Long before Sonic the Hedgehog was their mascot, SEGA was known the world over for their fantastic arcade outings. Space Harrier. Hang On. Out Run. Each game compelled whatever young mind was near to slide quarter after quarter into the cabinet, keeping the company relevant even while their home content, featured on the Sega Master System, was overtly eclipsed by the competition. Finally finding success in the console market in 1991 didn’t slow the videogame maker from producing titles for the arcade circuit, but it did raise the question of whether or not SEGA would deliver Sonic outside of the Mega Drive, making those crazy about The Most Famous Hedgehog In The World to venture outside the home and hunch over a static arcade cabinet.
Wanting to exploit the character that was to define them, SEGA was immediately aware of the demand. In 1991, they released a pair of early games exclusive to arcades, Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car and its spiritual successor, SegaSonic Cosmo Fighter Galaxy Patrol, two early attempts that were geared directly at a younger demographic. The first two 16-bit titles would also be retooled for arcade consumption, released on the Mega Play platform where players were given the same levels as the home version but with far shorter time limits.
It wasn’t until 1993 that the first dedicated arcade experience featuring the hedgehog was released, the aptly titled SegaSonic the Hedgehog. One look at the title screen made it clear it wasn’t just a rehash of home content, featuring two brand new characters joining Sonic in an isometric world where players had to use a trackball to get Sonic and his friends out of the never-ending trouble following them. Released at the height of Sonic’s popularity, the game was virtually ignored, in part because it was almost exclusively a Japanese title. Those few that were exported to the west came with Japanese vocals and text intact, and as such was overlooked by the writers of both Sonic comic books being published at the time.
In 1999, that all changed.
With the rise of the Internet in the 90’s, fans were able to communicate with the creative minds behind the Archie Comics series. The letters page was super excited about e-mail, even giving any letter sent electronically its own header – Notes From The Net. One of the main writers for the book, Ken Penders, would plug his personal website in the column, where people could log on and write all sorts of messages on his bulletin board, the mustachioed man able to leave hints at what was to come in the narrative long before the solicitations would catch up. This unprecedented access allowed fans to not just comment on what was in the book, but ask why certain elements from the games were missing. Among those requests was the obscure character only seen in SegaSonic the Hedgehog, Ray the Flying Squirrel.
Many of the people asking for the yellow ground-based flying squirrel had probably never seen the arcade cabinet in person, but the Internet’s proliferation of information made the title known to thousands who would otherwise be unaware of its existence. And if the Archie comic was using the video games as a source, then by gum, Ray should be in it! So even though the game wasn’t available to play, little information existed besides a few random screenshots, and the thin plot had never been translated, Ken decided to listen to the fans and deliver on an adaptation to bring Ray into the fold. You can imagine how well this worked.
Featured as the back-up stories to Knuckles the Echidna issues 26 through 28 (you know, the issues where the main story was about Knuckles building up courage to ask Julie-Su out on a date), the three-part tale never refers to itself as an adaptation of SegaSonic the Hedgehog, even though it’s clearly meant to be. “Friend in Need,” written by Ken Penders with art by Manny Galan and inks by Andrew Pepoy, starts off by being labeled as a Mighty the Armadillo tale. Standing in his humble abode complete with weightlifting equipment, a mysterious figure is with him, holding a silver egg. The two share some dialogue establishing they both know what it is, but don’t feel the need to clue in the reader. Gotta make them invest in the story somehow, right?
The Fang-the-Sniper-shaped figure says they need Mighty’s muscle (did you not see the weights in the back?!) though he’s not gung-ho to join up. That all changes when the mysterious figure offers him a dog collar. It’s not just any dog collar, though! Mighty immediately recognizes it as belonging to Ray The Squirrel. So I guess it’s a squirrel collar. It looks like a pretty generic collar, so I don’t know how it screams “Ray,” but we need the plot to move on somehow. Mighty reluctantly agrees to join up with the mystery woman who turns out to be Nic the Weasel, who looks exactly like Nack the Weasel, her brother. Yep, the only difference is she wears a shirt to cover up her chest. Same hat, same frame, same gigantic jutting tooth. She even has the same job as a bounty hunter, which has to get confusing for everyone. Oh, I guess she does have a braid in the back. That makes her a girl, right?
Nicolette has the confused Mighty follow her, even telling him to not ask her “what’s a nice girl like you-.” I. I mean. Well. I’m confused. Very confused. Just like Mighty. He joins Nic in her preferred method of transport, a space shuttle (because that’s the best way to fly from place to place) and slips into flashback mode. Seems Mighty’s distress isn’t at the fact that a female version of Fang the Sniper wants Mighty to hit on her so she can shoot him down, but instead tied to whatever happened to Ray. Many years back, Mighty found himself captured, transported on a rowboat to join a slave labor camp, assumingly run by Dr. Robotnik, the megalomaniac villain who took over the planet. Why the armadillo would be used as slave labor and not immediately roboticized, I’m not sure, but its on the voyage that Mighty first meets Ray. Stuck with a speech impediment that would come to define his every appearance in the comic, the young squirrel is shown to be selfless even in this dark moment, giving up his seat on the boat to a woman so he can sit at another, identical seat next to Mighty. Unless he’s meant to be on the ground, but the art doesn’t help us figure that out.
Before they can wallow in self-pity, the newly formed pair are interrupted by the bravado of Sonic the Hedgehog, the cool gray-scaled nine year old, fedora on head. With Ray nodding off to sleep, Mighty admits he’s less than impressed. Sonic quickly brings him up to speed on where in the chronology this takes place, the hedgehog explaining that the old guard of freedom fighters are no longer in play, the younger generation filling the hole they left in order to free Mobius. Believe it or not, years down the line someone will write a story about that, but that’s for another review. Ray wakes up just in time to tell us he doesn’t remember Sonic being captured with the rest of them, and Sonic confirms he wasn’t. The blue blur explains he’s a “secret agent man” going behind enemy lines to scope out what’s happening when they arrive to wherever the rowboat is going. Though I guess its less a rowboat and more a floating barge, the first panel just didn’t do it justice.
Instead of waiting for them to arrive at their destination, Sonic leaps out of his seat, holding onto that fedora for dear life in case he needs to tip his hat again, and runs off to where they are heading. Way to stick to the plan, Sonic. Wait a minute. Was the fedora meant to be a disguise even though he says Robotnik doesn’t remember what he looks like? How does he know exactly where they’re going? If Sonic wasn’t captured, how’d he sneak onto the barge? Why was he in a seat? If Sonic was going to jump out anyway, why make Ray sit on the floor, except to be a dick? Why is Mighty the only one wearing handcuffs? I get he’s strong, but that doesn’t mean everyone else wouldn’t try to escape! In fact, why doesn’t anyone try to escape? There doesn’t seem to be any guards on the rowbarge, let alone anything keeping them in place!
Before the reader can dwell on these questions, Mighty’s flashback is interrupted by Nic, who lands her shuttle on what may or may not be an island. The armadillo comments on how it looks even creepier than he remembers, but before the unlikely pair can explore further, someone comes from behind to ambush them – none other than Fiona Fox, who is none too happy to see the Mightster. Fiona even gets her own logo, which means she must be important! Why? Well, we’ll get to that in a minute.
The story continues in “Those Were The Days” from Knuckles the Echidna Issue 27, done by the same creative team. Once again, no mention of SegaSonic the Hedgehog, or even a handy “Part 2” to remind us this is the second chapter of the story. Mighty has some quick thought bubbles to bring us back to speed, recalling how Nic the Weasel offered to help Mighty find Ray if he helped her find the gemstones mined in Robotnik’s slave labor camps. Not just a great recap for new readers, but also a great recap for anyone who read the last part, since it explains the plot that wasn’t touched upon until now. Yes, Nic implied she knew the final fate of Ray the Squirrel, but she didn’t imply he needed to be rescued. In fact, that silver egg she held was never identified as a gemstone, or that Nic wanted to find the rest. That is, if the egg is meant to be the gem, since it looks nothing like one. But why think about any of these questions, dear reader! We have FIONA FOX to contend with! Harboring a serious grudge with Mighty, we don’t get to see them fight it out, Nic interrupting, reminding her what the end goal is. Seems they need Mighty’s help if they find “the box.” How mysterious!
Looking at the abandoned base gives Mighty plenty of time to slip back into a flashback, which is no longer in gray-scale. Instead, the flashbacks are ever-so-slightly lighter, made more confusing by the fact the panel meant to show this transition shows modern Fiona colored the same way as classic Fiona. We’ve already thrown out consistency between chapters, might as well go all the way. Back to the floating barge the story goes, it landing in the center of the fortress, with SWATbots and roboticized guards abound. Directing Mighty, Ray, and Mr. Silhouette to work immediately, the guard grabs Fiona, stating they have other plans for her. Thankfully we’re not reading a modern comic from DC, else this development would get ugly real fast. The super-strong armadillo leaps into action, trying to save the fox with a small assist from Ray, who punches a SWATbot the same amount of times he stutters a word. In the commotion, Fiona somehow gets a gun. I don’t know where, but she has one. Not that it matters, since she never uses it and is immediately captured again and dragged off panel.
Jumping back into the present, the trio of Nic, Mighty and Fiona continue deeper in the complex, the latter two having second thoughts about being there. Can’t blame them, since they both had severely traumatic experiences as children the last time they set foot there. [Note: Hey, kids! Did you know cooler is slang for solitary confinement? Keep reading Sonic comics!] The female weasel tells them to calm down, as they’re the only ones around. Mighty contradicting her: “Oh yeah? Looks like a family reunion to me! Look, there’s Sonic!” he calls out, ignoring that Tails and Sally Acorn are also standing there. Unmoving. Eyes closed. Statue-esque. Mighty, I don’t know what your family looks like, but…
Fiona tells him they’re not real, but replicas created by Robotnik. This “stunning revelation” thrusts another flashback onto us, with the armadillo remembering how a beaten-up Sonic appeared with a key card to unlock Mighty’s arm restraints, allowing him to break out of prison. Though the future-Chaotix member asks Sonic to help him free Ray, Sonic squashes the suggestion, saying they’ve got to do something else first. This makes Mighty question if it was the real Sonic or this animatronic who freed him. Not giving thought as to how having a fake Sonic break him out of prison would help Robotnik at all. Or how there would be just a spare robot Sonic lying around if Robotnik didn’t remember what he looked like since the last they encountered each other, the hedgehog was five years old. Or the fact the robot he is staring at is Sonic’s current age, not how tall he would have been as a kid. Unless Mighty thinks broken down robots age like everyone else. Which he might.
The flashback is once again broken by Nic, who has cracked the electronic code to a nearby door. When Mighty brings up Ray again and how they were supposed to rescue him, the bounty hunter reminds him that she never said they’d find him there, but that she knew where he could be found. Which actually does josh with the first part, meaning Mighty’s confusion has been lasting this whole time. Our hero.
The tunnel leads to another door, one only Mighty can open up. This “stunning cliffhanger” leads directly into part three of the story, “Below the Belt.” What does the title have to do with the story? Absolutely nothing. Using his physical prowess, Mighty the Armadillo is able to open the second door of the tunnel, which I’ll assume is “the box” though it doesn’t really look like one. Sadly, we don’t get to see a confused Karen Gillian, instead revealing none other than Ray the Squirrel holding onto a green gem. Oh. Mighty reveals his shock at Ray being there the whole time, the squirrel asking if it’s been that long, as its only felt like a few hours to him. Why that would clue him in on something being off with time and not the fact Mighty and Fiona look seven years older, I have no answer for.
Because it’s the second page of the story, we’re treated to another flash to the past, this time narrated by the long-lost squirrel. He thinks back to when him, Sonic and Mighty were sneaking to Robotnik’s lab to rescue Fiona when…wait, hold up. Didn’t the last part end with Mighty wondering if the real Sonic had saved him, because he said they needed to do something else before rescuing their friends who they met maybe an hour beforehand? If Sonic said “ixnay” on rescuing a couple buds before finishing whatever mission he was on, how did that turn into “there’s Fiona, just like I said!” with Ray in tow? Either something really important happened in the flash-gaps, or Ken just wasn’t paying attention to his own cliffhangers. Don’t you just love when all the threads of a story come together?
Robotnik spots the trio with ease, especially since they don’t seem to be even trying to hide. The dictator says Sonic looks familiar, that perhaps he is related to Sir Charles, but instead of contemplating what that implies or going off on a long monologue, he makes his SWATbots fire at the hedgehog and the armadillo. I wasn’t expecting Robotnik to do something that makes sense here, what with the rest of his lax security. In his fervor to attack the two similar-looking mammals, he overlooks Ray, who must have done the smart thing and snuck into the madman’s lair. Seizing the opportunity, the yellow squirrel grabs the gem which is attached to the contraption Fiona is trapped in, at the same time getting shot at by a SWATbot. This somehow causes a chain reaction that makes Ray start to disappear, which Sonic notices. Instead of just running full speed ahead, he first grabs Mighty’s arm, then runs, and…um…well, look for yourself.
It took me a few times reading this page to figure out what happened, but I think…I think what it’s trying to say is that Sonic and Mighty were instantly transported to a zone by running at Ray’s intangible self, then came right back into the fray, all while Robotnik watched. But…it’s not very clear? Robotnik’s dialogue doesn’t make much sense, which makes me wonder if something got lost in editing. The pair thought they rescued Ray, but really didn’t, with an editor’s box asking people if they want to see what really happened when the three entered the “wild zone.” So either we have lazy writing, or lazy editing, but either way, it boggles the mind. Why even imply some crazy adventure happened in the middle of a panel that doesn’t read well? Why not just have Ray disappear and go on from there? Maybe I’m expecting too much, especially since not a single cliffhanger actually led into the next part of the story.
When Mighty realizes Ray’s gone, the armadillo freaks out, using his strength to start destroying everything in sight. Would have been nice if he used these powers before Ray disappeared. Also would have been nice to get a feeling Mighty and Ray were actually friends. How many times did they talk to each other? Once. When Ray may or may not have sat on the floor of the floating barge boat. They didn’t even talk about anything important. Unless they had some deep, meaningful conversation after Sonic left, or had a bonding experience in the mid-panel story we’re not allowed to see…Look, I know there are times when you don’t have to reveal every single detail in a story. Getting bogged down in the minutia can be detrimental, as clearly evidenced by Ken’s later Mobius: 25 Years Later. Sometimes exposition is nice, other times you want to show and not tell. But when it comes to Mighty and Ray’s relationship, we get nothing. We don’t have any scenes which show them building a respect for each other. Heck, we don’t even get a ham-fisted moment where Mighty says they’re friends even though we haven’t seen it. All the reader has gotten is a present day Mighty upset about losing someone that he didn’t even know for a day, and barely spoke to.
The evil doctor freaks out, ordering the SWATbots to increase their fire, which the duo shield themselves from using another SWATbot. In the frenzy, Robotnik kidnaps Fiona yet again, flying away and leaving a grieving Mighty to be comforted by Sonic. We bounce head first back into the present, and while Ray is still clinging onto a gem in the middle of some pocket zone which may or may not be unstable, Mighty turns away to ask Fiona what the hell happened to her. Because there’s only one page left, we’re treated to a truncated flashback where she explains that Robotnik took her to a different lab, showed off a robot duplicate of herself, then abandoned the base leaving Fiona to rot for two years until she was able to dig herself free, immediately running into Nic and forming a friendship or some such thing.
Now, for longtime readers, seeing Fiona Fox two issues prior must have been confusing, with a gentle editor’s note in the third installment telling readers to check out Sonic the Hedgehog issues 28 and 29 to get the full story of what Fiona was referencing. The two-part backup featured in those early issues were used a prelude to Miles “Tails” Prower‘s mini-series, where he fights with Sonic and goes off to have his own adventure. Jumping into the Sea Fox, Tails makes it to some random island, finds a fox girl in trouble, rescues her, and the two fall in love. Well, whatever love translates to for a ten year old living on Mobius. Either way, it’s revealed that the foxgirl, named Fiona, is actually a robot built by Robotnik to trick Tails into getting captured so he can roboticize him. Tails breaks free, is forced to fight his first love, and she rusts in the ocean, our two-tailed hero leaving her on the shore to forever watch on.
Nowhere in that story was it implied that the robot was based on a real person, and to be fair it didn’t need to. But randomly bringing her back, and tying the character into the grand unveiling of Ray the Flying Squirrel, seemed way out of left field. Were there a sea of letters demanding this character come back? Or was it just the writer trying to come up with some clever plot point that could later be used in the main comic to mess with Tails’ emotions? You can argue that Fiona was used better later on in the series, but it’s hard to justify her appearance in this story at all.
Right, the last page. Ray is holding onto the Power Gem Stone thing, Nic wants it, and because I guess Ray can’t let go of it for some reason, the bounty hunter decides to shoot the gem as a way to set them free from each other. The shot accidentally destroys the stone (even though the art doesn’t show it get destroyed) and Nic gets upset even though Ray is apologizing for the stone breaking in the first place. Why he needs to, I don’t know, but Nic says the squirrel owes her. Mighty slips into the conversation, saying this one is on him, because she gave him back his friend. Oh, right, they’re friends I guess. And so, with the two of them smiling at each other, the story ends.
Reading through, I can see why they never attached the SegaSonic the Hedgehog logo in any of the story titles. For those who have never played the game, the opening cinematic has Sonic, Mighty, and Ray running away from a giant mechanical representation of Dr. Eggman’s head, they get caught inside of it, and are transported to an island where the mad genius tries to destroy them with all sorts of traps. The plot is flimsy, but it’s only there to give an excuse as to why the player has to use the trackball to make everyone continuously run. While in the book Ray and Mighty are captives and brought to Robotnik Evil Lair #379, it doesn’t happen in the way the game portrays it. At the same time, I don’t think Ken Penders or anyone at Archie’s offices had seen any footage from the arcade game, let alone played it. Calling it an adaptation would have unfairly compared it to the source material, especially if SegaSonic ever received a home version. This story’s goal was to show the readers that the staff was paying attention to their requests, especially Ken, and deliver an obscure character from the game universe that not even the Fleetway comics had touched. It begins with an interesting premise, going on the hunt for an obscure character that even the main characters haven’t seen in ages, adding in a subtle meta-textual nod to the whole thing. When you judge the story on that merit alone, it succeeded.
Outside of that criteria, though, the story falls apart. You have the introduction of a completely unnecessary character – Nic the Weasel – whose role could have been filled by her brother, Fang the Sniper. If the goal was to have more female characters in the mix, then create a unique bounty hunter, not one that will forever pale in the shadow of someone who comes from the games. Then you have the main plot, where she, Mighty and Fiona go to an abandoned base of Robotnik’s and infiltrate it to recover some grand MacGuffin, the Power Gem/Stone. The infiltration goes by without a hitch, the only main source of conflict being in the flashback sequences. Sure, there’s the illusion of something more when Fiona flips out at the end of part one, but it never pays off. Why is that? Because you realize her anger towards the armadillo/hedgehog pair is completely unfounded. It sounds at first that they abandoned her, which gains credence when you read the cliffhanger of part two. But part three? The entire flashback is about the trio of SegaSonic going to rescue her from the clutches of the evil genius. They’re unable to get her, Robotnik escaping with prisoner in tow, and they have no way of finding out where they’ve taken her. It’d be one thing if she had been trapped in the original complex for years, growing bitter that no one came back to look. But that’s not what happened. Be mad at Robotnik! Anything else seems misplaced. Maybe it would have worked better if anyone had yelled out “Fiona, I’ll find you! I promise!” Then at least you could say she went mad and took it personally, being trapped in solitary confinement (wait I mean being in the cooler) for two years, forced to escape on her own wits alone. Or maybe she could have forgiven them considering Sonic was supposed to be NINE YEARS OLD during the flashbacks.
It’s not like Ray, Mighty or Fiona were friends or even casual acquaintances before their ordeal, and certainly didn’t have long to bond while in captivity. The story also casually glosses over the fate of everyone else forced to work in that slave labor mine, or if Sonic recovered any information regarding what Robotnik was up to there. With the mine and the robot duplicates, a lot was going on, which the story implies Robotnik immediately abandoned by fleeing to another lab. But that couldn’t have happened, seeing as a very deliberate contraption is holding Ray at the end, not to mention the abandoned robots which include Tails, someone the crazed doctor wouldn’t have even known existed at that point. This means after Sonic and Mighty left, Robotnik had to have come back, and operated there for an extended period of time. And if so, why is it abandoned now? There isn’t even the remains of a defense system for the modern trio to encounter!
I know Ken didn’t have even the page count of a normal issue to tell this story, but it still feels extremely rushed. It’s a very delicate art to tell a complete story in a limited amount of time, and while there are times Ken has succeeded, this is not one. The narrative just screams to be expanded upon, which might have to deal with Ken’s mindspace. By this point, he was in full-on saga mode, having an uninterrupted stream of Knuckles tales, not to mention his continued world building over in the main Sonic the Hedgehog title. Having a three-parter focusing on the mightiest mammal this side of the Floating Island just wasn’t a priority, even if he was part of the Chaotix. If it was a story that came about naturally, or if it had more space, it might have worked better. Or if the entire thing was a flashback with a simple coda at the end, some of the problems with the tale could have disappeared. Unfortunately, it just becomes a half-baked tale giving us another character in a sea of personalities begging to be developed. Perhaps foreshadowing what was to come…
Next Time: Aw jeesh. This is it. The big one. Get ready when we cover the multi-issue epic of Sonic’s first true three-dimensional video game, Sonic Adventure.
There you have it, one more into the can. To go on a magical journey which now spans years, you can check out the previous installments of the series below:
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
How Archie Played The Games, Part Five: Of Rodents and Giants
How Archie Played The Games, Part 6A: Of Death Eggs and Robot Birds
How Archie Played The Games, Part 6B: Of Silver Hedgehogs and Falling Islands
How Archie Played The Games, Part 7: Of FLiCKIES and Remote Atolls
Or if you want to forget Archie ever existed and slip back into the British-fueled Sonic the Comic, revisit the reviews done by our main man Overlord:
How Fleetway Played The Games, Part One: Of Flying Battleships and Space Eggs
How Fleetway Played The Games, Part 2: Of Time Stones and Shrink Lasers
How Fleetway Played The Games, Part 3: Of Emeralds and Echidnas
How Fleetway Played The Games, Part 4: Of Evacuating and Electricians
How Fleetway Played The Games, Part 5: Of Ice and Repairing
How Fleetway Played The Games, Part 6: Of Master Emeralds and Death Eggs
And if you just can’t get enough Ken Penders in your life, scroll up to the top and search for Mobius: 25 Years Later. You know you want to.