Friday, May 16, 2014

Sonic Universe #63

Publication date: April 24, 2014 (digital), May 14, 2014 (print edition)

“The Great Chaos Caper, Part One: On the Hunt”

Writer: Ian Flynn
Pencils: Tracy Yardley!
Inks: Jim Amash
Colors: Matt Herms
Letters: Jack Morelli
Editor: Paul Kaminski
Cover(s): Tracy Yardley! (standard), Ryan Jampole (variant)

Summary (may contain spoilers):

After the Shattered World Crisis hits Angel Island, Knuckles is tasked with needing to find the spirit that can restore the world. He entrusts guarding the Master Emerald to newcomer Relic the Pika, an archaeologist and explorer, and her robot buddy, Fixit, while he heads down to the world below.

A few days later, Knuckles ends up in the Pumpkin Hill Zone, where he is attacked by strange monsters. He receives an assist from the Chaotix, who were hired by Sally Acorn to locate the Chaos Emeralds, the keys to restoring the planet. After vanquishing the monsters, the group flies deeper into the valley to track down the Emerald, but not before running into some competition: Team Hooligan!

Fast Facts:

*The story continues from Sonic Universe #62. Knuckles was seen in one of the “After the Credits” endings where he sees Eclipse’s ship hurdling down toward the planet.
*As the Chaotix were hired by Sally to search for the Chaos Emeralds, the events of this issue take place right after Sonic #259.
*The Shattered World Crisis began in Sonic the Hedgehog #256.
*Bean and Bark were last seen in Sonic #256, when they ditched Amy Rose and Cream the Rabbit as soon as Metal Sonic attacked Mobitropolis.
*Team Hooligan, all together, last appeared Sonic Universe #21-24 (“Treasure Team Tango”).
*Espio mentions Mighty and Ray are off an adventure, meaning they still exist in this continuity, but are no longer part of the Chaotix. Neither is Knuckles (who led the team in the old continuity).
*Relic the Pika is seen in the Launch Base Zone, which appeared in Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Likewise, Pumpkin Hill appeared in Sonic Adventure 2 (Battle).
*An editor’s note mentions Angel Island falling in Sonic Adventure 2 (Battle), though the event itself isn’t seen in that game. They might have meant Sonic Adventure (DX), but it’s not hard to imagine Angel Island did fall as a result of the Master Emerald being shattered again in SA2.


“Ya know me the fighting freak, Knuckles, and we at Pumpkin Hill, you ready?!”

Things have been crazy for the Archie Sonic comic book for the last year or so. While there are a lot of reasons, both in-universe and behind the scenes, the book has seen some wild and drastic changes.
This is a subject I plan to return to and talk about further in future reviews, but the short version, for the uninitiated, is that the continuity reboot is the result of a long and stupid legal battle with former Sonic scribe Ken Penders, who gained rights to many of the characters that he originally created for the comic. While the case was dismissed and both sides settled, the comic was severely damaged with much of its old material out of reach.

To “fix” this problem, Archie used their Mega Man crossover event (“Worlds Collide”) to reboot the Sonic comic universe. This buried anything related to Penders’s contributions (and, in effect, the contributions of other past creatives) and also made the Archie Sonic universe more closely resemble the world of the SEGA games. While the approach itself has gotten some mixed reception, it was a necessary evil if the comic was going to continue to run at all. I often describe the reboot as a mercy killing after the state in which the old continuity was left before the crossover. 

As readers, especially those aware of the situation, our options are to swallow it and keep reading or to quit reading and move on. I choose the former, regardless of the bad taste these legal shenanigans have left in my mouth.

One thing I will admit, by making the comic’s world more closely resemble the world of the games, it makes the comic far more accessible to new readers, something that the book has struggled with for years. Ironically, it still assumes a certain amount of knowledge on the part of the readers (by referencing past game events). While I don’t mind how it’s done, as I’m versed enough in my Sonic trivia to know what they’re talking about, it humorously leads to a lot of exposition that amounts to “Hey, remember when…?” conversations. 

And that’s pretty much what most of the first part of “The Great Chaos Caper” is. From the moment the Chaotix turn up, there’s a lot of back and forth with Knuckles recounting his experiences in Pumpkin Hill (SA2) or referencing some events from Sonic Heroes (which is, according to current head of Sonic Team Takashi Iizuka, the first canon appearance of the Chaotix). It’s something that’s popped up a lot since the new continuity took effect, in varying degrees, but I think SU#63 is the first one that lays it on thicker than others in the dialogue.

The dialogue itself has a natural flow at least, and is fun to read, but it’s still just a lot of info dumping even when knowledge is already assumed on the part of the reader.
One thing that sticks out to me is that the Chaotix and Knuckles are on slightly less friendly terms than before. They seem to get along well enough and can work together, but if you’ve always known Knuckles and the Chaotix to be extremely tightknit, their interactions here might feel jarring. Knuckles noticeably gets pretty easily annoyed with the trio, Vector especially, at times, but I have to remind myself that "It's not the same canon anymore."

In fairness, Vector was always sort of an ass in the old continuity, even when he and Knuckles were best buds, so Knuckles being less tolerant of the New!Vector’s obnoxious personality makes sense.

And we have another new character join the ranks: Relic the Pika. Relic is an archaeologist and explorer, assisted by a strangely Gizoid-looking (the same type of robot Emerl/Gemerl are) robot named Fixit. Having not fully played Sonic Battle, I’m not overly familiar with the Gizoids, I do know they were discovered by Gerald Robotnik which was likely how Eggman learned about them. I’m also of the understanding they are actually technology created by the Dark Brotherhood from Sonic Chronicles, so who knows if the history of the Gizoids will be further explored given that the Dark Brotherhood are sort of at the root of the aforementioned behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

But anyway, let’s talk about Relic. Her design is quite unique looking, and much like the remixed Freedom Fighters, feels more closely linked to the SEGASonic design aesthetic. Her design is cute and she sports a simple complementary color palette. She could very well fit into Sonic’s world without any problems.

I was also amused by her banter with Knuckles, and found their back and forth to be quite cute. Seeing Knuckles get flustered and struggle to ask for her help is funny, but he brings it back to “just business,” befitting Knux’s personality, especially with the Master Emerald involved. I also like that we just hit the ground running and the characters are established already to have a history together (which is true in this continuity) without needing to delve into backstory for Relic. At most we just get mentions of Relic knowing about Angel Island falling in the past and that Knuckles allows her to stay and do her research. 

In a way, it makes the info-dumping in Knuckles’s conversation with the Chaotix a little odd, but I suppose we have to remember these aren’t quite the same incarnations from before, so it might necessary to establish the characters’ relationships.

While the script itself is a bit exposition heavy, Flynn handles it well and dangles some interesting things that will no doubt be relevant in the future. Granted, it’ll take some time to pay off because this is how comics work (they’re soap operas in print, come on now), but Flynn has a pretty good track record of always coming back to stuff when he needs to. None of it being tied up in legal nonsense means we won’t have to deal with further problems by the time Flynn is ready to use them.

Tracy Yardley resumes penciling duties and his artwork is always a joy to look at. He is constantly improving and comparing his earliest work with his newest work is like night and day. His characters are always expressive and full of energy, and even if he sticks to the model quite closely, it certainly doesn’t limit what the man can do with the characters. Even the main cover of the book is amusing to look at.

Yardley’s layouts are always interesting to look at as well. Even when he uses less traditional looking panels, he never breaks the grid of the page, making what he draws easy to read and follow. He does a fine job illustrating the game-specific settings as well.

 And, of course, I shouldn’t forget Jim Amash’s inking. If there’s a penciling/inking combination that works well on this series, it’s Yardley and Amash. Amash is far more suitable complement to Yardley’s pencils, with bold, solid lines that give a feeling of volume to the characters. I prefer him inking Yardley to, say, Terry Austin on the main book. For me, Austin’s output is always uneven, sometimes making some pages look great, and seemingly rushing through others, and it seems to vary from penciler to penciler. I’ll have more to say about Austin’s inks in the future, but it’s a contrast I like to bring up because it’s really noticeable when you flip back and forth between the main book and Sonic Universe (check Sonic #256 and then come back to this issue).

Finally Herms is on colors, and his coloring always looks great. Everything is appropriately bright and saturated, and the way he shades characters, using analogous colors to bring a little more “pop” to the characters, looks great (especially the violet shading on Knuckles—I’ma steal that in the future).

Archie has been doing a lot of work getting this new universe established and getting readers, new and old, acquainted with it, as quickly as possible. All the arcs this year have so far been focused on world-building, expanding on various ideas present in the Sonic games (such as Chaos getting involved in the Shattered World crisis—cover solicits suggest Chaos will appear again in Sonic #263, part four of the upcoming “Waves of Change” storyline) and setting the stage for new supporting characters and even antagonists (Captain Metal from “Pirate Plunder Panic” and Eclipse from “Shadow Fall”). 

Much was lost in the reboot, but this direction makes me optimistic for the future of this book. It totally sucks that all that stuff was lost, don’t get me wrong, but the comic will thankfully not want for new and original characters or interesting concepts, especially those that repurpose and expand upon characters and concepts Sonic Team themselves don’t know what to do with. It makes the bitter pill of the reboot much easier to swallow.

Give and take, really.

Sonic Universe #63 was released digitally on April 23, 2014. The print edition was released May 14, 2014.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Happy 22nd Birthday, Sonic! IIZ Turns 4!

Psh, and you all thought I forgot, didn't you?! Well, OK, maybe just for a moment. I've been keeping busy with some other projects and things lately, that I haven't found time to really sit down and get at the big backlog of reviews I've been staring down the last week or so. I'm totally behind on the goings-on of Archie's Sonic series right now (I need to catch up with the crossover) and I've got to start putting together some plans for things to write about.

Also, how about Sonic Lost World? Anybody else hyped for that? ...Sorry I don't have much more to say on it, I kinda missed the opportunity when it was announced, didn't I? Anyway, have a sketch I did for today.

I'll be playing some catch up on the world of Sonic this summer, so hopefully I actually have some posts that materialize out of that in the next couple months... Hopefully.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review: Mega Man #24

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been haring off in other directions for the last few months, particularly updating my art blog (shameless plug) and pursuing other things for a little while. That said, I think this blog deserves a little bit of love too! I had intended to write reviews for the recently completed “Endangered Species” storyline (Sonic the Hedgehog #243-246) and a few other things, but those are being temporarily put off while I jump in directly to Archie Comics’ big crossover event “Worlds Collide!”

So let’s get right into it, shall we?

“Worlds Collide” is Archie's big mash-up between the worlds of Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man. Written by head writer Ian Flynn with the blessing of SEGA and Capcom (in fact, it was their idea!), the twelve-part crossover event will span Archie's three series: Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Universe and Mega Man.

To help readers keep track of what books are coming out during the crossover, Archie has released a handy checklist that has been featured in various comic ads and promotional materials. You can check it below:

Click to enlarge.
The action starts off in Mega Man #24, so let’s begin! 

Warning, spoilers ahead.

The story opens in the Green Hill Zone in Sonic’s world. Sonic is battling a new foe, dressed in blue and sporting a cannon on his arm—it’s the super fighting robot, Mega Man! But wait… aren’t they both the heroes? Just what is going on here?

High in the sky, a robot that suspiciously resembles Tails, Sonic’s sidekick and best friend, is monitoring the action and transmitting the footage directly to none other than Dr. Eggman and Dr. Wily. The two doctors are busy congratulating one another for the oh-so-brilliant plan of pitting Sonic and Mega Man against each other, cheering for their hated nemeses’ mutual destruction. The two doctors look over to another monitor that is keeping track of the seven Chaos Emeralds, five of which have already been collected. The two reminisce on how their partnership began…

The rest of the issue is a flashback/setup for the storyline, with one of Dr. Wily’s robot servants bringing him a strange blue gemstone (which turns out to be the Chaos Emerald that went missing from the Death Egg Mk. II in Sonic #230), which suddenly puts him into contact with Dr. Eggman.

After some arguing the two realize they have much in common, particularly their advanced knowledge of robotics and being plagued by “young upstarts” that always seem to get in their ways. Eggman proposes the two meet, and they subsequently create an alternate dimension by manipulating the power of the Chaos Emerald Wily obtained. They then proceed to build a new base of operations and Death Egg model and reset their worlds via the Genesis Wave (last used by Eggman in Sonic #225, kicking off the “Genesis” arc in #226-229), priming their respective worlds for conquest.

It’s sort of weird going into “Worlds Collide” when Archie, for whatever reason, decided to give away bits and pieces of the story through their early solicitations (particularly the covers). To be fair, even though people who have seen most of the solicitations might be going in with some vague knowledge, the covers hardly tell the whole story. Part one helps to put some of those upcoming covers into context. Here, we see how the two doctors meet and the development of their fast friendship (played for laughs on the “Evil Friends For Life” variant covers that will be scattered throughout the crossover).

A cover for an upcoming issue (Sonic Universe #52, part 5) features Mega Man-styled robots based on Tails, Knuckles, Shadow and Amy, and this issue explains their creation: a fusion of Dr. Eggman’s roboticization techniques and Dr. Wily’s own brand of robotic technology.

I confess I don’t have much knowledge of Mega Man or his universe; I’ve played a few games scattered throughout the franchise, and I’m aware of the main players, but the specifics are totally lost to me. I think the crossover might be what turns me around and actually gets me into something Mega Man related (i.e. Archie’s comic series).

I think that’s sort of the beauty of this sort of thing: the cross-pollination of fans of the respective franchises discovering the other, and, hopefully, becoming fans in the process. Of course, crossovers like this are also a great marketing scheme to move lots of books all at once, and now with Archie getting into the variant cover scheme (though without the weird shipment ratios of common and rare covers and expensive retailer incentives/exclusives other publishers are currently doing—take a look at IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for an idea of what I mean), the completionist collectors will likely be ALL OVER this crossover.

If I have one nitpick about the whole idea of the crossover is that it’s essentially interrupting the on-going narratives of both universes: Sonic #247 ended on a cliffhanger with Sonic and crew confronting Mecha-Sally just before the Genesis wave hits, and I’ve heard Mega Man #23 has a similar cliffhanger ending. I can appreciate however, that Archie hasn’t totally rushed the stories of those series simply to make way for the crossover, choosing instead to merely “pause” them. I can also appreciate the ease of access into both worlds. Again, I think it’s that “cross-pollination” Archie is aiming for.

I’ve mentioned before (long ago) that Archie’s Sonic comic in particular has never been the easiest book to pick up. It’s always been a “miss an issue, miss most of the story” sort of thing. Archie has definitely made some grand efforts to really make things more accessible in the last few years, but the twenty year history of the on-going narrative, which has passed through many writers in that span, will always be a hurdle; it’s certainly lower than it’s ever been, but it’s still there. 

Doing things like adding recap pages and making past issues readily available either through digital services, back-issue collections, and the rare trade paperback collection (rare as far as Archie's Sonic is concerned, anyway) certainly helps readers catch up. “Worlds Collide” seems to do away with the comic-specific universes of Sonic and Mega Man in favor of staying in the more familiar realms of the video games, increasing accessibility to potential readers who would probably not pick up these books otherwise.

The big question is how much of this crossover will eventually affect the main storylines of each world? Archie's Sonic is not actually a stranger to crossovers.

In Sonic Super Special #7, Sonic and the Freedom Fighters ended up in the Image Comics world, and they teamed up with Spawn, Savage Dragon, and some forgettable original characters from Ken Penders's failed series The Lost Ones.

Another time, Sonic was transported to Sabrina the Teenaged Witch's world, brainwashed into attacking the titular character, but then eventually stopped by a team up of Sabrina and Sally Acorn (Sabrina the Teenaged Witch #28 and Sonic Super Special #10).

Neither of these crossovers are considered (to my knowledge) canon, and have not had any lasting effect on the Archie Sonic universe (the only people who don't forget about these misadventures are the readers, really). However, it seems that "Worlds Collide" might be set up to have some lingering effects on both worlds, due in part to the reappearance of the Genesis Wave, which itself has had some side effects post-Genesis on Sonic's world, such as the re-implementation of roboticization (Sonic #230) and the awakening of Ixis Naugus's past forms, which are haunting him in his mind (chronicled throughout Sonic #230-241 and Sonic Universe #41-44).

Ian Flynn shows that he understands these characters on a deep level. The interactions between Eggman and Wily are hilarious, and it’s fun watching how well they get along, and the disagreements they do have (such as the naming of the Skull Egg Zone or the Wily Egg) are quickly fixed by compromises and games of rock-paper-scissors. These two don’t have time to butt heads, they’ve got worlds to conquer and blue ones to destroy you know (heh, that was lame)!

Flynn shows both worlds the respect they deserve by never really having a character from one universe necessarily outshine the other. The collaboration between Eggman and Wily really hit this home by their combining robotics techniques from both worlds to create the “Roboticized Masters.” Even the fight between Sonic and Mega Man shows both heroes getting an equal amount of hits in with neither giving in (and don’t worry, we’ll see how they ended up fighting each other next issue!).

I imagine Flynn's biggest challenge was making the crossover look intentional; it was actually Capcom and SEGA that approached Archie about the possibility of a crossover and Flynn had to find a way to make it all work.

For example, I wonder where the blue Chaos Emerald would have ended up post-Genesis if the crossover wasn't on the table at the time (it disappeared in Sonic #230, after Sonic reset the Prime Zone). Would it have ended back up in the Special Zone or even another dimension? There's no telling exactly when plans for the crossover began and what sort of adjustments had to be made to both stories to make it work. Never mind that the Sonic book has been going through some changes already thanks in part to the current legal issues with Ken Penders... but this isn't the place for that.

Jamal Peppers handles penciling duties for what I presume will make up the first “act” of “Worlds Collide.” Ian Flynn had said in an interview recently that the twelve-part crossover would be broken up into three acts, which will be reflected in the upcoming trade paperback collections (which will collect the issues in the correct order). If I had to guess each act will have a different set of artists working on the story (Ben Bates is confirmed to be handling some penciling duties).

Peppers’s pencils are strong as usual, and he draws both universes’ characters well in their respective styles; they still have their personal nuances that mark them as either a “Sonic” character or a “Mega Man” character, but they never really clash on the page.  His character poses are dynamic and his layouts are easy to follow. Peppers’s pencils are complemented by Jim Amash’s inking, which use more bold varied lines compared to how Terry Austin usually inks his work. While I’m usually complimentary about Austin’s inking, I think I’m finding I prefer how Amash handles things a bit better as his inking various artists seems generally more consistent. But I’ll get to that in another review when the time comes.

Matt Herms is handling coloring duties, and his work, as expected, is bright, colorful and perfectly matched for this book. I especially like the little bit of shading that add just a little bit more depth to the artwork, breathing a little bit of extra life into it. I recall some of his work having sort of a “washed out” look on the “Endangered Species” storyline, but whether that’s just how the colors actually print or he was aiming for something a little less saturated to match the mood… I’m not sure. 

I should note that I read this comic on my computer via comiXology, so it’s entirely possible the colors don’t print quite as brightly as they appear on screen.

All in all, Mega Man #24 kicks things off smoothly, and works to quickly get readers up to speed on what was going down in the respective universes pre-crossover before getting things into gear. The flashback isn’t quite over and will continue in Sonic Universe #51.

If you've been keeping up with Archie's on-going Sonic series, "Worlds Collide" might actually be a nice breather. Post-Genesis, the storyline has been fairly heavy, and also after how "Endangered Species" turned out due to some behind the scenes issues, it might actually be a good thing to step away from the "Prime" universe for a few months. On the flip-side, we're really, really close to a resolution with Mecha-Sally, and it's a shame we've got to wait a little bit longer because of the crossover.

While I have some mixed feelings, I appreciate Archie simply hitting the "pause" button instead of rushing things through. It shows a level of care that would've been unprecedented from the same company 13 years ago, and as someone who has grown up with this series and seen it through its many ups and downs, it's a breath of fresh air, and I'll be happy to stick around and enjoy the ride.

Check back soon for the review of part 2 of "Worlds Collide" in Sonic Universe #51!

Mega Man #24 was originally released on April 10, 2013. A free digital preview is available on comiXology.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Metal VS Metal for Sonic Universe #50

So, remember a couple months ago at New York Comic-Con Archie made a few announcements? It would seem that Archie has flipped the script on us. Sonic Universe #50 was originally announced to be a one-shot story taking place in the Sonic Underground universe and would serve as an epilogue to the cartoon series. For whatever reason, this plan has been put on temporary hiatus and a brand new story, featuring Metal Sonic and Shard--the original Metal Sonic in the Archie comics. Shard first appeared in Sonic the Hedgehog #25 (a loose adaptation of Sonic CD), then rebuilt in Knuckles' Chaotix #1, rebuilt again in Sonic the Hedgehog #86-87, before appearing as a member of the Secret Freedom Fighters in Sonic Universe #41-44.

Editor Paul Kaminski says:

Sonic Universe celebrates 50 issues - and Metal Sonic is crashing the party! On the eve of the epic Sonic/Mega Man crossover, 'Forged in Fire' will star a newly-rebuilt Metal Sonic as we've never seen him before - consumed by vengeance. It's metal-brother versus metal-brother as the heroic Shard throws down with this new hatred-fueled Metal Sonic! Metal has been a cold, calculated killer since he debuted in comic book form back in Sonic the Hedgehog #25 - and that original appearance will also be re-presented as a special bonus feature in SU#50! We've also got a stunning new cover by Sonic-art legend Patrick "SPAZ" Spaziante and colorist Matt Herms which will sport comic-shop-exclusive metallic effects! The 'Sonic Underground' story originally slated for this issue in on a temporary hiatus, but fear not! There will still be music to celebrate this historic issue, only this time it's HEAVY METAL!

There wasn't a particular reason given for the change in plans, it's possible the new story could more directly connect to the upcoming Sonic/Mega Man crossover, but this is just speculation.

"Forged in Fire" will run 48 pages, which, for me, is pretty exciting since it's been years since Archie has done any double-sized issues for their Sonic series. Since it's more content than the average Sonic book, Sonic Universe #50 will sell for $3.99 (which is a standard price for most current comic book series) instead of the usual $2.99. It's worth noting that Kaminski mentions that Metal Sonic's original appearance will be "re-presented as a special bonus feature..." so we can probably take that to mean that the main story will run the standard length and the story for Sonic the Hedgehog #25, "Go Ahead... Mecha My Day!" will run as a back-up story.

Here's a look at the cover, illustrated by Patrick Spaziante and colored by Matt Herms!

The cover will feature a special foil-enhanced finish (think the current Sonic Super Special magazine covers), but it seems this foil finish will be a comic shop exclusive. No other variant covers have been announced at this time.

"Forged in Fire" drops March 2013, just before the Sonic/Mega Man crossover gets underway! Get hyped. You can read the full solicitation over at Comic Vine.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Double Review: Sonic 242 and Sonic Universe 45

Filler, it happens from time to time in most forms of media. It’s just padding, a way to space things out between major points in a story. Sometimes it serves as a nice breather between major events, other times, it seems like it’s just interrupting the flow of things. Either way, it’s something that fans of any medium have to deal with. It’s not always bad, but more often than not, it’s just a pointless distraction.

This month, Archie dipped deep into the filler well to deliver two stories for their Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Universe series. For Sonic the Hedgehog, issue 242’s main story was about the Olympics. Issue 45 of Sonic Universe was dedicated to the upcoming Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.

First, let’s talk about Sonic Universe 45. The story, titled “Race for the Stars,” is said to take place “in another place and time,” and presumably is not actually canon to the Archie Sonic universe. Nope, this one is all SEGA.

The story begins with racers from across other worlds—Tails (Sonic the Hedgehog), Vyse (Skies of Arcadia), AiAi (Super Monkey Ball), Beat (Jet Set Radio) and Danica Patrick (NASCAR)—gathering at the starting line, waiting for a race to begin. Dr. Eggman shows up and says he will win the Gran Prix, and then proceed to conquer everyone’s worlds and ruin their lives. While most of the other racers object to his presence—and compare him to similar insufferable villains they’ve had to deal with—Tails says that Eggman had to be invited out of fairness as he was in last year’s race (alluding to the first Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing game). Sonic then makes a flashy entrance as the final competitor, tells Eggman he won’t win and the race begins!

The rest of the “plot” just shows Eggman using various dirty tricks to trip up the other racers, and Sonic leading everyone into ganging up on him and using their unique abilities to defeat him. Let’s hear it for the power of teamwork… even though it’s a race.

“Race for the Stars” is nothing more than a tie-in. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is due out next month for various platforms, so the timing is just right for SEGA and Archie to generate some buzz. After all, it’s really the only “Sonic” title coming out of SEGA this holiday season (Sonic 4: Episode II was released this Spring), so they may as well get the most out of it.

I will be honest right now; I’m not the biggest SEGA head. A lot of my fandom for the company starts and ends with Sonic (hence the blog). Not to say that I haven’t played and enjoyed other SEGA games, but Sonic is the franchise I’ve really put any kind of investment in, so my knowledge of their other properties is limited to knowing they exist. That said, Ian Flynn seems to know what he’s doing, flaunting his knowledge of the other SEGA properties in a way that doesn’t sound like the information for the characters is just being blurted out. Maybe someone that is more familiar with these properties can chime in and say whether or not he really captures the characters’ personalities, but given it’s a one-shot and it’s unlikely Flynn will have a chance to write more stories with them in the future, it might be hard to judge anyway.

I found it funny that Danica Patrick, one of the most hyped inclusions on the roster of Transformed (as well as this tie-in story), isn’t heavily featured in this issue. While she has a few lines in the early pages, we mostly just see her car (with really poorly stamped on GoDaddy and Hot Wheels logos on the hood) every few panels during the actual race; the spotlight is Sonic and the other SEGA characters. Her appearance actually doesn’t look too bad in this issue. An early teaser image (featured on the cover) looked like a terrible trace job from a promotional photo, but her appearance in the final product doesn’t totally clash with the more cartoony characters she is surrounded by (you can compare the promotional image to a panel in the finished comic below).

While the story itself is nothing special, Tracy Yardley’s dynamic, energetic pencils really make the whole thing worth picking up. His linework is very nicely complemented by Jim Amash’s bold inks and Steven Downer’s colors add a fun mood to the action. Nothing is really the straight local color, but seems to have an ever-so-slight reddish tint applied, reflecting the sunset background of the world everyone is racing in (the track appears to be the Dragon Canyon stage, but I’m not sure).

Since "Race for the Stars" is basically all racing action, we get to see Yardley draw all sorts of vehicles, something he clearly excels at. One thing that really stands out about his artwork is that he manages to make the vehicles really look like they are moving. We get to see each vehicle bounce and move along the different areas of the racetrack and as the transform between different stages panel to panel. It’s all in the staging, the perspective, and the angles, and Yardley nails all of these, keeping those pages moving at a brisk pace without disorienting the reader.

Next, we have issue 242 of the regular series. This issue contains two stories, one about the Olympics, and another taking place in Archie Sonic continuity.

The main story, “Olympic Trials,” opens “in another place and another time” which means it’s another non-canon story. Sonic and Tails conversing on the track and field event track, waiting for the events to start. Dr. Eggman and his hench-bots, Orbot and Cubot, are disguised as safety officials discussing the various traps they have laid for Sonic and his friends. One by one, unbeknownst to Sonic and Tails at the time, all the other competitors disappear. Eventually, all but Sonic are captured and Eggman reveals himself, prompting Sonic to challenge the Doctor to a one-on-one, all-or-nothing Olympic competition. Eggman agrees, but calls in Metal Sonic to compete with the real Sonic. Now Sonic and Metal go head-to-head with the freedom of Sonic’s friends at stake.

The timing for “Olympic Trials” is indeed strange; it isn’t directly tied into anything. You could say it’s tied to the successful Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series—just minus Mario characters for licensing reasons—but if that were true, SEGA would probably have pushed harder to have this story out sooner to coincide with the release of Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games. It was also released a few months after the 2012 Olympics, so it would seem SEGA and Archie felt there was no rush to put this out just in time. Perhaps Archie wanted to let the “Secret Freedom” storyline, which spans #238-241 of the regular series and #41-44 of Sonic Universe (according to Archie themselves), to run uninterrupted? It’s also possible there may have been some scheduling or even licensing issues that delayed “Olympic Trials,” but with no official word, we'll likely never know. Whatever the reason, “Olympic Trials” definitely feels more like a “breather” between the end of “Secret Freedom” and before the upcoming “Endangered Species.”

I admit I don’t really watch much of any kind of sporting events, but I found “Olympic Trials”—as pointless a story it is—to be a pretty fun read. Unlike “Race for the Stars,” Flynn takes a more tongue-in-cheek approach to this story. On the first page, Sonic is almost in a trance as he reaches out to the Olympic flag, wanting to take one of the rings before Tails snaps him out of it. Flynn also takes a moment to poke fun at the fandom in his own way. I feel like giving the joke away would be a disservice to readers though; if you recall the fan outcry over the physics engine of Sonic 4: Episode I, you’ll likely have a laugh when you read it.

The second story, “Unfriendly Skies,” moves back into continuity, following up to the events of issue 241, and serving as a prologue to the upcoming “Endangered Species” storyline, set to begin with issue 243. Team Fighters—composed of Sonic, Tails and Amy Rose—continue chasing the Death Egg. Eggman’s robots ambush them, but Team Fighters makes short work of them before heading into Albion, the Echidna homeland, which was just hit by Eggman at the end of #241. Meanwhile, on Angel Island, Knuckles is communicating with NICOLE back in New Mobotropolis, trying to set up a monitoring system. With Vector, Espio and Charmy gone to look for Mighty and Ray (to be continued in Sonic Universe #46-49), he feels he has to embrace his ancestors’ old ways to at least keep his home safe. As they finish, NICOLE discovers a distress call from Albion and relays it to Knuckles, who, feeling obligated to help what’s left of his people, opens up his warp ring and heads out to Albion, crossing paths with Team Fighters.

“Unfriendly Skies,” is a more serious story (being back in continuity and all) and we get to see some more Team Fighters action as they battle more of Eggman’s Egg SWATs riding Dawsons* (you know, those big turtle robots from Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s Sky Chase Zone?). It’s a nice touch including familiar badniks and mixing them in with the newer, original robots created for the Archie series. In the past, we’d seen some early badniks like Caterkiller and Buzzbomber, only for them to be later replaced by SWAT Bots and Combots as the comic became more serious in tone.

*Well, they’re called Turtloids in the English manuals, but I thought I’d be fancy and go with the Japanese version. Sue me.

It’s nice to see Knuckles ready to jump back into action. The poor guy went through a lot the last few years and now it’s time for his big comeback. He still dwells on what he did during his brief stint as Enerjak, but even though he’s ashamed to face his people, he puts his feelings aside to do his job as Guardian; the Echidnas of Albion may not live on Angel Island, but he will not allow Eggman to harm them. It’s a nice continuation to his arc post “Enerjak Reborn” (#180-184) where he started by alienating his family and friends, isolating himself, and ultimately going back to relying on them when he needs them most in “The Return” (Sonic Universe #9-12). Now he has a shot at redeeming himself, by saving his people from Eggman. 2013 looks like it will bring some major change for the character, and I, for one, am looking forward to “Endangered Species.”

Jamal Peppers handles penciling duties for both stories. I especially love the two-page montage spread showing Sonic and Metal Sonic competing in all the Olympic events (except for swimming, where the two just stare at the pool—more Ian Flynn humor for you). The battle sequence during “Unfriendly Skies” is also very well staged and composed. Terry Austin’s inks, while not as bold as Jim Amash’s, help bring it all together. Matt Herms’s colors are more subtle than Downer’s colors in SU#45, but the lighting effects he uses in certain areas are a nice touch and add a little more dimension to the action.

These issues are just filler, but I personally had more fun reading them than I thought I would. I like these issues for different reasons, primarily the artwork in Sonic Universe #45 and the meta-humor in the main story of #242. If you were looking for more of the on-going story, these issues will likely disappoint. But if you’re willing to put up with one month of filler, you’ll find a couple stories that are least fun to read, even if they are just pointless distractions before we jump back into the real action. And, of course, if you’re a completest, I’m sure what I’ve written means very little to you.

Don’t worry folks, the filler is over for now. We’ll be back in continuity by the end of the month when “The Chaotix Quest” (Sonic Universe #46-49) and “Endangered Species” (Sonic the Hedgehog #243-246) begin! Don’t miss ‘em!

Coming up:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Straight Outta Comic-Con

... New York Comic Con, that is.

Off-screen photos by Tyler, posted by TSSZ. Cropped and downsized for this post.

So the Internet is abuzz with some recent news that Archie dropped during their appearance at this year's New York Comic Con. As usual, Archie has announced some new solicitations, roughly projecting the direction of the comic series for the next year. While several books, collections, etc. were announced at Archie's panel, this post will mostly just feature a rundown of some of the major announcements. You can see all the photos from the panel over at TSSZ.*

More after the jump.

*Yes, I know many are not fond of that site, but they are a decent source for most Sonic-related news at least, therefore I'll link to it since that's where I got most of the images from.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sonic and Mega Man to Team Up in 2013?

Calm down, y'all.

While it's not a video game crossover, it looks like Archie Comics, who owns the licenses to produce comics for both Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man (or Rockman, if you prefer), is planning a 12-issue storyline where two of gaming's biggest heroes will meet. The details are largely under wraps, but looks like things will be getting interesting for the Sonic and Mega Man comic lines (the latter began publication in 2011) in the next year or so. According to SEGA's official blog, the storyline will run through the three current on-going series: Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Universe and Mega Man.

I'm personally looking forward to this, especially with writer Ian Flynn (who writes for both Sonic and Mega Man) at the reins, the crossover should be in good hands. No news on who is doing interior artwork yet, but Archie Sonic artist staple and the penciler for the first four issues of Archie's Mega Man series, Patrick Spaziante (a.k.a. Spaz) will be doing the cover art. We can probably expect the usual Archie talent: Tracey Yardley, Ben Bates, Chad Tomas on pencils (among so many others), Terry Austin, Jim Amash. Rick Bryant on inks, Matt Herms on colors, etc.. This, of course, is just speculation, but all these artists are currently involved with at least one of the above three series in those same roles, so it's not really a stretch to expect them to be part of this project. Time will tell though.

Editor Paul Kaminski had this to say about the upcoming crossover event:

“We’ve been gearing up for this for years,” said Kaminski. “From the moment we had Mega Man at Archie, we knew we wanted to bring Sonic and the Blue Bomber together. It’s a big budget movie featuring two of the most storied video game franchises. This has never happened before. We’re making history here, and it’s going to knock people for a loop. This is what comics are all about – drama, fun, action and tons of surprises. Fans will not be disappointed.”

SEGA has posted a teaser image on their blog, featuring Mega Man's helmet and Sonic's shoes.

Get hyped people.