Hedging Your Bets: ComicsAlliance’s Longform Critical Examination Of Archie’s ‘Sonic The Hedgehog’
With almost 300 issues in the core series, Archie's Sonic The Hedgehog stands as the longest-running current American monthly comic book that hasn't been rebooted, restarted, or renumbered. Because of that, if stands as 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 the speed on Sonic the Hedgehog, attempting to spite the odds and make it all the way to the finish line.
This week, we kick things off with a prologue that asks a simple question: What the heck is this thing's deal?
I've never liked Sonic the Hedgehog.
When I was a kid, I got it into my head that the Sega Genesis was an item of luxury that only the wealthiest among us could afford, a sign of the class system with as much cultural baggage as a diamond pinky ring or a limousine that splashed a hardworking mother in the middle of a rainstorm. Nintendo, on the other hand, was for the common man, the working class Dusty Rhodeses of the world, who knew what it meant to see a plumber elevated to the status of a hero.
Keep in mind that I have no idea where I got this impression, but by the time I was nine and Sonic was making his debut as the loop-de-looping, super-fast, edgy, extreme flagship character of the Genesis, my loyalties were set in stone, along with the same mixture of aversion and longing that any middle class kid has for the trappings of millionaires. As an adult, I realize that this classification of the Genesis as the tool of the bourgeoisie is pretty patently absurd (and also the Dreamcast was an underdog that we could all root for), but at this point, it's led me to steer clear of the franchise for most of my life.
Most of, but not all. Like I said, as much as I might stand in blue-collar solidarity with Mario (red-collar once he gets a Fire Flower), Sonic as a character and a franchise always had that same kind of allure to me as a kid that, say, $500 coffeemaker has for me as an adult. I know it's a product of excess, but I still kinda want it.
Combine that with the fact that the Sonic comics are published by Archie --- meaning that they were available at pretty much every grocery store --- and there was a time when I picked a few up. Just to, you know, see what they were like. If nothing else, I have to grudgingly admit that they were way better than those Mario comics that Valiant put out.
I'm pretty sure that I had the entire four-issue miniseries, bought off the magazine rack at the Piggly Wiggly down the street from my mom's house. I have a distinct memory of the cutaway that revealed the entrance to Sonic's secret hideout in #0 --- which, God help me, may have been one of the most formative examples of my well-known love of cutaways in comics - and there are a few other bits in those early issues that I have vague memories of.
But in terms of comics, that represents the extent of my exposure to Sonic. In the intervening 23 years, the most I've read of the character has come in the form of the crossover with Archie's Mega Man comics, and the few pages we've put up as previews here at CA. Aside from the fact that he runs fast, has a huge international fanbase that seems to really enjoy drawing themselves as hedgehogs in Hot Topic clothes, and some vague memory that he seems really into chilidogs, that's all I know about Sonic. I just have nothing for him.
And to be honest, there's a good chance that I'm going to come away from this little experiment feeling the same way about Sonic as I do about those comics. I mean, one thing I've learned from years of binge-reading in order to get caught up on something is that more often than not, the sheer amount of comics that you're shoving your way through tends to create a certain kind of affection.
But Sonic actually has one thing going for it that those titles didn't: I already really like the creators.
Since 2006, Ian Flynn has been the driving writer behind Sonic, and with frequent Sonic collaborators like Patrick Spaziante and Ben Bates, formed the creative team behind Archie's Mega Man. That series was hands down one of my favorite series of the decade, and while I definitely went in as a long-term fan of Mega Man from video games --- an advantage that Sonic lacks --- I know from four years of reading that comic every month that they're more than capable of taking characters from a video game and crafting compelling, character-driven stories that are a whole lot smarter than anyone expects.
The question, then, is where to start.
Sonic the Hedgehog's status as America's longest-running uninterrupted comic is my primary reason for wanting to get caught up, but let's be real here. Between Sonic and its sister title, Sonic Universe, we're looking at almost four hundred comic books that I'd need to get through to get caught up, and even I have my limits on how many weird stories from the '90s I'm capable of getting through. Also, considering that the early issues have a setup that's built around translating the video games into a simple Archie comedy setup, and that this eventually gives way to a more dramatic adventure strip, I'm not sure how much I'd get out of starting with the beginning.
To be fair, Archie has actually made that pretty easy. Despite not getting a lot of mainstream attention, Sonic is a pretty popular comic. Back when I was working in a comic book store, it was the only kids' book that we'd get specific requests for with any regularity --- and the company has spent the past decade or so making sure that its back catalogue is available. There are paperbacks of major stories and multiple versions of reprints for those early issues, including a line of hefty black-and-white volumes that follow the Essential/Showcase model that we see in superhero books.
But with all that availability, it still basically just comes down to the fact that that's a lot of Sonic the Hedgehog, and just thinking about it is making me regret this commitment before we've even started.
There is, in fact, a more recent jumping on point in the form of a soft reboot that came in the wake of the Sonic/Mega Man crossover, "Worlds Collide," in Sonic #252, but that seems too recent. Starting there won't give me any of the history, and I doubt it'll help me understand why these comics have somehow managed to outlast Sega as a first-party publisher.
With that in mind, I also considered starting with Flynn and Spaziante's arrival on the book in Sonic #160, but that's ten years of comics to get through. Again, it's just too much.
So here's the middle ground: Genesis, an origin story that began in Sonic #225. I'm not averse to going back and reading something earlier if other readers tell me that it's necessary, but that's where we're going to begin next week. By starting there and moving forward, I'm pretty sure that'll give me enough of a sample size to get a handle on the series as a whole. If I finish, I mean.
Because that's the twist. Unlike the other long-form looks at comics that I've done in the past, there's no guarantee that I'm actually going to make it to the end of this one. With my existing aversion to Sonic and his horrible, horrible mono-eye, and the sheer amount of comics to get through, I'm leaving the possibility open that I'll just end up tapping out of the whole thing.
In fact, we're laying odds.
So place your bets, everybody. We're about to learn a whole lot about hedgehogs.
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the entire project --- 10:1
- Chris grows to genuinely love Sonic the Hedgehog as a character --- 50:1
- Chris grows to love Sonic the Hedgehog as a character so much that he forgives the monumentally creepy single connected eyeball, like that was ever an acceptable design choice --- 100:1
- Chris draws himself as "Chris the Hedgehog/Echidna/Fox" --- 20:1
- Chris draws himself as "Chris the Bat" --- 5:1
- Chris ends up referring to himself as "The World's Way-Past-Foremost Sonic The Hedgehogologist" --- 0:0 (this is absolutely going to happen)