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:

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