I guess with any comic book series, things can’t stay simple for long; not just in terms of plot and character depth which I am absolutely for, but in terms of spin-offs, specials, and the intermixing of continuity between them which I’m more or less totally against. I’ve never gotten into super hero comic books for this reason as the amount of effort to understand any ONE book in its entirety is predicated on an absurd amount of disposable income so that all the issues of every connected series can be purchased. Well I guess I have no choice with this series as we’re gonna be talking its very first Special today and it’s only going to get more unwieldy from here. Strap in folks! Things are gonna get bumpy!
The special starts off with a continuation of the story line from issue 18; namely that Sally’s lifelong mentor who we’ve never heard of has just died and it turns out that she has left everything to her, including this spiffy vest!
One thing you’ll notice right away (other than the slightly off coloring) is that the layout of each page in this story doesn’t use traditional comic book panels which means the pictures don’t have as clearly distinct lines separating one for the other. It doesn’t really add much to the page-to-page flow of the story, but it does make for some impressive splashes such as the where Sally finds out just what was in that orb that fell from the sky ALL the way back in issue 17. Apparently it was waiting for Master Julayla to die before it deigned to reveal itself.
The mystery orb turns out to be Nicole; a sophisticated artificial intelligence located inside a Super PDA that doesn’t appear to need recharging and clearly beat SIRI to the punch by about two decades, though I guess Synergy was around before either. Now I’m not sure how VITAL she’s gonna be in future storylines, but I am aware that she will be a permanent fixture going forward and will even get a Cortona style holographic projection at some point. Needless to say, her introduction here is something that we should definitely take note of… even if it’s kind of dumb to have such a plot critical moment take place OUTSIDE of the main series. It’s not like these kind of specials made it to EVERY comic shop that carries the regular series! Anyway, with her Pokédex in hand, that spiffy new vest, and a quest that she found amongst Julayla’s possessions (seriously why do masters hid this crap so that they can only be completed AFTER they die?), she’s ready to head off and meet her destiny! Oh, but not without her friends though! Because Friendship is WAY PAST COOL!!
Now as great as all this world building is, the quest itself turns out to be rather bland. The first big problem is that the Questing Area known as THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (sadly not the one with the Devilish Danny Elfman singing Cab Calloway covers) feels incredibly separated from everything else we’ve seen in Mobius up to this point. Not only has it NEVER been brought up before despite everyone already knowing about it (even Robotnik has a security detail to guard its entrance… for some reason), the zone itself has an aesthetic that is wholly different from the techno-woodland style that defines planet Mobius. With the focus on classical medical creatures stuffed in an old school dungeon filled with traps and puzzles, it looks like they just dropped into an episode of Xena more than anything else which is disappointing considering how formative this story looks to be for the future of this series.
The team runs through a few fantasy clichés including a two headed dragon where one tells truths and the other tells lies; none of which are all THAT interesting but do give Nicole a chance to shine as she apparently has all their weaknesses uploaded to her hard drive which makes it easier for the Freedom Fighters to overcome them. One all the monsters are defeated, Sally reaches the innermost chamber of the dungeon where she find the gift that was left by Julayla. This is where things get… weird.
Okay, so in case you missed what just happened, Sally finds the final message that Julayla had left for her but before we can find out what inspiration words were inscribed, we jump TWENTY YEARS into the future where half the Freedom Fighters haven’t aged a day, Sally is now Queen of Mobius with her trophy husband Sonic, and the war with Robotnik seems to have ended with very few casualties; even sparing Sally’s father who in this future timeline appears to have been found from whatever hidey hole Robotnik chucked him into. Hell, even Bunnie managed to have her robot parts replaced with rabbit parts! Though hopefully those are her OWN and not “donated” by someone else. So… I guess we’re done here? The writers just decided to spoil the ending for their very first special!? Well not quite, because that’s not the ONLY thing this epilogue reveals!
So yeah, it turns out that Nicole is a time traveling PDA as it was developed by FUTURE Rotor who then sent it back in time (because that’s a thing he can do) to help the Freedom Fighters in their war against Robotnik. Not sure why he didn’t ALSO send future weapons, food rations, and advanced medical technology, but I guess they don’t want to make it TOO one sided. I don’t know exactly how to feel about this story as it’s CERTAINLY something that I’ve always wanted to see, but the execution feels a bit… slapdash. Certainly we’re getting more in depth characters (particularly with Sally) and some interesting new developments that will pay off later like the introduction of Nicole, but the individual beats of the story, from the fantasy cave to the very loose ending of the story (even the writers admit this specific future probably isn’t gonna end up being part of the official canon), leave a rather underwhelming impression overall. That said, it at least served a purpose and provided some interesting insight into where the series could be headed. The other two stories on the other hand are clearly just filler; taking up space to bring the special to APPROPRIATELY ENTICING SPECIAL LENGTH with no real point or even that much entertainment. The first one is a very short adventure of Sonic traveling to the MIRROR-VERSE which means the publishers flipped a couple of pages before sending them off to print.
At least they knew enough to keep it mercifully short at only two pages, but all this stuff about random zones popping in and out just clutters the mythology which still feels a bit too ambiguously defined despite the recent strides the series has been making in that area. The next story is probably worse despite it having a less gimmicky premise, mostly due to how long it is and how uninteresting the story ends up being. Tails is the guest of honor at a Sonic the Hedgehog Convention (BLAZEMY IS THE ONE TRUE OTP!!) and lies about his accomplishments in order to once again compensate for his feelings of inadequacy. Geez, I know he’s the Kid Sidekick, but can the writers come up with at least ONE more character trait? I know we have Rotor hanging around to fill the SUPER SCIENCE role, but it’d be nice if we got to Tails’s supreme engineering skills sooner rather than later.
Wouldn’t you know it though, Robotnik crashes the party and Tails is the only one around who can stop him! Oddly enough, despite Robotnik knocking him around for a bit, Tails is never really confronted about his lies and actually manages to outsmart Robotnik in the end in order to save the day. Okay, outsmart MIGHT be too strong a word considering how absolutely ludicrous the plan is but it DOES manage to work… somehow.
I’m pretty sure that’s not how flight works but then again I wouldn’t think you’d be able to achieve it by spinning two tails together either, so what do I know? Either way, Robotnik is gone and the convention can continue unabated for the remaining thirty eight panels discussing the hidden complexity of Sonic Underground! Yeah, I just couldn’t get into this story at all. The premise is EXTREMELY corny (aren’t they supposed to be fighting a war right now?) but I feel that it COULD have worked if they had actually focused on it and did some convention specific humor, but instead it’s another example of Tails being one of the weakest links in the series. Hopefully that won’t last for too long as I’d like to see him be a much more effective character, and I’d honestly LOVE to see this premise revisited WAY into the future once the Sonic Fandom had truly started to take shape. Not the best story to end such a promising special issue on, but at least it can be easily forgotten.
So there you have it! We’ll be returning to the regular Sonic the Hedgehog series in the next recap, though now that the series has started to take shape and seems to have been somewhat of a hit, we’ll be getting more stuff like this going forward. Not just individual specials, but there are at least four mini-series coming up and even a thirty two issue comic book series about Knuckles that ran parallel to the core series. Things are going to get PRETTY complicated to say the least!