Hedging Your Bets #16: Control
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 finally gets something better than a gun.
Sonic the Hedgehog #264-267: "Control" and "Ambush"
Story: Ian Flynn
Art: Tyson Hesse, Jamal Peppers, Evan Stanley, Terry Austin, Gabriel Cassata
Letters: John Workman
Editor: Vincent Lovallo, Paul Kaminski
I have been waiting for this story to happen for months, because of all the things that have gone down in the pages of Sonic the Hedgehog, this is one of the few that actually I knew was going to happen before I read it. See, Archie's really good at sending out review copies, and while I never actually read any of the Sonic comics, my Comics Collector instincts wouldn't let me have disorganized stacks of Archies sitting in my office. Thus, everything got neatly filed in alphabetical order, and I spent a lot of time looking at these covers for someone who never read the stories.
In other words, seeing Sonic the Hedgehog as a werewolf isn't something you're likely to forget, especially if it doesn't come with a DeviantArt watermark attached to it.
Well. "Werewolf" might be the wrong word, but we'll get to that in a second. What matters right now is story structure and long-term plotting. It's actually one of my favorite things to see in comics, because of how ridiculously rare it is, and how difficult it is to pull off. I know from experience as a writer that in modern comics, planning things out years --- even months --- in advance is a pretty good way to make sure that you never get around to doing them, thanks to a volatile market and changes in how comics are done.
Don't get me wrong; as a reader, I love that stuff. It's arguably the best thing about the classic Long Runs that everyone loves. Walt Simonson's Thor juggles multiple plots that tease out over lengthy story arcs, Claremont's X-Men would revive and recontextualize plot points over years, and Starman had a single throughline about the Starman Legacy and the Mist Legacy that lasted for a solid eighty issues. That stuff's good. But it's also a tough trick to pull off.
Ian Flynn, on the other hand, had just racked up 100 issues as the primary writer of Sonic the Hedgehog when this story hit shelves, and clearly, he felt pretty comfortable letting this one build and bubble under the surface until it was time to happen. It's a luxury, but it's one he uses well --- fans of the book are quick to point out (and I agree) that Flynn's tendency to spend a lot of time arranging pieces on the board might be a little tiring, but when it's time to actually get things moving, it makes for a pretty good payoff.
And in this case, it's a hilarious payoff.
It's also a prime example of what I mean by long-form plotting. If you're a regular reader of this column --- or of Sonic, I guess --- then you'll know that this whole thing got started when Sonic was exposed to some "Mystery Gas" way back in the first arc of the reboot. That was a year ago.
Admittedly, that's not really that long in terms of modern storytelling, which tends to play out in five- or six-issue arcs, but All-Ages titles have always moved a little differently. It's why Sonic has so many jumping-on points, because as rewarding as it might be to follow the book for years, a kid who loves Sonic at 11 might be into something completely different at 12 --- and almost certainly into something different by the time they're a teenager.
At least, I think that's how it works for most kids. I've pretty much been into the same stuff for the past 25 years.
Point being, it's a risk in storytelling, but for me, it pays off. For weeks in my time, we've been seeing Sonic feeling the effects of what turned out to be Dark Gaia energy, coming just to the edge of hulking out whenever he's under stress. In this arc, when he's put up against one of (sigh) Eggman's minions while the Freedom Fighters are on their ongoing and seemingly endless quest to recover the Chaos Emeralds, he finally snaps and becomes... a Werehog.
A couple of things about this: First, I'm not sure "werehog" is the right term. Like, that sort of implies a man who turns into a hog, right? Sonic, who I remind you is already a hedgehog that has some disturbingly human characteristics like opposable thumbs, shoes, and the gift of speech, doesn't really turn into anything else. He just becomes... more hedgehog. But then, "Werehedgehog" is a little unwieldy, and just calling him what he is --- Sonic the Hedgehulk --- would probably get them a visit from a team of lawyers with Spider-Man on their business cards.
Second, I'm not sure how this happens, but when Sonic turns, it also somehow affects his shoes, giving him spiked cleats. Are... Are Sonic's shoes part of him? Do we ever actually see him with his shoes off? And look, I know this is a thing I could look up myself, but there's no way in seven hells that I'm typing "sonic the hedgehog feet" into Google unless I want to end up drowning my laptop in Purel.
Third, the single best thing in the entire story arc is when we see Eggman's troops reacting to Sonic suddenly being twelve feet tall and murderous.
The look on their faces. It's great.
He also has super-long stretchy arms for some reason, which has to be a thing from the video games, right? Either way, it makes him really good at uppercutting robots and their fuzzy lackeys.
The problem here is that Sonic's rage doesn't just extend to the bad guys. He turns on his allies, too, and that's represented in a really awesome way, where we see what's actually happening, and then get the same scene filtered through what Sonic is seeing, with the Dark Gaia energy twisting things into their most negative connotations:
It happens a couple of times in the issue, and the way the dialogue is reflected to negative is done really well. And since it's driving Sonic to hate his friends before he can get a handle on the rage, he decides to go get some help from the local zen master.
Who is also a bright green sloth.
Sure, why not.
From here, the story splits, and Sonic's half is actually the less interesting of the two. It sort of just becomes your standard superhero story about how you can completely master your dark side by just going and doing yoga for a couple of days.
Far more important is that while Sonic is off meditating in the woods, the rest of the Freedom Fighters go after one of the missing Chaos Emeralds, and fall into a trap that nearly kills them. And I actually really like this. As important as it is to develop a strong supporting cast, a book needs the occasional reminder of whose name is on the cover, and the team completely falling apart when Sonic isn't there to help get the job done is a good way to do that.
Of course, the fact that they can't get the emerald for themselves even when they're flying around in their mobile airship fortress doesn't really speak well of Sally Acorn's abilities as a leader, especially when we find out that it is just covered in weapons.
So I guess Sonic had a gun all along!
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the entire project: 25 to 1
- "Hedgehulk" becomes the standard term for Sonic's "werehog" form: 5 to 1
- Chris hits up Wikipedia to see if Mighty the Armadillo is a weird design, or if he just completely forgot what an actual armadillo looks like: 3 to 1
- Chris didn't mention the last-page setup for the next story arc because he forgot about it: 40 to 1
- Chris didn't mention the last-page setup for the next story arc because he just really didn't want to talk about a sexy (?) hedgehog (??) dressed like Miles Edgeworth from Ace Attorney (???): 2 to 1