Wednesday, 3 August 2016

A Long Look At Sonic the Comic 1-100 Part 13: Odds & Sods II*

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 12

Right, no fuckin’ about with pithy intros, the first of these stories started during Project Brutus but didn’t end until mid-way through The Return of Chaotix, the rest began and ended during Return of Chaotix because it was so bloody long, if I had to guess I’d say that they all happened after Brutus but before Return (which only happens in 1 night) with the exception of The Odour Zone - let’s go.

The Cybernik Strikes Back (Sonic’s World strip, issues 63-67)
Bollocks, Carl fucking Flint’s back and he’s brought the art style he’ll use for the rest of the book, shit, still at least he’s still drawing his own backgrounds here. Quick Summary: Shortfuse saves some prisoners in transit, turns out it wasn’t a random act of heroism, he wants one of them – a girl canary called Tekno – to build him a bomb. Pissed off Robotnik decides to send Metamorphia after the traitor, because that always works well.  A trip to Tekno’s secret workshop yields a bomb (that has ‘bomb’ written on it) and an upgrade for Shortfuze, now he’s stripy. They plant the bomb in the Chemical Plant Zone and set the timer, but before they can shove off Metamoprhia arrives, grows into a ‘battle mode’ and grabs Shorty. Now Shorty has to beat Metamophia in under four minutes and shockingly…he doesn’t manage it! Metamorphia actually uses her shape-shifting tactically to counter all of his ideas, the bomb explodes, leaving Shorty trapped under debris in water…Mega Mack…liquid of some kind, and Tekno prisoner. At Citadel Robotnik Eggman is not pleased Metamoprhia let his Chemical Plant get half blown up and takes away her powers, Shorty meanwhile uses his brain and jet boosters to dig a trench and slip out from under the debris. Shortfuse assaults Citadel Robotnik, Tekno for her part finds out Metamorphia (who’s holding her captive) has no powers judo throws the bitch, Eggman says ‘just shoot me’, Shorty gives some bullshit about why he won’t because the status quo needs to stay the same for a while, and flies off, he declines Tekno’s offer to use her lab as a base.

At last! Metamorphia uses her powers for something other than a paper-thin disguise she’ll discard at the first moment anyway! At last! A Shortfuse Story that is undeniably good! At last I can bitch about Carl fucking Flint! I hate Flint’s art, he’s not the worst artist the book’ll have but he’s still fucking terrible. In theory he should be a great fit for the series, he has a big, bold round style with a big bold inking style to match, it’s just he draws everything horrible – he hates backgrounds, if he draws them early on it will be simplistic colouring-book style backgrounds but later he’ll adopt this technique of pasting down black and white copied photographs ala 1970s Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko but his copies are always way to dark and with the contrast turned right up, meaning they don’t look psychedelic or experimental, they just look ugly and confusing, and lazy. He has a horrible habit of drawing characters in weird poses with random fingers sticking out like they’re making obscure gang signs, his relationship with perspective and proportion is… distant at best and his relationship with layouts isn’t much better, in other words, he sucks and he’s gonna be around for a while. Luckily the colourists can help him out, John Burns does the colours here and he has quite a shiny look, which helps add some much need depth to Flint’s work.

Anyway backing away from my comic art snobbery, Stringer’s writing obviously (because it features Shorty) and he’s actually on top form, I think there’s one clunky word balloon, maybe two. He finally gives us a Metamorphia story that has a different formula/plot and Metamorphia looks all the better for it, in fact she looks damn cool, outmanoeuvring Shorty at every turn for a whole strip – so Stringer goes and depowers her, she’ll only appear once more in the whole comic! He finally shows us how cool she can be, then takes her away – dick. And then there’s Tekno, you may not think it for a while but Tekno is going to be big recurring character in the series, even more so than Shortfuse, and one half of my favourite Sonic the Comic fan theory, but talk about Early Instalment Weirdness (TV Tropes WILL ruin your vocabulary), later on she’ll be the sensible one of the Amy/Tekno partnership, so it’s weird to see her full of so much attitude (and drawn by Carl Flint, did he or Lew design her? Stringer can draw so I guess it was him?) she’ll always have spunk but here she’s almost Sonic-level, I wonder if an editor by the name of Tate was involved any of that? 

The Homecoming (Knuckles strip, issues 65-68)
Quick Summary: Knuckles traces a disturbance to Megapolis, the capital city of the Floating Island, where a large headed robot digging around, Knuckles thinks he might recognise it but decides to smash it anyway, fails, then cracks the earth with a punch and lets it fall in. But what was it looking for? Out of the rubble comes an old, white echidna named Dr Finitevus Dr Zachary, the first of his people to return! An excited Knuckles shows Zachary the emerald chamber, because Knuckles is a gullible twat in every universe. Zachary claims the robot is chasing him and has been for some time, but goes off to bed before telling Knuckles anything useful. Unable to sleep Knuckles researches the robot and finds it’s a Floating Island guardian robot, so why is it after a Floating Islander? As if to answer that question it breaks in and kicks Knuckles arse some more, then it splits the Master Emerald – which was way more dramatic then, before it happened every other game – Rad Red gets blasted and thinking he’s dead Zachary exploits how he’s really a bastard controlling the robot, a bastard who wants revenge, and to destroy things because he can. He flies off to wipe out the Mobians, because he can, but Knuckles isn’t really dead and shoots out of a zoom tube (oh yeah, sorry, there’s Zoom Tubes on the Floating Island, the same as the Zoot Shoots in Archie, they turned up  really early (Enter Knuckles maybe?) I just haven’t mentioned them yet) and takes out one of the Guardian Robot’s wings. taking the battle back to the Floating Island’s surface, An island that’s now falling, and wedges itself on top of a mountain. Knuckles rips the head off of the robot and knocks Zachary out but a tremor knocks him from the Island. Seeing the Robot’s head sparking with Chaos Energy, which it absorbed during the breaking of the Master Emerald, Knuckles use sit as a temporary solution to keep the island in the air.

My summarising skills suck today.
It’s begun! the best run on the book! Nigel Kitching and Nigel Dobyn on Knuckles! Every time these two work on a Knuckles strip, and they’ll pretty much work on them exclusively from now on, a great story with great art is produced (even though Richard Elson was meant to draw this strip, and actually came up with the basic plot), it takes Dobyn the first issue to get to grips with Knuckles but he’s got his way of drawing him (and Zachary) down in part 2 and then it’s good shit all the way (well he’s still have some issues with random Mobians, that’ll be fixed soon). Kitching is on fine form too, using thought bubbles to assist the story and give an insight into character rather than to tell us what we can already see is happening - amazeballs! Someone tell Lew Stringer (I kid, I kid, the dialogue in Cybernik Strikes Back was fine). Now it’s obvious that Zachary was going to be a villain, but as a kid I bought it completely, I thought surely they couldn’t have the first echidna to return be a bastard, TV Tropes didn’t exist then alright? (and nor, it seems, did my knowledge of obvious plot twists). What’s really weird about this strip is how much it predicts/predates the Japanese and American stories – A returning echidna (The Dark Legion) who’s an albino sociopath who wants to destroy everything (Dr Zachary), the breaking of the Master Emerald (Sonic Adventure, Adventure 2, ever other game thereafter), the old Echidnas having guardian robots (Gizoids), hell the Guardian Robots even look like Emerl, look:

Spooky shit.
Oh just a thing, we’ll never find out what happened to Knuckles’ race or where Zachary came from, but the plan was that they had been turned into slaves of the Drakons (who we haven’t met yet) and were spread out across the universe(s).

Issue 68 has a one-and-done Christmas strip, Snow Business (Amy strip, issue 68) by Stringer and Carl fucking Flint, she lets a snowman badnik free; she tricks it off a cliff, all over bloody mistletoe. It’s… mostly inoffensive, Amy’s temporary return to pushy would-be girlfriend aside, in fact I’d almost go so far as to say that Flint’s art is better than normal, almost, read it once, never bother again.

Graveyard (Knuckles strip, issues 69-72)
Quick Summary: Knuckles heads down to the Valley of Kohenyu, an elephant’s graveyard for Kohenyu dinosaurs by an Emerald Mine; he wants a new Emerald to absorb the old one’s Chaos Energy. A rock slide drops him on his arse and he gets poisoned, having lost his gass mask, by a local plant. Pretty much straight after The Spirit of the Herd comes to him, a floating Kohenyu head who sicks the bones of her herd onto Knuckles. They overwhelm him but when it looks like the poison will do for him and the Spirits’ vengeance will be denied they pull back. Knux wakes up in a cage in the Emerald Mine and the Spirit tells him what happened – Echidnas hunted them to extinction, though they were only hunting them for food the herd had only 20 males, who were the slowest and were all killed. Knuckles digs out of the cage and goes on the run from the Herd, trying to dig out an emerald, and chances upon the Soul Crystal, which the Spirit of the Herd needs to survive, givne the choice to smash it and save himself he does, saying he knows how the Spirit feels, being all alone. Impressed the Spirit lets him take an emerald; he does, before she changes her mind.

This story is fucking amazing, playing to Dobbyn’s strengths Nigel gives us a story set in a desert with giant things for Knuckles to smash, and Dobbyn’s painted art gives the ghost story the atmosphere it needs, as well as giving the Spirit an ethereal quality that the other artists and colourers wouldn’t have been able to pull off. Plot wise there’s no bad, except maybe the poison bit, it feels like a plot element that wasn’t really needed but I think the idea was to give Knuckles and the readers a reason to doubt if things were real or not, the implication is that it IS real but there is an air of ambiguity about it that just makes it a better ghost story. Y’know what, just read this.

Brute Force (Sonic’s World strip, issues 69-72)
Quick Summary: Commander Brutus is stock piling captives. After Grimer completes a portable version of Brain Scanner Robotnik used to give the ultimate trooper his A.I. Brutus knocks him out and copies his brain, now with all of Grimer’s knowledge and ability he builds ugly as shit Carl Flint designed Badniks of his own. Johnny Lightfoot is in the Cotton Field Zone where Eggman has slaves working in a factory, Brutus attacks him, Johnny uses the badnik army to his advantage and destroys the factory, but is ultimately overpowered and Brutus copies his brainwaves too. Now Brutus know everything Johnny knows, he knows about Bob Beaky’s Travelling Circus, worse he knows where the Emerald Hill Folk are, but just as his Troopers are plotting a course for the Floating Island, Brutus…destroys them? The copy of Johnny Lightfoot’s brainwaves are affecting him, making him fight his own army. Desperate he wipes the copy and destroys the portable brain scanners, Johnny flees while this is going on.

stupid hand signals 
Do I even need to say this is the weakest part of the Brutus Trilogy? To be reserved: this story isn’t very good. Firstly Carl fucking Flint’s turning in his usual brand of weird poses and horrible perspective, Brutus goes from stern to camp to dancing and it ruins the intimidating presence Elson and Stringer had given him in Project Brutus, lord knows why they thought it’d be suitable for this story. Second Stringer isn’t even sitting close to whatever muse he was banging when he wrote Cybernik Strikes Back and Project Brutus,  I will begrudgingly admit  the dialogue’s not too terrible though there are more ‘clunky panels’ than the aforementioned pair of stories, but the plot… how does Johnny destroying a factory help the sheep exactly? They’ll just be moved to a different factory, or worse turned into Badniks; Brutus deleting the copy of Johnny’s brain deletes all of the knowledge for no good reason other than Kitching doesn’t want the Floating Island attacked just yet; the sheep are being made to make egg cosies and socks for Eggman, egg cosies and socks; and of course he destroys the mind scanners – WHY?!?!

Stupid. Hand. Signals
On the other hand: having Brutus ‘turn good’ and hating it is such a cliché but it’s actually well done, rather than him becoming ‘good’ he seems rather to inherit the same opinions and intentions of Johnny Lightfoot, compelling him to destroy Badniks and occasionally speak the same as Johnny, just as with Eggman, and Brutus’ reaction is more one of stunned confusion than comical revulsion, which goes some way to make up for how laughable Flint is making him look.
Finally we have Odour Zone (Double Sonic strip, issue 72), which has to be an inventory story, it’s written by Mark Millar for a start, but Mike Hadley’s art (which is great, especially his colouring) looks a lot older than what he’d recently turned in, closer to around the time of ‘Metamorphia’.  The story is weird; a giant Skunk from the titular Odour Zone has been turned into a giant badnik that despite being talked up throughout the story Sonic defeats by… getting a good run up. The skunks range from giant to tiny for no good reason and all speak in a really offensive stereotypical French accent and personality, you thought Antione was bad? These are worse, but then what do you expect, it’s Mark ‘do you think this A stands for France’ Millar, a man who agrees with the political views of Frank Millar, of course he’s going to throw in racist stereotypes for no good reason. There’s also a fat joke on page one at the expense of Poker Lewis, typical Millar, but…Porker Lewis isn’t fat, he is a pig, but he’s still not fat, in fact he’s more muscular than Johnny, “maybe he was when this was written?” Not really, he had a round body but then so does Sonic, he’s not fat. Fuck Mark Millar, urrrrgh he’s writing the next Sonic story too isn’t he?

Actually that story, Spinball Wizard, begins a short run of stand-alone stories for the Sonic strip, as such the next part will be defined by the back-ups, we have the last Tails strip of any worth for a while, his strips will now transition from epic fantasy to mostly pointless filler and stay that way more or less. Less depressingly next part also brings the Knuckles World Tour arc by Kitching and Dobbyn, so looking forward to that!  We also have the last Sonic Holiday Special and the Knuckles Knock-Out Special too. 

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