Sonic the Hedgehog (the comic book series) and all the images you see in this recap are owned by IDW and SEGA of America
Somehow this book came out like TWO MONTHS AGO and it just completely flew under my radar which probably says something unflattering about me as the release dates for these is something I actually TRY to keep an eye on. In any case, it’s better late than never and frankly it’s a good time to look at it as the first issue of the new story arc has just come out, and perhaps taking one last look back before moving forward will give us a bit of perspective… or more likely just reiterate how eager I was for the book to go in a new direction. In any case, let’s take a look!
First and foremost, this happy looking cover where everyone is celebrating and looking cheerful? LIES!! This is the annual celebrating the year of the Zombots, and like most of the issues we got during that time, this is filled with enough sorrow and hushed contemplation to make The Walking Dead dismissively roll its eyes. That said, at least it doesn’t mercilessly drag things out as each self-contained story in here is rather quick and there’s a decent amount of cleverness to go with the grim atmosphere. The first story is BIG’S BIG ADVENTURE which admittedly doesn’t SOUND like a harsh and dreadful romp, but take one look at that art style and tell me you’re not supposed to feel an icy chill in the pit of your stomach!
The framing device is Big the Cat telling his best buddy Froggy all about the trouble he went thru trying to find him after he someone got lost and ran off. Perhaps he was looking to be free from Big, but I don’t think they intend for this story to be THAT bleak… at least not yet. What follows is a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead style journey as he stumbles his way thru the entire comic book series up to this point; popping up in the background at key points in the story on his quest to find Froggy. As far as I can tell from the games that’s kind of been Big’s shtick, to be a passerby in other people’s story and to look for his frog, so I guess if the intent was to celebrate a the last two years of issues then this would be a great way to do it. However, there’s just not a lot to the story beyond that. We get some new art of scenes we saw before in this disquieting style, but other than the overall creepiness that builds as the story goes from the first arc to the second, there’s no real meat here until we get to the end.
Big the Cat is eventually able to find Froggy in a river and on their way home they run into a bunch of Zombots. Big does what he can with his fishing rod while Froggy hops around like Mario, and eventually the two of the manage to make it back home and we come full circle on the framing device. Everything seems to have turned out for the best as far as Big’s concerned, but what he’s either unaware of or is choosing to ignore is that Froggy’s brave jumping action caused him to be infected, and Big is now slowly becoming a Zombot himself as he enjoys this sunset.
It’s not an especially deep story and I ended up just skimming thru it the first time I was reading this, but the artwork does a good job of building atmosphere and the ending definitely gave this a lot of impact. Frankly though, I think the next story is much better despite not having nearly as many flourishes. It’s called NITE THE OWL IN DARKEST HOUR and its set in a radio station, which right after malls and farmhouses is probably the third most popular place to set a Zombie movie. Nite the Owl works the night shift at the station which is good because otherwise his name would be ridiculous, and he’s settling in for a night of taking calls and playing tracks; all while the station’s custodian Don the Rooster is clearing out trash cans and grumbling to himself. It’s probably because HE doesn’t have a job that matches his name, but regardless things take a dark turn as Nite gets a phone call from someone who’s being chased by creepy metallic dudes before the call cuts out. Soon the station is flooded with phone calls of mysterious attacks which is all Don needs to jump in his truck and GTFO, but Nite feels an obligation to stay on the radio and hopefully help the people who are stuck out there and listening to the show. Things get PRETTY intense from there, let me tell ya!
While Don is trying to get out, Nite gets a call from The Restoration who inform him of a nearby safehouse that they can pick survivors up at, so seeing as he’s made his commitment to stay on the air he repeats the message over and over again for anyone who might be listening. Don hears this in his radio of his VERY retro looking pickup truck (I’m pretty sure Richard Dreyfuss was driving this model back in Close Encounters) and as you’d expect has a change of heart; opting to help this guy at least properly barricade his station so he can relay the message as long as possible and save countless lives in the process, even if the end of this story is very clear to the both of them.
I’m still no fan of the overwhelming sense of tragedy that permeated this entire story arc, but in this bite sized little yarn I thought that the got the point of the story across very well, and while there’s the obvious hint towards a bitter ending, it’s still a story about two people ultimately getting along which works for me. The writers have done a great job with original characters in this series and while I wouldn’t exactly call these two characters PHENOMENAL like Tangle and Whisper were right off the bat, I like the dynamic they have and I definitely want to see more of these two in the future. Our third story on the other hand is METAL SONIC IN REFLECTIONS which by contrast has no plot to speak of and I’d argue not even any characters. It’s six pages of watching Metal Sonic wander around the Faceship and contemplate his own inorganic existence before being chased away by Dr. Starline. If you’ve seen any movie about robots or even an artsy short film about them then you know what they’re going for here as the audience is meant to wonder if the metallic creatures machinations are simply a result of programming or belie a deeper intelligence underneath which SOUNDS all smart and heady, but is well trodden territory and I don’t’ think this brings anything new to the table. You could argue that it would work as Baby’s First Ex Machina, but this whole ZOMBOT arc and even the tone of the individual stories in this annual don’t seem to be aiming at a younger audience who may not have been exposed to that kind of media yet.
Next up is DR STARLINE IN EGGMAN’S DAY OFF which is by far the most lighthearted story in this whole annual, though I still wouldn’t exactly say it’s better suited for kids than anything else in this book. Dr. Starline is watching the Zombot armies march across the world and admiring their efficiency when he sees thru one of his portals that Dr. Eggman is in a GREAT deal of distress! Fearing the worst, Starline heroically dashes to Eggman’s rescue only to find that he was simply looking for the light switch. Now that Starline is here though, Eggman introduces him to his EGG CAVE where he plays with all his toys and roleplays the defeat of Sonic the Hedgehog whenever he’s not actively trying to destroy him. If you could imagine the scene in Spaceballs where Dark Helmet was playing with his dolls but was actually PROUD of it instead of hiding them as soon as someone came thru the door, that’s basically what we get here. Things only turn awkward for the guy when Starline finds an action figure of himself among the menagerie and suddenly realizes it’s high time for his assistant to give him some space.
Starline was a fun character and one of the reasons the first half of the ZOMBOT arc worked. I really hope the writers aren’t done with him just yet as his dynamic with Eggman was really great, though I’d be just as curious to see what he would do on his own and whether he ends up taking vengeance of Eggman for selling him out the way he did. Our next story is THE CHAOTIX IN FLOCK TOGETHER which fills the quote-unquote NECESSARY backstory to how Espio and Vector found the zombot-ified Charmy Bee. Turns out they just ran into him; LITERALLY!!
Okay, it’s a bit more than that as Vector and Espio have to push their way thru the birds with what appears to be a riot shield and come up with a plan to capture Charmy, but it’s not the most exciting action we’ve gotten out of the series and at this point I just don’t care to fill in the gaps from this story arc. It’s done! LET’S MOVE ON!! Well… not just yet. We’ve got one more story which is JEWEL THE BEETLE IN THE CATALYST, and it’s basically the same thing. We know that Jewel got Zombot-ified at some point, and now we know the details! She was helping the kids from the last annual (the members of the Sonic Fan Club) when Eggman’s faceship dumped the goo all over Spiral Hill City. We’re done now, right?
Looking back on it, perhaps I’ve been a bit overly critical of the funny animal book and their attempt to jump on the zombie bandwagon as the series has continued to receive mostly favorable reviews during this arc, but it just wasn’t to my taste and they just kept it going and going. If this is the last look back to that arc we’ll be getting, then I’m fine with it and on its own irrespective of my burnout with the concept, it’s perfectly fine with a few bright spots here and there to shake up the more less interesting stories peppered throughout. Let’s look forward to a much brighter future for this series, because any more darkness that doesn’t involve Shadow the Hedgehog trying too hard to be tough and edgy is not gonna fly with me!