Hedging Your Bets #15: Waves Of Change
With almost 300 issues in the core series, Archie's Sonic The Hedgehog stands as the longest-running uninterrupted American monthly comic book that's currently being published. In Hedging Your Bets, I attempt to get up to speed on Sonic the Hedgehog, challenging the odds to hopefully make it all the way to the finish line.
This week, Sonic goes for an underwater adventure, and the series almost, almost starts to feel like it's going somewhere again.
Sonic the Hedgehog #260-263: "Waves of Change"
I don't know that I've ever said this in twelve years of writing about comics online, but if you've been enjoying these columns, you really ought to read the comments section for each one.
I think it's been made clear by now that Sonic is a pretty confusing franchise for me, and while commenters like Michael Ivey don't have all the answers --- and while I do not in fact believe that all the answers exist --- they're certainly informative and willing to clear up some things about the franchise's stranger corners. In the past few weeks, for instance, I've discovered that Shadow the Hedgehog apparently carries a gun (What?!), and that, more importantly for the stories that we're in right now, Sonic's world seems to have lost its name.
Long-time readers will remember that the planet was originally called Mobius, and that the comics later revealed that Mobius is a far-future Earth dominated by animals who have driven the humans underground with their mono-eyes and cartoon hammers. Now, however, after the Super Genesis Wave, it seems like that's no longer the case.
According to commenters, Sonic's world is no longer "Mobius," and also no longer an Earth of any sort. Instead, it's just "Sonic's World," which, given that we already have a comic called Sonic Universe that's impossible to talk about without getting things mixed up, is both confusing and frustratingly vague. Like, is that its in-continuity name? Does everyone just accept that they are bit players in Sonic's life story, and if so, how frustrating is that for them? No wonder he's an egomaniac, if the rest of the Freedom Fighters have just accepted thesmselves as the furry Rosencrantzes and big-eyed Guildensterns that they are.
I mention all of this because in this week's story, we're officially starting our journey to the far corners of [PLANET NAME TBD] on a journey to power up all the Gaia Temples with the Chaos Emeralds and put the world back together, and it starts with the underwater civilization of Eusebes.
And right from the start, we're on some weird footing with that location. Maybe it's just because I've been getting ready for the return of Kamandi, but a lifetime of reading comics has trained me to treat unusual names as clues or references, and "Eusebes" has completely flummoxed me. Is it a civilization based on USB drives? Is it built on the remains of the Upright Citizens Brigade theaters? Is it just some weird crooked spelling of "Undersea?" I have no idea.
Beyond that, though, this story was a pretty easy one to get into. After a crossover, a reboot, and stumbling around trying to put planks down for what's going to come next, the simple structure of "go to a place, solve a problem, complete one step of a multi-step world-saving process" feels like something that's finally easy and effective. Plus, it's got that unknown underwater civilization to make things feel interesting --- especially with the recurring reference to how much Sonic hates being underwater.
And that, I think, is one of the best examples of turning game mechanics into character points that I've seen in a good long while. Meanwhile, Mario's just hanging out at the bottom of the Marianas Trench doin' fine, just fine.
So here's the deal: Eusebes has been having a rough time lately, since there's a bunch of contaminated water flowing into their city, which is held back by a shield created by their guardian Chao, Aquarius. There are also a bunch of giant mutated sea creatures who seem bent on destruction after being exposed to the same kind of chemicals that Sonic got a faceful of a few storylines back, leading to curfews and general terror.
Both the Chao --- Sonic Team's allegedly cute answer to Pokémon --- and the wall are maintained by a big-eyed and suspiciously-thumbed Betta fish named Coral, who serves as the acolyte and priestess. When Aquarius goes into a cocoon to regenerate, the spirits tell her that help's going to be arriving to deal with all of Eusebes's many problems, and Sonic and the Freedom Fighters show up to fulfill that particular prophecy.
Those folks, by the way, are the King and Queen of Eusebes, a puffer fish and an angler fish. And honestly? As much as I love angler fish as one of the most D&D concepts to actually exist in the real world, casting one as the queen is a pretty scathing commentary on Eusebesian government.
With Coral's talents pushed to the breaking point and Aquarius stuck for days in a cocoon that should've lasted for minutes, she's sentenced to exile. Which is about the time that the shield falls down and the city is suddenly swarmed by downright lovecraftian sea creatures that nearly drown Sonic, giving him a panic attack that almost turns him into a werewolf:
We are so close We are so very close to this weird nonsense story that I want so bad. But it doesn't happen here.
Instead, Aquarius eventually wakes up and reveals that the reason its rebirth took so long was that Coral's love and care for it had allowed it to transcend into a higher form, and Chaos --- a weird demigod of water whose unfathomable power allowed him to survive the death of the Sega Dreamcast --- shows up to help everyone instead.
It's not a bad ending by any means, and there's plenty of action going on to make it a fun read, but it does seem a little too straightforward. The whole time, I was expecting it to turn out that Coral's apprentice, Pearly the Manta Ray, had been undermining her in order to get her driven out so that she could take over as the high priestess of Eusebes. In retrospect, though, there's not really any evidence on the page that that would happen.
I think I might just be waiting on the book to pick up where it was going with the story of the traitorous Geoffrey St. John. Remember him? Geoffrey? It's okay if you don't, the entire universe this book takes place in doesn't seem to either.
At the end of the day, it turns out that the mutated sea creatures were actually the fault of Sonic crashing an Egg Carrier downcurrent, and it's just going to take a little bit of effort to fix. Oh and also, someone named Tikal who is apparently a 4,000 year-old Echidna shows up as a Jedi Ghost to give Coral a pep talk.
I do not wish to find out any more.
While all of this is going on, the backup stories by Aleah Baker and Evan Stanley tell us what the rest of the team is doing. While Sonic and his crew are tracking down the Gaia Temples, they're tasked with recovering the Chaos Emeralds, which leads me to ask one very important question: How many variations on the words "Chaos" are we going to have to get through before this is over?
Anyway, they find themselves in a beautiful cave that will be destroyed if their original plan of going unnoticed goes off, and they're left to decide whether to allow that to happen or put themselves in further jeopardy by making sure that (sigh) "Eggman" knows that there's no further reason to keep up with his destructive digging.
It's an interesting story about what the Freedom Fighters are willing to do not just to save the world, but to preserve the idealistic view of the world that they hold themselves. It's interesting stuff that gets to what I like about this book. And also Nicole the Holographic Lynx gets straight shot in the face.
You know, for the kids!
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the entire project: 50 to 1
- It turns out that "Eusebes" is a reference to something extremely obvious that Chris will never forgive himself for missing: 20 to 1
- Chris gets over his immediate and visceral distaste for Chao: 1,000 to 1