Thursday, 11 August 2016

A Long Look at Sonic the Comic 1-100 Part 19: STILL Trapped in the Special Zone*

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 18

I can’t believe I’m going to have to dedicate a whole part to this pile of filler. Let’s rush through some crappy one-short stories shall we? Are you sitting comfortably? I hope so:

Head in the Clouds (Sonic’s World strip, issue 92) is just plain awful, it plays havoc with continuity and the series’ time frame so much I’m writing is off as out of cannon, the dialogue is atrocious, Cark fucking Flint’s art is so bad Steve White’s colouring can’t save it and it’s one long pointless gag. Avoid. 
Meanwhile Sonic’s spending issues 92-96 in New Tek City because either Nigel Kitching’ creativity has temporarily dried up or he just loves that place – its parody time boys and girls. A Christmas Wish (Sonic strip, issue 93) is Sonic’s X-mas

tale this year and a parody of Spider-Man (Insect Guy no less) which is based around that old urban legend of kids jumping out of windows pretending to be _____. Some silly kid does this and gets involved with the Chatoix fighting a villain called Blazer; Sonic covers him in snow to put his fire out. It doesn’t need to exist, it gives more credence to a bullshit rumour, the nicest thing about it is Steve White’s colouring, which is so Christmassy you could lick the paper and taste eggnog. The other Christmas special story this issue is far better – Season of Goodwill (Sonic’s World strip, issue 93) – sees the debut of the StC Father Christmas (yes, they have a Father Christmas with a constant design) as he tries to stop Robotnik from using a heat satellite to flood a zone on Christmas Day out of pure spite, Santa actually fails (holy shit) but in the time it’s taken Eggman to reject Chris Cringle Shortfuse wrecks the satellite, leaving Eggman alone on Christmas Day. It’s actually quite touching and gets so many points for having the cojones to keep Eggman in character and not do a good deed, and then really feel the consequences of his behaviour – loneliness. It also sees the rarely used team-up of Prichett (art) and White (colouring) to give us the best of Prichett’s talents without his soft colouring replaced by the man who colours like Christmas, perfect. After a Christmas Themed Parody Story we get a New Year’s Eve Themed Parody story – how wonderful – it’s the Eve of Destruction (Sonic strip, issue 94) and this time Sonic & the Chaotix stop The Bulk (so original) who is powered by Delta rays – the art’s nice but the whole justification for the antagonist is he’s a boring nerd who doesn’t like to get pissed and dance on New Year’s Eve – bit dickish there Kitching. If this was an intentional parody (it may not have been as it turns out) it actually proves my point from Heroes & Villains: Kitching and Elson are too good at making characters:  The Bulk (uuurgh….) is a genuine threat with a clever twist to his tale, in fact it could easily be a Hulk plot, and a decent one at that.

"I've become a shallow, obvious parody - ARRRGHH!"
The Big Fight (Sonic strip, issue 94) is a little more interesting, I had spent my entire life since this was published (remember I read every issue of Sonic the Comic when it was published from about issue 8) thinking it was a parody strip with a comment about superheroes fighting but re: the comments here (from Nigel Kitching himself) it turns out it was meant to be a homage to the old Hulk/Thing fights of the 60's and the Blues Brothers thing was just a reference not a parody, so I am thoroughly sorry Mr Kitching. I suck but that does mean that The Big Fight doesn't. It has Sonic trying to stop a fight between the Bruise Brothers but every time he tries to apply standard logic to it he’s defeated because the two are brothers and the old woman in danger is their mum, it’s actually quite clever – it’s also got Elson on art and Steve White on colours, both of whom are perfect for the strip, those Bruise Brothers heads look so round.

Then Lew Stringer tries superhero parody – Hero Hour (Sonic strip, issue 96) may well be the worst strip in the whole comic (though there are others that are very close to it). It has Sonic meeting the Z-Chimps who let a villain go because their leader Professor Zed (who looks like Charles Atlas – current) has instructed them to pose for an hour every day, their ‘hero hour’ – because that’s all the X-Men do right? Pose? Amirite? Yeah if all you do is look at the bloody covers – ok they did have a habit of having big splash pages in the early-to-mid 90’s but this was coming out after stuff like the Age of Apocalypse and Gene-Nation, title pages they may have had but there’s a lot more than posing in those, in fact I can’t think of a worse franchise to do this with, the X-Men have race murders for plots! It just smacks of ignorance – in fact everything about this makes Lew Stringer look stupid rather than funny, there’s this thing about no one knows what Jean Grey’s powers are – are you fucking kidding me Stringer? Matilda is a telekinetic, children understand psychic powers Lew, you may not, that’s your failure not Jean Grey’s – and I don’t even like Jean Grey (she’s just so outshone). The strip is out and out pathetic, shallow parody that makes the writer look worse than the thing he’s parodying: uncreative, silly and shit.

Anyway, a couple of story-arcs happen about now, which is why I had to make this a part on its own, they’re both pretty good.

The Monster Wakes (Sonic’s World strip, issues 94-95)
Quick Summary: On New Year’s Day the Freedom Fighters rope in poor Knuckles, who’d stopped to feed the pterodactyl he got from Rooster, to expand Tekno’s secret base after the team accept her offer to work from there. This leads the team (once Knuckles has flown off again – or else they’d have him fitting carpets) to um, accidentally wake up a huge dragon, who is not a morning person. Being a dragon the Freedom Fighters have little luck fighting against it, it runs off and they have to stop Shortfuse from shooting it in the back at full power just because it pissed him off. Tails apologies to the dragon but he’s still pissed that he has to be awake until all the other dragons surface as well – that’s thousands of years – but he’s not going to burn Mobius to ashes or anything so the fox lets him go, the Freedom Fighters meanwhile begin to question the reliability of a person named Shortfuse.

What a nice little story, it’s ending is a bit anticlimactic I suppose but it’s an ending that works for what it needs to do – show that Shortfuse is not Sonic the Hedgehog, to show that he is more brutal, more reckless, more hotheaded and that he isn’t really a team player, he was going to shoot the dragon in the back and kill it for fuckssake! It was their fault the dragon was even awake and/or pissed and they woke it up so they could build an extension! It’s also very funny, Stringer’s comedy – as my rant about Hero Hour proves – sometimes misses more than it hits but this one has pretty much all hits, it also acts to show us what Knuckles was doing while his strip was replaced by Captain Plunder, like I say this series has a pretty good continuity between the strips a lot of the time, (Head in the Clouds nonwitstanding) I know we’ve had a lot of stories in the wrong order but few have contradicted each other, they just couldn’t possibly be happening at the same time as the main Sonic strip.

Roots (Knuckles strip, issues 94-96)
This is really kind of why this part exists, I thought that Roots was Knuckles’ story in the countdown to Doomsday period, it isn’t, I fail, but at least Ebony debuts, she’s been a bit of a breakout character since this story, StC-O has used her in a way I’m not so sure about sometimes but the Boomers really did take to her. Quick Summary: Arriving in the Metropolis Zone, Knuckles is just in time to help mage Ebony and her psychic friend Pyjamas when Troopers turn their peaceful protest violent, the group are trying to stop Robotnik bulldozing some trees, “what’s so special about these?” asks Knuckles, the Trees then answer his question, specifically the Elder Tree, leader of the Fauna and voice of the eco system on Mobius (by your powers combined, I am Captain Planet!). So the trees are sentient, then Omen (a sorcerer rat) and his gorillas in mech suits turn up and their battle with Knuckles and Ebony they, um, blow up the Elder Tree. The Trees go mental and grow a forest, which gives Omen and his mechorillas the upper hand, that fight just proving the trees point to them, Knuckles gives  speech that amounts to ‘what would the Elder Tree do’ and they help out the heroes. Robotnik, being sensible sometimes, fences off the forest and builds elsewhere as we see the Elder Tree is growing again – aww.

So um, I must have completely missed the completely unsubtle eco message in this story as a kid, I think I was mostly distracted by the scary wood, angry trees, two issue fight between two cool magicians and the gorillas in mech suits (they are so cool, see my comment last part about so many cool characters only being used once, we’ll never see Omen and the Gorilla Brothers again but I still want action figures of all three). This is really quite Captain Planet at times but I think the action and atmosphere level things out, and the ending is quite charming (if not a big mushy), a lot of this is actually more to do with Dobbyn’s brilliant art and how his painting can emulate any mood and lighting you can think of, not to do down Kitcing’s writing which is pretty damn good in-between the eco warrioring. I suppose there’s some unfortunate implications along the lines of ‘what measure is a non-human’ with the trees being more ‘alive’ because they can speak but fucked if I’m intelligent enough – or enough of a member of Green Peace – to figure it out, I don’t mean to do down anyone’s protection of the environment, good on ya for standing up for a cause, it’s just not something I have a lot of experience with.

Back to the one offs, Out For A Spin (Amy’s Adventure strip, issue 95) is the very first Amy & Tekno pairing and it’s by their best creative team – Lew Stringer and Rob Corona! Woo! Um, pity’s its throwaway but it’s not offensive - it also continues this weird theme of the comic never using a constant name for Amy’s strip. Amy and Tekno, out for a walk as couples do, find one of those spinning tops from the Marble Garden Zone that has fallen from the Floating Island, Tekno fixes it up for her girlfriend because Amy wants to fly, but she (Amy) is forced to destroy it to blow up some Eggrobos. The dialogue’s fine, the art’s nice - Corona and White do their usual great job even if neither of them knows what colours the spinning tops from the Marble Garden Zone are. So I suppose as it’s the start of their time working together, even if they’re not co-headlining a strip yet, I should address the question: why do I keep implying that Amy and Tekno are lesbians? Because some fans decided at some point they were, I honestly can’t remember what subtext was there to be found because I don’t re-read their stories very often but any that there was accidental, Stringer actually wanted it so that Tekno and Shorty were interested in each other but well, they never really had any chemistry. But because Amy and Tekno spent so much time together, actually had some chemistry and Amy was such a tomboy fans latched on to them being a couple instead. Honestly I think it’s just because they were good friends and fans want all good same-sex friends to be gay, I’m not sure if I think there’s enough actual subtext for me to genuinely believe it, I just want it to be true because… I have no idea, I want the reason to be because I’m progressive and want more homosexuality in all-ages media but I think it’s just because I want Tekno to be a lesbian for no bloody good reason.

Issue 96 has two more one-and-dones, Furtual Reality (Tails strip, issue 96), Tails’ one, is, of course, completely pointless and even gives the twist away on the first page, but what’s worse is the plot: get this: Max Gamble tricks him to come to the Casino Night Zone by putting up signs in another zone (Emerald Hill I think?) that are from a fake fan club so he can use some citizens who are fitted up with VR helmets and playing a Quasar-like game but those helmets have been programmed so they see Mobians as badniks so they’ll kill Tails; ‘over-complicated’ Max (and Lew) look it up. How much did it cost to make those VR Helmets? How much of your plan is based solely chance? You could have just used the money to send Fleabyte after him, a plan that wouldn’t have relied on nothing more than Fleabyte having recovered from his villain decay! So stupid. Mock the Doc (Sonic’s World strip, issue 96) may well be the biggest waste of Nigel Dobbyn’s talents in this book, you shouldn’t be using an artist this good to do such an unfunny comedy strip, but it at least serves a purpose – showing that the people of Mobius are getting less and less afraid of opposing Robotnik, and Dobbyn’s art does elevate it above many of Stringer’s pointless filler strips. Although parodying Matthew Kelly – yeah – that’s not so wacky after he lost his career over child pornography allegations is it? This is one of the many reasons you should think before making a pop culture parody, not only may it age badly, but it might one day make people think of paedophiles, thank Christ they never did a Jimmy Saville parody!

Ok that’s all the moaning over and I’m actually really surprised how short the Trapped in the Special Zone era felt, especially the bad times looked at here – I remembered the Sonic strip parodies and one-short stories lasting forever and being real tiresome to slog through but it was actually only four issues, so only two months. I know I first read this when I was a child and two days is forever back then - and the stories also had the misfortune of coming out over the Christmas holidays when kids a) need something to keep them distracted to keep their mind off the wait to Christmas b) kids had more time on their hands, no school, and have more times to re-read the crappy filler and time moves even slower without school to distract them, in fact it’s already moving slower because of the wait for Christmas and c) kids want something to cheer them up in the time after Christmas when all the excitement’s over. Probably the worst time to release four shitty fillers in a row, presumably everyone was working on the Doomsday/Final Victory event to come. The four issues are still completely wasted, don’t get me wrong, but Roots and The Monster Wakes also happening during their time to offset some of the throwawayness (that IS a word) and it just being four issues and me being an adult reading them when it’s not Christmastime (no matter what the shops will have you believe) it doesn’t seem nearly as bad, I still have no intention of ever reading most of them again though (I hadn’t read them for years, I just skip ‘em and go straight from The Hive to Doomsday Sonic-wise).  
Next time: Doomsday.


  1. I promise I won't keep doing this but I had a look at the script where I described the Bruise Brothers:

    "Big picture. Sonic has pushed his way to the front of the crowd and can see two massively powerful figures knocking hell out of each other. One is holding a car over his head about to smash it down on his opponent whilst his opponent is smashing into him with his fists. All around are signs of destruction. This is like one of those great Kirby Hulk/Thing battles. The two that are fighting will turn out to be brothers"

    Rich and I share a love of the old Marvel stuff so he knew exactly what I was referring to. So this was intended as a homage to a classic bit of superhero business. You'll note that there is no mockery of superheroes - although obviously the brothers are comedic characters. As for parodying the Blues Brothers well, apart from their look and the 'blues' - 'bruise' thing it doesn't have anything at all to do with the movie really. The idea was just a nice short-cut to coming up with a couple of charters who were never going to return. If somebody got the Blues Brothers reference that was great but the story did not require it. A parody only works if the target is recognised and there is some comment made on that target. There was no intention of that sort here. Anyhow sorry to jump in again and I probably won't do it again. In any case keep on being blunt and I'm never going to complain if you point out some of my numerous lapses.

    1. Don't worry about doing this sort of thing man, I have no issue with it and y'know you should be able to defend yourself! Plus now I learnt things about a comic I love (despite all my moaning I do genuinely love Sonic the Comic) that I didn't already know that allow me to enjoy it more: I enjoy the Big Fight, the only problem I had with it was a parody that wasn't even there, that's great to know. Thanks again for reading and commenting.