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.

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