Thursday, 28 July 2016

A Long Look At Sonic the Comic 1-100 Part 9: During the Disaster*

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 8

While the Disaster arc was being epic in the Sonic strip the comic still had three other strips per issue to fill, and now two of those three were going to be set in Sonic’s world, we still have a few more non-Sonic adaptations to go (Sparkster and Shinning Force won’t be adapted until after this batch of issues, for instance) but as we move towards issue 75 they’ll be more and more Sonic per issue (I think issue 79 was the first issue where all the strips were Sonic’s world strips). That means we’ll probably be seeing more of these, where two parts seem to cover the same issues. The good news is that the Sonic & Knuckles adaptation marks the beginning of the best period of stories the series has, a period that will last, pretty much, right up until Sonic goes to the Special Zone (issue 84) – when the Tails strips start to get really dodgy. And even after that, when Stringer and Kitching decide the best way to explore the Special Zone is through unfunny superhero parodies and the Tails stories become utterly pointless filler, the Knuckles and Freedom Fighter strips will keep things afloat, quality wise, up until the excellent issue 100. Anyway that’s a while off; let’s get past 50 before we start thinking about 100.

Enter the Cybernik (Sonic’s World strip, issues 45-47)
Quick Summary: Troopers fly into the Emerald Hill Zone to kidnap some folks for Badniks making everyone question why they need to pretend to be a cult or a convention; a short tempered squirrel nicknamed Shortfuse (or ‘Shorty’) escapes but stows away to rescue his friends, he doesn’t have a plan but he’ll figure it out. At the Badnik processing plant he decides his plan it ‘charge in and smash shit’, he fails to stop the Badnik process but does some damage, for his gall Eggman has Grimer use Shorty for the Cybernik Project (remember that turned up in Girl Trouble?) and turn him into an unbreakable badnik, a badnik for life. It seems the process has worked and The Cybernik leads the badniks he was trying to prevent being made against his former home – of course he isn’t really brainwashed and he shoots them all down, freeing his friends, turns out the damage he did plus his own stubborn nature allowed him to keep his free will – Robotnik is pissed, grabs an Eggmobile and goes off to sort him out. Shorty appears to have the upper hand in the fight, being invulnerable and having forearm mounted laser guns but Robotnik isn’t an idiot and has built in a remote activated fail-safe activated in case his unbreakable Badnik went bad, it incapacitates Shorty and Sonic rushes in for the win. While Sonic and Robotnik do their usual thing Cybernik smashes the remote, removing the failsafe. The Blue Blur offers Shorty membership to the Freedom Fighters but he turns it down, preferring to work alone.     

I have a lot of nostalgia for Shortfuse the Cybernik and I was really excited to be reading this story again, I loved Shortfuse as a kid and I was really excited that we were at the point where Shorty came into things, the good news is part 3 lived up to my nostalgia, the bad news parts 1 & 2 did not. Ok that’s not fair, the ART in parts 1 & 2 lived up to nostalgia, Rob Carona’s on art here and he uses every page to make Cybernik look badass but oooh there’s a lot of clunky lines in those first two parts, lots of ‘show don’t tell’ panels, maybe I’ve just been spoilt by Disaster but, no, no there’s just a lot of clunky lines, here are some:

Pacing’s pretty fast early on too, not quite reaching ‘rushed’ but speedy, that levels out too though. So yeah, not the best intro to Sonic the Comic’s breakout original character, I was actually quite surprised to see that there are pockets of fans who dislike Shorty, even going to far as to list him as an example of ‘The Scrappy’ (as in Scrappy Doo!) on I completely disagree, if he’s anything from TV Tropes he’s The Creator’s Pet – Lew Stringer loves him and will use him often in his strips BUT I remember him being genuinely quite popular with readers at the time and he is generally used appropriately in strips that aren’t his own – i.e. being brought in when the threat is big enough it needs something tougher than Sonic but more controlled than Super Sonic. Of course Stringer concocted those threats, almost certainly so Shortfuse would be appropriate...

Captain Plunder & His Sky Pirates! (Captain Plunder strip, issues 47-50)
Speaking of characters the writer loves to use, here’s Captain Plunder’s first strip, and clearly he’s big enough, or Nigel Kitching/Fleetway think he’s big enough, to have his own strip rather than appearing under the Sonic’s World banner, making him thefourth character to do so, implying that in order of importance it goes – Tails, Knuckles, Amy and then Captain Plunder. I’m OK with that. Quick Summary: Shortly before going to the Sandopolis Zone, Captain Plunder and his crew intercept Robtonik’s blimp (on his birthday) and rob him of his taxes, unfortunately a brush with the Chaos Emeralds hasn’t increased their intelligence and they accidentally leave Plunder behind. After Nigel Kitching sacrifices in-universe sense for some real word parody Plunder is thrown in a dungeon awaiting execution where he’s ‘rooming’ with a strange living cartoon Simpson the Cat. With Simpson’s bizarre help Plunder escapes, unfortunately (again) they’re going up a secret tunnel just as Filch – Plunder’s ghost second mate whom he shot himself – and his crew are coming down it to rescue their captain. Thinking they’re Robontik’s forces Simpson and Plunder hide from the crew in a sewer and escape, while the crew carry on and get captured, except Filch, who’s a ghost, so just leaves. Back the Mystic Cave, Plunder gets over the loss of his crew quickly and sets off to get another and pillage some more.

Well that was a whole bunch of fun! I haven’t read this in years and I’m sorry about that now! Part 2 comes in the weakest as it’s mostly given over to a show TV trial (why would Eggman even bother with one?) and some parody at the expense of prisons, lawyers and television, it doesn’t make sense that any of this would exist on Mobius under the iron rule of Dr Robotnik. Other than that it’s a fun excursion in showing off Plunder and Filch, who were already charismatic and stay that way while being the main characters, so well done Mr Kitching. And then there’s Simpson…Simpson is Nigel Kitching’s love letter to old black and white cartoon shorts, he even looks like Felix the Cat – which actually means he fits perfectly with the Sega designs, as Sonic was inspired by Felix (and Mickey Mouse) as well! He can do all the stupid cartoon stuff – he uses an ‘idea’ lightbult to light the way, swallows it and then light shines out of his eyes, that sort of shit. It’s possibly jarring but I’ve always took various lines of dialogue to imply that whatever Simpson is he isn’t a Mobian, or at least a normal Mobian, and it leads to some funny moments here and later on, here it’s just Plunder getting annoyed with him, but it is funny. My complaints are two – one, this is drawn by Kitching and his art still doesn’t fit Sonic, though at least it’s better for Captain Plunder than Sonic himself, and as this is set before Mystery of the Sandopolis Zone I’d’ve liked it to have shown how and where he picked up The Professor from that story.

Zonerunner & the Big Freeze (Tails strip, issues 48-51)
Love this strip. Quick Summary: in the Marble Garden Zone, a Chemical Plant Drone finds Tails and plays a message from Sab the Sheep, but it appears that Sab was blown up while recording it. Riding the Drone (oh yeah?) Tails finds the Chemical Plant Zone is covered in a chemical snow, finds The Flock’s hideout bombed out and finds Sol Furic, the sheep that once worked for Nutzan bolt. It turns out Sol isn’t there to finish what he started, he didn’t even bomb The Flock, he was coming to re-join, having been turned off by Nutzan’s further insanity. Taking him to his own den the two are chased by Chemical Plant citizens who are pissed as Nutzan has been tearing apart their Zone looking for Tails, having reached reach safety Sab crashes in, no fucking about, she’s going to shoot Sab in revenge for the Flock.  Sol tries to convince Sab nto to shoot his face off, Sab asks Tails for his advice, he says trust him, she does – a little too quickly – and leads them Nutzan Bolt’s ice palace. Confronting the mad machine he telegraphs his weakness while showing off his swanky new living ice body (no it’s not explained how he can control it), if his head is removed it’ll crumble. Tails – AT FUCKING LAST – is proactive and gets Bolt to melt his head off his body by saying ‘Sonic’ – which makes Nutzan shoot fire out of his facial orifices in anger (as established in the previous Zonerunner story as well). In spite Nutzan decides to melt the ice and flood the Chemical Plant Zone, Sab is able to stop it though and Tails returns to the Marble Garden Zone.

First – THE MARBLE GARDEN ZONE IS NOT ON MOBIUS EYLES! It’s on the Floating Island, why would Tails be there? Why would Sonic and Amy? RESEARCH – DO IT!
With that out of the way, I love this story – it’s not perfect; Sab trusts Sol again very quickly and there’s no scene of them moving from the outside of the Ice Castle to the throne room – but it’s atmospheric, it’s brutal (the whole Flock is killed in a bombing – although apparently they said they weren’t later on or it was implied they survived or something but not in any part of the strip I read), Nutzan Bolt is an imposing, scary villain and Sab is fucking badass, it keeps you invested, it keeps me invested and I’ve read it dozens of times, and Rob Corona’s art is fantastic. It’s just so much of everything that appeals to me so maybe it’s not going to appeal to you (like anyone’s reading this) and maybe you’ll be harder on it than me, but as a child it shocked and fascinated me and as an adult it shocks and excites me so I think that makes it pretty damn good, a flawed masterpiece? A bit hyperbolic that, let me try again: a flawed masterpiece if it isn’t so overblown or pretentious and features Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog and a badass militant sheep with nice boobs - that’s what I’m saying this story is.  
I so want to sleep with Sab, I’m so, so sorry.

Face From the Past (Sonic’s World Strip, issues 51-52)
Quick Summary: It’s the same Metamorphia story as the last few – something obviously a fake shows up (this time Sonic’s ‘brother’ Tonic), Metamorphia abandons this disguise as the first sign of difficulty (Tails finds her communicating with Robotnik), everyone figures it out, they fight Metamorphia, she appears to die, but didn’t really. A new story elements comes in the form of an epilogue: back in the Metropolis Zone where Robotnik berates Metamorphia and Grimer for failing and Metamorphia tells him she adores him, he laughs in her face and tells her everyone adores him- or else. A sad Metamorphia returns to her cell but kids herself that one day Eggman will appreciate her, the day she kills Sonic.

What was the point Metamorphia (and Lew Stringer)!?! Why bother with the subterfuge as Sonic’s brother if you were just going to give it up the second Tails found you out, why not just lie? Why not just squish the little fucker? Why not just knock him out, leave him for Robotnik and say you never saw him? Why give up so quickly? Oh yeah because this story is only two parts. The good stuff comes at the end, in fact this was the story that made me really like Metamorphia, she comes across as so tragic and deluded (and slightly mad) it does make me wonder if Stringer was trying to make her a failure, if what I’ve just complained about is intentional (especially after the previous strips, someone must have mentioned they’re the exact same story twice) and Stringer’s setting her up to be a tragic figure who always loses – through no one’s fault but her own – and thus can never get what she desperately wants and needs; Eggman’s appreciation. Of course it could just be Stringer not writing a very good story. Art for this is by Gary Andrews, the only other thing he’d draw in the comic is an adaptation of Marko’s Magic Football, a British Mega Drive game not many people seem to have heard of, in this panel he makes Grimer look like Zoe Wanamaker of My Family and Harry Potter fame:

Last up is a 1-off shilling exercise by Lew Stringer called Knuckles Versus Shortfuse the Cybernik (Knuckles strip, issue 52) but this isn’t a Knuckles strip, I don’t care whose name is above the door. Basically Shortfuse chases a stray Balkiry to the Floating Island and Knuckles and Shorty have a fight. Actually the whole fight part of the story is great – a nice skirting of the ‘no reason’ part of the typical ‘two characters cross over and fight for no reason’ trope that dogs American Superhero comics, Knuckles is stubborn and refuses to get fooled again and Shorty gets the ‘ump easily and does silly things – them fighting makes total sense. Better is when he can’t get through to him Shorty just says ‘whatever man’ and fucks off, he only comes back because he sees an ambush Knuckles doesn’t. That’s great – what’s not great is the final page of shilling for Shorty where Knuckles says how wonderful and how potentially dangerous Shorty could be, it’s not needed, we’ve already proven Shorty was awesome by his actions. Of course kids wouldn’t notice this really it’s just jaded TV Tropes reading adults that would moan about it I guess. Art is by John Moore who usually draws Beano and Dandy style comedy strips but suits the Sonic style well, I’d’ve liked to have seen him do some more Sonic’s world stuff, sadly this is the only strip he’ll do in the series. 

Sonic Holiday Special 1995

Three more Sonic the Poster Mag issues were published since our last Odds and Sods part, but two of those were reprinted in this Sonic Holiday Special (along with the Kid Cruel Caper, Ocean of Horror and The Green Eater) so I thought I’d just cover them here, along with the new story for this special

That new story is Holiday Hot Spot - remember the last summer special where Robotnik dressed up as something obviously Robotnik shaped and fooled everyone? – same thing happens again, proving that when the sun comes out, the Sonic the Comic cast are even more gullible than Knuckles, and the Sonic the Comic creative people seem to think that’s true for the readership too. This time Eggman dresses as a rhino and invites the Freedom Fighters to try out his Paradise Dome, which is the Danger Room – it makes solid light holograms. Sonic doesn’t fancy it because it sounds boring, but the Freedom Fighters all go in, Sonic figures out the rhino was Robotnik because he has a functioning brain  and rushes back to the dome, where the Freedom Fighters are battling Eggrobos that seem unbeatable – because they’re made of solid light holograms, he smashes everything, end of story. I actually like this better than Doctor Sun: Eggman has a good reason for his subterfuge and Mike Hadley’s art’s unavoidable creepiness makes the Paradise Dome in its dangerous state look quite nightmarish, but the idiot ball is bounced around like a beach ball and we did this last summer dammit.

The first reprint is Marble Garden Menace (Sonic strip, Sonic the Poster Mag issue 6) as if we hadn’t seen enough of that bloody zone (I hate that zone), it’s by the same team as Hoilday Hot Spot but well…It’s a lot shittier, and when you consider that story had Robotnik dressed as a rhino and an evil sun…well... anyway Kintobor Computer picks up a new Badnik on the Floating Island, a randomly introduced Hyper-Spring takes Sonic and Amy Rose, who nearly gets them killed just by holding onto Sonic while he’s using the spring and who’s characterisation fluctuates from panel to panel. They find the badnik – who is fantastic looking – the Combinik – they can’t dent it so Sonic lures it to the mud traps from the game and it smashes itself apart trying to get out. There’s continuity errors out the arse, Amy comes across as a fucking lunatic, but at least the Combinik looks great. The second reprint is Trapped in the Vortex! (Sonic strip, Sonic the Poster Mag issue 9) the first strip to be drawn by Nigel Dobbyn, Dobbyn is a fantastic artist with a gorgeous painted style; though his Mobians can be a little realistic sometimes once he gets on the Knuckles strips he’ll be undeniably amazing, especially when it comes to colouring, but this is first strip and he really hasn’t got to grips with Mobius yet, everyone looks like Care Bears in cosplay, but the things that make Dobbyn great – the dramatic layouts and proportions, the gorgeous colouring, the atmosphere, that’s all here. The story’s nice too actually – Sonic gets trapped in a vortex machine while he and Tails respond to a distress call in the Aquatic Ruin Zone, Tails is forced to decide whether to go back for him or help some residents who are being rounded up, he trusts Sonic to escape (which he does, while the machine is recharging) and actually compliments Tails for making the right decision.  It makes Tails look competent and Sonic look like far less of a dick than usual, pity there’s some terrible thought bubbles during the underwater scenes, almost like Stringer was afraid that if the panels were silent kids would either skip them, not understand or explode.

The final story from the Poster Mags, which isn’t reprinted in this special, is The Chaos Emerald Thief (Sonic strip, Sonic the Poster Mag issue 8), I’d like to think this was because the Metropolis Zone is so off model I thought the story took place on an alien world, that’s due to artist Bojan Djukac who drew a Wonder Boy strip for the main Sonic the Comic series, his art was perfect for that, it’s horrendous for Sonic, in fact the art’s horrendous in general, not just off-model but bad, proportions are off everywhere, layout is just plain illogical, I’m pretty sure a kid with a paint by numbers set coloured it,  Sonic and Knuckles look ludicrous in some panels. The story’s just Sonic & Knuckles teaming up to take down a the titular thief Smirch, it’s an ok little Nigel Kitchen script, more a scene than a story but the art ruins things and it’s completely skippable, read something else.   

And that’s all the strips I didn’t talk about because I was talking about Disaster!, like I say this will probably happen again, with things like Return of Chaotix coming up. Speaking of Chaotix, next up is Total Chaotix, a real good ‘un starring Knuckles, and a bunch of Sonic strips.  

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