Hedging Your Bets #22: Worlds Unite, Part Two
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, here comes a new challenger!!
Worlds Unite, Part Two: Broken Bonds (Sonic Universe #77, Sonic Boom #9, Sonic the Hedgehog #274, Mega Man #50 - 51, Sonic Worlds Unite: Battles #1, Mega Man Worlds Unite: Battles #1)
Script: Ian Flynn, T-Rex, Ryan Jampole
Art: Edwin Huang, Ryan Jampole, Powree, Brent McCarthy, Gary Martin, Rick Bryant, Gabriel Cassata, Luis Antonio Delgado, Anna Chher, Elaina Unger
Letters: John Workman, Jack Morelli, Rachel Deering
Editor: Vincent Lovallo
So here's the problem with Worlds Unite: It's trapped between two completely opposite approaches to telling a great story.
That might sound overly negative, but bear with me for a second here. On the one hand, you've got the desire to go as big as possible, to do everything you can possibly do, leaving nothing else on the table. It's the kind of approach that you see in a book like Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's JLA, where by the time that thing is over, it's created an act that's almost impossible to follow. Their last story has the JLA fighting the Injustice Gang and saving the universe from Maggeddon the Anti-Sun, the "Techno-Active" Primordial Annihilator who's been slaughtering gods since the dawn of time, and winning. Have fun following that, next team.
On the other hand, you've got long-form plotting, with threads that are laid out and woven together over the course of years. It's the kind of thing you see in, say, Chris Claremont's 17-year run on X-Men, where there are a lot of Big Moments, but they're all designed to propel the narrative forward, creating consequences and seeding future plots at the same time. Everything is a foundation, and everything is building on the previous foundation, moving on in theoretical perpetuity.
This book --- and this applies more to Sonic than Mega Man, but you can absolutely see it in the crossover, is trying to do both of those things at the same time.
To be entirely fair, that is a high-level trick to pull off, but it's not impossible. One of the reasons we consider Walt Simonson to be a master storyteller is that he was able to do that repeatedly for five years on Thor, and Scott Snyder has spoken pretty frequently in interviews about treating every Batman story he's ever written like it was going to be the last one, dating all the way back to Black Mirror, ending up with eight years worth of stories that are all dealing with variations on specific themes and fears.
Sonic, on the other hand, has had a much harder time of it. That's not entirely down to Ian Flynn, either --- as we've been over before, doing a weird little reboot after Worlds Collide wasn't exactly his idea --- but as always, the only thing we have to go on here is what makes it to the page. I think it's fair to say that the book has been kind of floundering ever since then, and going into Worlds Unite, it really had to deal with that problem in a way that seems like it hamstrung the book from the start.
When you're coming into the sequel to a book where it already felt like you were doing every possible thing you could, you're left with the question of how to make this one bigger. There's an easy solution that we were presented with last week, bringing in alternate versions of Mega Man and Sonic, but doing that for the entire length of the crossover is already starting to feel repetitive.
Again, that's a function of mechanics. There's a lot of good stuff in here from a structural standpoint --- an extended bit where the story of Sonic, Mega Man, and the Doctors is running concurrently with a single panel in the bottom-right corner of each page focusing on Sigma activating the Genesis Portals is really well done and makes a great use of real estate on the page, for instance --- but this is also a story that, like a gas, is expanding to fill its container. This thing ran through four books a month for three months, and that's a lot of space to fill even before you get to the Worlds Unite: Battles one-shots that were filling in the gaps in the stories. With that much space to fill, the story unfortunately falls into sort of meandering through the same motions, just giving us more of it.
It's a second helping of a meal we liked but we're already full of. It's not bad, you understand. It's actually pretty impressive, both in how Flynn is finding solid in-continuity reasons for all of it to be happening, and for poor Edwin Huang, who had to draw friggin' everybody once the climax of the second act finally arrived:
But at the same time, we've already seen Mega Man and Sonic team up to fight Robot Masters. Does it really matter that much if they're fighting Wily's or Sigma's?
That's the book's biggest problem: By the end of this story, we're eight issues into a 12-issue crossover, and aside from the fresh coat of paint and the Evil Doctors teaming up with the heroes, it doesn't really feel like we're seeing anything new. Even that stuff --- which is good --- seems like it's taking a long time to play out, even if you're reading it in the paperback collection.
Okay, remember when I said to bear with me for a minute because things were going to get negative? Here's where we start to emerge from that: The great thing about Worlds Unite is that the creators actually figured out how to really go bigger.
The flaws are still there, but the good parts are too. For as long as it takes for Sigma's actual plot to arrive --- he's using the energies of the smooshed-together worlds to power even more Genesis Portals to a theoretically endless multiverse, creating some kind of... crisis... on... infinite Earths? --- and becoming a god in the process.
But here's the problem. Infinite Earths tend to come with an infinite number of heroes, and when Sticks the Badger --- who has already fallen through one portal and ended up on Archie-Sonic's world --- falls through another one and ends up chit-chatting with a cop who has "fancy bracelets."
And this is where I started to get really stoked.
I knew this was coming, because I'd seen the issues before, but honestly, this story was taking so long to get to it that I thought maybe I imagined it, or maybe it was just a weird one-off Annual or something. But no. At the climax of the fight, when everything looks to be at its worst, when the all the robots have been taken over by the Deadly Six and turned against all the Sonic characters, another Genesis portal opens and Sticks returns with backup:
For Ian Flynn, the day that the Street Fighter characters showed up in Worlds Unite was the climax of the second act, taking the story to a much larger level. For me... it was Tuesday.
It's pulled off really well, too.
I've mentioned before that the thing about Crisis on Infinite Earths is that it's a hard story to top because literally everything that is DC Comics is in danger. They killed Supergirl! They killed the Flash! They even got rid of Superman, and while he was only a Superman, he was the one who had been around since 1938! Once you do that, there's literally nowhere to go but putting the reader in danger.
Unless you can put other universes in danger, too.
Even though Mega Man and Street Fighter are, Marvel vs. Capcom notwithstanding, both Capcom games, they're still pretty separate. I'd even venture to say that they feel especially separate in comics, because while Mega Man and Sonic were both at Archie at the time, the Street Fighter comics were (and are) being published by a completely different company. Seeing them here actually feels like a big surprise, and opens the door up for a whole multiverse of possibilities.
Carrying the Crisis metaphor to its logical conclusion, it's like having Spider-Man show up to help fight the Anti-Monitor. Or, well, maybe more like having the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show up, I guess. The real version of having Spider-Man show up would be actually having Spider-Man show up, which would actually rule pretty hard.
Regardless, it injects a lot of new life into the story in a really fun way. The only question is whether it's too late to save "Worlds Unite" as it moves into its third act.
Well, that, and whether this story will keep studiously avoiding my absolute favorite moment of the entire Mega Man X franchise.
"Iris?! IRIS?! IRIS! Iris! Iris. Iris... IRIS! Aaaaaauuuuggghhhh no this isn't happening! There's no reason for me to go on what... What am I fighting foorrrrr???????!!!!!"
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the entire project: 10 to 1
- Chris credits the drop in the "finishes the entire project" odds entirely to the fact that this story includes a Robot Master taking a German Suplex: 2 to 1
- Chris manages to get through the entire final act of Worlds Unite without making another reference to Street Fighter: The Movie: 1,000,000 to 1