Hedging Your Bets #5: Loyalty
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've got a lot of interesting ideas that seem to be having a hard time becoming a story.
Sonic the Hedgehog #237 - 240: "Loyalty" and "Heroes"
So here's an interesting bit of comics industry trivia for you: Back in the '60s, when comics were largely self-contained adventure stories that only formed the most distinct pieces of an ongoing narrative, there was this idea among editors and publishers that their readership cycled through every two years. A kid would start reading comics around ten, follow them for a little while, and then give up around age 12 once they'd discovered baseball or... I don't know, what were teens into before the Internet? Heavy machinery? Woodworking? Let's say woodworking.
You can see this most prominently in the Gold Key books of the era, where the publishers were so confident in that readership turnover that they would just straight up start a few comics over with the same stories after a few years, running through a short cycle of issues for the better part of a decade. Even mainstream superhero books, which were generally divided into three stories, would reprint older stories as backups, although that was also a product of paperback reprints and the back issue market not really being A Thing just yet.
The industry operates on a completely different model nowadays, of course, but I still think about that two-year cycle every now and then, especially with regards to kids' comics, and how shaped the foundation that even modern episodic stories are based on. Two years is a long time, even for story arcs that spread out over months.
All of which is to say that in terms of Sonic the Hedgehog, I don't really consider myself a "new reader" anymore.
I realize that in terms of the larger context of trying to work through a series that's closing in on 300 issues (plus another hundred-plus of spin-offs, tie-ins, miniseries, and other assorted Hedgery), I'm still very much scratching the surface, but at this point, I've read twenty issues of this comic. I know who the characters are --- the main characters, at least --- and what their situations are. When I see Tails, I no longer think, "Oh, this guy again." I think, "That's Tails. I know him. I know Tails."
Point being, whatever excuses existed on both sides, creators and reader, are now gone. I'm as caught up and familiar with this stuff as I'm ever going to get, and by all rights, I should be fully able to deal with any of the complexity that comes down the line.
But as we all know, should is not necessarily is.
In these two story arcs, we're basically looking at two separate attacks by (sigh) Eggman, who is still flying around in the Death Egg causing trouble despite the fact that thing probably should've gone the way of the Death Star two or three issues ago. But then, I guess the whole thing where I'm having trouble getting my head around the villain's headquarters also being a mobile battle station that is simultaneously constantly running low on power and barely staying afloat and also has a seemingly endless string of killer robots to send out against his enemies is probably just my hangup. Oh well!
In the first attack, Eggman sends the roboticized Mecha Sally against two societies that seem to exist pretty far from the funny animal civilization that we've come to know in New Mobotropolis: the Wolf Pack, which seem to be your garden-variety D&D-style barbarian tribe who are also wolves, and the Felidae, who are cat people with one really interesting and intriguing cultural aspect: Their role in their society is completely determined by the clothes they're wearing.
The queen, for instance, is only The Queen when she's wearing the queen's robes. Without them, she has no authority, and in her mind, she's a completely different person who needs to go rescue "The Queen" (ie, the robes) before someone else can put them on and claim rightful rulership of her people.
It's actually a really interesting idea that plays out in some really cool ways, and it speaks to what might be this book's greatest strength: There are a lot of good ideas in play. The way they have to interact with different cultures, and the way those cultures respond to the recurring threat of the Death Egg; the responsibility of Sonic to help people when all he wants to do is rescue Sally. It's all in there. It just never quite seems to come together the way you really want it to into a cohesive whole.
So the idea here is that the Wolf Pack and the Felidae were former enemies who were brought to peace in a previous arc, and their leaders are now negotiating the terms of their peaceful coexistence. Eggman's plan --- based on Mecha-Sally's familiarity with the situation --- is to kidnap them, pin the blame for each on the other's faction, and start a civil war that will disrupt the region and keep the Freedom Fighters too busy to stop his larger plans.
Naturally, it doesn't work, largely because each of the leaders, Lupe and Hathor, agrees to a personal sacrifice.
The thing is, Eggman doesn't try to roboticize Lupe. Instead, he's going to legionize her.
I've been a little hazy on the difference for a while (and I'm sure someone's waiting to fill me in down in the comments section), but it seems that roboticization is a sort of instantaneous magic-type thing that just turns you into a robot with a laser beam or whatever, while legionizing is a little more low-tech. Like, as in actually cutting off someone's limbs and replacing them with cybernetic enhancements and then brainwashing them, Borg style.
And that's genuinely the most threatening that Eggman has ever been.
Fortunately, Lupe escapes, Hathor gets her clothes back, and everything works out okay for the wolves and cat people. And that, in turn, clears the way for Eggman's next attack: Sending Mecha Sally to kill her own brother (ex-King Elias), keeping Sonic Distracted while he sends the rest of his forces after New Mobotropolis.
And you know what? One thing I really appreciate about Eggman is that, unlike your Ritas Repulsa, when he comes across a plan that almost works, he doesn't just move on to the next thing after it fails. He just keeps sending the same things, but adds in new stuff or just sends more of them, confident that if it almost worked the first time, it might have a good chance of working the second if it's even more powerful.
Elias gets away, but Sonic and Team Fighters have to stay to help the village mop up the rest of the attack, meaning that the defense of New Mobotropolis falls to Team Freedom.
Well, Team Freedom and Ixis Naugus, who has what might be my favorite dialogue in the series so far:
Writers: If you ever get stuck in a plot, have you considered just having someone shout "BOW TO YOUR WIZARD-KING!", and if not, why not? It'll probably improve things.
Still, when Naugus is unexpectedly weakened for unknown reasons, it looks like things are going to falter. But, as readers know, there's another team out there too: The Secret Freedom Fighters, who tie in the two halves of this story by being the people who got Elias out of the village attack. So yeah, it seems I was a little hasty assuming that they would be shuffled off to their own adventures in Sonic's sister title, Sonic Universe.
Here's the roster:
Hoo boy. There's a lot of characters in there that I'm going to do my level best to not learn anything else about.
To be fair, though, they're introduced with a really cool fight. At one point, Eggman unleashes Team Metal, robotic versions of Sonic, Tails, and Amy Rose that look enough like them that they might as well be roboticized versions. It's never actually made explicit in the dialogue, but I really like the idea that by separating Team Fighters from the city with another attack, he's also made it possible that the people of New Mobotropolis could believe that they'd been roboticized, just like Sally, and that they were now coming back to destroy their former home. Again, that's only implied, but I do love the idea that Eggman's standard tactic is to come at you with a mindless killing machine wearing the face of your friend. It gives him a frightening edge that all of his ineptitude still doesn't dull.
And it makes it a little more shocking when the Secret Team's solution is to just punch through their bodies and tear out their hearts.
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the whole project: 100 to 1
- Chris finds the difference between roboticization and legionization to be an actually pretty interesting distinction: 10 to 1
- Chris refers to himself at least once before the end of the year as a "Wizard King": 2 to 1
- Chris works in another Achewood reference as that is his primary frame of reference for comics about talking animals: 3 to 2
- Chris keeps that Sonic-Narrowing-His-Eyes-At-Tails image in the rotation for future columns: 1 to 1 (this is absolutely going to happen)