Wednesday, 16 May 2018

A Look At: IDW's Sonic the Hedgehog Volume 3 Issues 1-4

Ok, since 1992 Archie Comics held the licence to produce comic books based on Sonic the Hedgehog in the US (Fleetway had it over here), until they lost it last year in a confusing mess that we still don’t know all about but know that a lawsuit from Scott Fulop (aka Kent Taylor)1 - a former Archie editor and Sonic the Hedgehog writer - filed in the wake of Archie’s old settlement with Ken Penders3 seems to have been a contributing factor. The licence was picked up by IDW because of course it was because IDW are on a quest to have all the licences ever. They did a good thing though by keeping writer Ian Flynn on the book. Flynn has been writing Sonic for years now and is a fan favourite, critical success (though I still slightly prefer Nigel Kitching3) and is seen as the man who turned the old Archie comics around.   
As a special event/promotion the first four issues of Sonic the Hedgehog Volume 3, IDW’s first Sonic Book, shipped weekly. All four issues are now out, this is a big thing for the Sonic franchise – the first American Sonic comics not produced by Archie, and I’m a Sonic the Hedgehog obsessive so I’m having a Look At them.  So are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin:

Sonic the Hedgehog Volume 3 #1
Ian Flynn, Tracy Yardly, Jim Amash & Bob Smith with Matt Herms (colours).
Wow, it’s an Archie!Sonic reunion up in these credits. Quick Summary: in the wake of Sonic Forces Dr Eggman has vanished but his Badniks are still spread out all over his former Eggman Empire. Sonic arrives at a town (no towns will be named because fuck that shit right?) under assault from a surprisingly organised Badnik attack, his saving the day goes awry because this assault force has four Super Badniks, all Egg Hammers4. However with the help of Tails who happens to be in town, Sonic defeats the robots. Tails deduces that the Badnik force was too well organised and someone must now be in control of the Empire but that it’s not Robotnik (because he’d never come back without fanfare, so true), but decides to stay and help the town rebuilt itself. As Sonic runs on to issue 2, this mysterious new leader of the Eggman Empire tells Orbot and Cubot to make sure word of this issue’s events reach Amy rose and implies that this is all some sort of trial.

This issue felt very…empty. I was feeling a little forgiving for how decompressed this arc is because it was purposefully designed for four weekly issues, so effectively the whole thing ads up to 1 regular issue but then I remembered that for over 80 years hundreds of British and European writers and artists turned in multiple weekly strips that lasted a little as 1 page each and still managed to get more story into them than this issue. If Leo Baxendale could tell a complete Grimly Fiendish story on just the back page of Smash!5 then I would really like to think that Ian Flynn could get more into a 22 issue comic.  It’s an issue Flynn’s been struggling with on-and-off since World’s Collide6, I personally think it comes from trying (and succeeding) to ape the style of the video games, this whole story feels like one level of the game with a cut-scene either side; while I don’t find that an issue in terms of pacing I do find it an issue when it’s all the issue is (play on words?). And here’s the thing, it’s not like this is all three panel pages, there’s five panel pages throughout, meh, maybe it’s just me.

Elsewhere everything is…functional but with an injection of awesomeness that I expect from Monsieur Flynn – it introduces us to the current set-up and does NOTHING to alienate new readers who might only be familiar with the games or in fact only familiar with Sonic through cultural osmosis: if you stopped playing Sonic with Sonic & Knuckles, if you stopped playing with Sonic Adventure 2, if you haven’t played everything up to Sonic Forces of if you have - you’ll have no issues with this issue (play on words II?). It’s Sonic & Tails fighting Dr Robotnik’s robots, people who’ve never heard of Sonic know that’s what Sonic is all about. So ultimately I guess it’s a good choice for a story for the first issue of a tie-in comic, especially for a comic tying into a franchise with a stigma for being full of characters and for having tie-in media – ESPECIALLY American comics – that have the stigma of being filled with impenetrable continuity and being nothing like the video games. Sonic the Hedgehog Volume 3 Issue 1 goes “nope, all that’s bullshit, here’s Sonic and Tails smashing Badniks, no worries here, just like you (erroneously) think/remember Sonic is”.  And it gives us a ‘keep reading’ hook with the mysterious new head of the Eggman Empire, I’m genuinely intrigued: my first thought was that it was Metal Sonic but the speech bubbles imply an organic character, I’d be over the moon if it was Snivley but I doubt it is and I honestly can’t think who it might be – Fang, maybe? Or the Battle Bird Emperor?

As for the injection of awesome? Well the fight as a whole is damn awesome, with Sonic & Tails busting out combo moves from Sonic Advance 3 and Sonic Heroes for us long-time fans – and RANDOM POSING:

It feels like two old friends doing something together, which is delightful. The top scene for me though was how Flynn handled Tails staying behind, Flynn wants these first four issues to be Sonic + X team-ups and so Tails can’t come, but by having Tails decide to stay, to turn down nostalgia and fun adventure to help out, a ‘because the plot demands it’ decision becomes a great showing of how much Tails has matured since Sonic 2, giving us character development for characters that really aren’t allowed to develop too much.

If you’ve noticed I haven’t mentioned Tracey Yardley’s name at all so far, it’s because all I have to say is this: Tracy Yardley is awesome and has long since become one of the best Sonic artists ever.

Sonic the Hedgehog Volume 3 #2
Ian Flynn, Adam Bryce Thomas
Quick Summary: Orbot & Cubot did their job, Amy Rose arrives just in time to help Sonic defeat a Super Badnik at the next town, but that ‘bot was only a distraction, a whole Badnik army is flooding in from the other side of town. While Sonic combats the robots head-on, Amy rallies the townspeople, organizing them, protecting them, directing them and once assembled, using them to bring down most of the army. She and Sonic the team-up to take down the drop ship spewing the mechanical bastards. Amy wants Sonic to return to the Resistance but Sonic says it makes more sense for him to fly solo and because he’s such a free spirit that cannot be tamed, he’s like the wind yadda yadda yadda vomit. Sonic runs off into the next issue, where Amy has told him Knuckles is waiting.

Fuck me Amy was awesome in this issue.
And I think that may have been the whole point, in fact I could suggest that every part of this issue was specifically chosen to make readers think of Amy as more than ‘the chick’ or ‘the psycho stalker’ - transparent? Yes. Effective? Definitely.  Better still this issue felt a lot ‘fuller’, still not as ‘full’ as I’d like but there was more than one thing happening in it at one time and it felt a lot less like a level from Sonic Colours and more like an issue of a comic book, as the next issue will feel even more like that I can’t help but feel that Flynn is easing in new readers, taking them from what they’ve become accustomed to in the games to what a regular comic book reader is accustomed too, and if that sort of hand-holding is necessary then I feel like I hate the modern world, still better safe than sorry eh? Especially with – again – Sonic’s stigma of being wildly different when in comic books and cartoons.

Adam Bryce Thomas’ art is great, it’s very modern, very digital art in feel but it fits the Sonic style well and he can sure lay out a dramatic page so I’m not going to complain, just passively-aggressively mention how modern feeling it is again.
I’m not so sure about Sonic refusing to re-join the resistance, I think it’s there to ‘make statements’; it feels like it’s there to say ‘this isn’t Archie (don’t worry)’ and ‘Amy doesn’t need Sonic nor want to change him, she’s not the lunatic you might think she is’ and it left Sonic seeming a little bit selfish, which is doubly annoying as I just said how good Ian Flynn’s take on Sonic is. I agree that pursuing this mysterious new Eggman Empire commander is important and that Sonic has a habit of rushing in alone but it just felt like him being a bit prickish and, well, thick as the whole issue proved how helpful working with the Resistance – or just other people – is: Sonic literally couldn’t have saved the town so efficiently without Amy and the townspeople, the issue makes that clear in It’s mission to prove how useful Amy is.

So yeah, good issue for Amy, not so good for Sonic. Also, wasn’t Croquette Bomber from Sonic Battle? Are we allowed to talk about Sonic Battle?7

Sonic the Hedgehog Volume 3 #3
Ian Flynn, Jennifer Hernandez, Heather Breckel (colours).
Woo! Knuckles! Quick Summary: Knuckles has been feeling the need to cut loose as the Resistance is a lot less fighty these days. Sonic arrives just as Knux is smashing Super Badnik, but the town won’t let them in, turns out two mercenaries, the skunk brothers Rough and Tumble, took over the town before the war and no run the place, hording all the Wisps and Wispons8. Knuckles and Sonic break and confront the two. The skunks are a match for True Blue and Rad red - no small feat - but then Sonic reminds the Wisps all the good he did for them in Sonic Colours and they turn on the two, allowing them to be arrested. Our mysterious foe is not unhappy though, this proves that Knuckles is still on the surface, leaving Angel Island and the Master Emerald vulnerable…

Sonic mentioned the Hooligans in this issue! Bark, Bean and Fang’s place in the new continuity is safe? I mean I know they appeared in Sonic Mania so it wasn’t such a concern but I like in-comic confirmation and this seems like it might be it? Maybe? Hopefully? And with Mighty and Ray set to appear in Sonic Mania Plus hopefully they’ll be ok to appear too!
Holy shit, I just realised I’m going to be able to use Mighty to beat up Fang the Sniper…my Total Chaotix9 inspired dreams are going to come true.  

Anyway back to this comic –  fuck the art on this and fuck the choice of putting these artists (Hernandez & Breckel) on this issue, this happened last time Flynn had a ‘go around and re-introduce characters’ arc10, the issue focussing on my favourite of them (Bunnie Rabbot in this case) got lumbered with the shit artists. Yes that is a childish thing to say. The art is, simply, not professional, it’s fan-art level digital artwork, mid-tier Deviantart submissions (so admittedly a lot better than my Deviantart submissions), it’s the sort of art that would appear in Sonic the Comic Online and there it’d be fine because that’s a fan project - this is an official and professional work, I expect better than this. The line-art, the colouring style, the backgrounds, it’s barely web-comic level. I’m reading from the digital editions though so maybe it doesn’t look so obvious in the printed version.

Still nobody wants me to rant about the artwork, let’s talk about the focus of this issue; Rough and Tumble! The first original characters introduced in this new series, the first of the characters who’ve got to be as good as the Archie cast we can’t have11 and the SatAM and Adventures cast it seems we won’t have. My thoughts? They’re bloody great! Sonic needs more lower-level bad guys, more smaller threats, more professional criminals, one cannot subsist on Team Hooligan alone and these two are fantastic, they’re clearly a threat, and their ability to put up a fight against Sonic & Knuckles is more than proof of that, they have unique (now) smell-based powers (I’ve heard they’ve got a big brother called ‘Stink..kor…’, something like that) and they’re so funny: the rhyme! The rhyme and Sonic & Knuckles reactions to it are the best thing in this series so far:

They’ll come back and be a regular pest and I can’t wait, a Rough & Tumble vs Bark and Bean fight needs to happen, Flynn! Get to it!

Sonic the Hedgehog Volume 3 #4
Ian Flynn, Evan Stanley, Matt Herms (colours)
Quick Summary: fourth issue, fourth unnamed town, and this time Sonic is far too late, a larger (Buzzbomber-shaped!) drop shit has rained down robots and ruined the place, luckily local hero Tangle is around. Sonic and Tangle the Lemur join forces but they’re still a little outgunned, until Blaze turns up in a blaze and ups their firepower (puns?). however the drop ship is out of reach, but Tangle has an idea and uses her tail as a sling-shot to get the speedsters of two worlds up there, where they blow that shit up. Turns out the Sol Emeralds told Blaze to come to Sonic’s World (I miss the word Mobius so much, it’s so much shorter) because a great threat is coming, one that isn’t the war with Eggman from Sonic Forces, Blaze agees to stay in Tangle’s town (NAME THESE PLACES IAN!) until they figure out what it is. Meanwhile in another unnamed town (GOD DAMN IT! PLACES IN THE SONIC UNIVERE HAVE NAMES IAN! I CHECKED AND EVERYTHING!) Eggman is hiding out, but about to make his grand re-entrance (so it isn’t him running the Empire and driving this story).

So I was going to do this joke about how IDW managed to go four issues without introducing a minority character, not because I disagree with diversity in comics or diversity in general just because IDW are so committed to diversity, it’s gotten to the point that you can tell who’s going to be a main supporting character in a new IDW book because they’re not white, it’s become a fucking running gag. HOWEVER: maybe I’m just now trained to expect any IDW characters to be minority characters, maybe it’s just wishful thinking (Blaze is about 14 though so maybe not), maybe it really is impossible for IDW to not introduce a minority in the first story-arc but did it seem that Tangle was a bit… into Blaze? Again this isn’t a complaint – a gay Sonic character is more than welcome, especially after the whole Rotor/Kobor debacle (thanks Ken)12, but it’s not just me right?

Speaking of Tangle the Lemur OHMYGODSHE’SSOLOVELYIWANTHERTOBEREALANDBEMYFRIEND *ehem* she makes a good first impression, she comes across and a nice, likeable and realistic (for a cartoon lemur) personality and I want to hug her. Her tail abilities were also nicely done, she uses it like how The Doctor used his scarf and though it seems like it may be a little prehensile it’s not in the usually level of (e.g. Nightcrawler) and it gives her ‘her own thing’ in a medium where prehensile tails are the go-to and where we have a character who already uses his tails for his gimmick. These new characters have a lot of fan expectation to live up to and it’s really nice that they’re at least living up to my expectations, it’s 3-0 to the good new characters,  they might not make me stop missing Sally, Bunnie and Snively but they do take the sting out of them not being here.   

Story-wise this was another issue that felt a bit light on the story, nowhere near as bad as issue 1 though and the issues are feeling like comic book stories rather than levels with cutscenes (scene, action, scene) but it was easily my favourite of the four, so much awesomeness happened in it that it pretty much had to be. Art for this issue was great, Evan Stanley is just superb, again very modern but also very good, if I can say ‘has a great sense of movement in your art’ then you’re in the right place drawing Sonic the Hedgehog, he needs to embrace the art of backgrounds a bit more though - there was a lot of panels where the bucket fill had been the only tool applied to their ‘scenery’.

So…an ok start, a bit light on story though. I’m hoping that with the ‘preview era’ out of the way and the book switching to monthly with issue 5 Flynn and team will be see more of a need to make each issue have a bit substance to it. The new characters are great, the art is mostly great and I’m glad no-one reads this because I just realise that I make a joke out of IDW’s commitment to diversity and the only artists I slagged off were women: so let’s just clarify: the sex of the artists for issue 3 was not a factor in forming my opinion, just their art; I am for diversity in comics I just wanted to poke fun at IDW for doing something over and over and apparently not noticing. Thanks for reading, please enjoy the Sonic Fan Footnotes.

1 Fulop created Mammoth Mogul and the Destructix (under the pen name Kent Taylor), his lawsuit was over unpaid royalties.
2 Ken Penders’ story is far too long for a footnote: basically he used to be a main writer on the Sonic books, left, did nothing for a few year while Flynn made the book good, found no other purpose in life, copyrighted his characters and stories, the copyright people told Archie, Archie took him to court because as far as they’re concerned he as working under a work for hire contract so everything belonged to Sega, Penders said ‘no I didn’t’ I lot and acted like an repugnant egotistical tosser online, Archie could only produce a photocopied contract from Penders, a settlement was reached, ownership of the characters created by everyone who worked on the book pre-issue 160 reverted back to the writer who created them, Archie rebooted their whole Sonic continuity, Penders continued to be a repugnant egotistical tosser online while working on a graphic novel series called The Lara Su Chronicles, that was 9 years ago - he’s almost got the preview finished.
3 one of the two main writers on the aforementioned British comic from Fleetway: Sonic the Comic
4 building size robots with huge hammers
5 in the UK most comic books were weekly, Leo Baxendale is the creator of the Bash Street Kids and co-creator of Minnie the Minx
6 the story-arc that ended with the reboot of Archie’s Sonic continuity
7 poor Sonic Battle, so unloved by the fandom
8 Wisps are little aliens that debuted in the game Sonic Colours and act as power-ups, Wispons are weapons that use Wisps to power them, but voluntarily, not as organic batteries like Eggman’s Badniks.
9 in Sonic the Comic Fang the Sniper (known as Nack the Weasel back then) was a member of the team The Chaotix and betrayed them in the story ‘Total Chaotix’ (Sonic the Comic 53-58), Mighty was also a member of the Chaotix and is gonna have his violent revenge when Sonic Mania Plus comes out, moo hoo ha ha.
10 ‘Countdown to Chaos’ - it ran in Sonic the Hedgehog Volume 3 253-256 
11 any characters not created by Ian Flynn or Tracy Yardley for the Archie Sonic comics are no longer owned by Sega and Flynn has already said he won’t be bringing over any of his characters from that book.
12 Ken Penders revealed that he had planned for the character Rotor Walrus (from the Sonic SatAM cartoon) to be gay and to be in a relationship with one of Penders own creations: an echidna called Kobor. Of course he only revealed this years after he’d left the book and after Flynn had already killed off Kobor without knowing anything about Penders plans. I’m sure that Flynn looking bad by having killed a gay character off was not at all what Penders intended and he didn’t in any way take any pleasure in that happening.

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