Sonic #94 [Mar 2001]
Spaz/Harvo cover: No, it's not a Sonic Kids special cover (unfortunately), it's a "Back To School" cover. "Back to school"? In Australia, maybe. Mina, Tails and Sonic gather out front of Knothole High, which looks as cheesy as the name sounds. The autumnal coloring is nice, though not nearly as nice as the cover of S77. The ONLY saving grace for this cover is its absolute insincerity. I, for one, don't want to believe what I'm seeing and Spaz obliges. Mina has been colored a sickly green (so has Bunnie, for that matter), Tails isn't so much smiling as he's just showing a mouth full of teeth, and Sonic's basic design makes it impossible for him to look Archie Andrews-innocent. Thanks for the subtle subversion, Spaz.
Story: Karl Bollers; Art: Fry; Ink: Pam Eklund; Lettering: Jeff Power: Color: Frank Gagliardo; Editor/Art Director: Justin Gabrie; Managing Editor: Victor Gorelick; Editor-In-Chief: Richard Goldwater.
Note: Sonic list majordomo Ron Bauerle wondered, with last month's review, why I stopped referring to the editorial staff collectively as "G-Force." Basically it was because Karl Bollers let it be known that some of the most questionable (IMHO) ideas to have found their way into the comic have been the results of "editorial edicts." So I've decided I'm no longer going to offer them collective anonymity. If only because we have to start blaming the right people.
As with S92's "Wrath of Khan," the comic gets it royally wrong right out of the box. And since this is such a monumental screw-up, allow me a minute to get this out of my system:
If there was one thing that the SatAM and Archie continuities agreed on, if there was one point of intersection, it was the fact that Knothole was supposed to be a SECRET! The device of the Great Oak Slide seen as late as the last issue, the underground locales in such stories as "Saturday Night's Alright For A Fight" (S28), all are in the service of the plot point that Knothole's location was an unknown as far as Robotnik was concerned. The burden of "Business as Usual" (S76, a scant 18 issues ago) was to erase the knowledge of Knothole's location, acquired in the course of the Endgame story arc, from Robotnik's memory.
So why in the name of Frank Lloyd Wright has someone dragged in the plot point about some massive public works program in Knothole? It just doesn't make sense to clear huge tracts of the Great Forest and erect a castle that looks like it dropped out of the sky from Disneyland. And in such a prominent location, right on the top of a hill, where low-flying aircraft can see it plain as day, never mind any spy satellites Robotnik has in orbit. Why didn't they just put a great honking neon sign on top of the palace saying: "Yoo Hoo, Robotnik, Here We Are"? Fry makes it look sort of impressive, don't get me wrong, but in the context of the previous 93 issues of the comic it's absolutely ridiculous! I won't even bother to comment on the fact that all this was slapped together in a month and a half except to say that in RL it'd take that long just to get all the building permits! Unless this is another example of how "It's Good To Be The King!"
Sonic, Tails, Rotor and Bunnie are preparing for their first day in school by slacking off. "Since when did Freedom Fighters need to learn algebra, anyway?", Sonic wonders. Especially since Sally could always rely on Nicole to crunch numbers for her. Bunnie tells Sonic that he'll probably run into Sally tomorrow at school. At arm's length.
Speaking of Sally, we get a heaping helping of exposition from her and her family on the next page. I was afraid that the "war's over" angle was just another example of hype and bad blurb copy writing by Justin Gabrie. But it looks as if someone is really serious about having Elias call off the fight to retake Robotropolis, shut down Robotnik, and reclaim what was once theirs. I'll have more to say about THAT mentality later on.
Seems as if the Knothole residents haven't been the only ones at work. Robotropolis has become a humming little dystopia, like something out of Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner." And just what IS the population, anyway? That's one of the plot points nobody's quite figured out how to work into the narrative yet. And if the creatives and editorial weren't in such a breakneck hurry to reach S100 maybe they'd slow down and think that through. But they are and so they won't.
The only thing "daffier" than Robotnik spending a month and a half tinkering in his workshop or whatever is his dialogue. I don't know if this is a part of squeezing him into the Eggman mold, but it seems blatantly out of character. In the tradition of the Wise Child, Hope isn't buying Robotnik's version of reality. And Colin (who dismisses a plot point established in S72's "I, Robotnik" in the space of a single speech balloon) only just gets started on dealing with their 10 year absence from the planet when Robotnik gets a report that someone's been busted for breaking curfew: Snively, last seen in "Business As Usual."
But as weird as Robo-Eggman (or whatever) is acting lately, the next scene is like SO off! Tails's question as to whether Sonic and Sally are ever going to tie the knot is a legitimate one, and it gives Editorial a chance to lay down the law WRT that plot point. But then Tails goes so far out of character it's not funny. Literally. And it isn't just a question of respect for the office, either: to anyone familiar with the SatAM continuity, Sally has always been "Aunt Sally" to Tails. It all just felt too weird, even creepier that Barby Koala's romantic overtures toward Tails in "Outback Gut Check" (S61).
We then cut from the weird to the just plain confusing: Sonic and Tails are jolted awake by an impending construction accident, which Sonic resolves by...breaking...something or other.
Then we look in on Snively, who's being recruited to work for Robotnik. Snively's incentive: a chance to get back at Snively's father, Colin(!) [Me, I'm still waiting for the results of the DNA test]. Since Needle-nose appears to have issues WRT the hyoomon, he officially re-enters the continuity.
The next morning, while Sonic and Tails enroll in school and Fry dances perilously close to violating the emulation clause by showing a faculty member smoking outdoors (and not in the Faculty Lounge, like they did at MY high school), Hope is getting an education of her own in the School of Hard Knocks. This includes her encounter with a roboticized Mobian.
Back in Knothole, who should Tails run into in the school hall but Athair, who is apparently invisible to the hall monitor and everyone else, for that matter. Athair then spirits Tails away from both school and the present continuity to warm him up for the long-awaited "Chosen One" story arc which begins next issue.
Back in the day, my high school had a dress code that was severe enough to have stopped Bunnie cold at the door. Then again, Mobian furry society IS clothing optional. Consider that Sonic and Tails both show up for school wearing nothing above the ankles. So I guess Bunnie's outfit is acceptable by community standards. It's also Fry's way of outing us Baby Boomers in the audience, because Bunnie's outfit makes her look like a transfer student from Dogpatch. The vast majority of the core audience wouldn't know to look at it, but Bunnie's polka-dot halter top and raggedy jeans hotpants are a direct quote of the clothing worn by Daisy Mae (Scragg) Yokum, the female lead of Al Capp's "Li'l Abner."
Karl, in his response to my critique of "Wrath of Khan," stated that Nate's role in the story would be expanded as of this installment. Translation: Nate gets to teach high school. What a joke! Actually, I thought of a funnier one:
WELCOME BACK MORGAN: A situation comedy about a high school teacher, Nate Morgan (played by Gary Colman), and the lovable bunch of juvenile delinquents he teaches in a tough inner-forest high school. Featuring Sonic the Hedgehog as Vinnie Barbarino, Miles Prower as Juan Epstein, Antoine d'Coolette as Arnold Horshack, and Rotor (Boomer) Walrus as Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington.
Any fan artists who want to take a crack at visualizing this, be my guest. In fact, Nate is still being Nate by the end of the story as he lapses into familiar exposition mode and informs Sonic that Sal is going to be home schooled. So not only is she Princess Royal, she's also Incommunicado.
HEAD: Karl Bollers makes the exact same mistake Ken Penders made in "Best Of Times, Worst of Times" (SSS14): he tried to write this story in the first person singular, as if Sonic were telling it. Like Ken, Karl forgets that when you are in the first person singular you lose the author's power of omniscience. Sonic could speculate about Sally's activities and thoughts and feelings, about life in Robotropolis, and about Hope's not-so-excellent adventure until his quills fell out, and it STILL would not necessarily be an accurate account of what was (or wasn't) happening. He'd simply have no way of knowing. A lot of writers have tried first person singular stories and the best ones know better than to violate that rule: Charles Dickens in "David Copperfield," Mark Twain in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," J. D. Salinger in "Catcher In the Rye," heck, even Mickey Spillane in "I, The Jury." Check out any one of them and see if I'm not right.
I don't want to leave the impression that "New Order" is all that seriously flawed. It's actually a good story; TWO good stories, in fact. Once more, Karl has served up a number of plot points but they can basically be broken down into two categories: The Knothole Story and The Robotropolis Story. Either one of those could (and SHOULD) have filled the entire 16 pages, leaving the other story for another time. After all, we haven't heard from Kodos since "Wrath of Khan" and we won't again until next month, and the comic hasn't suffered because Karl hasn't managed to work the Kodos/Uma/Sword plot point into this month's installment. Aside from lapses in character and logic, the "stories" are well-paced and make use of strong characterization (even if I think they got Tails completely wrong on page 7). Hope especially is starting to break out of the pack as a character in her own right, one whom I wouldn't mind seeing defect to Knothole. The other hyoomon so far might as well be roboticizer redshirts. Head Score: 6.
EYE: Mercifully, Fry hasn't bent his style to ape that of Dan DeCarlo or of other Archie flagship artists simply because the story has wandered into Archie territory. And I was especially impressed by the layout on page 12, Hope's encounter with the bots. That alone convinced me that there was enough material available to justify an entire cover story on the situation in Robotropolis. Eye Score: 9.
HEART: Aside from the blatant break with the continuity that it represents, the depiction of Knothole not as a hidden base of operations but as a separate civilization looks impressive. In another sense, however, it looks like Hell.
In addition to being a great writer and one of the premier Christian apologists of the 20th century, C. S. Lewis also had a day job: professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature. In that capacity he authored "A Preface to Paradise Lost," a series of lectures concerning John Milton's epic poem dealing with the war in Heaven and the Fall of man. When I realized where the comic was going, what changes were being forced upon the old continuity, I turned to the chapter of "Preface" dealing with the debate between Satan's followers in Book II of "Paradise Lost."
What do you do when you've been thrown out of Heaven and you don't intend to apologize? The character Moloch is still P.O.ed enough to want to lash out at Heaven, though they've just lost the War. Belial, OTOH, recommends just the opposite: "to be very, very quiet, to do nothing...and to hope that we shall presently grow more or less used to it...There is no question of happiness, but perhaps the time will pass somehow."
But it is the counsel of the demon Mammon that is relevant here. Mammon "believes that Hell can be made into a substitute for Heaven. For everything that has been lost, you can find something else that can do quite as well...He has never understood the difference between Hell and Heaven at all. The tragedy has been no tragedy for him: he can do very well without Heaven" [emphasis original].
To me, Queen Alicia's "Let that nasty Robotnik keep his awful city to himself!" was a slap in the face. Never mind that it implies that she's washing her hands of any responsibility for those of her former subjects who have been roboticized; she, and Elias, seem to think that Knothole can be made into a substitute Mobitropolis. All you need to do is throw up some buildings.
But just as Mammon never understood the difference between Hell and Heaven, so it would appear that a majority of the Royals either can't (or won't) bring themselves to see what's being lost by conceding the fight to Robotnik. Of course, most of the family is handicapped in one way or another:
King Max had no sooner presided over the end of the Great War than he was the first victim of Julian's treachery, being exiled to the Void/Zone of Silence until his rescue in "And One Shall Save Him" (S41) and his physical restoration in "Return Of The King" (Return Of The King Special). Now, as a result of a rash attack on his part he's a paraplegic who no longer feels worthy to wear the Crown; that weight he passed on to his son, Elias.
Elias, in turn, grew up not on Mobius, but on the Floating Island in the presence of the Brotherhood of Guardians. Then, at age 10, he was allowed to leave (I STILL think he was more or less kicked out) and was raised by the Somersbys at the Royal Compound on the Island. He had no memory of Mobitropolis as it had been, and may only have learned about it from books or stories told by the Colonel and Mrs. Somersby. His only real link with the past was the presence of his mother, Queen Alicia, held in suspended animation in Haven (Forbidden Zone arc, K19-21).
For her part, Alicia must have known as much about the pre-war state of Mobitropolis as her husband. But because of her sustained comatose state as a result of the Brotherhood's attempt to stabilize her after her crash landing on the Floating Island, she slept through Robotnik's reign of terror, his defeat in the Endgame arc, the city's momentary restoration just before its re-conquest by Eggman-botnik in "I Am The Eggman" (S75), and has only recently awakened.
That leaves Sally. Of all the Royals, she's the ONLY one who's seen it all, who survived on the scene, who sacrificed her childhood in an attempt to set things right. She could never, ever, see her world the way her family sees it:
Bunnie started crying: "I want to go home!"
"Bunnie," Sally said gently but firmly as she grabbed her
friend by the shoulders, "you ARE home. This city, this whole
world, used to BE our home! And one of these days we're going to
take it back!"
From "Capture The Flag" by Dan Drazen
Anyone who saw the epic SatAM two-parter, "Blast To The Past," will remember what Karl, Justin, and apparently everybody else connected with the Sonic comic either forgot or never learned at all. It is the watchword of the Acorns, a family motto: "TO RULE WITH HONOR."
And where's the honor in THIS turn of the plot? Where's the honor in writing off Robotropolis? Where's the honor in abandoning Uncle Chuck and the other roboticized Mobians to an uncertain fate? Where's the honor in rewarding the efforts of Sonic, Tails, Bunnie and the rest by treating them like children? Where's the honor in letting one's actions be dictated by painful memories of failure? Where's the honor in denuding the Great Forest? Where's the honor in surrender?
Never mind that Editorial has contrived to continue keeping Sonic and Sally apart, THIS is the real tragedy of the shift in the continuity. The writers and editors have just about sucked the last bit of heroism, of honor, out of the story line. Once that's gone there's no gimmick, no villain, no plot development that will ever make this comic worthwhile reading again. I may be shouting into an empty cave here, but maybe, just maybe, someone associated with the book will realize that being a hero isn't about wearing spandex and having really cut pecs. It's about setting something right because it NEEDS to be set right, and Sonic and Sally and their friends are the ones that the readers want to see do the job. Please let them get back to doing it! Heart Score: 4.
"The Best-Laid Plans"
Story: Ken Penders; Art: Ron Lim; Ink: Ken Penders; Lettering: Vickie Williams; Color: Frank Gagliardo; Editor: Justin Gabrie.
With Knuckles in the custody of Gala-Na, Nic and Nack do their imitation of Han Solo leaving the rebel base with their payoff. They forget all about Charmy and Safron, who figure it's about time to rejoin the plot.
"I wish we could avoid all the unpleasantness," Gala-Na tells Knuckles. (Bet you could if you tried, lady!). But she orders her EST troops to use the Chaos Syphon on the Guardian. Only trouble is, someone forgot to pack it. I couldn't see it anywhere! All I saw were Knuckles in heavy-duty restraints and a laptop computer. Anyway, everyone pretends as if this were a Chaos Syphon, subjecting Knuckles to what appears to be severe discomfort just as Charmy and Safron arrive on the scene. While Charmy distracts the guards Safron appears to turn off the power to the laptop. This either reverses the flow or breaks the connection; it depends on whom you believe in the first panel on page . The end result? Knuckles (who doesn't look one bit different having broken out of the restraints) says "I'm not sure" and disappears. Thanks a boatload, pal!
HEAD: This is "Another Sega-inspired story," according to the first page. Probable translation: Ken reluctantly worked (at least one) editorial edict handed down by Justin Gabrie into the plot. That may explain the confusion in this story. What DID happen to Knuckles, anyway? Words fail him: "It's like someone flipped a switch...and now everything's...different...." Boy, THAT'S a helpful explanation! Around my house, when I flip a switch I get enlightenment; I'm not left in the dark unless the bulb has blown. That's not the case here.
Sega's "inspiration" may also explain why Ken's writing is, frankly, below par. Look at the cliches he piles on top of one another: "Jolly well right," "Let's blow this pop stand," "Party hardy," "Jacked in and good to go," "We just went from bad to worse." So did the dialogue. Makes me wonder whether Ken even TRIED thinking about what he was doing or whether this was one of those last-second writing jobs that he just wanted to be rid of ASAP. Head: 4.
EYE: And now the Mystery of the Invisible Syphon. Ron Lim, one of the freelance comic artists doing work for the Sonic the Hedgehog comic, is told that he has to draw a Chaos Syphon. He's never even HEARD of a Chaos Syphon, never mind that he doesn't know how to draw one. Yet my guess is he's not told whom to ask if he needs a picture of one, and it's also my guess that Archie doesn't keep a morgue of visual images to help their own struggling artists. What he DOES have is Ken Penders's drawing of Knuckles's mitcuffs from the previous story. So since this is all he has to go on, and since he has no way of knowing that there are several perfectly good drawings of a Chaos Syphon back in S56's "Immortality Is Infinite...." to which he probably doesn't have access anyway, Ron just has to do the best he can with what he doesn't have. Justin Gabrie could have avoided this situation by telling Ron: "Listen, I'm the Art Director; you need anything, lemme know and I'll fax or FedEx a photocopy of the art to you." That's how it SHOULD have played out, if you ask me. Instead we get the impression that either the Syphon is something so huge that it's off-panel (and all we see are some lame-o rays), or else that it's the restraints that Knuckles is wearing and controlled from a pedestrian laptop. The artwork per se isn't bad but when the pivotal plot device is nowhere to be seen it doesn't speak very highly of the production process. Eye Score: 4.
HEART: Torture isn't effective, Sam Spade told the Fat Man in "The Maltese Falcon," unless the threat of death is behind it. If Ken had worked that into the story, if he'd have had Knuckles say "Stop it! You're killing me!!" instead of "Feels like I'm about to overload!", maybe we readers would have been more in tune with his plight. Either because Ken was being purposefully vague or because his ability as a writer failed him completely, we don't know WHERE Knuckles's head is at by story's end. "It's like someone flipped a switch;" like I said, that's REAL helpful! Knuckles may be on the verge of a full-blown heel turn on his way to becoming the Ultimate Villain. Or not. It'll be a while before we know for sure; the Chosen One arc begins next month and will run for three issues to be followed by S98's Sonic Adventure 2 adaptation. So unless he tries to steal the spotlight from Tails during the Chosen One arc, we've got no reason to care about Knuckles for the next four months. And by that measure, this story gets a Heart Score of 2.
Sonic-Grams: No "Off-Panel;" no wonder Justin won't make it a recurring feature (see last month). The differences between Spaz's first line drawing and the current cover: Tails is wearing a Void character button? Like I could have seen THAT without the help of a microscope. And Sonic's scooter having tassels on the handlebars; yeah, well, that sort of thing does make a statement: "You are cordially invited to beat the crap out of me after school."
Blurb for S95: We pick up the Kodos/Uma/Sword thread and Sonic gets just as sick of the high school plot point as I am. At least the Chosen One arc kicks off next month.
Letters: Alex Brasius is told "If Tails has a super form, we have yet to see it!" Gee, I knew that Kent Taylor's "Immortality Is Infinite..." was one of the most boring, forgettable Sonic stories ever to see print, thanks in large part to Mammoth Mogul's incessant yammering, but did it so cloud the mind of whoever writes these replies that he/they completely forgot about the appearance in that story of Turbo Tails? I guess so. Jesse Avenetti is told by Captain Duh! that Sonic's natural form is his natural form. And Amy Elizabeth Erickson is told that the comic doesn't need to have the fans dreaming up half-baked gimmick-laden one-dimensional characters who bring next to nothing to the continuity; that's the Editors' job!
Fan Art: Though April Solomon gives us a dramatic rendering of Sonic being roboticized, we also get a drawing by Noele "T2" Carballo, one of the stalwarts of TEAMARTAIL.com. It appears to be titled: "Sonic, Tails and Knuckles: 20 years and 17 Shoe Sizes Later."