Monday, August 1, 2016

Painstakingly planning pretend paperbacks for Sonic the Comic even though it's 2016, I'm 30, and these won't ever exist

Sonic the Comic was my favourite comic as a child. Some people had American superheroes, others had mischievous 1950s British children, I had the licensed adventures of a console mascot.

Sure, when I picked my first issue off the shelf at Dillons (#21, 5th March 1994), it was because I loved playing those Sega games where you hold down right and occasionally press a jump button to move the hedgehog sprite from one edge of a themed landscape to the other. But I stayed for Nigel Kitching's thrilling stories and Richard Elson's captivating art.

A few years ago, when I was spending a week by myself in a wooden hut overlooking the sea in a secluded corner of a Thaisland, I downloaded some STC scans for nostalgia kicks and ended up wasting the next few days puzzling over how these various overlapping yet diverse stories might be best represented in trade paperback collections, should that situation ever arise. After much redrafting and frustration I gave up and had to settle for going on boat trips and enjoying my time in paradise instead.

Fortunately, I've now managed to make my life so unexciting that the prospect of returning to this problem and finally nailing it doesn't even seem that much like a waste of my precious, dwindling time any more. So without futher ado, here's the unofficial, definitive guide to how you can fit every single story* from Sonic the Comic into 13 x 200-ish-page paperbacks that won't ever exist for multiple reasons.

Illegally download the digital hatchet jobs here to share the fruits of my pointless labour (or just download the original comics here like I did, occasional bad scans and all). It's not like the creators get any royalties when these are sold on eBay (you'll need a .cbr reader too).

Collects Sonic stories from STC 1-32, Sonic the Poster Mag 3 & 5 and Sonic the Summer Special; Doctor Robotnik from Sonic the Summer Special (1993-94, 253 pages)

Sonic the Comic started out about as good as most people would expect, and this collection comprising its first year and a bit (just the Sonic bits, mind - I'll get to the rest later) allows modern readers to relive its transition from mediocre merchandise to exciting sci-fi saga (if you're still a child, admittedly).

My original intention with these collections was to pluck the highlights from the comics without all the shit bits, but that just seemed unfair. Most of this is frankly unreadable, but it finally gets going when the Kitching/Elson power duo powers into a loose adaptation of Sonic CD. (Not that most of us knew it was an adaptation at the time, because who owned the Sega Mega CD? Not even the spoiled rich kids who had both a Mega Drive and a SNES).

Collects Knuckles stories from Sonic the Summer Special and STC 39-44; Sonic stories from STC 33-53, Sonic the Poster Mag 6, 8 & 9 and the Sonic Holiday Special 1995; Doctor Robotnik from STC 42; Captain Plunder from STC 47-50 (1994-95, 231 pages)

The introduction of Knuckles begins another long and very satisfying adaptation - this time of games I actually owned, so I got more out of it. Kitching & Elson's take on Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles lasts all the way through this second year collection, with only occasional interruptions from lesser writers and only a few distracting continuity errors (most notably 'Carnival Night Conspiracy' being shown to occupy all of Knuckles' time between the Sonic strips in issues 38 and 43, yet the resourceful echidna still somehow manages to join the gang for several adventures during that time).

It certainly helped that those games actually had something of a plot, and Kitching masterfully brings out the themes of deception, redemption and punching things with your spiky gloves. It's debatable whether this is the absolute peak of the comic, but for me it's the most nostalgic run. I was obsessed with those games, and getting to see the authentic progress through the zones and what I considered to be canonical explanations for their random bosses was such a treat.

Collects Knuckles stories from STC 53-58; Sonic stories from STC 54-79 and the Sonic Holiday Special 1996 (1995-96, 242 pages)

With no new Sonic game for Nigel to extrapolate on (I only remembered after I wrote this that Chaotix was a game, but it was on the unpopular 32X so even the people who had Sonic CD didn't have that), he dusted off a popular old villain for the third year's arc.

Metallix (the metal Sonic from the games) was now a race, liberated from their creator's control and free to fail to kill Sonic in their own, independent way. With their catchy robotic slogans, laser beams, time meddling and even a red Emperor Metallix, they leaned more towards the Daleks than the Borg. But that was fine, because kids didn't know that much about Daleks in the '90s. We only had that Amiga game.

The villains were pretty good and the heroes were becoming surprisingly well-rounded for anthropomorphic cartoon animals too. The Chaotix Crew were shoved down our throats at the expense of some of the regulars, but they ended up being an entertaining bunch. Sonic and Robotnik are forced to work together to fight their common enemy, there's a clever predestination paradox that set me up as a time travel fan for life, and there's even a surprisingly sensitive story about Porker's feelings (one of the pigs inside the robots in the games, I think).

Shame about the cop-out ending though, even Sonic feels the need to criticise it. A couple of the scans are pretty bad too, but these are only intended as demos after all, before someone else puts a doomed Kickstarter together and somehow wangles the rights from Fleetway and the various writers and artists involved to make these a reality.

Collects Tails stories from STC 16-64, 143-144 and Sonic the Summer Special (1994-99, 121 pages)

We interrupt the momentum of the classic Sonic era by catching up with what his pesky sidekick's been up to during his increasing absences since it became obvious that Knuckles was better.

There are two distinct eras of Tails tales, and as far as I'm concerned, the bipolar early ones take the biscuit. They blatantly had no idea how to make the useless fox interesting, so we get Nigel Kitching's sword and sorcery take contrasted with Mark Eyles' Blade Runner infatuation. But as different as these approaches are stylistically, there are some enjoyable similarities, like Tails succeeding due to dumb luck 100% of the time and deceiving everyone into thinking he's competent.

These stories have no effect on the regular continuity, but I should point out that the final one came way later (100 issues later) but is included here rather than in the next Tails bunch for thematic/Kitching reasons.

Collects Sonic stories from STC 80-103; Knuckles, Doctor Robotnik & Sonic's World from STC 100; Super Sonic from STC 102; Chaotix from STC 80-81; Captain Plunder from STC 91-93 (1996-97, 212 pages)

If you find yourself wondering why all these characters suddenly show up in various states of peril towards the end with no explanation how they got there, I'm getting to that, alright? Goddamn crossovers, I told you this was frustrating.

The Super Sonic arc that spans this run (this is most of the fourth year - it turns out Nigel Kitching was quite helpful that way) is another contender for the best year of the comic. It's certainly the last time you could say that.

Sonic's supercharged Hyde/Hulk alter ego is separated from his body and causes surprisingly non-lethal devastation across multiple dimensions until he and Sonic realise they need each other after all. Actually, that doesn't happen. They have to freeze him in time and bury him inside an asteroid, but even that isn't enough to stop the beggar.

Issue 100 felt like a massive deal at the time, even if Lew Stringer did his best to spoil the impact of Robotnik's landmark defeat by having him channel that Harry Enfield character and tell Sonic "Oi! Hedgehog! No!" This book really should have ended at that climax, but it hangs around for some of the inevitably disappointing afterglow to ease the burden on Book 8.

Collects Knuckles stories from STC 52, 65-138 and the Knuckles Knock-Out Special (1995-98, 230 pages)

Knuckles' early strips contributed to Kitching/Elson's Sonic arcs and were already represented there. Let's face it, the characters were interchangeable most of the time. It was only after the game adaptations ended that Knuckles' solo adventures could begin in earnest, Nigel Dobbyn was brought on board to provide distinctive art, and Knuckles developed a more thoughtful, introverted personality rather than just being another condescending dick.

For the first time (Decap excepted), a secondary strip was just as good as the lead Sonic strip. Knuckles still punches things with his spikes, but less often than before, preferring to teach us conservation messages and to try to put right what his ancestors did wrong. Putting 16-bit nostalgia aside, this might even be STC at its best (Decap excepted).

I also threw in the Knuckles Knock-Out Special for completion's sake, which has none of those virtues.

Collects all the Sonic's World stories from STC 25-106 (1994-97, 253 pages)

I can't put if off any longer: here are all of Lew Stringer's (and others') purposefully childish stories set in the Sonic universe but shoved to the back of the comic where they were less embarrassing for slightly older children. His Tails and Amy stories get their own pretend paperbacks later, so that's something to look forward to.

These are most notable for introducing Shortfuse the Cybernik, a squirrel Iron Man who was presumably popular with younger kids, though my pre-school brother never seemed particularly bothered. The 'Sonic's World' banner was always unhelpfully vague (some of these are just Sonic B-stories), and after it was retired, the Cybernik's story continued in Amy & Tekno.

Collects Sonic stories from STC 104-130; Super Sonic from STC 116-118; Captain Plunder from STC 103-108 (1997-98, 242 pages)

Now we're all caught up with issue 100 (apart from all the stuff I've still left out), we can speed along until we hit the next big event issue at #130, STC's fifth birthday.

Truth be told, this is where my nostalgia dips from mild to non-existent. During this run, I finished primary school, went to big school and lost interest in colourful erinaceidae, preferring instead to organise index cards on repetitive humanoid species in the Star Trek Fact Files. Thankfully, my younger brother picked up the STC subscription so I could catch up from time to time, once I'd completed my recreational filing (that's right, I'm taking the piss out of my younger self for having stupid hobbies, with absolutely no self-awareness of what I'm doing right now).

I may not have strong feelings for this run, but the quality of the main strip still stands up. Kitching/Elson are tasked with another game adaptation, this time the appalling Sonic 3D (which I actually had), but by the looks of things they didn't bother to play much beyond the animated intro and the first level. They just do their own thing instead, and it's all the better for it, even if it's getting very repetitive now.

Collects Sonic stories from STC 131-147; Super Sonic from STC 146-148; Chaotix from STC 152-154; Double Sonic from STC 106-134; Sonic & Tekno from STC 150-151 (1997-99, 236 pages)

Maybe I'll come up with some annoying spine art for these books so that you have to buy them all to complete the picture. I can't see many people picking this one up otherwise, which was easily the most problematic volume to put together. At least it eased the burden on the others; one of them had to take the 'Double Sonic' bullet!

The lead stories here cover an unprecedented 17-issue period (that's 17 fortnights) during which there was no clearly defined arc and the main villain wasn't even around. Stuff happens, but it doesn't amount to a lot and there aren't any stand-out stories to anchor the thing. I just named it after the longest one.

Since it was a write-off to begin with, I took the opportunity to do some housekeeping and shoved in all the extraneous post-Golden Age stories I hadn't found a place for yet. A couple of these are explicitly set during the events of the previous volume (even if, as usual, there was no possible time window where they could actually have happened), and the way I've arranged them with Sonics at the front and Double Sonics catching up at the back means that a mystery is resolved before it's even introduced, but I won't lose sleep over it.

I tried a few different approaches and this was the least worst I could find to preserve the quality of the Sonic books on either side. I felt uncomfortable about making a collection of predominantly mediocre stories propped up by a few decent Kitchings, until I remembered Book 1 is exactly the same thing.

Collects Tails stories from STC 73-151; Sonic's World  from STC 118 (really a mislabelled Tails story) (1996-99, 230 pages)

When Nigel Kitching and Mark Eyles got bored of Tails, Lew Stringer took over. Whatever else you might think about his take on the character, at least there's finally some consistency.

I've been a little harsh about Lew Stringer up to now, and to be fair, he was specifically briefed to write lighter stories for younger readers who might be too scared to read the grown-up stories where cartoon animals fight robot versions of themselves. So here, the newly heroic Tails foils the petty schemes of an endless parade of unmemorable crooks.

These were always the lesser stories of STC (though no worse than the bad Sonics), but I never really minded them that much, which is more than I can say about most of the stories based on non-Sonic Sega franchises which I just didn't read. They were for older kids. But now I'm too old.

Collects all the Amy Rose and Amy & Tekno stories from STC 41-156 (1994-99, 210 pages)

Even when I was a child reading STC, I wasn't a girl. The pink girl hedgehog's solo adventures and jaunts around time and space with a green girl canary were thus of little interest to me, but to other people she might have been an inspiring feminist icon or something? I don't know. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it if Kitching had written it. If I ever have a daughter, maybe she'll like it.

Collects Sonic stories from STC 148-184 (1999-2000, 258 pages)

There are two big, completely different stories here, with a weird bridge in-between. But now that we've shed the padding (thanks, Book 9!), there's nothing to stop us speeding through right to the end of STC. It carried on for another 38 issues of thriftily reprinted content after this, but not in any logical order that new readers could understand.

I stopped casually reading the comic at some point during the slightly dreary, Arabian Nights-themed Shanazar arc, either because my brother stopping buying it or I stopped caring. It wasn't until years later that I realised I didn't know how they'd wrapped things up in the end, checked online, and found out that Kitching & Elson had bowed out with a 10-part Sonic Adventure adaptation. That still doesn't feel right to me. STC endured too long (not that the fans who carried it on with STC Online thought so. Come on guys, LTS. Again, no self-awareness).

It's a loose adaptation in the vein of Flickies' Island, because they were grown men and they presumably didn't care all that much about playing Sonic games any more. It's unusually dark by the comic's standards, and since I only read it as an adult (albeit a childish one), it still doesn't feel like something that "really" happened. If the panels don't give me Proustian flashbacks of eating Marks & Spencer prawn mayonnaise sandwiches or Skittles segregated by colour, is it really STC?

Collects all the Decap Attack stories from STC 10-132 (1993-98, 237 pages)

Even if you have no interest in the adventures of various unrealistically coloured mammals, this entirely unconnected macabre sitcom could put a grin on your disembodied skull.

I was never sure how Nigel Kitching got away with keeping this odd pet project going for so long, even years after other non-Sonic-related stories were dead and buried. I guess that means it wasn't just me that loved it. I finally played the game about a decade later, it wasn't funny at all.

Odds & Sods

*I lied about fitting it all in.

In the early days of STC, most of the comic was devoted to other games that the writers thought they could squeeze six-parters out of. These faded over time and eventually disappeared completely (apart from Decap Attack), which was good riddance as far as I was concerned. I have no idea if they're any good or not, as I never actually read most of these strips, habitually skipping past the pages with characters who were off-puttingly human and realistically drawn.

If I was dealing with real books here, I'd have to come up with various ways of pairing these disparate stories until the collections reached the maximum acceptable page count (there are 630 pages total, so let's say two or three books). But these aren't real books anyway, and since I don't have any enthusiasm for parts of the comic I mostly never bothered to read, it's simpler to just leave them as they are:

Shinobi (STC 1-53 and Sonic the Poster Mag 4, 102 pages)

The Legend of the Golden Axe (STC 1-18, 60 pages)

Wonder Boy (STC 2-27, 56 pages)

Kid Chameleon (STC 7-59, 60 pages)

Streets of Rage (STC 7-46 and Sonic the Poster Mag 7, 96 pages)

Ecco the Dolphin (STC 13-65, 60 pages)

Eternal Champions (STC 19-40, 50 pages - there was an Eternal Champions Special with a few more stories too, but I couldn't get hold of it)

Pirate S.T.C. (STC 28-33, 25 pages)

Mutant League Football (STC 31-36, 30 pages)

Marko's Magic Football (STC 41-46, 24 pages)

Megadroid (STC 41 & 83, 9 pages)

Sparkster (STC 53-58, 30 pages)

Shining Force (STC 73-78, 30 pages)

What a downbeat ending. This is like that time Johnny Lightfoot died.

If you're not happy that I've unethically uploaded these comics, please tell me so I can take them down rather than getting me thrown off the internet or something, thanks.

No comments:

Post a Comment