Hedging Your Bets #8: Worlds Collide, Part 1
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, the Sonic/Mega Man crossover begins, and it turns out that alternate dimensions and roboticized masters are easier to understand than the usual stuff.
Mega Man #24-25, Sonic Universe #51, Sonic the Hedgehog #248: "Worlds Collide: Kindred Spirits"
Story: Ian Flynn
Art: Jamal Peppers, Ryan Jampole, Matt Herms, Patrick Spaziante
Letters: John Workman
Editor: Paul Kaminsky
Here's the thing about Sonic the Hedgehog: Every story arc is somehow weird in a completely different way than the one that came before it.
For a book that's notable for having a long and uninterrupted run (and that's even more notable for largely being the product of a small number of creators, including a current writer who's been shaping the entire franchise for over ten years), the issues that I've read for this project have been marked by a pretty surprising lack of consistency. It's not the events of the stories, which actually do seem to follow pretty logically from one to the next --- with a few notable exceptions --- and it's not a matter of tone, either. It's that each one presents a new kind of puzzle to work out.
I think that probably has a lot to do with where I put my starting point --- the last year or so before a reboot is by its nature always going to be the most complicated --- but it does make reading Sonic the Hedgehog an experience that's engaging and frustrating in equal measure. And it didn't give me a whole lot of hope for what would happen when the book went into its big crossover.
I've written before about how much I absolutely loved Archie's Mega Man series, but that book's quality is really something that can never be overstated. I've always been a fan of the games, but Flynn, Bates, Thomas, and Co. did an incredible job of taking the simple framework of the NES era and telling stories about morality, humanity, and the cost of war without ever making it inaccessible to kids or moving the action and adventure out of the spotlight. It's honestly one of the best comics of the century, no foolin'.
That said, the first time this crossover came around, I skipped it entirely.
Much as I loved Mega Man, the idea of derailing the story for a team-up with a character that I'd always been leery of due to my childhood distrust of the Sega Genesis was pretty unappealing. Going back now, it's easy to see why I felt that way: There is a lot of Sonic the Hedgehog in this crossover.
I don't just mean that in terms of volume, either, although since the crossover runs through Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Universe, and Mega Man, there's literally twice as many Sonic comics involved. I mean that the entire story flows out of Sonic, with Mega Man's involvement seeming almost incidental. The crossover is predicated on elements like the Chaos Emeralds, the Warp Rings, and the Genesis Wave.
But that means that going through it this time around, I was way more prepared to get a handle on what was happening than I was when I was just reading Mega Man. Aside from the events of "Endangered Species," the stories have done a pretty good job of introducing these things as major concepts.
Without any other context except the 20 issues I've already read leading up to this, I know that the Chaos Emeralds are an extremely potent power source, that the Genesis Wave can alter reality and merge different events into a flattened-down version, and even that [sigh] Eggman is experienced at traveling between dimensions. Even if that's stuff that's not really explained if you're coming at it from Mega Man alone, all of it makes sense in the context of Sonic.
Not that it's strictly necessary. I mean, this is still comics, and alternate dimensions and crossovers are par for the course. It's just nice to have a convenient mechanic in place to ensure that unlike most crossovers, "Worlds Collide" is actually canonical for both stories --- for as long as Sonic's going to have a canon to be part of, anyway.
Even the motivations behind the setup are pretty clever. After meeting by chance thanks to interdimensional Skype problems, the two would-be conquerors bond over their shared history of having a blue protagonist foil their plans and decide to pit the two unstoppable forces against each other and then team up to finish off the survivor. And even better, the way they do it actually plays off of existing video game tropes that also work well in this kind of story.
Since Sonic and Mega Man both have robotic duplicates (Metal Sonic and Copy Robot, respectively), it's pretty easy for the Doctors to frame both of them for screwing around in the other's lives. In Mega Man's case, that means staging a robbery of a Chaos Emerald that's being held in a Mega City bank vault, and for Sonic, that means kidnapping all of his friends and roboticizing them into robots that combine Wily's aesthetics with Eggman's emphasis on mindless obedience.
One of these, you will note, is a little more personal than the other.
The problem is that for all the clever setup --- and for as much as I like the designs of the Roboticized Masters, particularly Amy Rose and her hammer hands --- the story quickly falls into some pretty disappointingly basic crossover storytelling. It's an archetypical fight-then-team-up story, and while it's worth noting that all of this is knocked out in the first third of the crossover so that we have plenty of room for more adventure before we're all done here, it still drags the whole thing down.
The big fight between Mega Man and Sonic, for instance, is entirely predicated on the idea that Mega Man thinks Sonic is a robot, despite the fact that his sensors are telling him that he's a living creature. There's an in-story reason for this, of course, and it's actually a pretty good one to build up both characters --- Mega Man assumes that his sensors are malfunctioning because nothing but a robot could move that fast --- but it also requires Mega Man to spend the first 90% of the fight not bothering to talk to Sonic, or say anything at all.
Considering that Mega Man's usual tactic in his battles with Dr. Wily's Robot Masters is to always offer them a chance to surrender because of the guilt that comes from hurting his "brothers," even in the name of the greater good, this rings pretty false for the character.
It's the kind of thing that stems from the nature of the story rather than the story itself, in that there are beats that have to be hit to satisfy reader expectations. And it's something that Flynn and Jampole hang a pretty big lampshade on by the time we get to the "and then team up" part of the story.
Also, Sonic's reaction at finding himself in a world that's populated by human beings and weird little Capcom robots instead of anthropomorphic animals and wizards is pretty nice.
At the end of the day, though, the question here is whether the cleverness (and, to be honest, elegance) of the setup outweighs the story's reliance on muddling its way through familiar tropes, and it's a really tough call. Mega Man keeping silent while literally thinking about all the questions he had about this weird fight is far too frustrating to ignore, and all of the textual acknowledgment of crossover tropes don't actually excuse them if they're not done well.
I suppose it all just depends on how the rest of the story goes now that all of the traditional stuff has been disposed with. And whether we see Tails getting punched in the face five or six more times by the time we're done.
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the entire project: 30 to 1
- Chris keeps that panel of Tails getting clocked by Bass in the rotation: 5 to 1
- Chris does a lot of work to justify a dislike for Miles "Tails" Prower that goes beyond just the fact that he has the worst pun name since Turner D. Century: 10 to 1
- Chris somehow manages to find himself in a real-life situation where the phrase "Let's go kick some doctor butt" would not be the weirdest possible thing to say out loud to another human being: 1,000 to 1