Everyone loves Knuckles the Echidna. Even if this statement isn’t true today, it was definitely the case back in the 90’s. From the moment Knuckles appeared onscreen punching out Sonic and taking the Chaos Emeralds, everyone wanted a piece of him. They wanted to know more about who he was, what secrets the floating island he lived on held, and most of all wanted to see him and Sonic tangle it up. Sonic 3 & Knuckles delivered on all counts, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy a child of the 90’s. They wanted more, and Sega, knowing the character’s growing popularity, was prepared to give them exactly what they asked for.
This isn’t the best time to get into the short, sad life of the Sega 32X, but needless to say it didn’t do well in any regard. Even though it was on the market for a short time, the powers-that-be knew that some sort of Sonic-related title needed to be released. And what started out as a proof-of-concept having Sonic and “Tails” tethered together turned into the much-forgotten Chaotix, starring Knuckles the Echidna. In the west, the title added Knuckles’ name to the cover, just to remind people that, yes, this was a game with Sonic characters, even though just about every kid in America had no idea what the origins of Charmy, Vector, and Mighty were historically.
I’m sure you can guess by now that Archie had to adapt it.
Once again, the writing duo of Mike Kanterovich and Ken Penders are in charge of the main story, with art of Art Mawhinney and inked by Rich Koslowski. “The Chaos Effect,” a 25 page story in three parts, begins with a splash page that most of the comics of this era shared, reminding us just what the story is about – specifically what role Knuckles and the Floating Island play in the grand scheme of things. And from there, we jump to the story, the second panel already throwing visual jokes at us, with the narration giving us a Star Wars reference we really don’t need. Basically, we’re told the Floating Island is a nice place to visit, but no one who lives there wants anyone off-island showing up. That makes sense, especially since that is the core component of Knuckles character. All of this first-page setup is to make the reader confused when they inevitably turn to the two-page spread of every Freedom Fighter they have introduced so far, having fun and fancy in some random amusement park. Is it Carnival Night? Haha, no, don’t be silly.
After Sonic conveniently ignores how frightening Amy Rose is in her one appearance, we get to see the guardian of the island join up with the Knothole gang we’ve come to love. Now, for anyone who has been paying attention to Knuckles’ three previous appearances in the comic, it should come as no surprise that he’s not very happy. At all. Though he looks ready for a-brawlin’, we’re thankfully spared from yet another pointless fight, Sonic instead showing he’s been paying attention, knowing that Knuckles would never have invited them like this. So who did? Why, Archie-specific character Renfield T. Rodent.
Now, I have a problem with this. Knuckles is meant to be the guardian of the Floating Island. He’s supposed to know when things are going down around him, especially after the whole Sonic & Knuckles incident where Robotnik took over the island’s underside without him knowing. So how in the world did an entire amusement park get built and Knuckles not realize it until its open and every Freedom Fighter is already there? At least before, he had the excuse of it being underground. He’s got nothing here. Oh well, might as well push this aside just like Renfied pushes Knuckles without the most temperamental character even trying to punch him back.
With a sparkling smile and red eyes that scream “hey I’m evil,” Mr. Rodent suggests that if the Freedom Fighters want to freshen up, they should enter the “Hall of Mirrors.” Maybe there’s a secret bathroom at the end of it? Either way, we’re treated to Sally freaking out over her large thighs, Rotor thinking he has a tall head, “Tails” loving his newfound gut, and Antoine laughing about his mirror muscles. Only Sonic seems to suspect something is amiss (shouldn’t everyone?) and that suspicion is confirmed when a great flash of light fills the room…
…only to trap everyone (with the exception of Knuckles) in the funhouse mirrors. The art hints that something is wrong with Knuckles, but first the ol’ Echidna must realize who is behind this latest act of treachery. Yes, no surprises here, kids. Dr. Robotnik, the villain of the entire series, has once again laid out one of his many traps. And as he monologues, we find out that somehow he’s trapped not only the core Freedom Fighters of the series, but everyone else in the park. How did that happen? He claims the House of Mirrors is where everyone is, but it wasn’t a moment where everyone in the park followed Sonic blindly inside. Regardless of how he did it, it’s pretty clear that Robotnik has pretty much won, having captured his most hated enemies pretty easily, and with no clear way to escape. Not even Knuckles can do anything about it, the flash of light somehow stripping away every single power he possesses. Which gives Robotnik the perfect excuse to let Knuckles run away.
Wait a minute. What?!
I shouldn’t even have to say that, even for Robotnik, that’s a pretty dumb move. “I could have transported you to another dimension of reality, along with the others, but without witnesses, triumph loses its luster!” He sure didn’t care about that when he took over Mobotropolis the first time. And couldn’t Knuckles still live but…be captured or something? Part two begins with Knuckles just as confused as the rest of us, not knowing the next step to try and free the Freedom Fighters. Even though he doesn’t get along with them, he still doesn’t want their defeat on his hands, on his watch, on his island. So we get our contractual Deux Ex Machina characters – The Chaotix. Except they’re not called that just yet. Instead, we get to meet them one by one. Were they Freedom Fighters before all this? Were they invited by Renfield? Beats me.
The first we meet is Charmy Bee, who is of course the most useless character in the game. Well, of the main cast, that is. Knuckles can’t help but ask why he wasn’t at the carnival, making the bee give the most boring answer imaginable. Basically, it translate to “I’m a bee I get pollen what do you expect.” Not exactly the stuff of legend. We barely get used to Charmy before Espio appears, establishing himself as a creepy stalker. Because we only have six pages before we go back to the plot, Vector the Crocodile bursts onto the scene, rapping lyrics that even the other characters don’t want to hear. Espio pulls of the croc’s headphones, and after referencing Elton John, Vector admits he couldn’t hear them before. So…wait, Vector was listing to a song about himself, about how he’s great in a fight…and just stumbled into the scene? Sadly, this is actually the most sensical moment in the comic.
The final member of the main cast gets the most explosive yet sheepish introduction. After barreling through an entire mountain, Mighty might as well have gone “shucks, y’all.” Why he had to burst through a mountain, or how he knew the others were going to meet there or even exist, I have no explanation. Vector calls him “one mighty armadillo,” which means that somehow Vector named the character just now. Yes, I know a later issue establishes that Mighty already knows Vector and Knuckles (which I’ll be getting to in due time), but it’s not even hinted at here that anyone knows anyone else.
The final two members of the crew are introduced by Mighty: Heavy and Bomb, original creations by Dr. Robotnik. Now, while they are playable characters in the game, they’re generally considered to be the “booby prize” characters. Unable to choose them from the main screen, you can only get them when choosing a random partner, and no one really wants them. The pair are barely functional, and were placed there probably so Eggman could act more like a dick in the game. But of course, in the comic they have to be shown as robots turned good. Explaining that their power source is what gave them not only free will but a conscience, they tell the story of how they were built by Robotnik to seek out and repair damaged systems automatically. How a bomb would help repair things, I have no idea. But learning of the evil doctor’s scheme, they escape Robotropolis, taking a metallic treasure chest with them.
So the robots end up on the Floating Island, to try and stop Robotnik from winning. How they got there, who knows. Seems like it would have made more sense for them to take a ride with Robotnik and work behind his back, but who am I to argue? The chest is filled with Power Gems, an experimental weapon created by the dictator who apparently hasn’t noticed them missing. Being the source of everyone’s trouble, Knuckles declares that they’re going to use them to stop Robotnik this go-round.
With part 3, we see Robotnik and Renfield hanging out, the doctor already going on about how nothing can get in his way. Even though he knows Knuckles is out there and will probably try something. Sure enough, an alert rings out in their secret base, because every ride in the park turned on at once. Don’t know why that would cause an alert, but it did. Renfield assumes its Knuckles, but Robotnik explains that the rides aren’t connected, having their own operational switch, meaning the Echidna has help. We the readers know this, but why did the future-Chaotix bring Robotnik’s attention to their existence? Do they actually have a plan? Because everything that follows pretty much has nothing to do with them.
Not being prepared for his plan not working, Robotnik transports Metal So-I’m sorry, “Mecha Sonic,” to the island. Mentioning he’s been upgraded since his last outing (which resulted in him melting), Mecha Sonic flies off to find Knuckles and the rest of the “new Freedom Fighters.” Looking up at the sky, Knuckles spots Mecha Sonic, saying he had hoped turning on everything in the park would confuse Robotnik long enough for them to get to the hall of mirrors. Why would he even think that? If he didn’t see seven strange fellows sneak into the park, then why would he have noticed them going to the hall? Heck, why not just send Heavy and Bomb in? Robotnik isn’t supposed to know about their treachery! With Vector stealing the tag line of Superman: The Movie (because hey guys remember this is a comic book), the group charge ahead. Even though Mecha Sonic is still in the air. Not a very effective charge, huh?
Being he’s the only one that can fly, Charmy is the first to attack Mecha, though it’s clear he can do absolutely nothing. Espio gets the robot’s attention, making the metallic Sonic fly off towards him, only for Espio to turn on his camouflage and cause Mecha to crash through a building and into the ground. Too bad I have a hard time believing any of that was planned. Next up are Knuckles and Vector, who happen to have the ring-band found in the game. Was this also in the trunk? Or did it just appear for no reason except to fool people into thinking this was about the game?
The duo try to use it to fight Mecha Sonic, but the robotic clone simply grabs the tether and starts swinging around our heroes. Yep, that worked well. Oh wait, it does work well. But they don’t explain how Mecha goes from holding the middle to holding the end where Knuckles was, with Vector swinging Mecha about. Not wanting to be trapped in this startling new development, Mecha lets go, only to be punched through some carnival stands by Mighty the Armadillo. With one final explosion from Bomb, Mecha looks to be finished.
Wait. Bomb blew up. But he’s ok. Even though he blew up. I…how is this useful in any other instance. Whatever. Since Bomb has to pull himself together, he is unable to assist in fighting off Metal Sonic KAI, the final boss to Chaotix. I know they don’t call him that in the comic, but they don’t call him anything here, so let me use my precious gaming terminology. Having grown tall and changing to the color red, KAI is ready to go crazy. Too bad we don’t actually see him do anything.
Guessing his latest transformation had something to do with the Power Gems established earlier, Heavy gives one to Knuckles, the Echidna suddenly growing to the same size. Punching him, the giant Metal Sonic begins to stumble backwards. Watching on in safety, Robotnik remarks on the irony of his own gems being the responding force to his villainy, and in no time at all Metal Sonic KAI stumbles into the Hall of Mirrors, a combination of who-knows-what freeing the Freedom Fighters. This also results in Knuckles getting his natural abilities back, and with one punch KAI is destroyed, the pair shrinking back to normal in the process.
With some generic Freedom Fighters chasing after Robotnik and Renfield, the rat asks where they will run off to, with Robotnik giving him the boot quite literally, leaving T. Rodent to his own devices while the dictator flies off in a roller coaster. Though he tries to escape, he gets caught in a makeshift cage built from the very “Welcome” globe that began all this, pushed by Espio the Chameleon onto our rodent friend. After being arrested by…wait. Arrested? There are police?! And…they’re muppets?!
…moving on. With Renfield out of the way, Sonic remarks to Knuckles that at least something good came out of it – Knuckles making new friends and having his own team. Of course, everyone immediately goes “lol no,” showing that they’re from the same school as Knuckles in this comic – the school where no one is allowed to learn anything. Sonic is the one who dubs them the Chaotix, so there’s that. And really, anyone who read this…were they expecting this team not to show up again?
There are two more stories featured in the special – one where the Chaotix (sans Knuckles) run around and play tag. Yep. The second is the latest installment in the Archimedes saga, which I’m still not going to get into here. If I do, I’m doing them all in one shot. And with that, another video game adaptation is done. So, was it worth it?
For those who don’t know, the storyline in the western version of Chaotix is vastly different from that in the Japanese release. In the Japanese story, Knuckles learns of another mysterious island that had appeared as a result of the events of Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Investigating, he finds that Dr. Eggman has already beaten him to the punch, setting up shop and looking for the mysterious Chaos Rings that seem to be there. The other playable characters show up independently, all with their own motives, though none of them ill-intentioned aside from Eggman. If you compare the comic to this story, then yes. They missed the point entirely. In the American manual, though, they decided to change everything, making Knuckles the guardian of “Carnival Island,” with Dr. Robotnik wanting to steal the “Power Emerald” that runs the place. Yeah. That’s real. That story doesn’t make any sense when you actually play the game (seeing as there are no Power Emeralds), but I doubt Archie would have gone to Japan to try and find the real storyline. They were just dealing with what Sega gave them.
To be fair, they do capture some of the elements of the game – the end scene with Knuckles growing probably had something to do with the shrink/grow powerups in the game. Metal having a featured role ties in as well. But…why would Archie feel the need to remove Knuckles’ abilities? The game didn’t do that. It might have felt neutered because of the main play mechanic, the ringband that forced you to control two characters at once, but that wasn’t a lack of ability in the character. Knuckles could still climb and glide and all that. Just oddly. Instead, it was just an excuse to introduce characters, because Ken couldn’t dare have the echidna need help unless there was a good reason to.
But why even have Sonic and the rest show up? Couldn’t the comic have survived without them? Robotnik could have been there to do something evil and the others force themselves to help out, proving to Knuckles he doesn’t need to be a loner or something…whatever, I’m not going to try and rewrite the entire comic here. That would be silly. But I can not forgive them for Renfield T. Rodent. Jeeze Louise, why in the world does he exist? And why would anyone trust him from the get-go?!
All in all, the comic is about as inoffensive as the previous two specials. Ok in some parts, terrible in others, aimed squarely at the target audience that would read it – kids. It hasn’t aged as well as some other issues, sure. Could it have gone better? Most definitely. But for the first time in a while, the comic doesn’t advertise the next adaptation of a game. Instead, we get teasers for all of Knuckles’ future appearances, that would eventually lead into his first mini-series. So no one knew what would come next down the pipeline…
Next time: Sonic Quest, A.K.A. “The Death Egg Saga.” Oh boy, that’ll be a doozie.
Looking for more Archie adaptations? Check ’em out:
How Archie Played the Games, Part One: Of Pinball and Echidnas
How Archie Played the Games, Part Two: Of Floating Islands
How Archie Played The Games, Part Three: Of Pink And Metal Hedgehogs
How Archie Played The Games, Part Four: Of Walkers and Snipers
And don’t forget to to read Overlord’s treatment of the Fleetway series: