Hedging Your Bets #4: Cry Freedom
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, it's the shocking death of --- wait, no. Looks like he's not dead after all. Sorry to worry you.
Sonic The Hedgehog #234 - 236: "Unthinkable," "Remember The Fallen," and "Cry Freedom
So here's an honest question for those of you who have actually read more than a dozen issues of a comic that's been going for 288 and counting: Does Sonic the Hedgehog just fake its readers out with character deaths constantly, or did I just come in at a weird time?
I mean, yes, I know that I actually did come in at a weird time, starting this experiment with the epilogue to a long-running story that immediately took a nosedive into an alternate-reality-that-actually-wasn't-but-still-kind-of-was, and then came back to the regular timeline for a story about the inner workings of the government and the eternal conflict between funny animal bureaucracy and the potential danger of sentient nanotechnology. That is, to say the least, a pretty daunting place to jump on, although based on what you've all told me about the rest of the comic, I'm starting to think that it probably wouldn't have been any easier to start anywhere else.
I know I've written before about the sheer weight of the continuity in play, but for real, y'all: Here is a single page of this story that has five footnotes.
So if you were wondering where the Great Asterisk Shortage of 2012 came from, now you know.
But while the complexity of Sonic's 25 years of continuity is one thing, the thing that gets me the most is that the story keeps going back to well of Shocking Character Deaths --- or rather, Character Deaths That Really Aren't.
I've read just over a year's worth of issues, and it's happened twice with Sally --- once with the pre-"Genesis" death that was immediately retconned when we got back to the regular time, and then again when she was roboticized on board the Death Egg --- and in this arc, it happens again to Antoine D'Coolette.
And you know it's serious, because he suddenly loses his over-the-top French accent:
Bunnie, on the other hand, keeps her Rogue-by-way-of-Hee-Haw speech patterns through the entire mourning process.
With the evil wizard Ixis Naugus officially installed as the King of New Mobotropolis, the former king, Elias Acorn, is voluntarily going into exile. He's accompanied by Sonic and the rest of the Freedom Fighters, but unfortunately, his motorcade makes for a pretty tempting target for (sigh) "Eggman." And when he attacks, his forces are led by the roboticized Sally Acorn:
The real damage, though, comes from a robotic simulacrum of Sonic, who goes for the former king and gets stopped by Antoine. The thing is, as soon as he gets tangled up with the Metal Sonic, Eggman realizes that this is a chance to take out another Freedom Fighter and give the good guys another horrifically demoralizing blow, and gives the order for the Metal Sonic to self-destruct and take Antoine out with it.
And that gag with the sword, which to my knowledge has been Antoine's swashbuckling signature weapon since he first appeared in 1993, might legit be the best thing in this entire story.
I don't mean that dismissively, either. The one big strength that I've seen from this book so far has come from the scenes that manage to juggle the bizarre cartoonishness of the world with the ludicrously serious stakes, which was exactly where these same creators shone so brightly in Mega Man. The way that Butler structures this panel, taking a beat on Antoine's burned, hecked up body laying still on the ground, with the only motion in the panel coming from his sword dropping out of the sky and burying itself in the dirt? That's actually pretty great.
But, y'know, he's only mostly dead.
I'm not sure why this bugs me so much. It's not like I want these characters to actually die --- I'm too new to Sonic to have much of an opinion one way or the other on Sally and Antoine --- and it's not like I don't understand that if you're cultivating a sense of danger, you have to show some kind of risk in your story. But for some reason, it doesn't work.
And the more I think about it, the more I think it comes down to the weird "ten-second rewind" thing with Sally from last week.
If it wasn't for that weird retcon setting the tone for everything that came after, this situation would seem incredibly dire in a way that would probably be way more compelling. "Sally's a killer robot, Antoine's in a coma, an evil wizard is in charge of the government and the Freedom Fighters are disbanded because there's nobody left to keep fighting!" is a heck of a great place to be in for drama, but the fact that it all kicks off with a Serious Consequence being so quickly undone means that it's impossible to really take any of it seriously. Again, that has a lot to do with how I came into the book, but if nothing else, it serves as a constant reminder that all of these characters are alive and well 60 issues later.
But let's say, for the sake of argument, that I can put all that aside and just get into the story, seeing the Freedom Fighters at their lowest point, when all seems lost. If I can do that, if I can really feel the worry for this hedgehog and his pals... I still have to deal with this dude.
This is Silver the Hedgehog, and I know zero things about him.
Okay, that's not exactly true. I did just read a handful of comics about him, and while those weren't too terribly informative, I also asked around a little bit. Luke Brown (who wrote CA's recaps of the Sonic/Mega Man crossover) described Silver to me as a time traveler who "comes back through time at important moments, like a low-rent Barry Allen, to ruin everyone's fun."
He's not exactly a fan favorite around here, it seems.
To my eyes, he seems slightly more like the original concept for Bishop, someone who's coming back from (an alternate?) future to look for a traitor whose actual identity is unknown. Apparently, he's done this before, and this time, he's decided that the traitor... is Antoine.
And when he heads back to the present and shares this information with Sonic, Sonic responds by grabbing him by the hair and running his face into Antoine's hospital bed at super-speed.
That is actually the most I've ever liked Sonic. Well, that and the part right before it, where you find out that Sonic lives in a house with a mailbox shaped like his own head, and windows that look like the title screen of his video games, and where his response to a time traveler showing up is just not even wanting to deal with it.
I think we can all relate.
The net result of all this is that the Freedom Fighters as we know them are essentially dissolved. Sally and Antoine are out of commission, Bunnie has departed on a mission of presumable revenge, Geoffrey's working for Naugus, Nicole's been exiled from the city and from her own nanite body, and without the support of the council, the Freedom Fighters simply cannot continue as they are.
So naturally, they just need to split into two new teams, Team Freedom, and Team Fighters.
Or, as they should probably be known, Team Main Characters and Team Cannon Fodder.
Team Fighters (Sonic, Amy Rose, and Tails) is tasked with taking on Eggman and rescuing Sally, while Team Freedom (a walrus in an Iron Man suit, a big cat named Big the Cat, and some other characters whose names I honestly cannot remember, but I think had something to do with food) is meant to stick around New Mobotropolis and keep an eye on Naugus.
Ah, but if you were paying attention to our last installment, then you already know that there's a third group that's being slowly formed in the background: The Secret Freedom Fighters! Which I guess might just be called Team Secret now. Anyway, they've just recruited Silver (joining Elias Acorn and grumpy owl-man Harvey Who), but since they're going to be having adventures in another title, I think I'm in the clear for ever learning something else about Silver the Hedgehog.
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the entire project: 100 to 1
- Chris learns at least one additional thing about Silver the Hedgehog: 5 to 1
- Chris continues being frustrated with Sonic for weird continuity and fake-out character deaths as though he does not also read comics about how Superman is actually the Superman from two universes ago who lived in a Convergence bottle for like a year and then came back and hangs out with the other Superman's pals like that's not super friggin' weird: 3 to 2