Hedging Your Bets #20: Prelude To ‘Worlds Unite’
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, we gear up for "Worlds Unite," ask the question of whether any of this matters, and find more reasons to kinda love Knuckles the Echidna.
Sonic the Hedgehog #272 and Sonic Universe #75: "A Ray of Hope" and "Fury"
I've mentioned this before, but I wasn't just a Nintendo kid growing up, I was devoutly against Sega --- or at least, against the Sega Genesis. By the time the Dreamcast came out, I saw it as the scrappy underdog with better graphics and a controller that made sense, but I never got over my genuinely inexplicable childhood impression that the Genesis was the console equivalent of a silver spoon, a marker of the bourgeoisie whose very existence was an affront to the scrappy hard workers of the world.
Again, I know that there's no actual reason for this, but it was burned into my world view so fervently that I still have trouble getting past it today.
As you might expect, that feeling also bled into how I viewed each company's flagship character --- Mario as the honest, hardworking Dusty Rhodes to Sonic's overconfident, arrogant Ric Flair --- but it also affected how I saw their supporting casts. On one side, you've got Luigi, whose defining traits of sleepy cowardice and perpetual imposter syndrome felt easy to identify with, or Peach, who got to display some interesting personality traits on those few occasions where she got to do more than just be imperiled by Bowser, or literally every cast member in every Paper Mario game.
And on the other side, you had Knuckles and Tails.
I feel like reading Tails as a furrier and more hanger-on version of Tim Drake (for good or worse) is still pretty accurate, but the further I get into reading these comics, the more I realize that i might've been wrong about Knuckles.
I'd always read him as Sonic With Punches, the more "edgy" and "attitudinal" version of the character who was already being cast as the edgier version of Mario. And honestly? I don't think that's entirely my fault, either. His name is "Knuckles." That brings with it a certain expectation.
But reading these stories, he's a very different character than what I expected. I've already talked about how much I've enjoyed his depiction as a grumpy, socially awkward hermit who literally only has one job that he is extremely terrible at, leading him to spend most of his time dealing with situations that he has created for himself. That's so easy to relate to, and it leads to character flaws that make him really entertaining in his own right. But it also does something that I never expected:
It makes me like Sonic more.
Sonic has always been my least favorite character in Sonic, but these two issues --- which serve as a sort of prelude to the big "Worlds Unite" crossover that we're getting to next week --- put him in direct contrast with Knuckles. It's kind of like Goofus and Gallant with Chaos Emeralds.
Knuckles explains his situation to teammates clearly and thoroughly, even if they're bored and sullen.
Sonic just shows up, bragging that he's done all the hard work.
Knuckles responds to his teammates' concerns with sensitivity and apologizes for any inadvertent slights.
Sonic makes dismissive jerking motions whenever Antoine talks.
It goes on like that for a while, and it really did complete the puzzle for me. Sonic's a blowhard who constantly talks big, and while he usually gets the job done, he also kind of stumbles through a lot of comedy pratfalls while he's at it, which helps to take the sting out of his arrogance by making it way over the top.
And that was the panel where it finally clicked: Knuckles works hard and does his best, but is constantly finding himself in situations where he's outmatched and has to punch his way out even though he just wants to be left alone. Sonic is a good-hearted blowhard who wants to do the right thing but also kind of stumbles (very quickly) into his victories through happenstance and sidekicks; the kind of person who will bluster at you to get your confidence up by literally pointing at you so hard that he pokes your nose:
In other words:
Knuckles is Jim Rockford.
Sonic is Jack Burton.
Reading them with that in mind, those two characters suddenly make all the sense in the world to me, and looking at them in that context, their interactions with each other work beautifully. Like when Sonic shows up as a Hedgehulk looking like he just fell out of a six-demon bag and asks Knuckles how he dealt with these problems before, and Knuckles all but goes "aw hell, Angel, I don't know."
Seriously, "I tricked it and then punched it" is the solution to pretty much every episode of The Rockford Files.
Throw in Sonic's reaction to Silver telling him that Metal Sonic is actually faster than he is, spoken while doubled over from getting punched in the stomach, and tell me you can't hear this in Kurt Russel's overconfident drawl:
At this point, you might've noticed that I've written a lot about character without really touching on the story that they're in, and there's a reason for that: I'm not actually sure that any of this matters.
These are the last two issues before the Worlds Unite crossover, a second Sonic/Mega Man crossover that serves as a sequel to the original. I'm actually really curious about how that's going to go down --- I know that it expands into other Capcom and Sega properties at some point, but one of the big things I noted while reading "Worlds Collide" was that they went hard at not really leaving anything on the table in case they didn't get the chance to do it again --- but that story ended with everything I was interested in being wiped out with one of the dirtiest clean slates I've ever seen. Throw in the idea that this whole Shattered World crisis feels like it's taking ages to deal with --- and that each of the stories follows the same pattern of "go get a Chaos Emerald, then find out that you also have a new thing to go and get," and frankly, the narrative feels both boring and inconsequential.
The only thing the story really brings up to lead into the crossover is the idea of Silver running around closing a seemingly endless number of "Genesis Portals," most of which lead back to Sonic's world, with a small number of others that open to different universes.
I WONDER WHERE THEY WILL LEAD!
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the entire project: 10 to 1
- Chris goes digging for a story where Sonic drives a truck through a twelve-foot tall wizard with light coming out of his mouth: 5 to 1
- Chris instead finds at least one example of Sonic saying "it's all in the reflexes": 3 to 1
- Chris starts referring to Sonic Universe as The Knuckford Files: 2 to 1