Hedging Your Bets #6: Unraveling
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 demonic possession, widespread destruction, and then a month off so that Sonic can go compete in the Olympics. Seriously.
Sonic the Hedgehog #241-242, "Unraveling" and "Olympic Trials"
Story: Ian Flynn
Art: Steven Butler, Jamal Peppers, Terry Austin, Matt Herms
Letters: John Workman
Editor: Paul Kaminsky
I'll say this for Sonic the Hedgehog: it gets a whole lot done in every issue.
Part of that, I'm sure, is based on the simple idea that if you're working with a character whose entire deal is that he's gotta go fast, you want to build your stories to keep up the pace to underline that, but I also suspect that's a function of the book's nature as a complicated long-running saga. There are, after all, a lot of moving parts in here, spread out over plenty of different plot threads that are all happening at the same time.
Just off the top of my head, there's Ixis Naugus taking over the government of New Mobotropolis and also apparently dying after being injured in battle, there's (sigh) Eggman flying around on the Death Egg just dropping robots everywhere, there's Sonic's attempt to rescue Mecha Sally, and the Freedom Fighters splitting into two teams, the formation of the secret Freedom Fighters and their attempt to restore the monarchy, Nicole's exile and subsequent battle with depression and hopelessness, and some stuff with Knuckles that probably happened in another title but will soon be bleeding over here. It's a lot.
But at the same time, that's something that I appreciate about this book. Juggling that many plots is a pretty difficult feat, believe me, and the fact that they weave together as well as they do is a testament to the level of craft that's being put into this comic.
And really, I think that explains the difference between Sonic and Mega Man. The big trick that Flynn, along with artists like Ben Bates, Chad Thomas, and Patrick Spaziante pulled in that book was taking a premise that was incredibly linear and adding complexity from the characters and their motivations. There was a lot that was added in --- by the end of the series after fifty issues, they'd only gotten as far as the plot of the third game --- but since the course was laid out along those simple narratives provided all the way back in the heyday of the NES, the role there was to fill things in and bolster the themes that we were already dealing with.
Sonic, though, was already complicated thanks to a game series that threw whatever it could at the wall to see what would stick, a handful of weird and unrelated cartoons, and a couple decades of elaborate comics continuity that was tasked with trying to reconcile all those pieces into a single narrative. Threading your way through all of that means that you have to go fast just to keep up.
Although I suspect that we're just about to get to the part where things get a whole lot simpler.
For now, though, we have what might be the most jam-packed issue yet, and while it goes (quite literally) all over the map, the main focus is on Ixis Naugus. As you may recall, he is a wizard who is actually three other wizards (I think?) who was recently elected King of Everything when he convinced the very furry people of New Mobotropolis to kick out the sentient AI that had been protecting them. The problem --- I mean, there are a lot of problems, but this is the one for him, specifically --- is that the first time he tried to protect them, he was caught in the weird reality-altering "whiteout" blast by Eggman.
Ever since, his magic has been unpredictable, and now, it seems his physical half-bat, half-rhino, half-lobster, half-cyborg body is finally giving out on him, too.
He's also dealing with the council pushing to restore Nicole to New Mobotropolis now that he has proven himself unable to actually defend the city as he promised. And to make matters worse, I think they might have all realized that they made a mistake in choosing a government official when their new Wizard King ends up burning at the touch of a holy artifact.
That should probably be a lesson for us all.
The good news (for Naugus and literally no one else) is that he can transfer his consciousness to a new body --- if, and only if, he can find someone willing to enter a capital-letter Magical Contract with him. And, as it turns out, nobody is stupid enough to do that, not even if he promises to restore their bodies to good working order:
He first tries this offer on the former King Acorn --- Sally and Elias's father --- and then continues the pattern of hitting up some parents by heading over to Sonic's house.
A couple things about this: a) Sonic still lives with his mom and dad. b) Sonic's mom and dad rule. His dad's a friggin' robot!
Seriously, where's the comic about Jules and Bernadette just being sassy old folks at evil wizards? I woulda read that years ago! I will say, though, it's a little weird that Bernadette does not look any older than Sonic, or literally any other character in this book. At least Sally's mom has a couple of lines on her face.
Anyway, with Sonic off fighting Eggman's latest monster (which is pretty inconsequential, but does give him something to do in this issue, which is nice given that his name's on the cover), Ixis finds himself out of options. Public support for Nicole's return --- which would keep his own power in check --- is on the rise, and his body is rapidly failing.
And then he remembers that there's someone who already signed a contract.
This comes right after Geoffrey calls Naugus out for all the evil that he did and pleads with him to take his power and do something good with it, and as much as I might gripe about the impenetrable continuity, this is really well done. I've only seen the part of Geoffrey's journey that starts with him being a traitor to the Freedom Fighters, and seeing him justify the wrong things with the right reasons and reveal himself to really want to change things for the better gives his own betrayal by Naugus a great deal of impact.
With Geoffrey's body as his new home (and with the excuse of "Naugus" coming down with an "illness" that leaves him unable to attend the council), Nicole's return goes through with full approval.
But what about Eggman? Oh, don't worry. He's just blowing up Knuckles' homeland with air strikes.
That seems like the kind of thing we should follow up on, right? And we will next week, when we get to "Endangered Species," a story that has the most complicated behind-the-scenes backstory since Crisis On Infinite Earths. But for now, the next issue goes in a bit of a different direction.
And that direction leads straight to the Olympics.
With tensions in the series reaching a fever pitch and an epic story waiting to debut, why not take a month off for a weird, out-of-continuity story about Sonic competing in the Olympics?
Seriously, though, I kinda love this. This is exactly the kind of story that would be perfect in an Annual or Special, but dropping it right here at the height of drama is a great little goof that I'm assuming has more to do with Sonic's appearance in the super bizarre Olympics themed video games where he competes against Mario than anything else in the series. Plus, I just generally love the Olympics, so I am here for this.
The plot, such as it is, is that while Sonic and his friends are all competing with each other at the Olympics --- which is weird because I'm pretty sure they're all from the same country, and it's not like the Lithuanian basketball team is there making a cameo appearance --- Eggman has disguised himself as an official and rigged up deathtraps at all the events.
Eventually, Sonic gets wise to what's going on and challenges Eggman to compete with him, mano a erizo, and frankly, that seems a little unfair. So instead, Eggman dispatches Metal Sonic, and we get a pretty amazing double-page spread where they're competing against each other:
First of all, I love that Metal Sonic scores at rhythmic gymnastics, but it also makes me wonder who's out there judging on the more aesthetic-based events. Eggman and Uncle Chuck? Did even Sally Acorn have to agree that Metal Sonic's ribbon dancing was the ne plus ultra?
Eventually, it all comes down to one last event, because of course it does, but oh no! Sonic's feeling tired after a day of competing! Can he power through with... the spirit of the Olympics?!
Of course he can, and he does, winning the last event and freeing all his pals.
But here's the problem: That last event? It's the hundred yard dash. Even at his lowest point, that should not be a problem for Sonic. I mean, if that guy can't just run good, what are we even doing here?
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the entire project: 80 to 1
- Chris finds out that there actually is a miniseries about Bernadette and Jules, because why wouldn't there be at this point: 10 to 1
- Chris finds out that Bernadette looks so young because of time travel, roboticization rays, and/or other convoluted shenanigans: 3 to 1
- Chris gets his ninth email about the behind-the-scenes reasoning for "Endangered Species" and its ending before he reads the story himself next week: 2 to 1