Sonic Universe #51 (June 2013)

     Pat Spaziante cover: I can only assume this is a goof on a Capcom-style menu. If I was asked to select my heroes from this cover’s options I’d look for the NEXT PAGE button. But it looks like I don’t have much of a choice in the matter.



     “When Worlds Collide Part 2: Mistaken Identities”

     Story: Ian Flynn; Art: Jamal Peppers; Ink: Jim Amash; Color: Matt Herms; Lettering: John E. Workman; Assistant Editor: Vincent Lovallo; Editor: Paul Kaminski; Editor-in-Chief: Victor Gorelick; President Man: Mike Pellerito: Game marketing drones: Anthony Gaccione and Cindy Chau (Sega) vs. Brian Oliveira (Capcom).


     Why no Part 1? There is a Part 1 but apparently it already appeared in a Mega Man issue. At first I was under the impression that the story would only appear in the Sonic and Sonic Universe comics. I didn’t figure that it would also appear in the Mega Man book, after I’d been assured that the story would be comprehensible even if I didn’t seek out the Mega Man book. Well, I subscribe to the Sonic comics since there really aren’t any comic stores in my part of the world. Besides, Marketing is probably already salivating at the prospect of releasing the entire story arc in three compilations or one omnibus edition, so I can wait. One thing for certain: I now have a reason to actually read the “Previously” page to bring myself up to speed:

     “Sonic is the fastest, coolest hedgehog in the world. He’s spent his whole life traveling, helping his friends, and stopping Dr. Eggman’s plans to conquer everyone and everything!”


     Come on, I know this book is supposed to be aimed at a pre-adolescent boy audience, but that doesn’t mean the copy on this page has to read as if it was written by a third-grader! I’d be ashamed to see this on Sonic’s Facebook page. Anyway, Mega Man gets a similar blurb, as does the budding bromance of Drs. Eggman and Wiley.

     And I’m going to take a paragraph right now to get something off my chest. The big deal in this story arc is the allegedly formidable alliance between Eggman and Wiley. I’ve seen Eggman team up with other villains before in the comics, usually temporarily and for the sake of convenience, but this particular pairing, typified by the last splash page in this issue, takes the alliance to a new and disturbing level. To be perfectly blunt about it, the Eggman/Wiley pairing looks gay, too gay to be taken seriously. Actually, now I want to look at Part 1 of this arc if only to see if the Eggman/Wiley ship started out looking this gay. Anyway, the page says that the two of them united “through the power of a Chaos Emerald,” though I’d find it more likely that they ran into each other in an Evil Genius With Bad Facial Hair Chat Room.

     This story opens in Santa’s Workshop … excuse me, in Dr. Light’s lab where Rock the boy droid wonders why the Doc looks zoned out. Hey, appearing in Archie comics when they’re screwing with time shifts has that effect. After some small talk over the congealing form of Bond Man (“Man. Bond Man.”), robo sister Roll runs in to bust Proto Man/Blues for fighting downtown and being covered on the Mega City News. Rock goes Mega himself in order to investigate.

     We cut to the fight where “Knuckles Man” and “Rose Woman” (I’d have dubbed her Amy Woman myself) have ganged up on Blues/Proto Man. Mega zaps in and teleports both himself and his Blues brother a short distance away in a move that I’ve seen Twilight Sparkle pull off with more style on “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.” Proto brings Mega up to speed by telling him that the only thing taken during the robo-robbery was a “huge gemstone” which to Sonic fans is clearly a Chaos Emerald. Mega then tells Proto to go home while he overconfidently heads back into the fight where he becomes the one in a three-against-one.

     Sonic, meanwhile, has materialized in … c’mon, take a guess. If you said “Green Hill Zone” you have some idea how thin the imaginative juice is flowing. In fact, it kicks in two-pages of exposition on Sonic’s part, and even that isn’t enough, so …

     Cut to Chaotix World where it’s all rainy and noiry for no good reason. Inside of three pages, the Chaotix are captured by Copybot, “Mega Man’s evil double” and not, as the name implies, the bot who runs the local Kinko’s franchise.

     And it’s official: I now hate this story because I hate the whole Evil Twin gimmick so much it serves to poison the whole stretch. Please keep that in mind for the rest of the story arc. Of course I also reserve the right to hate this story arc for other reasons as well.

     Back at the fight in Mega City, Mega finally brings out some serious hardware and the bots beat feet through a warp ring with Mega on their tails. Destination: the Green Hill Zone, of course.

     Meanwhile, Silver the time-travelling psycho … er, psychokinetic … OK, both … drops in on Sonic and manages to show off his Lynx-jinx skills by taking the shot meant for Sonic from Copybot. Mega continues the pursuit until he’s conked from behind by Metal Sonic as the story suffers a serious bout of character inflation. But before Mega can recover and bring down Metal, Sonic gets a shot in against Mega. So with Mega thinking Sonic is Metal and Sonic thinking Mega is Copybot and nobody else doing anything even remotely resembling thinking, they get ready to mix it up while the Eggman/Wiley bromance reaches critical mass.



     HEAD: And now I have another reason to hate this story: it’s become an Idiot Plot.

     The next installment, which will appear in S248, will be devoted to much kicking of ass between Mega and Sonic. And it could all have come to a screeching halt if either Sonic or Mega asked “Who are you?” and gotten an actual answer. Then they could start unraveling the deliberately tangled plot and realize that they’re being played. But where’s the fun and the ass-kicking in that?

     There was a time when, given my lack of familiarity with Mega Man, I would have just cited a handful of facts from a Wikipedia article about him and let it go at that. But I know better now. So on my deviantArt Web page I asked “Mega Man: What’s The Attraction?” I wanted to know why fans of the other Blue Blur acquired a taste for him that I never did. And the fan base came through.

     Jamie A. Lee, aka Jammerlee, has fallen for the stories in the comic after having missed the chance to become familiar with Rock from the games: “I've been really enjoying the comics because it's letting me get to have more exposure to the classic series and the stories have been very well written and enjoyable (IMO at least). From what I understand Ian makes a LOT of nods and references to the games and explains a lot of things the games left blank for hardcore fans to appreciate, which even with my limited knowledge (and some explanations from a hardcore friend of mine), I've been able to appreciate as well.”

     Gojira007 explains the attraction thus: “It's ‘Astro Boy’ meets ‘Superman’. That's maybe over-simplifying it a bit, admittedly, and where ‘Astro Boy’ had one long-running Manga, three Anime series, and two feature-length films to explore his narrative, the ‘Mega Man’ series has only ever been able to explore its story in fits and bursts prior to Flynn's comic book series (which I also haven't had much chance to read, for the record), while the chief appeal of the Games themselves has been more about the Gameplay than the narrative. Still, if I had to explain what makes Mega Man appealing as a character and not just a Player avatar, I think Astro's a good point of comparison. Like Astro, he's basically a robot exploring what it means to be human, and is likewise a being with the spirit of a child being asked to take on a heavy responsibility. He doesn't necessarily LIKE to fight, but understands that doing so is sometimes necessary. Plus, he's kind of adorable. X3”

     Another respondent was no less that former Sonic Comic contributor Dawn Best: “Loved the games as a kid, and still do as a grown up. That's a big part of it for me. Gonna try to add a few more things beyond what Gojira and Jammer have already contributed: Speaking from a marketing perspective, Megaman is commercially successful because it plays up the same mechanic that makes Sonic popular -- new characters every game. Except with Megaman, the new characters people look forward to are usually the villains. Bonus! When Megaman beats them, he gets their sweet powers, so there's incentive to get to the next level and unlock these, as well as buy the next game to see what kind of nasty villains he'll face and therefore, what sweet new powers he'll get. From a storytelling standpoint, it's pretty solid, too. In a nutshell, it's the old ‘man makes sentient robots and integrates them into society’. What happens when some of these beings realize they're more powerful than the humans who created them is where most of your plot points come from, and it can have its serious moments despite being marketed to kids.”

     And Justin Greene adds: “I didn't get as much into the original series as I did the X and Zero series. I was able to surmount the basis story of the original as X and Zero series take place 100 years after each previous one (MMX 100 years after the originals, MMZ 100 years after MMX). What drew me in was the same type of dark storyline that drew me in with SatAM. Not really post-apocalyptic (at first), but not the bright colorful future of the original. The focus on MMX's personal conflict of wanting a peaceful life for everyone but forced to fight to protect the innocent. Then going deeper when any robot thinking different than humans could be considered ‘maverick’.”

     Since I’m old enough to have seen the original Astro Boy which ran from 1963-64, I can totally relate to those who see it as the model for Mega Man. The essence of the Astro Boy series was that this was a robot with superpowers, but who also resembles a boy and who has human emotions. When the series was relaunched in 2003, the explanation given for his emotional capability was a device called the “kokoro drive.” “Kokoro” is Japanese for “heart,” and of course Eggman would never mess around with something like that.

     From what I’ve been able to determine, a family dynamic similar to Astro Boy is at work here, with Dr. Light in the role of Astro’s mentor Dr. Ochanomizu. Astro also acquired a little sister named Uran (short for Uranium) after acquiring robotic parents, as Rock has acquired Roll.

     Unfortunately, the family dynamic is shoved to the side in this story arc early on as the ass-kicking takes center stage. One of the series’ strengths according to Dawn Best becomes a liability here as no fewer than six Mega Man characters are shoved on stage, not to mention Metal Sonic and the rather lame robo-clones of Knuckles, Tails and Amy Rose. And for a Mega Man newb such as myself, that’s not a good thing. The fact that the story slips into Idiot Plot territory only makes a bad situation worse. Head Score: 3.

     EYE: Jamal Peppers does good work with the Sonic characters; his work on the Mega Man characters I have to take on faith. He certainly makes Rock, Roll and Santa Claus (aka Dr. Light) look appealing. Eye Score: 8.

     HEART: And here we come back to Astro Boy’s influence on Mega Man. Yes, Osamu Tezuka knew how to do action, he knew how to have Astro throw a punch, which wasn’t too often when he could use his strength and speed in other ways. But it was the manga’s unapologetic Heart moments that were also solid Tezuka and which helped cement the manga style.

     One of my earliest memories of the series, a sequence that totally stuck with me since I first saw it, was an Astro Boy dream sequence. In this case, the young android didn’t dream of electric sheep. Instead, he dreamed of being lost in a Dali-esque landscape looking for his mother but finding only female figures cobbled together from mechanical parts. In the episode’s climax, Astro is introduced to his parental units, and the scene becomes all warm and fuzzy in a way that Archie Editorial generally strives to exclude from this comic.

     In a later but no less telling episode, Astro and Uran are watching a fireworks display. Astro realizes that he’s only perceiving the gunpowder explosions; the aesthetics of the fireworks are completely lost to him. He’s not programmed to receive/perceive their beauty.

     These moments helped define the early anime as well as the manga from which it came. And unfortunately, Archie has been in no hurry to follow this example when writing the Sonic comic. The closest recent example was the rocky reunion of Mighty (who isn’t even a part of the Chaotix in this story arc so far) and his long-lost sister Matilda (“All For One”: SU46-49). Other examples, however, have been few and far between. Jammerlee summarizes the differences in outlook thus: “Dr. Light views his robots as his children and treats them as such which is something I really adore, whereas Ian has also introduced an extremist group believing this is the first step toward an inevitable robot apocalypse.”

     Dawn Best also cited the influx of villains, but from what I gather from her comment once Mega Man has acquired the “sweet powers” of his opponents that’s pretty much it for them in the story; Mega Man has their mojo now and they’re history. Comic books don’t work that way. It’s too easy for comic book villains to take root and wear out their welcome even if they were embraced by the fans at first.

     Gojira007 gives props to Mega Man’s mishpoche: “He also shares a tightly-knit bond with a less-than-typical family. In addition to his energetic sister Roll (who's generally portrayed as being exceptionally cheerful and outgoing, but also quite capable of taking you apart with nothing more than kitchen cleaning supplies) and his aloof brother Protoman/Blues and his doting father Dr. Light, he also has a group of ‘cousins’ in the form of the original six Robot Masters. They're all bombastic personalities in their own right, and watching them bounce off of sweet little Rock (Mega Man's real name) is frequently equal parts amusing AND heartwarming.”

     Not so much in this story. You get the feeling that Ian wanted to get the heartwarming stuff out of the way first, that it was only useful as a set-up for the ass-kicking to follow.

     Will Keaton may have hit the nail on the head: “Megaman does have [an] interesting backstory and characters that are easy to identify. It's also worth noting that if you grew up with a Megaman game you were bound to make up your own stories. I'm sure there are many Megaman fans out there who keep hoping a Megaman adaptation would come along with as much thought and love put into it as they did when they imagined their own stories. Sometimes we see something's potential instead of what that something has produced.”

     That, I think, is the story of my Sonic experience. Having invested a good deal of mental energy in writing fanfics, I find myself wondering why the comic can’t seem to do the same. I really don’t want to give up on the comic’s potential but stories like this one don’t give me much reason for hope. Heart Score: 4.



     EDITORIAL: Paul Kaminski is trying to draft the readers into the Sonic Heroes Brigade, which is another game entirely. Hey, at least Cream, Cheese and Big haven’t shown up (yet).

     OFF-PANEL: Apparently, Dr. Wiley thinks that when you remodel his mightiest robot with influences from Sonic the Hedgehog, you get something that looks like Gene Simmons from KISS. “I will end all of you … and party every day!”

     FAN MAIL: Jeffrey’s letter is a little late appearing in print since the events of S247 haven’t even happened yet. Austin is more interested in gushing about Shadow than plugging the crossover series; that’s best left to Editorial.

     FAN ART: Kenny draws Blaze, Avalon draws Amy Rose, Catherine draws Sonic on what appears to be a large sheet of plywood next to her dresser, and Nickolas draws heroes and villains.