Hedging Your Bets #14: Shadow Fall
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, the spotlight falls on Shadow the Hedgehog for the ultimate in alien terror!
Sonic Universe #59 - 62: "Shadow Fall"
Okay, so the last time I tried to learn more about the Sonic Universe by reading Sonic Universe, it didn't really go so well, and to be honest, when I sat down to read this week's selection, I didn't really expect it to go much better. This is, after all, a story about Shadow the Hedgehog, and literally the only thing I know about him aside from that panel that was passed around Tumblr about how he used to be dead but got better --- finally, a comic book concept that I'm unquestionably familiar with --- is that his name is Shadow and he is a hedgehog.
And only one of those things is actually true.
I've been especially reluctant to learn about Shadow because he strikes me in every way as the darker, edgier alternative to Sonic, who is still someone I consider to be the darker --- or at least bluer --- edgier alternative to Mario.
But as we all know at this point, I'm not going to let that stop me from getting through these comics. Surely four issues focused on Shadow will have all the information that I need, right? So let's see here... Recap page, don't need that... all right, here we go with the story.
Uh, okay, we're in space now, I guess? That's... that's fine, let's ---
Wait, does Shadow fight aliens? Is that his deal? I kinda expected this to be maybe an Eggman thing, or ---
Okay listen, "Ultimate Life Form" is a pretty vague description and I have a lot of questions that are going to require some explanation. Like, is this what peak performance looks like? Is that ---
HOLY CUSS, HE HAS NUCLEAR WEAPONS?! Atomic warfare exists in the world of Sonic the Hedgehog?! And Shadow the Hedgehog has a tactical nuclear device that he's going to use to commit genocide?! What in God's name is happening in this comic?!
Oh thank God. I have never been happier to see an "Earlier..." caption.
So yeah, this one starts off a little weird. It turns out that --- from what I can tell, anyway --- it's not actually the sequel to a previous comic book story, but rather is following up on the plot lines of the Shadow the Hedgehog video game, and since there's no way in heck that I'm playing through that, I prrrrrrrrobably should've gone ahead and read that recap page.
So here's the deal as I understand it: Shadow was actually created --- cloned from Sonic, maybe? --- by a race of aliens who attacked Earth/Mobius/Question Mark with the Black Comet, a giant meteor that they just threw towards the planet with designs on conquest. Shadow defeated them, but now, as the planet below is threatening to tear itself apart, they're back, and it's up to Shadow and Team Dark (Rouge the Bat and a downright Bioware-ish killer robot named Omega) to team up with the Guardian Units of Nations and their space force to stop it.
And that means that this is another story where cartoon animals are just hanging out with regular-ass human beings, and while that's been a pretty big obstacle for me in the past, it doesn't seem as weird here in a post-Super Mario Odyssey world.
It's a pretty complicated setup, but once all of that falls into place, I have to admit... this story kind of rules super hard?
So yeah, whoever had their money on that million-to-one long shot where Chris actually ends up getting really into Shadow the Hedgehog, please report to the pit boss to collect your winnings, and rest assured that no one else saw that one coming.
For real though, part of this comes from the pure action nature of the story. Flynn, Peppers, and Co. are essentially doing Aliens with Sonic characters, right down to nuking them from orbit. They even have space marines along to swap barbs with Shadow about how he's part-alien.
Sadly, we never get a "Get away from her, you anthropomorphic bat!", but nobody's perfect.
The story does a great job of building its threats, this idea that there's not only a comet that's set to impact and destroy a world that's already on the verge of literal, physical collapse, but that it's also a comet full of space monsters with names like Black Death and a bunch of weird Cthulhu monsters, all of whom want to eat everyone on Earth while they are still alive.
That's not something that's hinted at either. That's text, dogg.
There's also the introduction of a new villain, an evil counterpart for Shadow --- who I'm still pretty sure was introduced as an evil-ish counterpart of Sonic --- named Eclipse, and he's a lot of fun. As far over the top as this story gets, Eclipse goes even further, and at one point during a fight with Rouge and Omega, he literally threatens to eat everyone they care about.
I am not sure that is something I have seen often in comics for 10 year-olds. but it's pretty delightful here.
So yes, the premise and the action are all solid and easy to grasp, but there's something else that I really liked about this story: It's the closest that Sonic the Hedgehog has gotten to the stuff that I really liked about Flynn's work on Mega Man.
There was actually a little bit of that in Sonic back when I started, with the abbreviated arc about the people of New Mobotropolis turning on Nicole and whether artificial intelligence can be trusted but here, the backdrop of space explosions is used for a conversation about the morality of mass murder during wartime.
No, really. I'm not kidding.
Throughout the story, it's established that the Black Comet represents the last of the species that was essentially wiped out in the video game, and that by obliterating them with a tactical nuclear weapon, Shadow is killing thousands in the name of saving billions.
Admittedly, the story shades it a little bit. For one thing, the dialogue is softened --- Shadow says "prepare for your end" instead of "I am going to kill you," for instance. For another, most of the Black Comet forces are mindless devourers controlled by Black Death's hive mind, and even if they weren't, they're still alien invaders who want to eat people. That's something that pretty much all fiction decided that it was okay to kill a long time ago. But still, there's a mention of "larva" at one point that implies that there are at least some form of noncombatant children in play (and which are all loaded into escape pods and blasted off to safety) even if they're analogous to xenomorph eggs.
Like the best arcs of Mega Man, "Shadow Fall" doesn't shy away from the implications of the story it's telling, and instead allows its characters to address those ideas. Shadow in particular has to grapple with the guilt and reluctance to turn against what he still partially sees as his "own kind," even when he believes that he's morally and mathematically working for a greater good, and the fact that he's given a harder edge makes it possible for him to make a choice that we'd have a much more difficult time accepting from Sonic.
And it manages to do all of this while still being a solid all-ages comic with a bunch of jokes.
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the entire project: 50 to 1
- Chris gives up the project but only because he cannot handle a reality in which his favorite characters in the franchise are friggin' Shadow the Hedgehog and Amy Rose, seriously, what is even happening: 10 to 1
- Chris develops complicated thoughts about the use of nuclear weapons on alien invaders in The Avengers, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and this story: 12 to 1
- Chris loses the ability to be surprised by the existence of sentences like "Lethal force is authorized to neutralize the hedgehog!": 3 to 1