Tuesday, 26 July 2016

A Long Look At Sonic the Comic 1-100 Part 7: More 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. 

< Part 6

These issues bridge the gap between the Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles adaptations with mostly more issues adapting parts of Sonic 3, hence the title – I am so fucking clever I hurt.

Carnival Night Conspiracy (Knuckles strips, issues 39-44)
Note: this story runs for 6 issues (12  real world weeks) but takes place over less than 24 hours and begins immediately after the end of Robotnik’s Revenge. Quick Summary: Knuckles returns to the Floating Island to find the Carnival Night Zone has sprung up, with no idea what it is, having never seen a theme park before, he investigates but is attacked, who would do such a thing? Who would run such a theme park? Why who else but the Marxio Brothers. Grouchio convinces Knuckles they’re not working for Robotnik despite having Badniks, because Knuckles is a gullible twat in every universe he falls for it and they put him on a roller coaster meant to kill him, only he survives – and loved it! Convinced, he agrees to be a partner in the Zone and use the money to fix up the Floating Island for his people’s return – oops. So Knuckles gets an office but won’t stay put because the Launch Base Zone is still around, while following him Chicio’s idiocy lets the cat out of the bag and the Marxios reveal they have their own Big Arm, with a clown face and lots of guns. They stomp all over Knuckles and it appears he’s a goner, of course he isn’t and the first lot of tourists arrive just as he smashes their Clown Big Arm. They distract him with a Badnik Horde and Knuckles contemplates a way to act fast and save the visitors – his solution? Punch a fault line and remove the entire zone from the Island! It retains enough Chaos Emerald power to not fall so fast as to kill the Marxios or anyone below but fuck me that’s so cool. Knuckles chucks the tourists off then strikes a brooding pose

This is very decompressed, it’s as long as the main Sonic 3 adaptation (and slightly better written I find), too long for such a simple story really, with a lot of page time given over to things that didn’t need it (the haunted house trap/ride takes a whole strip) but as they were going for a ‘conspiracy’ thing maybe the slower pace was best? Still any tension was ruined by having Lew Stringer use Knuckles in Sonic strips set after this but published during the story’s run, not that anyone really thought they’d off Knuckles but it’s nice to suspend disbelief. Elson’s art is gorgeous though, and the finale with Knuckles punching a Zone off his island is just so fucking cool, I need a thesaurus I know. Also it’s not really explained how come Knuckles looked dead but wasn’t, I’m guessing the Marxio’s just missed and thought they didn’t? That’s totally in character for them so maybe. On the Marxio’s, as a Marx Brothers fan it’s great to see them back, and Kitching does a good job of doing Groucho style insults but kids still aren’t going to get the reference, at least they’re returning characters I guess, some of the parodies later won’t even have that in their favour.

Zonerunner and the Flock (Tails strips, issues 35-38)
A leftover from the Sonic 3 Adaptation issues, Quick Summary: while avoiding some angry gun-wielding Mobians (Tess Tube and Sol Furic) in the Chemical Plant Zone, Sonic and Tails are separated when a stray bullet hit the controls for the…tube things you spin around in in that zone, dumping Tails into the lair of Nutzan Bolt, Robotnik’s insane lieutenant for the Zone. after overhearing Nutzan Bolt’s plan to flood the surrounding Zones with Mega Mack and royally pissing off Bolt by using the ‘S’ word (‘Sonic’ fyi) he’s saved by Sab the Sheep, kitted out with a palmtop and a badass longcoat and introduced to The Flock, during which he shares what he overheard.  After accidentally saving the Flock when their floating platform nearly overturns, the Freedom Fighters confront Nutzan, Tess and Sol at The Barrier, which keeps the Mega Mack in the Chemical Plant Zone. Tails saves the day by running away and accidentally defeating the bad guy (Bolt) AGAIN, this time crushing the fuck out of him with a door when his palmtop interprets his terrified repeating of ‘shut the door’ literally and shuts the door on Nutzan multiple times. He meets up with Sonic who doesn’t know a thing.

I’m finding the resolution to Tails strips repetitive, is that coming across ok? But at least each time it seems like he’s doing more and more to be proactive, I wonder if the slow-build of his character that this creates was intentional? Maybe, but probably not as the strips were written by different writers. This is another Mark Eyles strip that I thought was a Nigel Kitching strip, mostly because of how dark it is; it’s gloomy, the Flock are hard-core tooled up serious Freedom Fighters and for the first time – adults (I do still quite fancy Sab, I’m sorry everyone I will stop focussing on how much I want to bang cartoon animals) and Nutzan is an insane robot wanting to commit genocide and nearly getting away with it (The Flock just manage seal the barrier, with slagged Badniks), even his destruction is pretty brutal. I fucking love the two Zonerunner strips, this one’s good, if not a bit fast paced (but I think that’s kind of the point, Tails getting caught up in this whirlwind and is thoroughly out of his depth), but the next one’s better, and I love The Flock and the version of the Chemical Plant Zone presented here; sadly it wouldn’t stay constant – sometimes it would be the dark, grimy place of the Zonerunner and Megatox stories, other times it would just be the bright, shiny Zone of Sonic 2, I prefer the former cos I’m deep, sorry did I type ‘deep’? I mean to type ‘miserable’. While slightly formulaic still, the Zonerunner stories would be the closest StC came to matching the atmosphere of Sonic SatAM – that is such a good thing.

Importantly, this story welcomes Roberto Corona, a great addition to the art team who’ll provide art more akin to the Tracey Yardley/Ben Bates style Archie is using now. He’ll mostly draw back-up strips and sometimes his art will be the only thing worthwhile about them, other times they’ll be some of the most underrated stories the series had, like the Zonerunner stories here.

The Sonic strip for issue 39 is a one-and-done called Sonic No More. In a rare bit of continuity cock-up from Nigel Kitching Eggman reverts Sonic to his old brown self and steals his speed in the process using a stolen gun - even though Sonic was already super-fast before the transformation. Then Johnny & Porker don’t recognise him despite having seen him before he transformed in ‘The Origin of Sonic’ (written by Kitching). Also the Freedom Fighters still have their underground base – I think the word for this story is ‘inventory’. Eggman does look cool in his transformed blue form though, in fact, really, Ferran Rodriguez’ art is the best thing about the strip, I love how he draws the Freedom Fighters, but even he seems to be phoning it in a bit, the Batbrains are off model and a lot of the backgrounds are half-arsed.   Not worth bothering with. The Frozen Zone (Sonic Strip, issue 40) is no better, in fact it’s far worse, one of the grottiest stories Lew Stringer will turn in for a while, despite some utterly brilliant art by Casanovas (with some utterly colouring book colours). The Freedom Fighters (minus Amy) attend to a zone frozen over, fight some very dim-witted robots with annoying dialogue then their creator, a completely boring evil scientist called The Chiller, he reforms at the end, the dialogue is stilted and filled with ‘show don’t tell’ lines, piece of shit.

Ice Cap Attack (Sonic strips, issue 41-42)
Quick Summary: It’s Christmas and while posing for no reason Tails wonders if they’ll find any trouble in the Zone they’re in, Penguinators arrive to prove they will, while the Freedom Fighters bash fuck out of them Sonic finds the portal they came from and traces it back to the Floating Island’s Ice Cap Zone (Sonic 3) and runs into Knuckles, who is punching Orbinauts to death, they team up. The two find and Egg-shaped igloo with an egg-shaped evil dictator in it, he traps them in a…I actually have no idea what it is, It’s kind of a beam of light that will burn you if you step outside it? Eggman explains his evil plans, he’s created a gateway between Zones even though they already exist and are called Star Posts, Knuckles burrows out of the beam-of-trap and they smash his toys, he escapes, Sonic goes back to Mobius and wishes everyone a happy Christmas.

We’ll ignore why/how an alien planet has Christmas despite never having had a Winter Solstice festival or a Christianity and a Jesus to co-op it shall we? This is one of the weaker Christmas stories the series ran (they’ll be more, but that won’t always be a bad thing as I say) it’s a mix of very good – Knuckles comes across as a complete hard nut, punching Orbinauts in their spike-balls and figuring out how to escape the beam of light thing, Mike Hadley’s art is great and there’s some great dialogue, including some lampshade hanging, always welcome – but then there’s the bad, like… why are they posing for no reason on page 1? Why wasn’t Robotnik just using Star Posts? What is the beam of light trap thing? Why doesn’t Eggman ever use this technology again? – So it guess it adds up to being OK, no it’s better than OK, good-ish.

My god, he's huge!!
Issues 41-42 also had a bunch of one-shot stories we’ll just run through, In Good Hands (Amy strip, issue 41) is damn important really, it’s the first Amy Rose strip and marks the speeding up of her development into an action girl rather than a stalker lady. She was already holding her own, and starting to use her trademark crossbow (no Piko Piko Hammer for this universe I’m afraid Amy fans) but this is her first solo outing, her first time getting out of her Sonic CD outfit and her first time as a fully competent Freedom Fighter so really it’s her first time being the StC Amy. It’s a pretty simple Stringer story, Sonic leaves Amy behind because she’s a professional hostage, she’s annoyed, Buzzbombers attack, she kicks their arses – barely, Sonic comes back and she doesn’t tell him. It’s not a bad little strip, Amy doesn’t instantly go from hostage to super competent, smashing the last badnik out of luck rather than skill, we also get to see her being modest and having a

more normal, less stalkerish affection for Sonic, all in all a good introduction, and Rob Corona’s on art and is good. A Day in the Life of Robotnik (Doctor Robotnik strip, issue 42) would be throwaway if not for Mike Hadley making the whole thing so nightmarish – there’s a scene with Badniks voluntarily melting themselves down after failing to stop Sonic (right) that has stayed with me ever since I was small. It’s exactly what it says on the tin and a Mark Millar script that’s actually good, we also learn Buttnik likes his teen romance. Hero of Mobius (Tails strip, issue 42) is fucking strange, Nigel Kitching pretty much just recaps us with Tails’ adventures against Trogg in the Nameless Zone, the has him disappearing off there again, but we never see what happens! This is a one-part story, he leaves, Johnny wonders where he went, that’s it, it’s weird and kind of pointless. Carl Flint does the art and doesn’t do the horrendous job he’ll do later in the series’ life, drawing a brilliant almost-splash page of Tails vs Trogg. 

Finally there’s Megadroid (no story title) in issue 41, which sees the Hero of Mobius team reversed, Flint’s on script and Kitching’s on art and it gives me a chance to talk about one of the best parts of Sonic the Comic and the little robot who’s been appearing in the titles for this Look At since it began: Megadroid. Megadroid was the host for Sonic the Comic, like how Tharg is for 2000AD (also published by Fleetway for a while). He answered the letters, introduced the comic on the inside of the cover and was just a bit of a star in his own right, he was originally made up of a Mega Drive pad and a Mega Drive mk I cartridge slot but they upgraded him later after the Saturn came out. Megadroid always seems like a bloke you want to be mates with, thus making him perfect as the face of the comic and the character kids wanted to write to, because who wouldn’t want to write to such a nice bloke/bot. He was pretty much the gofer for the ‘Humes Who Think They’re in Charge’ (as he called the Fleetway staff) but was always making wry little comments about them and he never felt like he was talking down to you. Good ol’ Megadroid.  The strip is just Megadroid showing fans around the fictional StC offices (the artists and writers actually worked from home) and is a harmless little gag strip written as a Christmas treat – there’s some nice little cameos from the other StC strips and some tittersome little gags, I just wanted to sing his praises a while is all, back to the Sonic stuff:

Badnik Bridge (Sonic strips, issues 43-44)
I’ll be honest with ya, I usually skip all the Sonic strips in these issues and just jump straight to the Sonic & Knuckles adaptation, not only because it’s brilliant but because you don’t lose anything by doing so, in fact reading them causes more problems than skipping them does – for instance this strip is apparently taking place concurrently with Carnival Night Conspiracy, despite that being physically impossible. Anyway, Quick Summary: a new thruster for the Death Egg is en route to transport to the Floating Island. Reminding everyone that Sonic is actually a terrorist, he plants some mines to blow a bridge it’s about to cross to stop it but gets caught by a Super Trooper with hands that transform, he’s saved by Johnny and Amy in the Tornado but the mines are discovered. Sonic goes back for them but is run off, so Amy detonates them with her bow and arrow skills to further push her becoming a more competent heroine.

The Amy thing was an editorial mandate from Deborah Tate, who was now co-editor (as of issue 39), she wanted her to be more sensible and competent (apparently more than any other character) so she was a positive role model for girls, Kitching thought it was an offensive stereotype and fought against it, eventually refusing to use her at all (but that’s a long way off), pretty much forcing Stringer to use her in his back-ups. This is very early on in her development and apparently Kitching and Stringer always planned for her to become more competent anyway, so I’m not sure how much of this is them and how much is Tate, but it is fishy that her character development becomes so sped up and focussed on just after Tate gets the power of being a co-editor. I like Tomboy StC Amy, I much prefer her to childish pre-Sonic Adventure Archie Amy or crazy stalker Sega Amy, though I quite enjoy Ian Flynn’s take on her where she’s become as useful a freedom fighter as StC Amy, just with snazzier clothes. I also like that Casanovas – who is again on art for this strip and is fucking blinding – gives her a female body shape for, I think, the first time. Amy’s age isn’t confirmed in StC but she’s clearly older than 12, I’d guess around Sonic’s age (16) so she should be shaped like all the other Mobian women.

Anyway this story is average, it feels like filler and it is but its entertaining filler, it’s pretty exciting, we get to see a Bob Beaky Travelling Circus show (well part of it) and the art gets across the blockbuster style of the story great. There’s a few clunky or eye rolling lines (Sonic says ‘spoke of’, the fuck?), it’s not Kitching on top form but it’s far from The Frozen Zone. We also get one of our only Johnny-Amy ship-teases (Kitching wanted to do this story, but it didn’t happen, maybe because of the Tate Girl Power mandate?) but personally I have another ship for Amy to *ehem* ride on in this universe, and we get our first, possibly unintentional, hint at Megatal, a super metal that’ll be important later on, from a terrible exposition line from the Super Trooper.  

Anyway this part is already waaaay too long but before I go I wish to share this pin-up with you:

Isn't it wonderful? I want that cuddly Splats. Next time we’ll have one of best stories this comic has to offer, the next big epic and the next big adaptation as the disaster comes.   

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