Tuesday, 9 August 2016

A Long Look at Sonic the Comic 1-100 Part 17: Odds & Sods III*

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 16

I forgot about a bunch of stuff that happened while Running Wild/Heroes & Villains and Future Shock were still going on, and I spent way to long talking about Running Wild last part and thus have to make up for it with this, so it’s just a short one today, my thinking is this all takes place about the same time as each other, after Heroes & Villains but before The Tomb:

Troubled Waters (Knuckles strip, issues 82-83)
Quick Summary: While crossing the Mobian Channel, taking his chest of paperwork on the Floating Island home after The Ghost Ship, Knuckles is sunk by eight Badniks – or so he thinks- they’re actually the arms of The Octonaught, the ship of Captain Claw. The arms wreck Knuckles’ boat (though he saves the chest) and near enough drown him before Claw makes an appearance in person, he wants the reward Eggman’s put on Knuckles head.  Claw is absolutely delighted that Knuckles resists, he doesn’t get to use the Octonaught much (no, really), but Knuckles can’t dent the ship, fleeing up a rocky protuberance the guardian takes a leaf out of Tails’ book and lucks into a victory as Claw destroys all the rocks in the circle around him, dropping the last one on the Octoanught and scuttling it. Knuckles has him row them to safety as penance for being a dick.

While the weakest of Knuckles ‘world tour’ arc, Troubled Waters is still a nice little story: Dobyn’s art is gorgeous as ever, with his water and red skies making what is a fairly simple little 2-parter into something firmly more epic feeling and Kitching provides us with a few genuinely funny moments and a few good action scenes. On the downside there’s a little bit too much ‘telling while showing’ (well, for a Kitching strip, if this was Lew Stringer it wouldn’t even register) and Claw, while a fun character, really has a jarring design – he’s a realistic crab in a hat, no attempt at all has been made by Dobyn to make him a Mobian (unlike, say Razor the Shark’s lot from Archie) though he is still more Mobian than the Forty Fathom Freedom Fighters I suppose. Not much else to say really – NEXT!

Village of the Damned (Knuckles strip, issues 84-86)
Oooh it’s my favourite! Quick Summary: It’s the Wicker Man, with Knuckles instead of Edward Woodward, only Knuckles doesn’t die and Britt Ekkland’s stand-in doesn’t slap her arse while singing. 
Ok, Ok
While dragging his chest of documents, Knuckles finds a small village and gets a room for the night at the local tavern from a friendly Inn Keeper, but the second he’s upstairs a mysterious goat says ‘He’s the One’ and everyone agrees. Later Knuckles wakes to the sound to screaming, but it’s only an owl, then there’s the sound of screaming. Seeing what he thinks is a parade, he then realises it’s a ritual sacrifice and saves the very hot sheep lady up for the chop. Hiding in a barn she convinces him to sleep for a while, when he wakes though the mysterious goat – Mesmer – and the villagers have found him, how? The sacrifice told them. Setting Knuckles in a wicker egg (I just got that!) they plan to burn him, Knuckles figures out that Mesmer’s staff is behind everything, rolls the flaming wicker egg down a hill to a river and breaks free, then breaks Mesmer’s control, he doesn’t break Mesmer’s staff though. Eggman reveals himself to be the landlord and explains this was a test for Mesmer, with the only option being to walk away or kill Robotnik, Knuckles walks away, reluctantly.

Right, this story; I have a strange obsession with this story and have had since I was in junior school, and it’s not just because I really, really find the sacrifice attractive; when I first read the book I didn’t know the Wicker Man existed and I found it utterly enthralling (so I was bit bitter when I saw the Wicker Man, and thought “this is a lot like that Knuckles… you bastard Kitching, you thieving, clever bastard”) it is a very atmospheric story, I use that word a lot because  atmosphere is something I find very important, a lot of that is due to Dobbyn’s art, especially his colouring, he has clearly been in many a country pub/ village at night, it’s incredibly authentic, his use of lighting is fantastic, his use of angles is also fantastic actually, the villagers feel very imposing once masked (and the sacrifice is fucking hot) and that’s all down to how you angle and light something. But that’s not why I have this thing about it. Why I have this thing about it is because one day at school I started seeing the characters from this strip – not Mesmer, but the villagers – fucking hell it freaked me out. The story must have just wrapped up so it would have been mid-September’96, making me 10, I was very naive until I went to Senior School but not naïve enough to think comic characters could be real so I thought I was just going mental. It turns out I had an incredibly high fever – I had a bath, got out and couldn’t stop shaking – I’d been hallucinating all day. I can still see them now, bobbing past empty classroom and toilet windows, masks and hats and torches.

There are few issues with the writing – like why doesn’t he break the staff!?!?! That’s bugged me for years, I think the implication is that the staff isn’t the source of Mesmer’s ‘powers’ (he’s a hypnotist, not a mage) but just to be sure Knux… – and Knuckles learns Mesmer’s name between parts 2 and 3 without being told it (and then takes a minute to figure out someone called ‘Mesmer’ might be a hypnotist) and it’s a just The Wicker Man. There’s also a lot of good, for instance one of my problems with Doctor Sun (and it’s rehashes) is that there is no fucking good reason for Eggman to be disguised other than to reveal it was Eggman all along, here there is and it’s completely explained, it’s a test for Mesmer he’s personally overseeing, and being there as himself would ruin the test. It’s also very nicely paced – something else I keep saying – but it’s important, this is paced like a good horror film, if the pacing was off it would fail (and a Sonic the Hedgehog horror film is not only a novelty but as a horror nut and a Sonic maniac something I am convinced was designed specifically to give me a metaphorical massive boner). And I like the final page, Robotnnik going “what are you gonna do, kill me?” and Knuckles being forced to just walk away and leave him in power or do something he considers morally reprehensible, you might argue ‘he should just kill him’ and he probably should, but that would be out of character wouldn’t it? And it would kill the main villain.  

Ok we’re almost caught up (and that was a lot of text for a three-part Knuckles strip), two more issues until Future Shock ends. Issue 87 stars a new multi-parter for Knuckles but otherwise it’s all stand-alones until 89 so let’s get them done. For Sonic there’s Mister Shifter (Sonic strip, issue 87) and The Ultimate Nightmare (Sonic strip, issue 88). ‘Shifter has Sonic

saving a woman from the titular villain, made up of plasticine Radioactive Meta-Clay, while sulking about his situation in New Tek City, Planet Meridian – the location from Heroes & Villains (get used to it). Elson’s on art, Kitching’s on the typewriter, it’s just one scene but it’s nice – Shifter puts up a good fight and the woman turns out to be a spy for Dr Robotnik, investigating a completely different matter! 'Nightmare has the Sidewinder Gang return and gets back to moving the plot forward (don’t get used to that), Sonic & The Chaotix find out about Omni-Viewer only slowing down time inside himself, not stopping it and via Nack the Weasel’s shrinking device and Lightmare’s Box of Nightmares the Sidewinder Gang puts all but Sonic in a trance filled with their worst night terrors – until Bio-Hazard accidentally vomits some toxic crap on Sidewinder and they have to flee to get him an antidote; it gives us another look at our re-occurring villains and makes it clear Lightmare is the second-in-command and cares about Sidewinder’s health (important for later) but what’s most important is it has the weirdest combination of artists – Nigel Kitching does his usual scratchy, ugly art but this time coloured by soft, cottony-candy inspired Andy Prichard, it makes everything look like it’s made of boiled sweets and offends my eyes.

Tails meanwhile gets Easy Target (Tails strip, issue 87) and uurrggh, Carl fucking Flint’s art has finalised into the ball of shite I remember it being, he’s now doing the photocopied backgrounds, random goofy Badniks (one is wearing a bowler hat!) and stupid hand gestures and he’s being coloured by an abysmal ‘team’ called Pre-Press who apparently use only the fill and dodge functions on Photoshop. The story also takes a whole strip to do what one page of Village of the Damned did as Tails saves a unicorn called Forelock who in turn gives Tails the chance to assassinate Robotnik and all the visuals – I kid you not – are taken from the Kennedy Assassination, Tails is even in a book depository. Tails ACTUALLY UMS AND AHHS before saying its wrong and throwing the sniper rifle (dear god) away, which is good cos it was all a test or some shit. The real crime here besides the colouring, is that Forelock is genuinely interesting (“I never said I came from Mobius”) and could have been used well in later stories, but he never shows up again and Tails never thinks to call his very powerful mage friend again, instead Fabian Vane gets multiple stories (don't even start me on Fabian Vane). Following Easy Target is Small Change (Tails strip, issue 88), or ‘what writers do when they can’t think of an idea’ – it’s a shrinking episode, only less clichéd and creatively bankrupt than the mind-swap episode, and it introduces pointless suspiciously similar substitute Slimy – Grimer’s brother – too. It’s worthless except for some nice colouring by Steve White on Rob Corona’s art. Both are Lew Stringer masterpieces – you know I actually feel bad ragging on Stringer so much, he’s a good writer (honest!) and can write some very funny Beano/Dandy style comedy strips but these Tails filler stories are mostly shite.

Last but definitely not least is On The Move (Megadroid strip, issue 83). Megadroid’s second and last story and it’s so English you might actually spontaneously grow a teacup and a Scouse accent while reading it. I enjoy it, it’s the sort of groan-worthy Beano/Dandy style comedy strip I love, bad puns and British situations. Megadroid quits his job at the (fictional) StC offices because he does all the donkey work and tries out other jobs – where they get him to do all the donkey work. After getting thrown off a cruise ship for breaking the forth wall and upsetting customers he ends up a shitty UK seaside town and tries to pull a local droid, but she turns out to be a bimbo/tart/greedy bitch so he goes home and is welcomed back with open arms – cos it’s time for someone to put the coffee on. it’s naff but loveable filler, it’s written and drawn by two people who weren’t regular contributors to the series – Lynne Gibbs and Nick Abadzis – neither of whom are exactly craftsmen, the art’s kinda amateurish and the writing is a complete Beano attempt but again, it’s just kind of charming in its shittiness, like bootleg toys or terrible B-Movies or Carry On films with Sid James in them. 

Next Time: Sonic dicks about on Planet Meridian a lot, Knuckles takes the long way home, Shortfuse hooks up with the Freedom Fighters and Amy hooks up with Tekno.

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