Sonic the Hedgehog (the comic book series and all its spin-offs) are owned by Archie Comics and Sega of America
All other copyrights are the property of their respective owners.
If you’ve followed this site for any period of time you’ll know that I sporadically review the Sonic the Hedgehog comics from Archie Comics Publications, and while I haven’t gotten NEARLY as many of covered as I’d like to, it’s been fun to go back and see a whole new side to this franchise and to watch it grow over time; exploring new ideas and taking more and more chances with each passing issue. Seriously, if you’re disappointed that the Sonic SAT AM series was cancelled after 2 seasons, then you couldn’t ask for a better continuation than what they did with the comics, and it is FASCINATING to watch the continuity established in the show slowly start to fold in elements from the game series that went in an entirely different direction while also expanding its own world and lore. It can get a bit messy at times to be sure, but they’re still really fun to read and a refreshing reminder of what CAN be done with this character from a storytelling perspective. Sadly the series came to an end back in December of 2016 with issue 290 (making it the longest running comic book series based on a video game character) and the license has been moved to IDW to start a whole new series. Sure, I’m a bit sad that such a long running series eventually came to an end, but I’ve always liked IDW as a publisher and am excited to see what they can do with the series. And it’s not like the original comics from Archie are just going to up and disappear on us! Right!?
Within the last few months, ComiXology (the largest marketplace for digital comic books) has removed every single Sonic the Hedgehog comic book series from their service. If you haven’t purchased them already, you can’t purchase them now and as far as I can tell they were the ONLY digital comic distributor who was selling them meaning that there is currently no way to purchase these books (over TWENTY years of issues) in a digital format, and if you look now all you will see is listings for the upcoming IDW Sonic the Hedgehog series. The exact details of these licensing deals with SEGA are not privy to the general public so it isn’t clear who has access to what now in terms of reprinting and selling digital copies of the original Archie comics. PRESUMABLY they’re still in Archie Comic’s hands considering they published the darn things, but with their SEGA deal having ended it’s unclear if these comics will ever see the light of day again; either digitally or physically. That’s a real shame considering that once again, Sonic the Hedgehog is the longest running comic book series based on a video game and ran for an astonishing twenty-four years, and all of it could be gone for all anyone knows at this point.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN!?
In all honesty, I can’t say for certain. I’ve sent e-mails to ComiXology, Archie Comics, and IDW, (SEGA is a much bigger pain in the ass to get a contact for) and the only one to get back to me is ComiXology AFTER a freaking month just to tell me that they don’t have any information to provide. Now we can take some educated GUESSES based on the information we have at hand, but without word from anyone involved I can’t claim these to be FACTS. Also, it’s worth pointing out that I’m still rather new to all the behind the scenes aspects of this comic, so while I’ll try to paint as clear a picture as possible, there are people WAY more qualified than me to speak on a lot of these topics. Now the first thing I need to educate you all on is a man named Ken Penders. He was one of the primary writers for Sonic the Hedgehog as well as the Knuckles the Echidna spinoff series for many years; starting with issue 11 and continuing all the way through issue 159. There are A LOT of opinions of this guy and his work on the series, both positive and negative, but the important point here is that he was an influential voice in the series and contributed a lot of original ideas and characters including The Dark Legion, Cyborg Sally, and Scourge the Hedgehog, among many MANY others.
Penders departed from the series in 2006, but in 2009 he started to copyright characters and concepts that he created for Archie Comics (seemingly due to a lawsuit he was preparing to file against EA Games over characters in Sonic: The Dark Brotherhood) and so Archie fired back with a lawsuit of their own; the fallout of which I believe (yet cannot say as fact) is what eventually led to the ending of the licensing deal between Archie and SEGA which I’m guessing is what then led to the comics no longer being available in a digital format. The reason I believe this to be the case is because this is one of the rare cases where a comic book writer ACTUALLY won a case against a publisher. The whole industry is littered with horror stories of writers getting the rug pulled out from under them by publishers throwing their weight around (Steve Gerber and Howard the Duck, Jack Kirby vs Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich and Ghost Rider, Alan Moore vs EVERYBODY), and yet when it came time for Archie Comics to declare their rights over everything one of their writers created, they couldn’t produce the Work for Hire contract that Ken Penders signed which led to the two parties eventually reaching a settlement. If Archie Comics or SEGA wanted to use characters and concepts he created, they would have to acknowledge his ownership and pay royalties. So what did Archie Comics do? Well in the comics they blew up the continuity in a Mega Man crossover using something called a Super Genesis Wave (because stuff like that happens in comic books), and more or less rebooted the series with issue 252; removing any and all mentions of Ken Penders’s characters and concepts from the series. However, this new status quo was short lived as it only lasted about three years (2013-2016) before Archie Comic’s licensing deal with SEGA ended the following year rather than being renewed and was eventually turned over to IDW. I’m sure there were OTHER reasons that SEGA wanted to move on from the deal they had with Archie, but it’s unlikely that this whole fiasco had absolutely no influence on their decision.
To go into a bit of a diversion here, the big question that fans of the series have been debating passionately about for years now is whether or not Ken Penders’s success in court was ultimately a GOOD thing or a BAD thing for not just the series but comics publishing as a whole. I honestly have trouble siding with publishers over creators when it comes to stuff like this considering how often the latter will take advantage of the former (Todd McFarlane notoriously jerked Neil Gaiman around for years over a character he created while working on the Spawn series), but I can see why some fans aren’t pleased with how Ken Penders more or less wrecked the comic book’s long running continuity. From what I can tell, he’s not been the most GRACIOUS of winners with some rather mean spirited comments here and there, and the graphic novel he’s wanted to write about one of the characters he created for the series (Lien-Da) hasn’t materialized in over five years. On top of that some have even argued that this victory could also hurt other writers in the future as publishers that are scared of another legal loss could be even MORE draconian in their contracts to keep writers on a tighter leash, which… you know, I think that’s kind of a spurious claim. An industry that’s practically BUILT on denying writers compensation (Marv Wolfman, Joe Simon, Bill Mantlo) is not an industry that should never be challenged on it, no matter how much we like the comics they produce, and writers asserting their rights are not the bad guys in these stories. Still though, I’m just learning about most of this stuff rather recently, so I’m sure there are much more educated and nuanced (as well as a lot of hot headed and histrionic) arguments to be made on either side.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!?
I don’t know that either! Again, no one has gotten back to me with any real answers as to what any of this will mean for the series and its various spin-offs! With no clear plan from any of the parties involved, the comics themselves are soon going to be a lot harder to find without a single storefront to get them on which means scalpers will be smelling blood in the water and begin charging ridiculous prices for single issues and the trade paperbacks. At least that’s my theory anyway, and I HOPE I’m wrong about that. So what I’ve done for all of you who are interested in the comic is to look up every physical trade that Archie Comics released of this series and complied a more or less complete list of what’s available in that format and how much of the more than twenty year history is covered. Aren’t I so thoughtful!?
NOTE: In some cases when I mention that a trade has a specific issue, sometimes it’s just one of the stories in the issue itself. To keep this piece a manageable length and without going into the weeds too deeply, I’m rounding up to counting it as a full issue even in these circumstances, so just be aware that there may be parts missing here and there if you do plan to collect these.
Sonic the Hedgehog (290 Issues)
The main Sonic the Hedgehog series ran a STAGGERING 290 issues between 1993 and 2016 making it the longest running comic series based on a video game; a record I doubt ANY other book within our lifetimes will ever come close to achieving. So now that you can’t get them on ComiXology or any other digital service, what did they manage to release in a physical format?
The most direct way to getting issues of the series would be the 24 released volumes of the Archive series which covers the first 91 issues. There were plans to release more of them (cover art exists for at least volumes 25 and 26), but for whatever reason they stopped producing them in 2015. Fortunately you can still find every volume of this through third party resellers on Amazon, and you’re looking at about 7-10 bucks a piece.
Sonic Saga Series
Similar to the Archive series, the Saga series collects issues into chronological volumes which is great, but they start much later in the continuity; presumably so that the Archive series would still have issues that could be released under its title while also not forcing fans to wait a ridiculous amount of time to get to more contemporary stories released this way. As with the Archive series, there were several more planned before the series was cancelled, but from the 7 volumes that were released, they collect 36 issues which includes 160 through 194, with issue 129 included as a bonus in Volume 4. These can run a bit higher in price, so you’re looking at about 10-15 bucks each.
Sonic Select is where things get a bit… confusing, as they were MOSTLY reprints of the off shoots like the three issue Princess Sally book or the annuals like Sonic In Your Face. There were a few issues from the main series though that got released in these books, and while some were reprinted elsewhere, others were released here and nowhere else. In total there were 7 issues uniquely released in this series; 149, 150, 197, 219, 222, and 224. These run a larger gamut of prices, so you’re looking at about 7-15 depending on which one you’re trying to find.
Sonic: Genesis is a one shot graphic novel that contains 5 issues from the series; 225-230. HOWEVER, this book is becoming increasingly hard to find, so you might have to spend upwards of 20 or even 30 bucks to get it. If you hold out, you might be able to find it at an affordable book store or even find an auction that isn’t trying to gouge you, but it seems like we’re getting the first warning signs that these will become “collector items” which is why it REALLY sucks when publishers leave the secondhand market to run amuck.
The Best of Sonic the Hedgehog
The Best series was three volumes (of at least four planned) containing random issues throughout the various sonic series based on theme. In total, the three volumes cover 11 issues that aren’t already part of the original 24 volume archive release; 215, 216, 231, 232, 234, 245, and 246. Price wise, these are starting to get pretty high as well. Volume 1 is rather affordable at about 10-15, but Volume 2 as well as the ULTIMATE EDITION (I guess you’d call it Volume 0?) are upwards of 20-30 each.
Sonic & Mega Man: Worlds Collide / Worlds Unite
Sonic wasn’t the only video game series that Archie Comics had worked on as they produced the 55 issue Mega Man series which ran from 2011 to 2015. During that run, there were two crossovers with the Sonic the Hedgehog series (along with its spin-offs) called Worlds Collide and Worlds Unite which were eventually released as three volumes for the former and three PLANNED volumes for the latter with the third one getting axed right after Archie stopped producing new issues of the comic. However, you’ll want the Complete Epic collection for Worlds Collide which has all the issues in its three volumes as well as two bonus issues. There was no such release for Worlds Unite, so you’ll have to get the two separate volumes. They only cover issues that pertain to the crossover event which include the following 7 issues; 248, 249, 250, 251, 273, 274. The bonus comics in The Complete Epic were 247 which did not get a release anywhere else and 252 which is available in what we’ll talk about next. The volumes are easy enough to find with prices around 10-15 and the Complete Epic is around 20-25.
Sonic the Hedgehog (Post Genesis Wave)
These trades were reprints of several issues AFTER The Super Genesis Wave (i.e. when Archie purged a lot of the original continuity), and the four volumes contain 16 issues; 252-267. For some reason the first volume (Countdown to Chaos) is pretty hefty at around 20-25 bucks, but the other three are much less expensive at around 10-15.
Sonic Comics Spectacular: Speed of Sound
Finally (at least as far as I can tell), we have the Sonic Comics Spectacular: Speed of Sound graphic novel which collected a WHOLE bunch of issues as well as an additional 6 issues from the series that aren’t anywhere else; 268, 269, 270, 271, 272 and 276. You can get this one for around 20 bucks which is actually a decent deal considering it’s a pretty big volume.
So in total, if you collect ALL the Sonic the Hedgehog Graphic Novels under different names that sporadically pick and choose issues the further we get into the series, you get a grand total of 179 issues which is approximately sixty-two percent of all the issues produced over the twenty-four year history of this series.
Now in all fairness, that’s A LOT of issues for any company to put out, even for the bigger names like Marvel and DC, and we know that Archie Comics were at least TRYING to get as many of these out as possible, but the fact remains that now the series is no longer available in a much more manageable digital format, there is over a third of this comic that is simply inaccessible outside of hunting down single issues.
Sonic Universe (94 Issues)
Sonic Universe was a spinoff of the main series that ran for 94 issues, and while it was still in continuity with the rest of the series, it was distant enough from it to allow the writers to explore the world a bit more and focus on characters that didn’t always get the spotlight. This is gonna be a lot easier to go through since we’re dealing with a third of the number of issues, but issues of this were still republished across multiple books.
Sonic Universe Graphic Novels
Sonic Universe kept the stories rather self-contained to four issue arcs, so Archie Comics ended up releasing these arcs in individual volumes. By the time Archie lost the license, there were twelve volumes planned (fourteen if you counted the two cancelled Sonic Universe Saga books), that would have only covered 49 issues , but only 8 ended up released with a total of 32 issues. MOST of these you can get for around 10-15 bucks, but some seem to be harder to find than others such as Volume 3 (Knuckles Returns) and Volume 4 (Journey to the East).
Only one of the ten Sonic Select volumes has an issue from Sonic Universe which is issue 45 from Volume 9.
The Best of Sonic the Hedgehog
These books have only one issue of Sonic Universe (issue 50) that you can’t find anywhere else that is in both Best of Sonic the Hedgehog Comics: Ultimate Edition, and Best of Sonic the Hedgehog Villains.
Sonic Comics Spectacular: Speed of Sound
This one has the following 3 issues of Sonic Universe; 69, 70, 79
Sonic & Mega Man: Worlds Collide / Worlds Unite
The Sonic & Mega Man crossover books have the following 7 issues; 51, 52, 53, 54, 76, 77, and 78.
So if you can collect ALL of these books, that means you can get 44 issues of the series which is about forty-seven percent overall. Over HALF of this series is not available, and probably WON’T be available for the foreseeable future, in any format outside of single issues which are hard enough to find already.
Knuckles the Echidna (32 Issues)
Knuckles the Echidna was the first spin-off of the Sonic the Hedgehog comics (outside of very short series like Princess Sally) which ran for 32 issues between 1997 and 1999, and while there were six volumes planned to cover the entire run, only four were released which ended at issues 21. You can find one more issue in Sonic Select Volume 7 (issue 29), so in total that means you can get 22 issues of this series which is about sixty-eight percent, though the first volume DOES come with a Knuckles 3 issue mini-series which was kind of like a test run before he got his own spin-off book. Now these ones aren’t TOO hard to get a hold of, but you can already see some scalpers trying to inflate the market with these as I’ve seen listing for any of the four individual volumes go as high as 50 bucks, but honestly you can probably find each them for around 10-15 at the most if you don’t jump at the first auction you see.
Sonic X (40 Issues)
The least lucky of the bunch is Sonic X which was a 40 issue adaptation of the series and has gotten ZERO trade releases, so good luck hunting down individual issues on that one.
Sonic Boom (11 Issues)
Sonic Boom was a short lived 11 issue series that had NOTHING to do with the Freedom Fighters or any of the Ken Penders stuff (outside of a few issues being a part of the Sonic/Mega Man crossover), and even THAT one isn’t fully available as only two volumes have been released; giving us the first 7 issues and that’s it. Now if you look at the Sonic & Mega Man: Worlds Unite books, the two each have a single issue from Sonic boom; 8 and 9 respectively. The Boom volumes aren’t that expensive running the standard 10-15 bucks a piece, but it REALLY sucks that they couldn’t put out that third volume which means you’re also gonna have to shell out for the Mega Man crossover books just to get something close to a complete set.
While that’s about it when it comes to the main series from Archie, there is some other stuff out there like the annuals, Sonic Super Specials, the miniseries, and the Free Comic Book Day issues that were put out periodically during Archie’s run. Fortunately, you’re gonna get MOST of what is out there from the Sonic Select series which was doing a fantastic job of collecting the more eclectic portions of the series until it was cancelled after volume 10. We’ll get to Sonic Super Specials in a bit, but for pretty much all the other stuff, the 10 volumes contain almost everything except a single story from Sonic Live which was a one shot special from 1996 (The Last Game Cartridge Hero), and a Archie Halloween special which contained various characters including Sonic and isn’t TOO hard to find as a single issue. Also when it comes to the Free Comic Book Day issues which ran from 2007 to 2016, you won’t be able to find 08, 09, 12, 13, 15, and 16 in the Selects series. Sonic Super Special is where things get a bit… exhausting. Unlike the OTHER specials which didn’t come under a singular banner, these were quarterly released SPECIAL issues that ran from 1997 to 2001, for a total of fifteen issues. Collections of these are a lot more spread and out and sparse than the ones we’ve just discussed, but we’ll try to get it nice and straightened out. A lot of them are in the Sonic Selects, albeit a bit more in bits and pieces.
As far as I can tell, that really only leaves the original stories in the Sonic Digest books (mostly reprints that ran from 2012 to 2016), and the Sonic Super Special Magazine that had a few original stories while also printing articles and resources to explain the various worlds, characters, and the overall history of the series. A few of the Sonic Digest original stories can be found in the Sonic Select books and MOST of the Sonic Super Specials were collected into the Complete Sonic Comic Encyclopedia, though getting an EXACT figure on what is and isn’t left out has been a bit difficult. That encyclopedia by the way is RIDICULOUSLY expensive with scalpers asking anywhere from forty bucks to a freaking GRAND for it; though I managed to get my copy in a reasonably priced lot. If you’re interested in that, I’d honestly just wait for the prices to drop because it doesn’t look like anyone is biting when it comes to these ridiculous prices, so hopefully the market will correct itself soon enough.
CONCLUSION: Why Does This Matter?
We live in an age where digital distribution makes entertainment from any era accessible with the click of a button; a technological marvel that we couldn’t even conceive up even thirty years ago. However, the entertainment industry in all its forms, from film and television to games and comics, has been slow to catch up with this new paradigm as have the laws that govern distribution. I can’t tell you exactly why the Sonic Comics have been removed from ComiXology because no one who would know the answer has said anything and no one other than myself seems to have noticed that it even happened, but with the license going to IDW and the Ken Penders lawsuit, it seems like everyone involved would rather just sweep this under the rug and forget it ever happened rather than try to come to a solution that makes everyone happy and gives fans the opportunity to enjoy this series in a convenient way. When Disney started to take steps towards buying out 20th Century Fox, there were a lot of people who were happy that it more or less guaranteed that the X-Men will be folded into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and just as many people chiding them for not looking at the bigger picture regarding Disney effectively becoming a monopoly. While I completely understand the staggering amount of issues that come with Disney getting THAT much more control over every piece of entertainment that has ever existed, I think there’s at least a topic worth discussing regarding media consolidation and how it can impact consumers both for the better and for the worse. The fragmented nature of the big media companies is a GOOD thing long term as it encourages competition and doesn’t allow one company (*cough* Disney *cough*) from exercising too much clout over the culture at large… or at least more than it already does. THAT HAVING BEEN SAID, we all know how annoying it is that Netflix is losing content all the time and now we’re being asked to add even more monthly subscriptions for streaming services just to get the same content we had already gotten five years ago. SEGA’s licensing deal with Archie Comics has left a lot of this up in the air and I think the series is just too important to both gaming and comic books for it to languish in copyright hell until we all just forget about it which seems to be the goal right now. So what’s the answer here? What does any of this mean for the future of copyright law, or the future of comics publishing? I have no idea. I just want to read these comic books!