Did you know that the Sonic franchise had 4 TV shows? When I got Sonic colors a few Christmases ago, I decided to do some research on the franchise and I found that the blue blur has had several stories outside of the games, with different storylines, different cast and different gimmicks, with only Sonic, and to a lesser extent Eggman, tying them into the franchise. While most have their favorites, there is one sonic story that has gotten so little recognition that even some of the hardcore Sonic fans don’t even know about, Sonic the Hedgehog, the comic book series.
In 1992, Archie comics began to publish the Sonic the Hedgehog comic book series, which originally followed our title character and his group of friends as they try to stop Robotnik from taking over the world. As the years passed by and head writers changed, the comic has gained more protagonists to root for and villains in the pursuit to take over the world.
Before we continue, I want to I want to lay down 2 ground rules for this analysis. One, I will mainly be looking at the series under the most recent writer, Ian Flynn, as that is the one that matters for the rest of the series. Two, I will be refraining from comparing quality of this comic to other Sonic stories and games, because at the end of the day, an adaptation should be able to stand up on its own. With that being said, let’s get started.
Staring out with the Art Style… well… As this comic has been running for almost 20 years, the comic has gone through a plethora of artists. At the beginning of the Flynn run, several of the artists had “distinct” ways on drawing issues. While Sonic characters can difficult to draw, in the earlier would draw them with eyes covering more of their heads than usual, human body proportions, and backgrounds look splotchy or indistinguishable. However starting around issue 160, Tracy Yardley took over for most of the comic art. While Yardley can be lazy with drawing background characters as they have less detail placed into them and can have problems with facial emotions on occasion, he has been able to perform well in most of his tenure, as he has been able to draw fantastic background scenery. Later on, more artist such as Ben Bates, Steven Butler and Jamal Peppers joined on to the art team. Each one them bring their own style that all complement the characters and the story in a comic format. The art for the action scenes can look completely amazing as spin-dashes and other action elements would look smooth and crisp.
To mention the other Sonic shows for a moment, each one of them tried introducing a fantasy gimmick for their series to add to the Sonic lore. Adventures being a wacky, fantasy world, Satam in a “dark” fantasy world (more on that later), underground with musical weapons, etc. Sadly, this series does not have a fantasy gimmick, and by that, I mean the series barely has any fantasy. The series does use 2 fantasy elements, magic and technology, but neither are used in an efficient way. Instead of using either as a metaphor for an idea or trying to use them in a new and upscale way, both elements are used in very typical methods. Nanobots, for example, are used to build a city or create a suit or magic being used for mind control are concepts that have been used better in other series and Flynn writing doesn’t subvert or add to what has been done, mainly because but they are usually used to whatever the story need them to be used as. Which is even more of a shame because, the series never really tries to create any concepts that haven’t been done before. All the locations are basic forests, deserts and cities, weapons are ones that already exist in our world with no interesting add-ons.
What about the action in the comic? Well, one of my main inspirations for my taste in action in stories is Shonen anime such as One Piece or Bleach and even at their laziest or contrived; they always introduce a new battle mechanic or fighting style. Hell, One Piece, has filled books solely on detailing its fantasy and action elements. Archie’s Sonic, other hand, most of the fighting is punching, kicking, and bland swordplay, and maybe a spin dash if you’re lucky (also, Tails has now learned Tail Whip). Even ignoring my tastes, the action in this series can be pretty underwhelming. Yes, it does look impressive, but it never does anything impressive.
However, while this series does lack a fantasy gimmick, it does have a gimmick. This series has romance! Yes, the series uses romantic subplots in the flow of its fantasy-oriented storyline. While it has dialed back under Flynn, it still is used a source of tension between characters. If this is the first time you have heard of this you are hearing this, you are probably saying something along the lines of, “WTF?”. Before I continue, let me refute a couple of complaints I tend to hear when people find out about this.
1) Sonic shouldn’t have romance! It’s for kids!
2) Ugh! Great, furry romance drama.
Here is the thing, if there is any age group that needs to be talked to about romance, it would be kids. As most kid’s media tends to over romanticize love and place it in fairy tales, it sets expectations about what love should be like, even though finding true love in 3 days is not practical. Taking a mature, realistic approach to discussing romance would be a very interesting move for any story to make as even adult media usually takes mature for backstabbing, manipulation and being moronic. Moreover, using furry characters could just be another way to do it. However, if I were going to list an example of this concept done right, Archie’s Sonic would be the last series I would use.
I was originally planning to go on a tirade on how this series ultimately fails at using romance by pulling out multiple instances of it story wise. But after looking at what I wanted to say, not only would this analysis become way too long, the issues I would bring up would be ones with how romance in used in fiction in general. While I will still use Sonic examples in it, I will probably make that rant its own analysis. So, instead let’s focus on the main reason why the romance fails here. It adds nothing. Nothing in the narrative requires romance to further the overall story. None of the characters are stated to have relationship or interpersonal connection issues and the message of the story has nothing to do with relationships. Therefore, the story will sometimes break away from the actual premise to have romantic main-plots or worse will combine the two using many clichés seen on many CW Dramas. Misunderstandings, jumping to conclusions, having them finally get together only to have one of them be kidnapped or placed in a coma, and many other painful ways. It also doesn’t help in developing the characters as many characters involved in romance will end with it being there main or only drive or connection to the story, making them seem very shallow. The fact is romance works best in fiction when it is primarily a character study by first fleshing out characters individually, then developing platonic relationships, using that to display why certain characters would work in a relationship. However, looking at how the character writing for this comic works, “character study” is not a term the writing staff is familiar with.
Starting with the Game characters, Flynn has this weird habit of doing one of two thing with them. Some, he will crank the personality traits up to eleven. Sonic, for instance, always has something of an arrogant streak, has several moments where he will blatantly insult characters, even the good guys and will always have a cocky expression even in scenes where even the most laid back character would be serious. This would be fine if this was supposed to be a part of his character arc and he was growing from this over time, but he never changes his attitude over the story, he just apologizes if it is too blatant and the story moves on. Shadow, Rouge and Silver also suffer from this writing style as well. The rest? Well, he distill their main trait associated with their character, not making them boring, but making them somewhat dull. Knuckles, who is serious when appropriate, isn’t naïve or thick-headed in any way. While I am glad he isn’t acting like an idiot, but as one of his main traits isn’t represented or replaced, he isn’t left much character. Amy, Omega and Tails seem to be the only exception to these rules but for different reasons. Omega is the deadpan of the cast, having some of the “best” one-liners of the cast. Amy does have her many trait watered down, but since main trait is being a stalker with a crush to Sonic, she is left to being a “more” likeable, albeit stereotypical, chick role to the cast, but more on that later. Tails well he gets grouped into the Archie cast writing. What does that mean?
Well, even with all of the problems that the SEGA cast has, they are the ones that give the comic life and personality, and are usually the ones that help drive the plot forward. The Archie cast…let me put it like this. I can’t call them talking bricks… Mainly because that implies that, they have any characterization. It amazes me that these characters, who have been in this comic for almost 20 years, have been so poorly developed, if they are developed at all. Most of them lack back-stories, clear motivations or even personalities. You could literally switch dialogue between these characters and never notice. While most of these problems started before Flynn became head writer, his writing has not helped things. His writing style exacerbates the problem by retconing what little is consistent about them. Turing several characters into moles and traitors for lame drama or having a passive character turn into Yellow Owl to draft him into the plot as a fighter (if you get this reference, I love you). Speaking of Rotor, many of the males, including Miles Prowler (I am not about to start rhyming), are written or are re-written, to be Sonic-lite. They are snarky, shoot off one-liners, maybe not as cocky, but just as much as action junkies as Sonic. Which is weird for characters like Rotor, Tails, and Antoine, as they are established to be on some level of timid and fainthearted. Even if this justified by them wanting to be more like Sonic, what is the point of having so many characters written the same way? The females aren't any better as they mainly end up as the "down to earth" counterpart for the males and usually don’t get anything to do.
If you read my Sally analysis (Link in the description, take a read if you want later), I ended by saying that Sally character would most likely not be improved with the upcoming reboot. This is pretty much the reason. Flynn is not a character writer. He will make a character fit whatever story idea he has, and since Sally is written to be a writer’s plot tool, she is probably going to get worse before she get better. Hell, he is even adding another cast member to the leads. Why is he adding another character when he still hasn’t developed the 6 to 9 leads he already has. I know Flynn is a story focus writer, but good story-writers have consistent characters that fit into their stories naturally.
Since he is sacrificing or skipping so much for his story, this must be the redeeming feature for the series, right? Now some of the critics of this series might get on me for saying this, but it does need to be said, Flynn has great story ideas. Many of the ideas are interesting from either the franchise perspective, a producing perspective or a good moral conundrum. Sonic vs. Tails, the introducing of the Sonic Universe line to expand the world, or turning Nicole fully real to flesh out the idea of technology being the foundation of a society. The Problem? He is good with setting up ideas, horrible with execution. While I don’t what to go through every last arc Flynn has written, almost every last arc suffers from one of two things. They story will be resolved easily or the plot will end up being forgotten. Several arcs that Flynn sets up as being important to the story end up turning into filler that add nothing to the overall narrative. The Nicole subplot, the Genesis arc, the Silver traitor plot line, and the X-years later arcs are just a few examples. While these could have excused by being too dark or not having enough time to flesh out properly, (which is still a poor excuse), it means very little when other arcs get resolved, but with no effort placed from the characters, such as easily finding the item needed to defeat the bad guys.
While this is lazy writing in general, this writing style hurts the comic’s goal to be serious. The whole point of adding romance, changing characters and interjecting conflict is to have the story be dramatic. While I am all for the Sonic franchise to go in different directions, but if it’s going to go against type, it should do it well. Even if arcs are built up well and have tons of natural tension, it’s undercut if every arc can be solved by having little to no effort for the cast to solve it. In addition, with taking itself seriously, the writer omits one thing every dramatic story should have, a message. Going dramatic is only beneficial when the drama is there to emphasize a point or moral. What idea or message is the story trying to get across? The troubles of relationships? Doubtful as the story nor characters every do anything outside of general romance clichés. Is it “Always have a smile on your face in hardship”? While that might apply to Sonic, most of the characters walk around with scowls during dramatic and actions scenes. Good will always triumph over evil? Not only do the easy resolutions of plots undercut this message, that is usually the message of every superhero comic, the most common genre in the comic book medium. So not only is this derivative, it’s horrible at being derivative. I know many could excuse him because of the SEGA mandates, but… You know what? Let’s wrap this up on the mandates because I am tired of hearing this excuse.
One of the most consistent rumors I have heard from behind the scenes is that Flynn has a list of mandates that he has to follow while writing the series and many critics and defenders cite these as the problems in the comic.
1) Sonic must NOT cry.
2) Sonic must be indefinitely single
3) Sonic characters must not have parents or relatives
4) Sonic and other SEGA characters must act a certain way
5) Sonic and other SEGA characters cannot be changed in any way, unless SEGA approves
6) Sonic and other SEGA characters must not die
7) Sonic and other SEGA characters must not experience any sort of meaningful loss.
Why am I tired of hearing this? Because these do not excuse any of the issues the series has. Let’s ignore the several times Flynn has broken some of these and even go the extra mile and say there more mandates than this. It makes sense that SEGA would be protective of their characters as they have to market them in future games, TV shows and merchandise and people do tend to get “defensive” about change. Why should SEGA trust Flynn to write and develop the game characters, when he has a hard time developing the characters he has complete creative control over? He has barely used these concepts with other characters that he has control over and hasn’t really gotten any true development out of them. Granted they haven’t taken away from the characters, but he hasn’t shown that risk would be worth it. Besides that, every mainstream writer has mandates about what they can and cannot write about, especially writers for franchises. Even if SEGA might be a bit stricter, it is the job of the writer either to fight them or to compensate for them. While Flynn has his moments of brilliance, they do not balance out years of lazy writing.
I know I seemed a bit hard on Flynn, heck I couldn’t even call the series bad. However, I have no problem calling the series aimless. It sacrifices characters, creative fantasy and light heartiness for a dramatic story for no real purpose. I know some people like to blame SEGA or past writers for the difficulties the comic has, while I do not think they are blameless, it is the job of the writer to make the greatest story possible and this is not. The only thing I complement this on is the art style and at least the effort to make the story drama. Leaving this at a very pretty but very shallow mess.
Final rating: 1.5/5
But, like I said I do think Flynn does have his moments and we will talk about one next time.
Next post: Character Analysis- Amy Rose