Friday, 29 July 2016

A Long Look at Sonic the Comic 1-100 Part 10: Total Chaotix*

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 9

Do you like plot twists? You don’t? Tough shit, you have no taste, here’s Total Chaotix.

Total Chaotix (Knuckles strip, issues 53-58)
Quick-ish Summary: Picking straight up where ‘Disaster!’ left off, Knuckles sets the Mater Emerald and the Chaos Emeralds up, checks on the Emerald Hill Zone and then one of the craters made during his shoot out with the Death Egg, there he finds a strange stone and is teleported straight to the Special Zone. Once inside he’s met by Omni-Viewer, who’s files are out of date and still thinks Knuckles is Eggman’s partner-in-crime, so he teleports in the guardians of the Special Zone – The Chaotix – Vector, Mighty, Espio, Charmy and…Nack the Weasel? As they flat out try to murder him Metallixes, yes, two, are on the way, they turn up IN the Omni-Viewer (him having stopped the Chaotix from killing a major character by checking his records while they were about it) and steal him. Deducing the badniks must have come from Eggman’s old Special Zone Base (remember that?) they head there, Mighty ruins the element of surprise by smashing their way in and a Metallix is dispatched by its new boss – Emperor Metallix, a giant red Metallix who is ‘converting’ Omni-Viewer. Nack’s clumsiness ruins their attempt at hiding, Nack scarpers and the Metallix appears to kill the Chaotix, pissing off Knuckles who spends an entire strip in one long awesome barely successful attempt at beating the metal Sonic, eventually shoving an iron girder through the bastard. Once the danger is over Nack returns and it turns out the Chaotix aren’t dead, Mighty’s vast strength saved htem (making up for it nearly getting them killed earlier I guess), Nack appears to have scouted out where Omni-Viewer’s being held by Knuckles was in battle, he takes them, avoiding the Metallix who still isn’t dead, just has an iron girder shaped hole where his stomach blaster used to be. Swerve! Nack betrays the team for money, Emperor Metallix is very pleased with Nack (who also allowed them to access Omni) but doesn’t need him anymore so he’s going to kill him. Nack de-shrinks a disruptor from his had but gets blasted before he can use it, Knuckles takes it up and appears to beat the brotherhood with one shot, that was easy. Omni returns Knuckles to the Floating Island and appears undamaged but we cut back to the Special Zone and see that the Brotherhood weren’t defeated at all, and they now have a copy of Omni-Viewer, who just to remind everyone, can go anywhere and knows just about everything.     

I’m going to assume that Nigel Kitching didn’t play Knuckles’ Chaotix, or if he did he missed the whole part about Eggman, and an island, and the Combi-Catcher and Dark Rings and the fact that Fang isn’t in the game and the fact that Heavy and Bomb are. Total Chaotix is a bloody good story but as an adaptation it’s pants – actually as an adaptation it’s weird, it ignores (then) well known elements of the game (like the combi-ring and the island) but includes elements only found in the Japanese story of the game (an ancient ring with inscriptions) and things that were barely mentioned at all (Metal Sonic’s stomach lasers – the Plasma Pulse Attack); It could just be Kitching picking the bits he liked out but what the hell was he working from? This was published the month after the game came out in Europe and two months after its US release but it would have almost certainly have been written more than a month before – I’m guessing he got some kind of information in advance, but if Sega sent that to Fleetway why did Archie have to do their Sonic Adventure adaptation from a summary from Pat Spaz as he played a Japanese version of the game? Different management by then? Sega of Europe being more courteous? I like to know stuff like this. The Special Zone connection I get though, the Knuckles Chaotix Special Zones were really hyped up, including in StC itself, so putting them so prominently in the story makes sense (and I suppose so few people would play Chaotix that few people were going to notice how different this story was). So as an adaptation Archie wins this time; theirs was more accurate and Penders and Mawhinney did a pretty good job of actually telling a story this time rather than showing us some random bits from the game, but as a story? Nah, Total Chaotix beats it by a mile. 

I love Zonerunner and the Flock, but I also admit that it’s not objectively a great story, this is a story I love that is objectively a great story and StC fans seem to know this too, considering it not only one of Kitching’s best but possibly his best overall (I’m not sure I agree on that) – I figure the three reasons it’s held so highly are first the plot twists, plot twists that feel natural and come without ass-pulls are surprisingly hard to pull off, especially in all-ages stories, but TC does it without any problems at all. Secondly it pulls no punches, characters seem to be flat out murdered, the word murderer is used in another example of subverting the ‘never say die’ trope and the villains are merciless with everyone taking a brutal and visually obvious beating. Lastly it’s a really good introduction to the characters and the villains. On that if you’re only familiar with the Archie and/or Sega versions of the Chaotix I should point out The Chaotix Crew (as they’ll become known in this universe) are a little different, obviously they’re not detectives, nor are they Knuckles’ personal superteam, they’re closer to straight up superheroes and all but Charmy are much more serious (though not necessarily more competent), Vector’s the straight man rather than Espio and a lot more technically proficient having neither his ‘hip hop croc’ nor his buffoonish qualities; Mighty is a lot angrier and Epsio a lot more impatient, they bicker constantly, Charmy is Charmy, exactly the same as Post-Sonic Heroes except he has this strange vocal tick, adding things like ‘diddly-doo’ to words. Nack is…not to different, he’s less of a joke, and doesn’t have the tantrums that he has in Archie, he’s more sinister and will develop a gimmick for shrinking things rather than shooting them (Sonic the Fighters having not been localised to the UK, and not being out for a while yet anyway). Back to it being a good introduction – the characters come across well, their personalities and powers get across and the villains come across as a big threat - ruthless, powerful and imposing – and all of this is achieved without anyone feeling anything close to anything Mary-Sue-ish.

Anyway Total Chaotix feels like the focus of these issues, which had the number of Sonic’s world strips reduced back to two so we could adapt Sparkster and sequel Kid Chameleons (with a bloody cliffhanger that I still want resolved but will never see because unfunny Tails strips are somehow a better use of time and space), the Sonic strips all feel like filler episodes, they are however all good filler episodes: Beware Predicto (Sonic strip, issue 54) has a silly name but it’s the best one-and-done Stringer’s turned in so far, Grimer makes a new Supers Trooper and programs it all the data on the Freedom Fighters, so it can predict their actions in battle, it does well until Sonic blows it’s mind by doing something out of character (surrendering, in this case). Pretty standard Saturday-morning-cartoon fair, but it’s well written, well-paced and has good dialogue pretty much throughout, Casanovas is on art and does a very good job, even if he does draw the Mushrom Hill Zone off-model (I reckon he just did what the script asked and drew ‘large mushrooms’ or something) that said this panel is exactly how a mushroom breaks, especially if an echidna falls on it:

The only gripes are that inaccuracy and that there’s another continuity hiccup in having Eggman based in the Special Zone (which Eggman abandoned before Knuckles turned up) but the lab could be anywhere (Robotnik’s now based in the Metropolis Zone), I think it was just a mistake (or it could have been an inventory story written between Power of the Chaos Emeralds and Day of the Death Egg I guess).

The Great Escape! (Sonic strips, issues 55-56)
Quick Summary: Robotnik is now based in Citadel Robotnik in the Metropolis Zone but is having no luck with the Emerald Hill Folk, the Zone is now deserted. Sonic fails at stealth twice in one strip as he and the Freedom Fighters sneak into a Badnik Processing Plant, but we get a cool fight scene out of it and while Sonic takes out the guard, a huge unnamed lizard with a whip, the Freedom Fighters heard the captive Emerald Hill Folk into…a broom cupboard? Turns out the box they carried in there included a Star Post, and it turns out that box has rocket thrusters, allowing Sonic (who had to stay behind to get the Star Post out again) to fly out of there after humiliating the guard a second time.

Nothing much to say here, a good little two-parter from Kitching and Corona setting up the Freedom Fighters’ mission to free all the Emerald Hill Folk to protect them from a vengeful Robotnik – there’s a better breakout storyline coming but this was fine, I wish Kitching had given the guard a name though. And it features the debut of Eggman’s base from now until issue 100 ruins his life for him: Citadel Robtonik, it’s very similar to the one he had in SatAM & Archie, only this one is shaped like his head, I like it the best of all his bases in StC, it feels very dictator-ish while the others were more the bases of a typical super-villain I thought, the type used by your average take-over-the-world sort, not one who has already taken over that world.

The Rampage of Mekanik (Sonic strips, issues 57-58)
Well it’s been a whole strip since Stringer used Shortfuse, better bring him back, luckily he’s fighting Kaiju. Quick Summary: the Emerald Hill Zone is empty, so acting on Grimer’s advice Robtonik releases Mekanik into the Stone Tower Zone, a Zone he rarely bothers with. Mekanik is giant robot tyrannosaurs that breathes fire – fuck yeah. Sonic, Amy and Johnny are on-hand though, they got rumours something big was going down, excuse my terrible pun, but Sonic can’t do any damage, Shortfuse is also investigating Badnik activity in the area, his lasers are about as useful. With Tails not around (I’ll get to that) Sonic uses Shorty in the same manner in attempt to attack the head, it doesn’t go well, Shorty gets fire-breathed out of the sky and Sonic is about to be eaten for the cliffhanger. Amy and Johnny dig the Cybernik up and he saves Sonic from being a Mekanik meal, uneaten the blue one has an idea, he has Shorty focus his lasers on one small part of Mekanek to weaken it enough for his spin attack to break it, he then gets inside Mekanik and smashes the fuck out of his workings, the giant badnik falls.

Sonic the Hedgehog versus Mecha-Godzilla! That is what I just read, and it was fucking fantastic. Not to sound shallow or anything but sometimes all I want from a story is a kaiju, a believable ending and some funny puns, that’s what I got, I’m satisfied. Sonic and Shortfuse play off each other brilliantly, it boils down to: Sonic: “yeah, yeah, you did stuff, whatever I did cooler stuff” Shortfuse: “WHAT!?!” – fun stuff, well written. And he’s not fucking shilling him, that’s cos Sonic doesn’t shill anyone; no one is as good as Sonic in Sonic’s mind so it would have been REALLY jarring if he had (Johnny and Amy still kinda talk him up, but it’s one panel and it’s not too bad). Bonus points go to not having Shorty come up with the plan, he’s essential to the success but it’s Sonic’s idea and Sonic’s victory in Sonic’s strip, anything else would have been…annoying. So it may have taken three stories but I finally have one to prove to all you non-existent readers that Shorty is as cool (and well handled) as I remember, thank fuck, I was starting to get worried and slightly depressed. 
And as a rare treat both Kitching and Stringer worked on this, with Kitching providing the art and proving how ill-suited he is to Sonic’s world strips, his random Mobians are so far from the Sega style they look like Mr Men, no I know what they look like - they look like Rhubarb & Custard, no one on Mobius looks like Rhubarb and Custard Nige. He does redeem himself by drawing Mekanik great (he seems to have more of an affinity for big engines of destruction) and by being very well suited to the barren feel of the Stone Tower Zone. Actually that’s a point, this story really begins the nasty trendy of ‘insert applicable tenuous theme’ Zones, there will be more, especially after issue 100 (Eldorado Zone!?!? bloody Eldorado Zone!?!?).

Oh yes, the ‘Tails is not in this story’ thing. An editor’s note caption box (well a Megadroid’s note caption box) says that Tails is busy on his own adventure in the Special Zone – except he’s not, Knuckles is, so either someone fucked up and either thought Tails was starring in Total Choatix or put Special Zone instead of Nameless Zone (where his next story-arc would be set) or we never saw this story for some reason or another.

Next time Lew Stringer turns in the best story he’ll write for a long time and a truly terrifying villain enters the Sonic the Hedgehog Rouge’s gallery – that’s right: Mr Blobnik. Finally this is legitimately my favourite thing that Richard Elson has ever drawn:

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