Hedging Your Bets #2: Genesis
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. Because of that, it's a surprisingly significant title in the annals of mainstream comics --- and it's also one that I know almost nothing about.
But never let it be said that I let a gap in my comics knowledge go unaddressed, no matter how wary I am of the subject matter. Thus: Hedging Your Bets, where 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, we get a look at Sonic's origin with Genesis, and I'm even more confused than I was when we started.
Sonic the Hedgehog #226 - 229: "Genesis"
Story: Ian Flynn
Art: Patrick Spaziante, Tracy Yardley, Terry Austin, Matt Herms
Lettering: John Workman
Editor: Paul Kaminsky
Folks, it has been A Week.
I'm not going to lie to you, I have spent a good amount of my life purposefully trying not to learn anything about Sonic the Hedgehog. After my first experience with these comics left me with a whole lot of questions, however, a handful of readers stepped up to answer them, and now I have learned more than I ever expected to in a very short amount of time. And the one thing that I've learned time and time again is that Sonic the Hedgehog might be the single most ridiculously complicated comic book on the stands.
And coming from me, that's saying something.
That's not just me exaggerating for effect, either. Here's a sampling of what I've been told about this thing over the past seven days:
"You seem to have just accepted the weirdness that is Ixis Nagus but just in case in a later column you think "What animal is that guy even supposed to be?" he is bat/rhino/lobster because he is three different wizards that accidentally merged themselves in to one dude."
— James McGhie
"Sonic fought Robotnik in a final battle where Robotnik died back in Sonic #50. Eggman is an alternate universe robot version who came over. Technically he's still Robotnik, but it's always Robo-Robotnik or Eggman. Dr. Robotnik was always reserved for the original."
— Brendan T.
"Did you know that Mobius is actually far future Earth? This got revealed back around 125 - the Mobians are mutates from a gene-bomb detonated by the alien Xorda thousands of years ago."
— Michael Ivey
Seriously. This stuff is wild, to the point where you could tell me literally anything about these comics and I would have to believe you, no matter how straight-up ludicrous it might sound. Lord knows I'm not going back to check on it for myself.
Admittedly, there's a part of this one that's on me. I'm the one who showed up 225 issues into a comic book that started with the premise of "blue hedgehog runs fast" and expected to just slide in without any trouble. Still, that's got to be a little more complicated than the average superhero comic, right? Especially that last one.
Really, though, that's not as insurmountable a problem as it might seem. I love complicated continuity, and in the issues I read last week, most everything except for the truly upsetting presence of humans was explained in a pretty accessible way. The problem is that as soon as I thought I was getting a handle on it, everything changed.
I was warned against starting with this story, and on one level, it's pretty easy to see why. Even though it's structured as a trip back through the stories of the first two games, showing Sonic's first battle with --- Man... I don't know, Robotnik, I guess? Let's say Robotnik --- there's also a weird metatextual angle where it's not actually a flashback. In that respect, I imagine it's a lot like starting Mega Man with that one issue towards the end where Mega Man is bouncing around in time seeing bits and pieces of games that the comic never got around to adapting.
But here's the problem: "Genesis" is at its absolute worst if you going into it having only ever read the five issues before it.
Since those issues hang together as a single story, and since the last issue ends with Sally being shot down by a machine gun before everything faded to white like Crisis on Infinite Earths just got around to hitting Archie Comics in 2011, a sudden gearshift into Sonic looking around for Missing Dudes makes for a pretty jarring reading experience.
Again, that's on me and my (relatively) arbitrary starting point, and it's entirely my own fault that I somehow managed to pick a place that's even worse to start from than if I'd just gone ahead with the original plan and kicked it off with "Genesis."
It's not all bad, though. The covers, in fact, are particularly nice, with Spaziante doing scenes inspired by the box art of the original games, complete with a design that's meant to mimic the layout of those original boxes, from three different eras of Sega's packaging:
That's a really cool touch.
The story's not bad, either. For most of it, it's a basic trip through the plot of the first two games, with the added benefit of bringing Sally Acorn and the Freedom Fighters along for the ride:
And that's actually a nice touch.
I'm not sure if that was ever brought up in the comic before this point --- it would almost have to be over the course of 20 years of comics, but since Sally was already part of the cast when the series started, it's not strictly necessary --- so as a new reader, it was something I appreciated. Beyond that, it was nice seeing Flynn attempting to make some logical sense of video game logic, something that he excelled at in Mega Man.
The part where Sonic goes Super-Saiyan, on the other hand, kinda comes out of nowhere.
Oddly enough, this is something I'm more familiar with from my limited experience playing the Sonic games than I am from the place where those games got their inspiration, because DragonBall is one of the only comics I'm even less familiar with than I am with Sonic. The actual mechanics of it, however --- with Sonic overcharging his own body with an energy conduit provided by the Chaos Emeralds, even though he doesn't have access to the Emeralds themselves --- has the feeling of something clever that's just completely lost on on me.
And the same goes for the big twist of the story, where it's revealed that the entire thing's taking place in an alternate dimension where the characters don't remember that they've all done this before. Since I have no connection to that history, twisting it here doesn't have quite the same impact.
That said, I do think it could've been handled better here. Up until its last issue, "Genesis" attempts to walk a line between a flashback story done in celebration of Sonic's 20th anniversary and an attempt to continue the usual narrative by seeding the idea that something's wrong with these memories. The problem is that it errs too much on the side of the former. There's stuff in there that hints at the deja vu aspect of the whole thing, but it doesn't really go far enough to make it all work.
And in the end, there's just another Crisis-style fade to white, leaving the question of whether this mattered at all, or whether the whole thing was just a momentary diversion that took four months of comics to get through.
Like I said, It probably would've been a fine place to start (although certainly not the best), but having those five issues to compare it to, which were full of compelling character building and dramatic twists and sheer overwhelming bizarreness does not do it any favors. The only thing this one has is a very strange reference to Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.
You know, for the kids.
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the entire project: 20 to 1
- Someone tells Chris a lie about Sonic continuity and he believes it 100% because honestly, what choice does he have at this point: 5 to 1
- Chris gets a satisfactory explanation for why far-future Earth is primarily composed of checkerboard loops: 15 to 1
- Chris stops referencing Mega Man at every opportunity: 1,000 to 1