Archie’s Sonic can teach many life lessons. Most of them bad.
When I was a kid back during the ancient hunter-gatherer days of the 1990’s there really wasn’t anything cooler in the world than Sonic the Hedgehog. He was blue, he could really move, AND he had an attitude – what more could an adolescent boy want from his favorite media franchise? And though that attitude varied from medium to medium, you could rest assured that anything that could be marketed to sticky-fingered little goblins (also known as American children) could and would have your favorite little blue guy on it, ready and waiting to devour your parents’ begrudging paycheck.
Even given that fact, you couldn’t imagine my surprise when, during a routine shopping trip to Magic Mart (a store trying damn hard to rip off K-Mart, which was doing much the same to Wal-Mart in some kind of Maslow’s hierarchy of knock-offs) I happened to find, amongst the normal Archie Super Digests and regular old Reader’s Digests on the magazine shelf a pristine copy of the Archie Comics published title Sonic the Hedgehog #12.
Now this wasn’t just the first appearance of beloved Sonic series mainstay “Sonugh the Boghog”, some kind of disturbingly barefoot cave man ancestor of Sonic’s who spouted just as many teeth-rattling puns as his descendant, it was my first window into a world that was going to get far more strange and mind-boggling than even the sentence you just finished reading.
Let this article be a small window into the world of reading these comics as they came out. From the early double digit issue numbers where Sonic lived in a world that was half the Dystopian Saturday Morning cartoon Sonic the Hedgehog — complete with The Freedom Fighters and corporate-demanded love interest Sally Acorn — and half the weekday morning Roadrunner and Coyote knockoff that was The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, all the way well past the drop-off point for insanity where Sonic fistfought Dr. Robotnik to death while they’re both shot by lasers and Robotroplis explodes into a bajillion pieces of shrapnel. And well beyond, wildly enough.
Believe it or not, there are two pieces of truth to take from all of this at this point.
1. This isn’t even half as wild as this comic got both before and after this point.
2. None of this struck me as strange in the slightest as a kid. Of course Sonic would murder Dr. Robotnik – he’s the bad guy. You’re supposed to murder them, right? That’s the lesson I took away from the story at age 11, anyway. It left me wondering exactly why Batman didn’t kill The Joker though, which is a conundrum I shared at that age with every adult on Reddit now, apparently, so that wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
As a matter of fact, while Archie Comics never took it upon themselves to even pretend that they were operating in the same continuity as the video games (outside of the genuinely cool Super Sonic Specials you could mail away for like Sonic 3D Blast, which was far better than the video game it was based on), it never even dawned on me that there could possibly be any difference. As far as I knew after Sonic got done hopping and bopping between colorful levels of upbeat music, rescuing small animals, and fighting an eco-terrorist who looked suspiciously like Teddy Roosevelt, he would head on back to the bleak, depressing Knothole Forest and compete with a commando skunk and a French stereotype for the affections of a squirrel princess — who was herself often pre-occupied with her dead father, their destroyed kingdom, and the ecological nightmare of their world. None of it seemed incongruous to 10 year old me.
I was so transfixed by the heroic blue blur on the page that I didn’t even notice the absolute mad scramble to figure out what the hell to do now that Dr. Robotnik was dead happening behind the scenes at Archie, even though on the page it’s absolutely unmistakable. Sonic met inexplicable new friends like Nate Morgan, an extremely small old human man who exists in the Sonic world and that’s fine, and Nate Morgan’s best friend — a cyborg Sasquatch who also lives in Sonic’s world, stop questioning this. Worth note? These characters are introduced in the same exact issue.
Sonic also faced off against equally inexplicable foes like some kind of evil wizard man with a horn named Ixis Naugus and The Monkey King from the legendary Journey to the West tales but zero fun, Monkey Khan. There was a period of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick during this time that produced a lot of memorable characters if you’re twelve years old, but I can only imagine how maddening it must have been for the crew at Archie.
At this point I wanna divert for a second to my favorite story about these comics, that I think illustrates reading them at the time pretty perfectly. Now I mentioned before that Archie didn’t really care to link up continuity with Sega of Japan or any of the Sonic games too much before; well that was going to have to change in a big way in 1999 with the upcoming release of a modern wonder of the gaming world and future “Most Done Dirty Console of All Time”, the Sega Dreamcast. But more importantly the release of a little gem of a game called Sonic Adventure that was about to change the little blue hedgehog forever.
In preview artwork dropped by Sega, our guy Sonic now had longer quills and limbs, green eyes, buckles on his shoes, and just an overall more edgy, cool design than he’d ever had before (though your mileage may vary.) Archie was faced with a conundrum at this point — do they just quietly start drawing the hero like he’s going to be depicted officially from here on out? Did they ignore the change completely and keep on ahead? How about neither — that’s not the Archie Sonic way at all!
So now the world was in peril from some kind of time beam that was gonna like… you know… destroy the timestream or whatnot. Like a time beam do. And our hero Sonic straps a Super Emerald to his back (which was just a regular Chaos Emerald in the comics because they thought there were infinite emeralds and… this isn’t worth getting into but it does illustrate a different set of continuity problems, of which there are many) and running around the world at super speed like Superman bringing Lois Lane back to life. Absorbing the emeralds powers our hero emerges a changed hedgehog — looking exactly like the box art to the new game coming out. He’s also now intensely radioactive with Chaos Emerald power but they never mention that again. Mission complete.
I wouldn’t have lodged a complaint if I had any at this point, I was loving it, zero critique, you do you Archie Comics, but apparently the consensus amongst readers who knew what second base was happened to be that the comic had gone downhill in a major way since issue #50 — the death of Dr. Robotnik. Luckily this is comic books, the land where Jean Grey has died and returned to life about once a year since the 1970’s, and they took special care to point out even back in issue #50 that Dr. Robotnik’s body was never found. They had the perfect out to come up with a pretty simple reason why Robotnik had survived and was now back to menace our heroes and hopefully boost those sales numbers back up.
But instead of any of that they had an alternate dimension robot version of Robotnik, named Robo-Robotnik, inexplicably travel across dimensions for revenge against Sonic and his friends, even though he had already killed them in his universe and conquered his own world, because he wanted to conquer a different world and get even MORE revenge. He was teased in shadow for five or six issues and then popped up on board a satellite above the planet where our heroes pretty soundly blew him up and he lost. Very much like the real Robotnik.
Luckily for us though, Robo-Robotnik can upload his consciousness into other robot bodies remotely whenever he wants, and he just so happens to upload it to…. a new body that looks EXACTLY like Dr. Eggman from Sonic Adventure! Ha! You thought this was anything other than another way to line the comic up with the games finally? It’s really a shame he never does this brain upload thing ever again and it’s completely forgotten about cause check out that rad Hulk Hogan Eggman in that line-up. Would’ve been something special.
Now I think this is the perfect time to stop this little trip down memory lane together. Not just because it’s a momentous(?) event in the history of the comic, but because it’s the issue when I first realized that other people thought these comics were terrible. I showed this issue to an older friend of mine at the bus stop and he laughed out loud at me reading Sonic comics. He went through a laundry list of what was wrong with them and it was like someone had taken blinders off of my eyes that I’d been wearing my entire like — holy crap, he was RIGHT! How did I not see this before?
The writing ranged from cringe-inducing puns and jokes to extremely edgy in single issues, the artwork ranged from decent to terrible and rarely any better, the plotlines went nowhere and were dropped constantly! I was suddenly burdened with the knowledge that my favorite comic was genuine trash.
Anyway I continued to read Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comics up into the 130’s or 140’s and had a blast with them for about two more years. Nowadays I have a blast in an entirely different way — recounting them with a little chuckle and a few jokes with friends. I feel like that’s the legacy that Archie’s Sonic has kept throughout the years; bad comics that will definitely make you laugh, like a sequential art version of The Room, or Plan 9 from Outer Space — and they definitely live up to that rep. I mean, I didn’t even get into the Knuckles the Echidna spinoff which was mostly about teen angst and politics that seemed to have no real stakes in their own debating, only existing to seem more adult to our tiny child brains.
Ok, so maybe not that one, but the rest. Check ’em out. Archie Comics lost the rights to publish Sonic the Hedgehog comics back in 2016 and was replaced as the official venue for sequential storytelling in the Sonic universe by IDW Comics in 2018 but that doesn’t mean you can’t relive those glory days of love triangles, comic book artists who’d never even seen the game series drawing entire story arcs of extremely off-model characters, blatant furry bait, misguided political metaphor, outdated 1990’s TV and move references, and much, much more. Hopefully you won’t pick up any life lessons along the way like I did.