Hedging Your Bets #17: Total Eclipse
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 With Punches takes on Sonic With A Gun, and every now and then I fall apart! And I need you now, tonight! And I need you more than ever! And we'll only be makin' it ri-i-ight, 'cause we could never be wrong together!
Sonic Universe #67-70: "Total Eclipse"
So here's an interesting thing that's happened since our last column: Ian Flynn, along with Mark Waid, has been announced as the next writer of Jughead. Excepting a love for chili dogs --- which I somehow know about even though it has never come up over the course of this column --- that's a book that seems like it couldn't be further from the Sonic franchise. I mean, Jughead never has to go fast!
But that does change how I'm going to be reading things going forward. For one thing, I'm inevitably going to be looking for hints of how Flynn's style is going to adapt to the adventures of comics' greatest slacker. Second, while I really don't want to speculate about what's going on behind the scenes, it's very hard to look at this without seeing it in the context of the rumor going around about the Sonic books ending their 24-year tenure at Archie.
On the one hand, there's a lot of indication that Flynn's schedule might be freeing up pretty soon --- in addition to Jughead, he's also got an upcoming graphic novel from Space Goat Productions' new line of "Backpack Editions." On the other, Flynn has been extremely prolific in the past. All four years' worth of Mega Man were written while Sonic and Sonic Universe were still going on, and I'm pretty sure that the brief (and underrated) New Crusaders was happening during that time, too. He's been prolific enough that getting more work could just be Flynn getting more work, and Archie deciding to give another job to someone who's been a prolific, critically acclaimed, and popular writer with the company for over a decade.
So yeah, sometimes a chili dog is just a chili dog, but as someone who spends a good chunk of his week analyzing Sonic's status as the longest-running title in comics right now, the idea that it might not be that before I actually finish writing this column has been on my mind.
For now, though, we're back into it with a story that could not be further from Jughead, even if you count the weird stuff like Jughead's Time Police or that one weird series where he owned a diner that existed at an interdimensional Nexus of All Realities.
"Total Eclipse" is billed as the third act of "The Dark Trilogy," a saga that's composed of the last three arcs of Sonic Universe. Really, though, it reads more like a direct sequel to "Shadow Fall" and, outside of the fact that Knuckles is in it, has virtually nothing to do with the events of "The Great Chaos Caper."
Really, the action here is built around the idea of Knuckles vs. Shadow vs. Eclipse, which, from a storytelling standpoint is actually super fascinating. I mean, it's basically Sonic, But Extreme vs. Sonic, But Dark, vs. That Last Guy, But Even Darker. It's a reflection of a reflection of a reflection, and that's always interesting. Especially because they friggin' hate each other.
I still like Shadow a lot based on how solid "Shadow Fall" was, but this story is one of the first times that I've really been interested in Knuckles, too. His characterization as a hermit who Just Wants To Be Left Alone on his island to Do His Duty --- as opposed to Sonic, who is constantly on the lookout for adventure --- actually makes him really interesting to me. It makes him feel like the weird old man in this world of Cool Teens, and as someone who is himself a weird old man, I find that very relatable.
Plus, it leads to some really good moments that show just how bad he is at interacting with other people:
Knuckles: The Socially Awkward Echidna is way more interesting than Knuckles: Sonic With Punches.
Also, I really like that Knuckles is canonically just extremely terrible at his job.
More on that in a minute.
So the basic idea here is that after the events of "Shadow Fall," Eclipse's shuttle crash-landed on Angel Island, the floating island kept aloft by the Master Emerald that Knuckles is sworn to protect. It's in a remote area, though, and since Eclipse has been spending most of his time raising the Dark Arms --- weird little shadow creatures that are actually way cuter than the Chaos and that can give him additional super-powers when they get enough energy --- he hasn't been causing much trouble yet.
GUN, however, wants whatever alien technology he has, and since Team Dark was technically tasked with literal genocide, Shadow, Rouge the Bat, and Omega the killer robot are sent in to finish the job, and since they're going into Knuckles' territory, we're in for a team-up.
And also some interaction between Omega the Killer Robot and Fixit the Robot Who Does Not Kill Things that is downright Biowarean.
Omega actually gets a couple of really choice bits in this story.
When Eclipse realizes that he's close enough to the Master Emerald that he can tap into its power, he attacks, battling with Shadow before retreating back to regroup. And, as an added bonus, the fight scene actually pays off on Omega's line about blowing a door in someone, because that's literally what happens to Eclipse.
And that's what leads to the real conflict of the story: Shadow --- at the urging of Snively, a scientist who used to work with (sigh) Eggman who's now in charge of GUN's more sinister experiments --- decides that the Master Emerald is too valuable and important to be left on the island. Knuckles, on the other hand, knows that the Master Emerald is the only thing keeping Angel Island afloat, and is too important to lock away in one of GUN's vaults.
Neither one is willing to discuss or debate, so instead, they just spend most of two issues beating the living heck out of each other, They Live style:
As rote as hero-versus-hero fight scenes can be, this one is actually really well done. All of the anger comes from frustration and self-doubt, with Knuckles and Shadow taking out their own anxieties --- Shadow about his place in the universe and the fact that he was engineered as an alien weapon, Knuckles about his extended history of completely screwing up his one and only job --- on each other. And that in turn is extremely believable, because of their status as reflections of Sonic. If you hate yourself, it's pretty easy to project that hate onto someone else if that other person is essentially just you with slightly different hair.
And while they're going through their extremely therapeutic fistfight, Eclipse is going after the Master Emerald. And that leaves Knuckles with a choice.
Even if they defeat Eclipse, he's just going to go back to being deadlocked with Shadow over what to do with the Emerald. So rather than allowing anyone to have it, Knuckles just goes with a far more preferable strategy: Eff It.
It's pretty great, but Eclipse's reaction is probably the best thing in the comic.
With the Shattered World crisis still going on, Angel Island will keep floating, and now Knuckles can go piece the Master Emerald back together himself --- well, with Relic and Fixit in tow --- while Team Dark gets Eclipse's technology for themselves.
You know, ever since I read this, I've been trying to figure out what it reminded me of, and it's only while I was writing it up just now that I figured it out: It's the end to Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke's Batman: The Man Who Laughs, where Batman comes up with a pretty far out-of-the-box solution to the Joker poisoning the reservoir.
So I guess... Knuckles... is like... Batman?
Jeepers Christmas, I did not see that one coming.
This Week's Odds:
(No betting odds this week, as Chris must now re-evaluate his entire life leading up to this point.)