Monday 25 July 2016

A Long Look At Sonic the Comic 1-100 Part 6: Sonic the Hedgehog 3*

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. 

StC were pretty lucky in that they started adapting Sonic games with the first three titles to have a narrative running through them, rather than a plot to set them up (Sadly they never did a proper adaptation of Sonic Spinball, which also had a narrative, and I’d’ve liked to have seen Richard Elson tackle Rexxon and Scorpius) but it still takes a good, or rather appropriate, writer and artist to take those narratives and turn them into stories that retain the epic and exciting feel of playing the games. If you don’t believe me check out Archie’s adaptations of Sonic CD, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles (and Sonic Spinball actually – issues 25, 13, the Sonic & Knuckles Special and issue 6 respectively), the Sonic 3 & Knuckles adaptations used the average writing team of Ken Penders and Mike Kanterovich and teamed them with the totally unsuitable Dave Manak for the most part, thus we got a fairly unexciting series of scenes with fairly unexciting climaxes drawn by a scratchy comedy artist, meanwhile the other two used totally unsuitable comedy writer Mike Gallagher and for the Spinball adaptation Dave Manak again, so we got two scripts full of horrible humour instead of a satisfying adaptation of the great games we got all excited playing, the Sonic CD adaptation only being saved by having the thoroughly talented and more so appropriate Pat Spaz on art, and even then asking him to draw things like a giant reader’s finger poking Eggman was so jarring compared to his exciting, dynamic drawings of the Stardust Speedway and the Metal Sonic race that it half ruins it and was just insulting to the artist. With Nigel Kitching, who took the source material seriously and wrote stories appropriately, and Richard Elson, who is an excellent action strip artist, StC had two talented and appropriate people working on their adaptations, and thus what we got was excellent. I will say that I think the Sonic 3 adaptation is the weakest of the adaptations pre-100 but given the story-arcs we’re talking about here, being the weakest is…well…what’s the opposite of damning with faint praise? Praising with faint damning? Something like that, anyway - to the issues!     

Enter Knuckles (Sonic strips, issues 33-34)
Quick Summary: Robotnik is missing since his Death Egg fell from orbit in the Summer Special, the Kintobor Computer has figured out it hit something before it could get to the surface of the planet, he thinks it hit the Floating Island – Amy and Sonic think this is dumb, the Floating Island is just a legend, and just as Sonic says that, they come across it. After dicking about in the Marble Garden Zone and Sonic suddenly developing a force-field ability to save himself from a Poindexter that I don’t think he’ll ever use again, Eggman is just conveniently there. Actually he wasn’t just conveniently there, he came to find Sonic so Knuckles can kick his blue spiny arrogant arse, ol’ Walrus Chops has convinced Knuckles that Sonic is a bastard, that he’s already stolen his Chaos Emeralds and is now after Knuckles’ – this leads to a Sonic & Knuckles brawl that goes all over, and under, the Marble Garden Zone. while they’re having their who’s got the biggest dick contest with fists, Sonic has Tails initiate a clever plan and nets Eggman, literally, Sonic escapes and they head back to their Secret HQ.

Other than the stupid force field (which isn’t used later – why not use it in the Knuckles fight?) introduced just because you can make Sonic generate a 1 second force field by pressing jump again in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (do we think that could have been an editorial mandate?) this story’s good. There’s a couple of instances of talking about an event and then it happening, which I found comical, the first time (“there’s no Floating Island” “we’ve found the Floating Island!”) was clearly supposed to be such, and the panel with Johnny and Poker making fun of Amy is delightful, I’m not sure the “what if we find Eggman” – BAM! Egggman moment is also supposed to be intentionally funny though, still at least it’s implied in part 2 that it wasn’t a coincidence (and neither was finding the Floating Island, they were clearly following at rough co-ordinates Kintobor had) so I’m forgiving them – the force-filed thing is unforgivable though. Also Poindexters aren’t found in the Marble Garden Zone but rather in the Hydrocity Zone (they’re based on Puffer Fish), but a similar Badnik called Bubbles (who are fucking annoying) are, so maybe it was a mistake? If it was they repeat it again in a Poster Mag, that’s a bit of a nit-pick I know, but StC does make a point of stating numerous times that Badniks are assigned to Zones and what Badniks those are correlate to the games – so it’s a nit-pick of their own making.  

Actually while we’re on accuracy here, this story really isn’t, it’s nowhere near as bad as Flickies’ Island (great story, bad adaptation) but in Sonic 3 the action never leaves Angel Island, we also don’t get to visit the Hydrocity Zone and the outskirts of Angel Island aren’t set fire to (in fact of the only Sub-Boss to appear is Tunnelbot, as a regular Badnik, but then he’s listed as such in the Sonic 3 European manual), we don’t visit Carnival Night or Ice Cap in this story either, but we will. Just thought I’d put that out there, it’s a good story, it’s sticks to the game’s plot and does that aforementioned epic and exciting feel thing, it’s just not the most accurate adaptation.

Power of the Chaos Emeralds (Sonic strip, issues 35-36)
Quick Summary: Eggman is imprisoned in Sonic’s Secret HQ, after menacing Porker Lewis for a minute he’s rescued by Knuckles, takes the pig hostage and trades his life for the Chaos Emeralds. Sonic is able to get to the Tornado (his plane) and catch up with their escape vehicle, giving it a good Spin-Attack and crashing it onto the Floating Island. Knuckles bursts out and changes from pink to red between chapters. Knuckles distracts Sonic by setting off a trap, Sonic is a dick and pretends to be dying just to fuck with Tails, then escapes. Knuckles goes to the Chaos Emerald Chamber and exposits about the Emeralds once being six but being split into twelve, but if only he had that Grey Emerald to stabilize them. Eggman has a doohickey that can do that job for him, double crosses Knuckles and gets all-powerful, turning Tails to glass as he and Sonic catch up the very minute he goes all powerful, but SWERVE Knuckles has the Grey Emerald, depowers the fat fucker and sends him back to Mobius, then snubs Sonic’s offer to join the Freedom Fighters to wait for his missing people’s return.

This is a good two-parter, a very good two-pater, and Sonic’s new force field does show up again! He uses it to block Knuckles and even explains how he does it (vibrating things, basically), I’m sorry I doubted you Nigel, but it IS replaced by another inexplicable thing – wanna know how Knuckles found Robotnik? He had a chip in his brain that located a chip Eggman had in his tooth…so Knuckles let Robotnik do brain surgery on him, the actual fuck?  Also the Grey Emerald thing, part of the ‘Early Sonic Cannon’ and something I forgot to mention back in the Origin of Sonic was that Dr Kintobor’s R.O.C. Machine wasn’t finished because he needed the Grey Emerald to stabilise them, but couldn’t find it – Sonic never found it either. So having Knuckles have it makes absolute sense, as The Floating Island has been out of contact with Mobius for hundreds of years and most people thought it didn’t exist at all, which explains how no one coudl find it, it was on a place no one thought was real enough to search. Also the combining Emeralds thing is in Sonic 3 & Knuckles too, but I don’t think anyone knew that yet…so this might just be a bit of serendipity on Kitching’s part via a way to explain away why there are now multiple Chaos Emeralds when previously they’d established there were only 7 in the whole world (Sega still can’t agree with itself on that btw). The dialogue is great, Eggman menacing Porker Lewis is brilliant, although he may look like the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog Robotnik, STC’s Eggman is as imposing and nasty as SatAM’s, well, almost. Sonic pissing about and faking being crushed to death is dickish, but funny, and totally in character for StC Sonic and Tails gets the last laugh anyway: “Porker is right, you DO have a weird sense of humour.” And extra points for having Knuckles not having figured out Eggman was lying, but just having set up a scenario that would reveal if he was or wasn’t, makes up for that telegraphed Grey Emerald swerve. My only real complaint is that we could have had the crash and fight scene in a different Zone, preferably Angel Island or Hydrocity, rather than the Marble Garden Zone again.

Also Part 2 of this story finally sees Richard Elson get to grips with drawing Knuckles, including colouring him right – this isn’t Elson’s fault, anyone old enough to have been there might remember that Knuckles was shown completely wrong on the art for Sonic 3, he was pink and far more boxy than in-game, I’m guessing they got the new Sega style guides through mid-story, but it does stick out like a sore thumb to have him just become red, especially as the first panel of part 2 is a redraw of the last panel of chapter 1.  

Robotnik’s Revenge (Sonic strips, issues 37-38)
It’s time for out-and-out awesomness: Quick Summary: the Freedom Fighters are doing a runner from their Secret HQ, but for once Sonic is too slow, Robotnik’s arrived with a Badnik Horde and he’s in Big Arm, the final boss of Sonic 3 – and Porker hasn’t quite finished downloaded the Kintobor Computer! Sonic and Johnny Lightfoot buy him some time and temporarily bury the Big Arm, but they’ve stalled too long and the Badniks have surrounded them. On The Floating Island Knuckles hits the Launch Base Zone, when Robotnik checks in while being impervious to Sonic and Johnny’s attacks, Grimer tells him he died doing so, but he was tied up, hostage and lying, and Knuckles knows what Eggman’s doing on Mobius. In the Secret HQ Big Arm is back and the three Freedom Fighters (well four, Kintobor Computer too) are surrounded – Enter knuckles, straight through the ceiling – Sonic & Knuckles work together for the first time, destroying the Big Arm and smashing the Badnik Horde, sniping at each other the whole time. Eggman escapes, Knuckles returns to continue ridding his Island of Robotnik and the Freedom Fighters begin to travel under the disguise of Bob Beaky’s Travelling Circus.

Such a good fucking climax; the Big Arm (called the Squeeze Tag Machine here, what does the even mean?) is for me one of the greatest Sonic bosses, with only the Death Egg Robot (Sonic 2) and the Metal Sonic Race (Sonic CD) beating it, and Kitching puts it across like the threat it is (really, that boss is hard) it’s virtually spin-attack proof and takes the two most powerful characters we’ve been introduced to so far, working together, to smash it. The whole first part feels genuinely tense, and the Freedom Fighters already leaving makes the threat of Robotnik seem so much more, they don’t even know he’s coming then, but the know he will, and that’s enough to scare them from their high tech, high security underground base. On the Freedom Fighters, many fans – and writers – felt Johnny was boring, I never agreed with this and this story is good proof of why, Johnny’s not boring, he’s a fucking badass, Robotnik’s got this big scary machine, Sonic says ‘just you and me then’ and Johnny just gets his staff out, grits his teeth and runs at it – this is what he does every time, he has no powers just some skills, and he goes up against anything thrown at him with no complaints, and hardly any fear, Johnny’s not boring, Johnny’s Batman.

Speaking of Badasses, Knuckles has been consistently sold as one throughout this arc, this story completes that, he’s been able to stand against Sonic, though taking enough lumps to not make him get near any Sue territory, but now he’s doing awesome shit to back up that power, and I use awesome correctly here – as in, inspiring awe – he takes on the Death Egg (albeit while it’s grounded), jumps off a floating island, smashes through a ceiling and punches a hole through a giant mecha that even Sonic was having trouble with1. It’s the finale of selling him as a major player and it works. The Tumblr thankskenpenders (which I’m iffy on) asked at one point why people thought Knuckles was so badass when there’s  never anything to back that up in the games or the Archie comics2 – or something like that -  StC readers (and there was a lot of us over here back then) have the answer, the answer is Nigel Kitching.

This story actually continues on into the second Knuckles strip, and the first multi-part Knuckles strip, Carnival Night Conspiracy, but I think I’m going to cover that next part, as it actually starts the issue after this arc ends (sensible) and runs through a lot of issues, so I’m gonna use it to decide part 7’s issue count, cool? Cool.

1 Fridge Logic: Super Sonic isn’t used in this story – Big Arm is one of the very few bosses that can hurt Super Sonic, and if it hurts Super Sonic he reverts back to Sonic, so most people don’t use him at all in this boss battle. Also Big Arm is taken down by its actual weakness in-game (its cock-pit glass).
2 I’d argue that taking on a super-powered hedgehog with only your fists, as he does in Sonic & Knuckles, would quality him straight away, but whatever.  


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