Sonic #81 [April 2K]
Galan/Penders/Ray cover: Sonic, E-102, Knuckles (who appears to be wearing Julie-Su's violet contacts) and Chaos standing before the burning ruins of the ancient echidna civilization. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait for that plot point to show up in the narrative.
Credits page: very brief descriptions of what went on before, accompanied by Spaz/Ribiero drawings of Sonic, Knuckles, and Big who looks less like a cat and more like a certain renegade Nightmaren. Uh, Spaz, Archie isn't printing the "NiGHTS Into Dreams" comic any more. They stopped after six issues. Get over it.
"City of Dreams"
Story: Karl Bollers; Art: James Fry and Nelson Ribiero; Ink: Andrew Pepoy; Color: Frank Gagliardo; Credited Letterer: Jeff Powell; Editorial: G-Force.
It took a while for me to figure it out, but Bollers does a neat trick by placing Amy Rose's flashback/exposition in the reflection of a department store window. She recalls her transformation via the "Ring of Acorns" with special effects provided by Mattel's Spir-O-Graph. Neat toy, Spir-O-Graph, until the ball point ink built up to the point where it smeared across the design. But Karl Bollers snaps Amy Rose out of her reverie as the Knothole crowd gawks at the city while some of the locals (including a Jughead wanna-be - bet his parents are real proud!) do some gawking of their own. These hyoomons are a major change from the game, where the people are nothing more than statues to talk to and from whom to derive occasionally important bits of information. When a police copter arrives on the scene my first thought was: "Finally! This is where the cops launch a futile attack on Chaos just like in the opening of the game!" Bollers disappoints, however; for that, we'll have to wait at least another month!
One of the cops just HAPPENS to recognize Nate Morgan "after all these years." Let's see if you remember the words to the song: "GEE, WHAT ARE THE ODDS?" Nate then volunteers Princess Sally to be the spokesfur for the group while he sidles back into a corner and doesn't contribute anything else to this installment. Typical. The gang is then put up in the Station Square Hotel for the night. I'm guessing from my memory of past "Off-Panel" installments that Gagliardo and Gabrie are two of the characters behind the front desk: the hulky guy in the black suit and the pinstripe guy, respectively. The woman has to be either Pam Eklund or Vickie Williams, while the identity of the caffeine junkie and the two bellhops remains unknown. To me, anyway. This is someone's idea of an in-joke; let's all pause and listen to the restful sound of crickets chirping.
And if you thought that little stunt misfired, wait until you meet -- Mayor Bullyani. What's so special about him? Nothing. That's the problem!! Karl telegraphs an intent to commit satire, realizes that the target audience wouldn't get any of the jokes, and basically just lets the whole thing die. So why use the name at all? His name may as well have been "Mayor Mayor," straight out of the "Powerpuff Girls." Anyway, Hizzoner takes time out of his busy schedule of running the city and throwing homeless people in jail to take the Mobians on a tour in a string of subway cars that appear never to have been tagged by graffiti artists. Sonic and Tails, however, bail out of the tour midway. So does Amy Rose, though that's never really established in the story. She does her own strolling around and finds Nirvana. Or at least the Galleria.
Tails, meanwhile, has to shoulder the burden of the most awkward exposition to date: trying to sell the readership on the notion that the atmosphere inside the mountain that contains Station Square is somehow big enough to allow for air travel. For that to happen the island would have to be HUGE!! And while a science fiction buff would be able to accept it as a kind of Dyson shell (like the one featured in the episode "Relics" from Star Trek: The Next Generation), that's a bit more exposition than Archie Comics and Karl Bollers can handle at the moment. Sonic, meanwhile, is ready for "something completely wild and different": SEX! Why else would he hang with some hyoomon babes, including a couple fugitives from one of those virtual fighter games?
Meanwhile, in the course of the elevated train ride (which has turned into something of a power meeting between Sal and the Mayor), there's a hint that the Station Squares may establish diplomatic relations with the outside world. At least the mayor's getting it done before Chaos trashes the place. Oh, like I gave something away there! It's only part of the Sonic Adventure opening sequence!
HEAD: Once again, Karl Bollers is all build-up and no delivery. I suppose I shouldn't hold it against him, though. As I stated in my review of Sonic 50: The Director's Cut (SSS6), a writer builds (or he SHOULD build) a certain narrative rhythm into a story. And this material was supposed to have run in only 4 Sonic issues, two Knuckles issues and the Special. But with the demise of the Knuckles book (where the Knuckles material was supposed to have run in issues 33 and 34), the narrative flow got jazzed yet again.
And in this both Karl and Ken Penders had help from: The Phantom Letterer! In the past, when someone has come in and done back-up lettering, it looked SOMETHING like the original letterer's style. Not here, though. Right off the bat on Page 2's splash panel we get lettering that's different from Jeff Powell's usual work. Look at Nate Morgan's word balloons. In the first balloon, only the "I" that begins the sentence has serifs (those little crosslines at the top and bottom). The other Is are "sans serif" - they don't have them. Now check the second word balloon. Suddenly his Is all have serifs on them! And there's more of the same on pages 5, 7, and 9. Whoever pasted these in place didn't even TRY to match Powell's work. Justin, in his capacity as editor, must have felt that they needed exposition and they needed it fast. Too bad it wasn't all that effective. On page 7, panel 4, the layout is such that if you read Tails's thought balloons from left to right and not top to bottom, it's almost as if Tails was interrupting his own train of thought. While Freddie's story of how the issue came to be in this month's Sonic-Gram is somewhat enlightening, I have a feeling that these particular seams weren't meant to show.
And I can't emphasize enough how misplaced the "Mayor Bullyani" angle was. A satirical plot point is all well and good, but a POINTLESS satirical plot point is just a waste of space. Karl really needn't have bothered. This story had better start getting traction soon! Head Score: 6.
EYE: Aside from the page 1 exposition in the store window, the page 2 splash, and Amy's scene on page 6, I wasn't all that impressed this time out. I'm not sure how Fry and Ribiero split the artistic chores: I can only guess that Fry drew the furs and Ribiero drew the hyoomons. Someday the creatives at Archie are going to realize that in this book the hyoomons are BESIDE THE POINT except when it comes to Robotnik and whatever his latest incarnation might be. The best they can give us are police guys who look like Mega-Man wanna-bes; a far cry from the immobile, apathetic hyoomons in the game itself who dispense game tips and asides the way certain machines dispense bottles of soda pop. Eye Score: 6.
HEART: Somehow, the longer the story got the harder it became to relate to the characters. Amy Rose's excursion on page 6 was delightful if unexplained (would YOU let a 12-year-old girl wander around a major metropolis alone?). Tails's sequence on page 7 was nice, too, but hampered by the Phantom Letterer's clumsy exposition about the "fake sky." And Sonic's interlude on page  was...well, it was just wrong on several levels. If this were a true set-up for the game, the creatives should have lost the babes and just had Sonic chill by the pool. The gratuitous babeage was just that. Heart Score: 5.
"All You Need Is A Bit Of Chaos"
Story: Ken Penders; Art: Steve Butler; Ink: Pam Eklund; Color: Frank Gagliardo; Lettering: Vickie Williams and the Phantom Letterer; Editorial: G-Force.
We find Eggbotnik trying to bring Chaos to life with the fragments of the Master Emerald. Unfortunately, the results are reminiscent of a rather sluggish lava lamp. Turns out that what he's got aren't all shards of the Master Emerald. So after sorting out the junk food, he sends off his E-series bots to get the goods while also supplying a motivation for snatching Froggy in the previous issue.
Knuckles, meanwhile, scopes out the ruins while foreshadowing the Tikal subplot. But instead of answers to his numerous questions, he encounters a couple shards from the Master Emerald which he stuffs inside his mittens for safe keeping. And then he discovers...something which will be revealed in the next installment.
As for Julie-Su and the Chaotix, they're headed back with the new neighbors. And since their destination is the Mysterious Cat Country, they travel in (sorry about this) a Mysterious Catamaran. Feel free to groan. Espio makes a point of saying that Knuckles never mentioned the Mysterious Country Cats before. Hello!! The only reason the Chaotix got within hissing distance of them at all is because the Floating Island stopped floating!
That's the first of three serious plot problems in this segment. The second has to do with the Phantom Letterer's balloon where somebody suggests that they could have walked. Uh, let's go to the game itself, shall we? Watch as the island drops into the water. Notice how much of it ends up getting submerged? Ever hear of displacement? Walking across enough water to handle the lower portion of the Floating Island would NOT have been an option. What the Phantom Letterer's boss was thinking when that balloon was put in, I don't know.
Then there's the third problem: the exchange on page 8 between the cats. The black-and-white tells one of the other cats that she's going to report to the Queen, but the last three panels suggest that SHE'S the Queen. Actually, ANY female cat is a "queen" just as any male cat is a "tom" but that's neither here nor there. I can only attribute the confusion to circumstances beyond the control of the creatives. Maybe this will all get straightened out in the next installment.
HEAD: A bit more straightforward than "City of Dreams" despite the flaws. Ken is on firmer ground when dealing with the game story per se but loses his way with the Chaotix filler material. His Eggbotnik "prequel" worked for me, however. Head Score: 7.
EYE: Butler's work is impressive, particularly on the Mysterious Country Cats. The logo on the sail of the catamaran was a nice touch. But am I right in thinking that the black-and-white Cat is a female? The whole scene was confusing, to me at any rate. Eye Score: 7.
HEART: Not much to go on this time around. Heart Score: N/A.
"A Rose Plucked"
Story: Karl Bollers; Art: Chris Allan; Ink: Harvo; Color: Frank Gagliardo; Lettering: Jeff Powell and the Phantom Letterer; Editorial: G-Force.
Amy Rose emerges from her shopping expedition, and it's plain to see that one of her first acquisitions was a Wonderbra. Either that or she found a kiosk in the mall that does both ear piercing and breast implants. Amy Rose is supposed to be 12. Maybe my memory isn't what it used to be, but I don't recall any of the 12-year-old girls I went to school with looking THAT developed. For that matter, Amy Rose wasn't that zaftig in "City of Dreams," let alone in the game itself where her bustline was far more modestly proportioned.
But we then cut to the story: Bird meets Girl, Girl meets Bot, Bot gets hammered, Girl gets captured, Bird gives chase.
HEAD: Aside from the fact that neither the reader nor Amy Rose seem to know how she acquired the hammer, this is a straightforward adaptation of the opening of the Amy Rose segment of Sonic Adventure. By having the E-bots spirit Amy Rose away, however, we don't have to endure Amy Rose's trying to talk Sonic into visiting Twinkle Park amusement park where "cute couples get in free." Just as well; it would have needlessly confused an already complex story line. Head Score: 8.
EYE: As I said, Chris Allan's idea of a 12-year-old Amy Rose is a far cry from Fry's in what's gone before. Maybe he's still thinking of Julie-Su from the First Date arc, I don't know. Effective otherwise. Eye Score: 8.
HEART: Bollers may have dropped the Twinkle Park excursion but didn't stint on what really counts: the bonding between Amy Rose and Birdy. That's pretty much her main motivation for being in the game, anyway, and it does have a certain charm in and of itself. Heart Score: 9.
Off-Panel: Let's review: in this issue we have lame in-jokes, an abortive attempt at satire, Sonic hanging with hyoomon babes (some of whom are close to being severely underdressed, even by Archie Comics standards), an overdeveloped Amy Rose, and now a Sonic-photocopies-his-butt gag. This on the heels of the dose of literal bathroom humor in the "Off-Panel" that ran in Special #12. This tells me that putting this adaptation together was NOT a good time for all concerned. If it was, they would have concentrated on straightforward storytelling without resorting to these tension-releasing devices.
Sonic-Grams: Justin confirms my suspicions by letting us know that "we had a dandy time putting this book together (and we don't mean that in just the good way...)". He specifies some of the problems encountered while deferring an explanation about others until next time. Once again I get the feeling that what went on backstage may have been at least as interesting as the show itself, and that if Justin HAD any hair he probably would have pulled it out by the time the adaptation was over.
The annual dose of legalese knocks the letters out of the column, leaving only room enough for a small blurb for S82 and the endnotes. Find Your Name: Stephen Grzybowski dubs himself "Blackavar" - cool, someone else who's read Watership Down, IMHO the greatest furry novel of all time! Fan Art: Myles Haren does Sonic and Sally as ripped and zaftig, respectively; Tia Wheeler brings NiGHTS into the picture. Caleb Zarn does an homage to Constable Remington (maybe because of the RCMP-style hat he wears), and Brian Hardison and Joey Piergrossi answers the unasked question, "What do you get when you cross Sonic with Dragonball Z?" Aside from weird crossover fanfic.