Hedging Your Bets #3: Two Steps Back
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, welcome back to Sonic the Hedgehog, where everything's made up and the character deaths don't matter.
Sonic the Hedgehog #231-233: "Two Steps Back," "Lost in the Moment," "Dark Tidings," and "The Trial of Geoffrey St. John"
And at this point, I am officially lost.
Despite all my trepidation going into it, I'd like to think that I've given Sonic a pretty fair shake so far. If nothing else, I found that first story to be surprisingly engaging and well-paced, even as it told a story that was tied into years of continuity and featured plenty of stuff that required an explanation. Ixis Naugus, Nicole the sentient AI, the Royal Family of Mobius, and the power struggles that preyed on a populace turning on the weapons that saved them, all of that was in there, and to be honest, it was all explained pretty well. Even at its most confusing, I still felt like I had a handle on what was happening.
And then came Genesis.
Even though I was warned by Sonic readers going into it that it might not be the best place to start, I figured that I could deal with a four issue flashback, especially since it was flashing back to events that I never saw the first time around. The thing is, I wasn't really prepared for it to completely derail pretty much everything else that I was enjoying, shuffling it off in favor of even more flashbacks and a character death that was retconned so fast that even Superman: The Movie thought it came off a little cheap.
As you might recall, the last thing that happened before (sigh) "Eggman" hit the reset button and sent us all back to the 16-bit era for four issues was that Princess Sally was shot and killed by a machine gun. At the time, I mentioned that it was a little tough to really feel the impact of that move, partly because I've only had a few weeks to get emotionally invested in these characters, partly because I'm reading these at a rate of four issues every week rather than getting a month between them, and partly because I already know that Sally is alive and well in more recent issues. Taking all that together, I was prepared for some kind of retcon.
What I was not prepared for was this: Sonic coming back from the flashback with a sudden "10-second rewind" that allows him to save Sally.
Like I've said before, I realize I'm the jerk who's showing up 20 years into this thing, so take this as an honest question: Is this a thing?! Like, is there a common piece of the Sonic the Hedgehog mythos that says when you come back from a weird splinter timeline, you have a quick do-over for any recent tragedies? Is there a crossover story I didn't read where Sonic gets that magic dagger from Prince of Persia so that he can turn back the sands of time? Because if this just comes out of nowhere, that's a pretty big letdown.
Especially because it also compounds every problem I had with Sally's previous death when she essentially dies again at the end of the issue.
Part of that comes from my perspective on things, and I can actually see a way where this could work if I was reading it month-to-month. Killing Sally, bringing her back in the next issue for an extended flashback, ending the flashback with a memory of her death, and then immediately undoing her death to start the next arc sets up a false relief for anyone who actually is invested in the character. After that rollercoaster of Sally being okay, then dead, then okay, then dead, then okay again, the moment where she chooses to sacrifice herself to save Mobius from being roboticized could actually have a whole lot of impact.
But for me, reading all of that compressed into three weeks instead of getting it spread out over nine months (and reading it from here in the far-off future, no less), it just undercuts everything in a really frustrating way.
Of course, Sally doesn't actually die in this story. Instead, she averts the planetary disaster by turning Eggman's roboticizing beam directly onto herself:
Incidentally, if you're curious about a laser beam that turns animal-people into robots (and also makes robot versions of their clothes), reader Michael Ivey left a good-sized essay about the whole thing in the comments of last week's column. Personally, I'm finding it easier to just go with it.
Anyway, for all my griping, Sally's sacrifice and the reaction to it --- which takes up most of the next few issues --- actually are pretty well-done, and I do like the idea of backpedaling from death only to get to the fate-worse-than of being turned into a mindless robotic killing machine. It allows for an interesting take on the action that an actual "death" wouldn't, in that Sonic is scrambling to rescue her until everyone else finally has to step up and tell him that they can try that later, but she's gone for now and they have other, more immediate concerns.
And Nicole's reaction, when she refuses to manifest her avatar or even speak out loud after being with Sally when she's turned, is one of the better emotional beats that I've seen in the year's worth of Sonic comics that I've read so far.
That's almost More Than Meets The Eye-level, and that's basically the highest compliment I can give to a comic book in 2016.
As far as the rest of the story, it mostly deals with Ixis Naugus finally consolidating power as the ruler of New Mobotropolis and deposing the Acorn family from the crown --- and one of the ways he wins over the citizenry also provides the creators with a pretty easy way to walk back Sally's robotic conversion.
See, as part of the attack, Eggman unleashes Titan Metal Sonic --- a kaiju-sized robotic Sonic --- to attack the city, and both Naugus and the Freedom Fighters have to take it on. Unfortunately, the good guys don't usually coordinate their attacks with an evil wizard best known for trying to kill them, and the cybernetic Bunnie D'Coolette (née Bunnie Rabbot) gets caught in the crossfire and encased in Naugus's magic crystal.
When he goes to undo the spell as a PR move, however...
... Bunnie is completely restored, even including the cybernetic limbs that she's had for years. And maybe I'm just being uncharitable to Ian Flynn, but if the big crisis here is that one of the characters has been turned into a robot, and the next issue someone figures out that they can accidentally turn robots back into their original organic forms, then the answers here seem pretty obvious.
Finally, we have the Trial of Geoffrey St. John, the treasonous (literal) skunk who's been working for Naugus all this time. The main idea here is that Geoffrey is convicted, but immediately pardoned, leading ex-King Elias to form a team of Secret Freedom Fighters, which is actually pretty great. I mean, if Batman showed up in the next issue of Justice League to announce that he was forming a secret JLA, that'd be my favorite moment in comics of the year.
There is, however, a problem. And like, one more time: I realize that I'm the one showing up 230 issues into this and expecting stories that have been brewing for a literal decade to just line up and make sense. But for real? For real?
This is an awful lot of text.
The trial goes on like that for pages, recapping the character's entire history and interweaving it with this newly revealed secret history, and while it's not bad, it is completely lost on me.
Also, I kept getting distracted by the fact that Geoffrey has what appears to be beard stubble on a part of his face that is already covered in fur.
How does that even work?!
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the entire project: 100 to 1
- Chris decides he needs to learn more about echidnas, the actual animal: 2 to 1
- Chris decides he needs to learn more about echidnas in the context of Sonic the Hedgehog: 50 to 1
- Sally Acorn is turned back into a... wait, what is Sally? Is she a squirrel? Like, that's why she's named "Acorn," right? 3 to 2
- Chris stops being very satisfied with himself for figuring out plot twists in comic books that are written for literal babies: 1,000 to 1