Issue 225 gets closer with every passing moment. Even though you can argue about the quality of the comic (and believe me, I’ve heard it all) you still can not deny that the fact the series has gone on this long is an amazing accomplishment. Every other series of its kind has quietly gone under, disappearing once their show/game/movie was out and done with. The Sonic series, even through the dark times, has been holding on, not only being the longest and most successful video game comic, but still one of Archie’s top sellers. The only good thing about making a comic based on a successful video game series is that there is no shortage of material, with at least one new game coming out each year. And hey, with twelve issues needing to be filled per year, who knows how much you can derive from one game? Two issues? Four? Seven?!
If you’re Archie, you’ll be lucky to fill one.
1994 was an amazing year for Sonic the Hedgehog. His shows were still going strong, the comic was just getting started, and one of the greatest Sonic games of all times was released…in two parts. Sonic 3 & Knuckles still holds up as a masterpiece, but what about the Archie adaptation? The second half of the game was adapted not in a regular issue of the comic, but the second in a long line of 48-page specials. Sonic & Knuckles (a collectors #1) featured three stories, but only one was based on the game, the other two focusing solely on Knuckles, and laying the earliest groundwork for Ken Penders‘ magnum opus. But I’m not talking about that right now.
“Panic in the Sky” is once again written by the tag-team of Ken Penders and Mike Kanterovich, with pencils by Art Mawhinney and Dave Manek. The story starts off with a scene that tells us we’re not in the Saturday morning series, a group of happy Mobians playing a game of volleyball on the west coast. Their game is interrupted by a shadow, caused by none other than The Floating Island (called a “Floating Continent” by one of the players) which now floats above them, moving to some unknown location. I can’t blame them for freaking out; if I was just sitting about and I looked up and saw a giant floating island above my head, I’d freak out a little too. But I wouldn’t call it a continent. Continents are supposed to be big. Get your words right, random wolf/skunk thing no one cares about!
Word gets back to Knothole about the island, and the freedom fighters (minus Sonic and Tails) discuss what the heck is going on. Princess Sally asks Rotor how he thinks the island floats in the first place, to which he replies that he has no idea (wait, didn’t Sonic immediately guess a Chaos Emerald back in issue 13? And was right? I thought Rotor was supposed to be the smart one!) but that the island is heading straight to Knothole. How convenient. We finally get the two characters we care about walk on-panel, and they immediately recognize the Floating Island. Aw jeez! Princess Sally asks them to fill everyone else in, and we get a nice flashback to the events of Sonic the Hedgehog #13. “Hmm…whose side is this guy really on?” asks Sally. Wait, the flashback said they parted on friendly terms. Why would you think he’s on Robotnik’s side? The whole point was that he was tricked! Oh, and Sonic says “it’s hard to say. ‘Cause he’s one strange dude.”
At least Sonic has the courtesy to explain himself in the next page, adding Knuckles seems neither for or against them. Seems like a clever idea to put into the comic, since the continued fight with Robotnik is technically a war. Guess Knuckles is Sweden. Oh man, hope they draw him drinking some hot chocolate later on. Sally sends Sonic and Tails off to investigate why Knuckles decided to show up, and sends Antoine to escort them in the “Turbo-Prop,” a plane that is decidedly not the Tornado. Why would you do that? Why send Antoine at all? He’s going to disappear in two pages anyway!
Antoine remarks at the size of the island, and Sonic tells him to relax even though he wasn’t freaking out. Sonic must assume Antoine is always freaking out, because more often than not he is. Or maybe Sonic is psychic, as suddenly the bottom of the Floating Island starts attacking them. I don’t remember there being machine guns mounted onto the bottom of the island in the game…of course, I also don’t remember the island actually floating until after I beat it with Sonic. So Antoine freaks out for real this time (oh that’s why he’s here) and Sonic remarks that “something new has been added!” Wow. Sure are quick there. Antoine flies the plane out of the range of fire, and Sonic and Tails skydive into the Floating Island to give us the playable characters in the game.
Tails asks if Sonic needs a lift…a lift from where, I’m not sure since he asks while Sonic is falling to the ground. Sonic declines seeing as he’s wearing a parachute, claiming that “being piggy-backed is bad for my image!” But…having Tails fly you around in the games is fun! Why would you be against that, Mr. Sonic? Either way, Tails doesn’t seem all that offended, and they wander off into the forest, unknowingly being watched by a pair of silhouetted eyes. Who could they be? Hint: It’s Knuckles. Not wanting to be left out, he delivers his own dialogue that doesn’t make any sense. “Everyone wants a piece of the Floating Island, but all those two are gonna get is a piece of the rock!” What rock? What does that mean? Is he going to give him a rock and tell him to leave? And why does he suddenly distrust Sonic all over again? Oh well, who cares, Sonic and Tails are walking into the Mushroom Hill Zone. Hey, that’s from the games!
Entranced by the giant mushrooms (and the pizza possibilities) Sonic is taken by surprise as he gets hit in the head by a pendulum…you know, the things you use to get the level select. The result? One of the creepiest panels I’ve come across in a Sonic the Hedgehog comic. Talking mushrooms ready to eat the blue blur. Yes, it’s only a hallucination, but still. Creepy. Using the pendulum “to his advantage” (i.e., hopping on top of mushrooms instead of running between them) Sonic ducks to avoid an attack from “robot with huge chin.” I think he’s supposed to be Hey Ho from the game, but…oh god that chin. Not that it matters since the robot is quickly defeated, with Sonic and Tails running off once again. And because this is a special and cost an extra fifty cents, the action is non-stop as Sonic falls through some unexpected quicksand in the middle of the forest that sends him falling…somewhere…
The end of part one has Sonic catching a ledge, and a “mysterious figure” is above him, watching. Who is this mysterious figure?! Yes, Knuckles. Who they already hinted at. Not a very good guessing game. Especially since part two begins with Sonic calmly confirming that its Knuckles, without any sort of flare or excitement. Good thing we have Tails, who swoops in to add that excitement. In an effort to knock out Knuckles, he accidentally causes the Echidna to topple over the edge of the ledge, dragging Sonic with him. Whose side is Tails really on? With any luck, the readers.
The friendly rivals topple into what I can only assume is the Lava Reef Zone, even though there is no mention of the name, and the only characteristics it shares is being underground and having lava. We get shades of Episode III as they proceed to fight, but without the power of the force they realize that fighting on a rock floating in a lava bed is a bad idea. Good thing Tails is there to save both of them! And Sonic concedes that having Tails flying him around is a cool thing, after all. Even though Knuckles is thankful for not being dead, he still is hardheaded, thinking that Sonic and Tails are the enemy. Really? You wouldn’t think there might be something else going on here, Knuckle?
It takes the sky to prove to ol’ Knucklehead there is something amiss. With the trio standing right on the edge of the island (that can’t be safe) Knuckles realizes he’s been tricked…somehow. In a convenient plot device that wasn’t in issue 13, Knuckles jumps into the “Zoot Chute,” a direct route to the Chaos Chamber, an actual hidden place for the Chaos Emerald to reside, instead of “the open air on a rock.” Guess Knuckles isn’t as thick as everyone says! Except for the fact he is startled to find energy syphons now in the chamber. Isn’t the guardian of a Chaos Emerald supposed to…I don’t know…watch the emerald every once in a while?
Surprise surprise, Dr. Robotnik is behind it all. For the next two pages, we get the doctor’s exposition, explaining how he could see the potential in the Floating Island as a military weapon, arming the bottom and setting it on a collision course with Knothole, ready to burn the whole civilization to the ground. Upset at himself for letting this happen, Knuckles grabs the Chaos Emerald and proceeds to smash it apart in his hand. And Rouge the Bat isn’t anywhere to be seen! Instantly, the Floating Island begins to fall, Robotnik escaping so he doesn’t have to deal with any unexpected death. He can’t help but laugh at the situation, since the Floating Island is still right above Knothole, ready to crush everyone instead of burning them. The suspense builds for all of two panels as Knuckles reveals he has another emerald, placing it upon its pedestal and saving the Floating Island from becoming something a bit more grounded.
I’m so glad there’s a sign pointing to the edge of the island instead of something safer. Like a fence. Anyways, Sonic and Tails thank Knuckles for his help, and say it was a lucky thing he had the extra Chaos Emerald. However, Knuckles reveals he didn’t have a spare, but a fake Chaos Emerald he smashed after he removed the real one. Confused? You have every right since the whole emerald encounter took two panels and it’s hard to show a switch like that in a comic book anyway without making it obvious. Oh well. Sonic aks Knuckles to join the Freedom Fighters, but he turns down the offer, and the pair fly away, leaving the Echidna to have his own solo adventures until editorial dictates they meet again. There is a final page where Sonic and Tails reunite with the rest of the Freedom Fighter, but it drifts away just like the island does. Though I’m not sure what cliff they’re standing on at the end. They’re in the forest, aren’t they?
So after 25 pages, our longest adaptation yet comes to a close. Not sure why I still use the word “adaptation” since it’s pretty clear that the story has absolutely nothing to do with the game. I can almost forgive the Sonic 3 adaptation for skimping on the Death Egg because you don’t get to see the flying fortress until the last level, and it promptly crashes afterwards. But in Sonic & Knuckles? You get it featured for everyone to see. You see it in the background of three levels before you actually play a zone inside of it. It’s not just a random background thing, it is the entire plot. And something that huge and powerful might be an interesting thing to use in a comic book. Instead? We get a story about how Robotnik decided to turn the Floating Island into a weapon. And not a very good one, at that. Since it doesn’t try to kill anyone else on it’s path towards Knothole. Did Robotnik not see the group of happy animals playing on the beach at the beginning? Or would that have ruined his cover? Maybe he figured the Freedom Fighters wouldn’t care about a floating island popping by to say hi.
Oh, that reminds me. Why does Robotnik know where Knothole is all of a sudden? The whole plot thus far in the comic has been “Sonic and the Freedom Fighters fight against Robotnik from a hidden base he knows not the location of.” Yet here, he knows exactly where to go. Maybe a spy told him! Oh wait, no. Because he promptly forgets this information in the next issue. I could devote more time mulling over this, but in the end it doesn’t matter. We don’t get explanations. That would be too much to ask.
We don’t even get a Flying Battery. Oh man, Sonic 3 & Knuckles was such a good game. It’s unfortunate that Archie dropped the ball when adapting it. But like I said before, this wasn’t all they wrote when it came to it…the Death Egg does show up…just…well, I’ll explain that later. All in all, Sonic & Knuckles isn’t terrible. It just hasn’t aged as well as I’d like. There are elements of fun, and we do get three levels showcased (and while not in the main story, Sandopolis does appear in one of the Knuckles back up features) but even being as long as it does, it still somehow feels rushed. Maybe my mind has just become used to the multi-issue arcs of later stories (or the madness that can be the modern superhero comic) but I feel like there was more they could have done in those pages. Maybe even drop the two back-up stories (though the last one is a nice nod to the idea that Knuckles isn’t completely stupid). All I can say is, if you somehow end up back in 1995 and come across this comic, you can spend your two dollars on something a lot worse.
Next time? Sonic CD.