Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comic is an intimidating beast. Over 200 issues long and 10 or 11 spin-offs wide, most newcomers don’t know where to start. And believe me, starting at issue #1 is NOT a good idea.
For those looking to get in with the latest issues, they might be left a little perplexed. Old school fans of the games from the ’90s could be put off by all the modern Sonic trappings they don’t care about. And youngsters who weren’t alive in the previous century couldn’t give a s--t about those weird non-SEGA characters like Sally and Bunnie and Antoine.
How do you satisfy older fans who want the nostalgia of the ’90s as well as younger fans who don’t want all that baggage from a 25 year-old cartoon that got cancelled after two seasons?
Writer Ian Flynn and artist Tyson Hesse may have very well found the solution.
Sonic Mega Drive #1 (Archie Comics)
Sonic Mega Drive #1 picks up shortly after the events of Sonic CD. Sonic reunites with Tails and together they endeavor to stop Eggman (Dr. Robotnik) from collecting the seven Ancient Gears. Eggman intends to use their power to create the Mega Drive and pick up where his foiled Death Egg scheme left off. Sonic and Tails journey through numerous Zones to keep the Gears from him, linking up some old friends (Amy and Knuckles) along the way.
Look man, I’m not much of a modern Sonic the Hedgehog guy. The Genesis trilogy and Sonic CD are sort of where I draw the line on his games, and that ain’t for lack of trying. I quit somewhere around the soul-crushing mediocrity of Sonic Heroes and from what I understand the games only proceeded to get LESS playable (never touched the 2006 Sonic game, but the videos on YouTube are a riot).
So when it comes to Sonic, I’m an old fogy forever trapped in the ’90s (hence my preference for “Robotnik” over whatever stupid thing SEGA says we’re supposed to call him now).
That said, I DO like some of the non-SEGA stuff. Ever since the reboot, Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog ongoing has been downright readable for perhaps the first time in its entire publication history. You think I’m being all “damning with faint praise”, but I dare you to read anything between issues #50 and #160. Hell, go do a Google Image Search for some page or panel selections.
No, that’s not a fan comic from DeviantArt you’re looking at. That’s official SEGA licensed Sonic the Hedgehog comic art. People paid money to read these.
But yeah, the book’s been pretty good since it rebooted. The ’90s cartoon characters like Sally and all them persist, but they’ve been rerendered into an aesthetic style congruent with SEGA’s actual Sonic character designs. So now it doesn’t look like Sonic and Tails have wandered into some furry’s gross fetish commission.
As enjoyable as the ongoing has been, the reboot had one downside. It picked the story up at a contemporary point in the narrative, leaving a HUGE stretch of back story unseen. The events of the SEGA games are canon, and editorial notes will often tell readers to go play them if they want to know what everyone’s referencing, but so far as the COMIC goes we’ve got a lot of missing history.
The Sonic Mega Drive special sort of helps to fill in that gap, playing a role in the ongoing series while also being instantly accessible to newcomers and nostalgia junkies alike.
There’s a refreshing innocence to the comic, as Sonic and pals are just adventurers and treasure hunters, looking to do good while having a good time. None of that dark and gloomy s--t with Robotnik mutilating animals and enslaving populations; none of that Freedom Fighter stuff with Sonic teaming up alongside a bunch of Original Characters to play eco-terrorist. Nah, it’s just… fun. And despite what many of the recent Sonic games might encourage you to think, Sonic the Hedgehog should be FUN.
The art style by Hesse (with color by Matt Herms) goes for a retro-90s look, but not the one you might be thinking of. Rather than aim for Sonic as he looked in the ’90s from a Western perspective, this is Sonic’s ’90s design as seen in Japan. We didn’t glimpse it much on our shores, but you’ll probably recognize it from the Sonic CD cut scenes or Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie. I’ll confess that it’s a much more palatable design than the weird version I grew up with; the one with the mohawk and the alarmingly consistent Jaleel White voice-over.
Robotnik, too, has his ’90s SEGA design which never appeared in any of the American cartoons (where he looked radically different from one to the other). It’s that Teddy Roosevelt look that I’ve always liked; so incredibly un-menacing and perfectly befitting of such a goofy loser. Honestly, Robotnik has invariably been the best thing about every Sonic cartoon and I don’t think there’s ever been a BAD version of him, or actor who has played him (he was the best part of Sonic Boom by a wide margin). I love me some Robotnik, even if we’re supposed to call him “Eggman” now (kinda pulls the rug out from under the retro-90s gimmick when the book doesn’t call him by the name he had in the ’90s).
Hesse’s layouts are very fluid and the characters are always moving all the time. You might breeze through the pages quickly, but that’s only because the draftsmanship is so intuitive that it encourages you to zip through the panels at a hectic speed. Yes, this comic comes with Blast Processing. Free of charge.
Hesse’s expressions are where it’s at, too. The characters just look funny and much of the humor isn’t in the dialogue, but in how the characters physically react to all the Badniks or Zone hazards getting in their way. He tries to make the environments consistent with how they appeared in the games of the era, which might be a little surreal but certainly distinct. So there are random loops in mountains and floating platforms and when Badniks explode they leave tiny animals behind and if Sonic gets bonked on the head then rings fall out of his anus, etc.
Taking place after Sonic CD, the story tries to stitch the continuity of the games together a little tighter. CD takes place after Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but Tails was absent from CD, so he isn’t familiar with Amy and wants to know what happened during Sonic’s adventure on the Little Planet. Likewise, Amy wasn’t around during Sonic 3 & Knuckles, so she has no idea who Knuckles is and has to be introduced to him.
It’s a neat gesture on Flynn’s part, maybe filling in a sort of narrative gap between games (these characters were all introduced separately then sort of became a group at some point prior to Adventure).
So far as characterization goes, Sonic and Tails don’t have anything to really discuss. Sonic’s a cool guy and Tails is smart; their usual shtick. Flynn finds a merciful middleground with Amy, dialing back her stalker tendencies. She’s more interested in proving to Sonic that she’s a capable adventurer rather than, I dunno, rape him or whatever she’s always trying to do in the Japanese games and cartoons.
Knuckles picks up with him still being in a grey area with Sonic; not quite friend and not quite foe. That’s the image of Knuckles I’ll always remember (the snickering jerk who pulls switches and dumps you down pits at the end of Zones), so it was sweet to see that era revisited. Personality-wise, he seems to hew closer to his Sonic Boom persona: An idiot. Knuckles as a drooling moron is a concept that lives and dies by the quality of the material he’s given (and luckily the writers of the Boom cartoon gave him some great lines) and Hesse does it well. There’s a great flashback sequence, retold from Knuckles’ perspective, and it’s another one of those cases where Hesse’s art sells the gag.
Mega Drive is a one-shot but not a complete story. There’s a sequel coming in the Fall called Mega Drive: The Next Level. So don’t expect any closure on this adventure. That said, the art is superb and the nostalgia is in high gear. It hits that sweet spot I mentioned earlier, attracting older folks who used to eat and breathe Sonic in the ’90s as well as novices who aren’t that familiar with the character’s comic book history.
If you’re looking to get into Sonic comics, you really ought to pick it up.