Monday, 1 August 2016

A Long Look At Sonic the Comic 1-100 Part 11: Brotherhood & Brutus*

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 10

Up to ‘Disaster!’ Nigel Kitching had it fairly easy, he had three undeniably classic, critically acclaimed games with a strong plot and impressive bosses and/or set-pieces to turn to for big impressive epics and the adaptations defined the first 50 issues of the book, but that luck ran out with Knuckles Chaotix, there would be no big Sonic games released in the UK for a while with the next big release being Sonic 3D: Flickies Island in November 1996, not all that long in the grand scheme of things but a hell of a long time if you’re writing a fortnightly comic book. So for the next 50 issues Kitching and Stringer would have to come up with the big stories entirely by themselves, while it is sad that Kitching didn’t go back and adapt Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble now that Nack the Weasel had debuted what the two writers  did give readers was arguably far better. Issues 50-100 are thus almost completely devoid of adaptations beyond Total Chaotix and instead have the writers building on what’s come before with results as epic as the adaptations, this era is defined by three trilogies – the Brutus Trilogy, the Brotherhood of Metallix Trilogy and the Super Sonic Trilogy, and we get instalments of the first two in this part – yay!

The Brotherhood of Metallix (Sonic strips, issues 59-62)
Quick-ish Summary. Sonic is captured by the purposefully inept badnik…URGGG…Mr Blobnik (fuck…sake…), lulled into a false sense of security by its apparent uselessness and imprisoned in a bubble and taken to Dr Robtonik – but Egg Breath intends to let him go: while he was being captured, so was Grimer, who has been taken by the Brotherhood of Metallix to help them use the Miracle Planet (Sonic CD) as an energy source! Only Sonic can work the Star Posts and the Star Posts are the only way into the Special Zone so Sonic goes in, runs past the mess made by the Chaotix and arrives just as the Brotherhood are leaving, Grimer giving them the Alpha Device they wanted from him. Not knowing what it is but feeling it must be important, Sonic steals it and hits Metallixes with it (it’d what do) but Emperor Metallix calls his bluff and he hands it over in exchange for Grimer’s life, the Brotherhood using their Omni-Viewer copy to go to the Miracle Planet. Sonic and the Freedom Fighters follow and interrupt the Brotherhood changing the Alpha device with their beams and Emperor Metallix expositing - his favourite thing in the whole world – so pop down to the Quartz Quadrant Zone and it takes all of them to bring down a Metallix, Sonic has an idea. The Brotherhood plant the Alpha Device – what is it? It’s a portable robotosizer – and it begins to turn the planet to metal again. The Metallix brings Sonic, Amy and Johnny to his emperor but Davros Emperor Metallix, it turns out to be an exploding rat and the Metallix bomb Porker built takes out the entire Brotherhood – or so it seems. Porker is able to defuse the Alpha Device but they’re running out of time, the Miracle Planet is disappearing and wont re-appear for a month, as the Freedom Fighters book it, Emperor Metallix rises and tries to turn the Alpha Device back on, the only one who can work the bloody thing, Porker Lewis runs back down to the Miracle Planet – as it disappears.

Thanks Johnny, I'd've never have known if you hand't've told me
The second part of the Brotherhood of Metallix trilogy is here and… you know I’ve never been very impressed with it. As a 9 year old I couldn’t have told you why other than maybe ‘the Brotherhood looked like sissies’, but now as an adult I can – the pacing and the ending, and the Brotherhood look like sissies. The first part is taken up with that bloody Mr Blobnik fight, the second part is half wasted on things that could have happened off-screen, the third part is all taken up by a fight with 1 Metallix (which we’ve seen twice already) and then the resolution is crammed into the final part and it all results in the Brotherhood looking all hype and very inconsistent, they were taken out by one bomb? One? At least the Disruptor ending in Total Chaotix was a fake-out, it seems like all but Emperor Metallix really did bite it after that one exploding Metallix, which is a rather odd as we’ve seen four times now that just one Metallix is more than a match for Sonic OR Knuckles OR a steel girder through the chest, one explosion shouldn’t have done that by the rules set by the author.
And then there’s Mr Blobnik…URGH… in his favour I will say that he’s not as annoying as I remember him, or as annoying as his source material, but he is a waste of fucking pages and fucking dates the book and means I have to fucking explain it. Ok Mr Blobnik is a parody of Mr Blobby, an American Football Mascot-esque costumed character who spoke only in bubbly, higher pitched ‘blobbily’ noises, like a really irritating Pokémon. He achieved ridiculous amounts of fame via the dire Noel’s House Party TV show, he had a number one record, a number one record! – and I fucking bought it! I was completely swept up in the Blobbymania of the mid 90’s, I went to Blobbyworld – yes he had his own land at a theme park, I had the toys (I still have a great bendy figure of him actually), the bubble bath, the branded mini-fizzy drink cans  – but I was 9. Kids loved Mr Blobby but anyone over the age of 10 found him overbearingly irritating, as I’m now over ten, sure enough, I find him overbearingly irritating, no nostalgia can save him, he’s a big pink yellow polka dot cunt. And Nigel Kitching (also being over 10) was annoyed by him and decided to spend a whole part of what should have been the next Sonic epic making fun of him, this ‘parody priority’ will rear its head again, but luckily it won’t derail any more of these three big trilogies.

There is some good stuff though, first and foremost starting with Total Chaotix Richard Elson hit his prime when it comes to Sonic, he’ll be pretty much beyond criticism until Sonic 3D Blast, and we finally get some action scenes without fucking talking (or thinking, or captions) – two in fact, and they’re both great (even though Johnny does feel the need to talk us through his attack on a Metal Sonic in part 3).

The Revenge of Trogg (Knuckles & Tails strip, issues 59-64)
Starting the same issue as the lacklustre Brotherhood of Metallix was this far better multi-parter; Quick-ish Summary: a security alarm alerts Knuckles to Tails begin called to the Nameless Zone by Shaman Warlpool while helping the Emerald Hill Folk settle in. thinking he’s being kidnapped Knuckles jumps in and ends up in the Nameless Zone too, where he’s instantly mistaken for Sonic. It turns out Trogg has kidnapped the Enchanter Kings, they sent Errol Blackthorne but he came back…different, specifically he came back turned into the same kind of monster as Trogg, and he turns up for a cliffhanger. Knuckles beats the recently transformed shite out Errol and they lock him up (again?). Knuckles plays along with the Sonic ruse and he and Tails cross the Dimensional Bridge to the rescue the Enchanter Kings, but they’re followed – has Errol Blackthorne broken free (again?) – no it’s his sister Morgan, Knuckles is accidentally sexist, they take on a horde of goblins and for the first time, finally, Tails development in his solo strips has finished and he fights alongside them, until they’re overpowered. At Trogg’s lair it seems Errol wasn’t the only one who’s changed, Trogg is more monstrous, and purple, because Nigel Kitchen’s ability to draw on model isn’t always good. Trogg brings forth the Ancient One, the being who turned him into a monster (who’s now a goat I guess….?) who stops the three heroes from escaping and turns the Enchanter Kings but while doing that he can’t hold onto the heroes so they escape, and Knuckles swipes the Orb that the Dark One is emerging from. Trogg and the Ancient One catch up with them on the Dimensional Bridge, with little other option Tails chucks the Orb away, into the nothingness below; Knuckles continues to be awesome by punching shit out of Trogg and it seems like he’s followed his dark (green) god. Back in the Nameless Zone and Trogg has survived but his battering of Tails is stopped by his change back to Shirob, the Dark One’s demise (?) changed the Enchanter Kings and Errol back but it just took longer for Trogg because he’d been transformed for so long. Tails and Knuckles return to the Floating Island.

It’s really jarring to see someone who isn’t an accomplished fantasy artist drawn the Nameless Zone, under previous artists the Nameless Zone had looked like a beautiful place, an idyllic fantasy setting you’d want to live in and the Land Beyond looked like hell as ruled by Sauron. Under Kitching’s art it all looks like locations from Pokémon Red and Blue. While we’re griping about Kitching’s edd-roth-mike-mignola-via-rainy-day-clouds art, the fuck has happened to Trogg and the Dark One? With Trogg I will accept the explanation that he’s transformed himself further as he can do that now but the Dark One was a fox with horns the last time we saw him, now he’s an abstracted goat thing?

Story-wise though there’s very little to complain about, I would have liked a line of dialogue telling us what the Nameless Zoners had been doing with transformed Errol, presumably they weren’t just letting him walk around and kill random foxes, and I would have liked a little more focus on Morgan, but it’s great to see Tails finally become a proactive force, fighting goblins without whinging, no longer winning by running away, by the time he gets another arc (some 20 issues from now) he’ll be a fully competent Freedom Fighter, it’s like he’s had a character arc and everything. It’s a great wrap-up for the Trogg stories and easily the best of those stories to boot             

The Seven Badniks (Sonic’s World strips, 59-62)
Before I start this I want to rant: I hate the way Mike Hadley has suddenly decided to draw Cam in this arc, she went from halloweeny and sexy to fucking….Marilyn Manson in a cat mask, what the fuck went on? Did Hadley suddenly become terrified of boobs? If we’re de-sexying her then why change her face to make her look like an anthropomorphic cat sex doll? I can’t even blame it on editorial meddling because the Shortfuse strip coming up will finally give Metamorphia a proper womanly body and they were edited by the same female editor. Pisses me off, with that out of the way – a Quick Summary: After Sonic breaks some Rexxons in the Hill Top Zone Cam & Bert confer with Robotnik and decide the problem is that Sonic knows what Badniks to expect in each Zone so Eggman wants B.A.R.F. to take Palmtee Panic Zone badniks from the Miracle Planet to the Green Hill Zone to surprise Sonic. They do this and…accidentally cause a Badnik civil war, well I say a Badnik civil war, the Palmtree Panic badniks steamroll the GHZ ‘bots and B.A.R.F. have to rescue the stragglers. Unable to dump them in the Palmtree Panic Zone (now devoid of Badniks) because Sonic and the Freedom Fighters have taken up residency there they instead decide to upgrade the few remaining GHZ models into super Badniks – the Seven Badniks. The Seven knock the absolute fuck out of the invading robots, destroying them and scaring the remaining few back onto B.A.R.F.s ship who dump them back onto the Miracle Planet, where they are promptly smashed by Sonic.

I’m very fond of this story but I accept that it’s not the best thing in the book, or even in this part. What I like so much is the final two parts – Hadley’s Art and Eyles pacing make the invasion of the Palmtree Panic Badniks feel like a genuine massacre and makes the Seven Badniks look like absolute monsters, they look so badass, they plough through badniks that ploughed through Motobugs, Buzzbombers and Crabmeats, perhaps the three most iconic robots in the franchise, lit in red and yellows and shaded and angled like Terminators. It’s very effective is my point. But the dialogue is a little clunky at times, Bert comes off very weird about his hammer obsession with some really forced dialogue and of course there’s the continuity snarl caused by the involvement of the Miracle Planet – it was published during the Brotherhood of Metallix which was clearly set on the Miracle Planet, but even if it wasn’t the first part of that story says the last time Sonic was here was in The Sonic Terminator and this story can’t be set afterwards because – spoilers – it’ll be robotosized.

Project Brutus (Sonic strip, issues 63-66)
Fuck yeah, Brutus! Quick-ish Summary: Dr Robotnik hates that hedgehog, but its ok because Project Brutus is finished, all Grimer needs is for the Egg-shaped one to copy his brainwaves and Commander Brutus, the ultimate Trooper, is born. After Sonic shows off in the Pleasant Zone he’s grassed up, Receptionik takes the call but Brutus intercepts it before it can get to Eggman. Brutus comes in and wastes no time, he interrupts a Sonic Spin Attack and then just has the Troopers shoot Sonic, being the Fastest Thing Alive though he escapes with Amy & Johnny – but just barely and actually hides from the robot.  Eggman is pissed as Brutus’ insubordination, something that continues throughout the battle, it seems Brutus isn’t the subservient lackey the other Badniks are – hmm, Brutus won’t take Eggman’s call. Sonic tries different tactics to defeat Brutus but they all fail, he’s tricked out and virtually invulnerable, made of the super-metal Megatal. Taking Amy hostage, Brutus forces Sonic to give up, which he does, Brutus is just going to murder him to death but Robotnik’s call comes through too loud to ignore, he takes it and Eggman wants Sonic alive. While parading the captured Freedom Fighter in front of the Zone, Brutus loses his temper with a Trooper, causing him to drop his blaster, Amy uses it to allow the three to escape but they’re chained together and being shot at. When a collapsed bridge doesn’t keep Brutus away – he can fly because he used to be a Super Trooper – it looks like Sonic is done for, about to die and desperate Sonic becomes Super Sonic.  Super Sonic is his as unstoppable as ever, damaging Brutus, destroying his troopers, Brutus tries the ‘you for Amy’ routine again but Super Sonic doesn’t give a shit about such things and he PUNCHES BRUTUS’ ARM OFF. Brutus runs for it, using a foam weapon to keep Super Sonic at bay long enough to flee back to the Metropolis Zone, where he’s chewed out by Eggman, Brutus’ response is a good point: I’m programmed with your brain; you’d have done the same thing. As the Ultimate Trooper walks off into the bowels of Citadel Robotnik he exposits that he has all of Robtonik’s personality, including his ambition to rule – one day he will take control of Mobius.

The Pleasant Zone? Seriously? Was the OK Zone taken? Oh, wait, the Pleasant Zone is the frozen Zone from The Frozen Zone? huh. This is one of the best things Lew Stringer has and will ever write and holy shit Richard Elson’s drawing it, Elson won’t draw nearly enough Stringer stories, a bad thing as later on Stringer will really need such great art to boost his one-and-done comedy filler. Elson does a fantastic job, his characters stay on-model in every panel and he makes Brutus look terrifying, lots of strong poses and low angels – fantastic. On Brutus, I love Brutus, and it’s solely because of this story, he was made to look like such a badass, and even his ‘oh I can fly btw’ makes at least some sense as we’ve had Super Troopers established for some time now, it wouldn’t have hurt to have shown him hovering earlier on mind. What really legitimized him as a threat though was Super Sonic, by now Super Sonic is fully into his ‘shit just got real’ role and to have Brutus go up against him and survive, twice, made him look so fucking hard - plus he, the biggest threat to Sonic so far, running away, only continued to confirm Super Sonic as the worst thing you could face. Re-reading it though he’s already a bigger threat than your average badnik, or even Robotnik, twice before Super Sonic shows up – first he’s all ‘fuck it, just shoot him’ and then survives a building being dropped on him, hell, just interrupting a Sonic Spin Attack makes him more badass than most villains. His role as ‘usurper’ was also nicely built, from what could be considered enthusiasm to insubordination to outright irritation with Robotnik to jealously to defying him to his face to thinking about overthrowing him, a very nice build-up for a character that was obviously created to be ‘Badnik who wants to usurp Robotnik’, they could have just had him outright say his role in the first issue, and given this is Stringer I’m surprised he didn’t, but instead we got something a lot better and, odd for a robot, a lot more natural.  

This is the start of the ‘Brutus’ Trilogy and the best of the three stories, sadly Brutus won’t quite look this awesome again, but that’s partly because his next story will have him going up against Johnny Lightfoot with art by Carl fucking Flint. Speaking of Flint next time we’ll welcome Flint as a regular artist when the Cybernik strikes back and we’ll have the biggest Sonic epic to date and I feel the biggest until the finale of the book: the last part of The Brotherhood of Metallix trilogy ‘The Return of Chaotix’.

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