick Summary: Charmy finally annoys the Chaotix too much and they chuck him out, but a soon as he’s gone the Fundamental Four attack – old foes of the group who’ve just spent four years in prison because of them – they’re made up of Hydran (water), Squall (air), Gravel (earth) and Flare (fire). They hit the crew hard and fast and despite arguing take Espio, Mighty and Vector. Charmy comes back and finds them about to liquidise the three. Charmy however, is a bee, and he comes from a hive, in fact his mum’s the Queen (more on that in a later part) so he borrows some worker bees, builders to be precise, and they do what they do best – combining the Fundamental Four and making them into…a nice vase. Though even more bees annoy the group even quicker and they all get chucked out again o they can have some peace – until the vase starts arguing with itself.
The two Nigels take a break from being awesome on Knuckles to be awesome on The Chaotix instead, though Steve White’s on colours; he actually suits Dobbyn’s art very nicely but it’s always weird to see Dobyn’s art without his own painted, earthy colouring. This is how you do a strip based around a gag; give us a good story to go with it and an amusing (read: not Christmas Cracker-level) gag.
This does however start an annoying trend of filling the Special Zone with parodies, mostly of Marvel characters – the Fantastic Four in this case - I never got the snobbish ‘look at those silly superheroes’ attitude Kitching and Stringer seemed to have when on StC, yes Sonic was a hit comic despite not being part of that genre (and clichés), that’s all very good but that genre has its own merits, pathetically thinly veiled parodies do not make your comic look better, they just make you look petty, smug and uncreative. Initially I had a rant here about this marking the beginning of StC filling the Special Zone with parodies of Marvel & DC Characters - some do turn up including parodies of the X-Men, Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk but according to the comment below by Nigel Kitching himself, the Fantastic Four elements here aren't that intentional and my Gravel's voice isn't a knock on The THing's strong accent, this was just me reading something into nothing, I apologise to Mr Kitching and Gravel, especially because the Fundamental Four works, Dobyn’s designs for the group are so good and Nigel Kitching generally writes good
characters (he does here) so I wanted them to be recurring antagonists (and
used them in my childhood fanfiction as such). This is the first mention of
Charmy’s family background as well, which’ll be followed up on in The Hive. So
yes, a good one this.
Revolution (Sonic’s World strip, issues 79-82)
Quick-ish Summary: during a Badnik attack on the Metropolis Zone (just ‘cos), Sonic, Amy & Tails are ‘saved’ from the horde by a new wave of uber-Badniks, Johnny recognises them as loyal to Commander Brutus (despite them looking completely different) and sure enough the rogue Super Trooper arrives with an upgraded blaster, declares this the day of Revolution, and easily dispatches Sonic. Sonic comes too as Brutus wages war with Eggman’s Badnik Horde in the skies above, because Lew Stringer is writing this, Shortfuse turns up to help and they set off to Citadel Robonik to rescue Amy and Johnn, kidnapped between parts. At the citadel Robotnik’s fail-safe, a self-destruct button, fails – Brutus found it and took it out weeks ago – luckily for the egg-shaped one Sonic and Shorty arrive, accidentally saving his life and allowing him and Grimer to escape in the confusion. Shortfuse has met his match, he and Brutus are made of the same super-tough metal Megatal, Sonic demands to see his friends and Brutus obliges – Amy and Johnny are now uber-badniks. Sonic can’t help holding back and Amynik and Johnnik and they’re plenty powerful anyway so they kick him around, Shorty fares no better and Brutus throws him out of the citadel through the nearest wall, attacked by Johnnik Shortfuse finally loses his temper and blasts the Badnik, freeing Johnny, but Amynik is still at large and shoots at them for a cliffhanger, below Egg Breath goes against Grimer’s advice and dons his untested War Armour, Brutus (tracking him) shows up so it’s on. Sonic sends Amynik’s bolts back at her to free her, then Robotnik PUNCHES BRUTUS TO STREET LEVEL THROUGH MULTIPLE FLOORS and the two have a brawl, when things are looking bad for Eggman he freezes Brutus then shatters his ex-second in command. The story ends with a gloating Robotnik’s message send across Mobius – he’s still in charge and it’s going to stay that way.
Nigel Kitching shouldn’t have drawn this story. I’ve been pretty… open that I think Nigel Kitching as a writer is a perfect fit for Sonic but Nigel Kitching the artist isn’t, but it’s not that this time; simply put this story needed to be epic, Brutus’ end, a full scale invasion of Metropolis City, and Kitching just doesn’t draw epic – his layouts, his compositions, never epic. It should have gone to Elson or Dobbyn, I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason it didn’t but it still should have, Kitching’s art leaves the story falling short. On the writing side, Part 1 has WAY to many examples of ‘telling while showing’ (which is what I’m calling it now) but it mostly levels out to one or two panels per part which isn’t bad for Stringer really, and most of them are drowned out by the awesomeness on display, even with Kitching’s less-than-Elson levels of dramatics. Brutus goes out on a high; he defeats Sonic and Shortfuse (twice) in hand-to-hand combat, he is able to surpass Robotnik by capturing and turning Amy and Johnny into badniks and even able to stand against Eggman’s ultimate battle suit, but Stringer has the good sense to realise that his OC isn’t Sonic or Robotnik and no matter what he has to loose, and loose decisively, so Robotnik thoroughly kicks his arse, looking the superior force without making Brutus look like a chump. And even with Kitching’s art and the occasional ‘I am doing this because of this’ dialogue the story feels big, it feels like a finale, really only undermined in this regard by being stuffed in the back of the book as a Sonic’s World strip rather than being the lead Sonic strip (which it totally should have been) and being published alongside the equally big Running Wild.
There are nit-picks, Kiching seems unable to decide how big Brutus is, Stringer throws in the occasional line that makes a character sound like a dork because he’s a dork trying to sound cool (nothing wrong with being a dork) but for all their faults they turn in an exciting and pretty fitting end to the Brutus trilogy. Also for all my moaning about Kitching his designs for the War Suit and the Badnik Amy and Johnny are fucking ace; Johnnik and Amynik are the closest the series comes to Robotosization, something I’ve always been VERY fond of via my adoration of SatAM, it’s frightening, it’s enslavement and it gives us creative robotic designs, I particularly like Amy’s badnik design, pink and silver with that menacing wild-boar like face, it’s all too easy to make robotisized girls sexy (Sally certainly was, both in SatAM and Archie) but that’s completely at odds with Brutus’ thinking and the character’s use in-story so making her monstrous was undoubtedly the right choice, well done that Nigel.
Aaaand that’s it for this part, technically Revolution should go roughly in the middle of these stories – with Fleabyte Returns happening at the same time, The Fundamental Four happening around the same time, and Shock Tactics happening just after, but I wanted to use it as a finale (and reward) for this part. Next time we finally get to Running Wild, Sonic goes to the Special Zone and there’s even more stories published out of order.
Part 16 >
* there is a chain of department stores in the UK called Marks & Spencer’s, commonly referred to as Marks & Sparks, Mark and Sparks (who are gorillas btw) name is thus a pun, there will be many more such names to come from Lew Stringer but after Cam ‘n’ Bert and B.A.R.F. I suppose he thought it was ok.