Hedging Your Bets #9: Worlds Collide, Part 2: Into The War Zone
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 continues, with inside jokes, good guys turned bad, and the setup for the final act!
Sonic Universe #52 - 53, Sonic the Hedgehog #249, Mega Man #26: "Worlds Collide, Vol. 2: Into The Warzone"
The thing about Worlds Collide is that there's a whole lot of it to get through. I mean, that should be obvious from the fact that we've got three different volumes of it that, for the purposes of this volume, it's pretty easy to treat as distinct story arcs, but it's also something that really affects the nature of how those stories are presented.
All told, "Worlds Collide" ran through 12 issues of the core Mega Man and Sonic titles, taking up a full four months of Archie's publication schedule, and that means that it had a lot of space to work with --- and honestly, it's the kind of story that demanded it. Given that these are two separate licenses --- one of which had bounced around between a handful of American publishers before landing at Archie --- held by two separate companies that were only united by the publisher and the guy who happened to be writing both books.
Keep in mind that I have no actual knowledge of how this thing came together, but with that being the case, I think it's reasonable to assume that they probably figured this was their only shot to actually make this happen --- even if they would eventually get another chance a few years later. Throw in the fact that there's a lot riding on this story in terms of how it's going to affect Sonic going forward, and there's a lot riding on it that could use the space to breathe.
So you don't just get Mega Man versus Sonic, and you don't just get Sonic the Hedgehog characters being turned into Mega Man-style Robot Masters, and you don't just get Sonic fighting all of Mega Man's old enemies, and you don't just get Dr. Wily and [sigh] Eggman turning on each other. Heck, you don't even really get a compressed version of those ideas. Instead, you get three distinct arcs with four issues each to explore all of those ideas.
And yet, sometimes, it still doesn't feel like it's enough.
That's the key problem with the story's second arc, "Into the War Zone." As you might recall from last week, Sonic and Mega Man have finally moved past "they fight" and into "then team up," moving to the Skull Egg Zone that exists as a pocket reality bridging their two dimensions. And to be honest, there are a lot of really great gags here about the different mechanics of both games.
I've mentioned that I'm far more familiar with the Mega Man games than I am with Sonic, and if you asked me as a child to tell you who Mega Man's true arch-nemesis is, I'd say it was those gee-dee disappearing/reappearing blocks that always got me stuck in Magnet Man's level. I hate those things, so seeing Sonic thoroughly vexed by them is the most that I've ever identified with that dude. There's even a great page where you find out that Sonic just can't get past them, with Tails literally begging for permission to just carry him over the obstacle that's just really fun.
Flynn and Yardley even dig for a deep cut here with the return of the Genesis Unit:
In case you're not aware, these were the characters made for Mega Man: the Wily Wars, a 16-bit remake of the first three Mega Man games for Sega Genesis that never actually saw a North American release. They are, of course, based on the characters from the Chinese epic Journey to the West, because, you know, why not?
They're just the prelude to the real story in this volume, though, which is that Mega Man and Sonic are pit against the Roboticized Masters: Wily'd up versions of Sonic's friends and supporting cast members:
It's a good idea with some really solid looks that actually do serve as that perfect midpoint between Capcom and Sega's different takes on character design. Rose Woman in particular, with her hammer hands, is really well-done --- probably because she's the most important character aside from Tails who ends up getting Roboticized.
The characters even have their own signature weapons based on the abilities they have in the regular stories, and in true Mega Man fashion, we get to see Mega Man using all of them once each one is defeated. And it's pretty cool.
The problem is that it all happens a little too neatly.
On the off chance that you've never played them, the trick with Mega Man games is that they all operate on a sort of eight-way Rock-Paper-Scissors mechanic, where each Robot Master is weak to the weapon that you get by defeating one of the others. There's usually one that's weak enough to the default weapon that they're the best one to start with, but part of the fun of the games --- unless you're someone who hates losing and goes immediately to Nintendo Power and/or GameFAQs, like me --- is the trial and error of figuring out which weapon works best against which character.
Here, though, Mega Man just sort of happens to beat all of the Roboticized Masters in the right order. To be fair, the same thing tends to happen in the main Mega Man series, too, but it's way more noticeable in a story where he's fighting them all at once in one grand battle royale, especially when there's also a second convenient plot contrivance involved in the form of Mega Man shooting out Sonic-shaped charged shots that can immediately disable his foes.
And again, that's something that the creators even go as far as drawing attention to in the story itself:
It's difficult to figure out, because on the one hand, the Roboticized Masters are doing everything they need to do. They show up, they look cool, they fight Mega Man, and they have their signature weapons. Those are all the boxes that they need to check in order to justify their existence in the story and meet the expectations of fans who want to see them. But on the other hand, it feels like they're just checking those boxes, and not actually providing any stakes. I get not wanting to devote pages to Mega Man trying to figure out the pattern and weapon order --- I've written enough comics to know that space on the page is precious, even if you've got 12 issues to work with --- but since it's established early on that Mega Man can turn them back into their regular furry forms, then what are the stakes if they can be taken out so easily?
I think it's because there's so much space, and because Flynn, Yardley, Mason, Evans and Co. are able to do so much that all of it really just feels like prelude to the real battle that's going to happen in Act 3. As rewarding as all of this should be, and as many cool visuals as they're bringing to the table, there's not much to hang onto here.
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the entire project: 80 to 1
- Chris admits to using the second-controller "moon jump" cheat to get past the disappearing blocks in Magnet Man's stage, which is why he only ever beat that game playing at a friend's house: 3 to 1
- Chris admits that they were really only friends because he owned Mega Man 2 and most of the Ninja Turtles: 1 to 1 [I know what I'm about.]
- Chris stops actively resisting learning anything about Shadow the Hedgehog: 10 to 1
- Chris realizes that he has written a column about how a comic book should be more faithful to a video game, and has thus learned that he is the true monster here: 100 to 1