I really enjoy the return of the three-part covers, or as they're calling them now, "triptych covers." This cover features Sonic running in the foreground, with a picture of a shocked Sally and Tails in the bottom-left corner. The background includes a picture of Amy Rose (who doesn't appear in this issue, even in crowd scenes), a picture of the Ancient Walkers (one of whom is holding a Mercedes-Benz logo, of all things), and an intimidating picture of Mammoth Mogul. The cover promises a lot. Let's see if the issue delivers.
"The Darkest Storm Part One: The Gathering Tempest"
Writer: Ian Flynn
Penciler: James Fry
Inker: Jim Amash
Letterer: John Workman
Colorist: Jason Jensen
Editor: Mike Pellerito
Managing Editor: Victor Gorelick
Editor-In-Chief: Richard Goldwater
Sega Reps: Robert Leffler and Dyna Lopez
We open with a caption-box monologue, presumably being delivered by the silhouetted figure surrounded by green glow in the page's center. Whoever's speaking, this person gloats about his/her/its knowledge of Sonic and all his greatest foes: Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik, Ixis Naugus, and Mammoth Mogul, each one illustrated by a scene of Sonic and Tails confronting the respective nemesis (with Robotnik Prime or, as Ian likes to call him, "Classic Robotnik" filling the Eggman quota). The speaker claims to be the one who's going to destroy Sonic and his foes. He/she/it identifies himself/herself/itself as... "Anonymous."
Before I continue, a history lesson for those of you who weren't reading the comic last time we saw that name (or rather, non-name) in issue #135 some two years ago. Anonymous was responsible for the imprisonment of Tommy Turtle, the creation of a robot "Infiltrator" designed to imitate Tommy and destroy the Freedom Fighters from within, and finally the Roboticization and apparent replication of the Fearsome Foursome (plus Sleuth Dogg and Drago). After the havoc in issue #135, Anonymous was never mentioned in the book again, although fans have consistently associated him with every mystery in the continuity since (such as Ivan Kintobor, Doctor Finetivus, and the Metal Sonic Troopers).
Back to the story, we see Sonic and Sir Charles standing in King Elias's castle. Elias wants to reinstate Sonic's knighthood. An editorial footnote reminds us of the issue where Sonic was knighted as well as the issue where it was revoked. This is the first of many such footnotes in this story, referencing issues as recent as #152 and as not-so-recent as #78. There are even un-cited references to issues so old they predate my readership. Wow. Anyway, Sonic seems reluctant to have the title cramping his style, although Sir Charles reminds him it's a great honor. Elias tells Sonic that this new interest in Sonic's knighthood is not without reason: Elias is looking to rebuild the royal court and the Knights of Acorn, who haven't really existed since Robotnik's coup some twelve years ago. He's starting with people like Sir Charles, who were originally his father's close advisors.
Speaking of segways, we're about to meet a couple more of the old guard. While Tails tinkers with a Sega Genesis in his lab, he receives a surprise visit from his uncle Merlin Prower, accompanied by some anthropomorphic horse. Tails and Merlin have never met, and Merlin's the first blood relative that Tails has seen since infancy, so it's obviously an emotional moment. But there's no time for reunions because there's a more pressing matter: The Ancient Walkers are dying. Merlin's naturally upset about this, and he's just now doing somethying about it (despite having known about their illness for over a year). Merlin thinks that King Elias can help save them and, in doing so, keep Mammoth Mogul safely trapped in his Chaos Emerald, which he happens to have on hand. And just fifteen issues ago we were told he was trapped forever, no-matter-what. So much for that.
Meanwhile, Dr. Robotnik (or as Ian is getting into the habit of calling him, Dr. Eggman) is tying up some more of the continuity's loose ends. He, Mecha and A.D.A.M. are admiring the "Egg Grapes," introduced in issue #141 with absolutely no explanation and absolutely no follow-up. Now we learn what they're for, at least. Robotnik is basically sticking Mobians into the Egg Grapes and zombifying them, leaving their empty shells as a buffer through which he can mine pure energy out of the Zone of Silence. The Zone of Silence was last seen in... Oh, I give up. If you don't know these things already then you have no hope of understanding this story. Just enjoy the pretty pictures (there's a fight scene in three pages!) Mecha points out that there are probably better ways to mine the Zone of Silence, but Robotnik says this way is simply more fun.
Robotnik asks A.D.A.M. whether he has yet figured out the true identity of Anonymous and A.D.A.M. says that he hasn't. Robotnik complains that Anony has been a thorn in his side, stealing his roboticization and causing his Nanites to spread (actually, it was A.D.A.M. who did the nanite bit, but perhaps Robotnik doesn't know that). The reason this sudden interest in Anonymous strains the story's credibility is that it implies Anonymous has been a consistent bother to Robotnik, which is hard to believe because he hasn't been seen or mentioned in the past two years. Ian gives us the impression that Robotnik (or A.D.A.M.) has been tirelessly working to find out Anony's identity, but that doesn't exactly match what we've been reading. Anyway, as Robotnik says he doesn't need anything getting in his way, we see the children of Uma Arachnis overhead. Hmm. I wonder if they're there to help.
Meanwhile, in... somewhere... some kind of vaguely spiritual but politically correct realm of orangey-yellow... we see the dying Ancient Walkers conversing with Athair and Aurora. Ian's apparently implying that Athair and Aurora are peers, which seems a retcon, but whatever, just roll with it. The Ancient Walkers are near death and the only thing they can do at this point is make out their will. They're giving their job (whatever that is) to Athair, Aurora, and Merlin.
Speaking of Merlin, he, Tails, and the horse, who introduces himself as Sir Connery, are en route to Castle Acorn. Apparently, Connery is a minor character from back in the day who I don't remember at all. Perhaps he was before my time (I started reading during Endgame). After completing some kind of mission for the Ancient Walkers, he was assigned to protect Merlin. As if on cue, the three are suddenly attacked by the "Destructix." The Destructix is a team of minor villains consisting of the Fearsome Foursome (that'd be Sergeant Simian, Flying Frog, Lightning Lynx, and Predator Hawk) plus Drago the Wolf and Sleuth Dogg. Like Anonymous, these six D-list villains haven't been around since issue #135, when they were shown to be in league with old Anony. I'm wondering why Ian had to bring them back. After all, it really doesn't seem like a lot of people actually missed them.
A fight ensues, in which the Destructix are introduced by calling each other by name. It's a well-tried old trick, but Ian flubs a bit, introducing Predator Hawk twice and skipping Lightning Lynx as well as Drago the Wolf. Anyhow, the Destructix is winning the fight until Sonic, Knuckles, Fiona, Bunnie, and Antoine show up. Sonic trades insults with Simian, and then the FFs make quick work of the Destructix. "New team name," Sonic comments, "same old lameness." Sonic and the FFs escort Merlin to the castle while Knuckles volunteers the Chaotix for cleanup duty.
At the castle, we are treated to a lot more exposition. Sir Connery gives us some stuff about his sword, the "Sword of Light," as though we needed another magic sword, and Merlin begins to explain the back story of Mammoth Mogul and the Chaos Emerald. Back when Mogul first discovered the Emerald and used its power, the Ancient Walkers placed a curse on the emerald. Essentially, the curse gave Mogul chronic bad luck, and it would eventually end with Mogul getting trapped in the Emerald. However, Mogul wounded the Ancient Walkers during the Sonic Adventure arc (which ran in 1999) and is responsible for their current condition. If they die, the curse is broken and Mogul will easily break out of the Emerald. The only thing that can save the Walkers and keep Mogul trapped would be the Crown and Sword of Acorns. Elias doesn't understand. Enter Sally with more exposition.
The Sword and Crown were made out of a mystical substance known as the "Source of All." Remember that talking puddle of goo? If not, read on. The Source of All is just what it sounds like: the material out of which all other stuff in the universe is made. The only known sample of the Source in its pure form was a talking jacuzzi in the original Castle Acorn. It was the power of this goo that gave the Acorn Dynasty its divine right to rule. However, the original Castle Acorn and the rest of Mobo/Robotropolis are now nuke fodder, meaning the Source was almost certainly evaporated. That leaves the Crown and Sword as the only remaining samples. Elias has the crown, and the Sword is in the hands of the Children of Uma Arachnis (Sally entrusted it to them after it tried to take over her life). Elias gives the crown to Merlin, and Sonic resolves to help Merlin get back the sword (as though this comic hasn't had enough "Recover the Sword of Acorn" plotlines).
Speaking of the sword and the Arachnis Orphans, They're currently above the Egg Grape chamber, looking in through the skylight. They break in and suddenly, the Egg Grapes power up. Robotnik panics and tries to get to safety. Mecha and Robotnik leave the Egg Grape chamber and put it on lockdown. Inside the chamber, the sword begins to glow, while Anonymous gloats via a caption block that his plan is going perfectly.
Meanwhile, in the spirit world place thing, the dimensional breach caused by the activation of the Egg Grapes has completely destroyed the Ancient Walkers. At that moment in Knothole, an optimistic Merlin is interrupted by the fact that Mogul's Chaos Emerald has now released him. "Phase One-- Complete," Anonymous gloats. To be continued!
This is the first story I've reviewed by Ian "Potto" Flynn, darling of the fans and the writer who has been hailed as the savior of the Archie Comics contiuity. In his previous outing, "Birthday Bash," which I didn't review, Ian has managed to generally please fans by introducing two long-asked-for characters, Bean and Bark, as B-list villains, as well as injecting a bit of personality into Fiona Fox, making Evil Sonic into the way-cooler Scourge, and poking fun at the comic's lame badniks with Croctobot. That was a good story.
Is this? Well, no. It's not. Because it doens't really function as a "story" at all. It's a narrative, but it's so... utilitarian. It isn't enjoyable in and of itself, only in the fact that it promises to remove and reorganize various loose ends that have been left dangling for months or years. The ideas are essentially good, but the execution is a bit messy and it seems like Ian's doing too much to make a good story.
The comic continuity is full of annoying questions that demand answering. Some of these are: Is Mogul really out of the picture? Is Naugus? What's with the Egg Grape chamber? Who is Anonymous? Why are the Ancient Walkers dying? What became of Drago, Sleuth, and the Fearsome Foursome? What happened to the Source of All when Robotropolis was nuked?
All of these questions have to do with entirely seperate elements of the Sonic universe, but they're all being crammed into this one story. Yes, this does allow us to think of the continuity as a more cohesive, whole unit, and yes, it promises to either take these issues off the table or consolidate them so they may be dealt with more easily. But the story is so full of exposition and explanation that it fails to let the reader connect with the characters on an emotional level.
We don't feel Tails's reaction to meeting his uncle. We don't feel Robotnik's frustration with his inability to discover the identity of Anonymous. We don't feel the despair that Aurora and Athair feel when the Walkers are destroyed. We don't feel fear for the aging Merlin when he's attacked, nor do we thrill at Sonic's rescue. This is all because each of these things is weighed down by editorial citations, explanations, retcons, or character reintroductions. And that's not a good thing. If characters are going to die in this arc (and Ian has told us that the Walkers aren't the only ones who'll be biting the big one), then Ian needs to make us connect with the story and he's simply not doing it.
Luckily, he has Fry helping. All of the emotions listed above (and more) are given masterful visual treatments. For instance, while most of the afterlife scenes look bland, the final panel in which Athair and Aurora see the Walkers' demise really does communicate the despair. But even this isn't enough to invoke sympathy in the reader, who probably doesn't care that the Walkers are gone. Most of the book's target audicence probably won't have heard of the Ancient Walkers, because they haven't been mentioned in a long time and seen in even longer. Those who are familiar with them are probably glad to see that they're gone, because they serve no real purpose and their death has been pending for what seems like forever.
Luckily, Ian's doing some things right in this story. He's making it that much easier to root for the good guys by providing them with a king you can actually like. Whereas Max was a stubborn, bullying monarch, partially colored by Ken Penders's bitterness toward conservativism in general, we see the new King Elias as a more fair-minded, gentler type of conservative leader, kind to his people and mindful of tradition. All in all, a moderate leader that the audience can root for. Personally, I'm hoping that Max does not return to the throne for a while if ever.
Likewise, Ian is making Robotnik once again truly evil. The number one thing that made Robotnik Prime so revolting was the absolutely disturbing practice of roboticization: taking a flesh-and-blood Mobian and turning him or her into a mindless robotic drone, violating both the flesh and the mind. The worst of it was that Robotnik didn't actually need the Roboticized Mobians, because he had SWATbots to do the dirty work. It merely pleased him to be so cruel to the Mobians. This Robotnik is no different in that respect, as we see with the Egg Grapes. He's essentially doing the same thing: turning them into his mindless zombies simply because it thrills him. It makes me shudder. This is not the same as the Eggman we see in the Sonic X book.
And then there's Sonic's personal life. Ian inherited a continuity where Sonic and Sally were totally over, and Sonic was with Fiona, driving a rift between him and his best friend Tails. Ian could probably do a quick-and-dirty return to the status quo via another romantically themed two-part arc (see "Hearts Held Hostage" and "Songoose" and "Line of Succession") but Ian's smart enough to see that the fans aren't gonna buy that. So Ian's playing it out subtly in the background. There were a couple moments in "Birthday Bash" and a couple in this story (mainly, Sonic and Fiona holding hands to Tails's chagrin). Plus, by giving Fiona's character a little bit more... well, character, Ian is actually making the pairing start to grow on me (although I still don't think it makes sense for him to have gotten with Fiona so soon after breaking up with Sally, but I digress).
The issue suffers from just one other major problem: lettering. I don't want to have to struggle just to make out what the characters are saying.
Anyway, the final verdict? Ian's story keeps the reader guessing what's going to happen next, but I was perosnally less concerned with what Sonic, Robotnik, and Anonymous are doing and more concerned with with Ian is doing to the continuity. But if things go well, this will be the story that kicks off a renaissance in the book, so... I'll give it an 7.5.
Overall Score: 7.5/10
"Ties That Bind"
Writer: Ian Flynn
Penciler: Tracy Yardley!
Inker: Jim Amash
Letterer: Teresa Davidson
Colorist: Jason Jensen
The caption box introduces the characters (which is necessary, for neither gets much screen time): Snively and Hope Kintobor. The former is Robotnik's ex-sidekick, and the latter is an overlander refugee. Both are Robotnik's relatives, and both find refuge in Knothole.
But we see through a thought bubble that Snively, unlike Hope, doesn't feel at home. As he, like Tails, tinkers with a Sega Genesis, he muses that in the past he had always been opposed to the Freedom Fighters (whcih is technically not true, but true enough for the purposes of this story). As he thinks about how out of place he is, and how well Hope has adjusted to Knothole, we sudenly see all the monitors in Snively's lab turn off.
This signals Robotnik's teleportation into Snively's lab, complete with a job offer. He essentially tells Snively that Knothole's going down, so it's best for everyone if Snively comes back to his uncle's side. Snively asks for a moment to set his affairs in order. Robotnik agrees.
Snively rushes off to the Knothole hangar-type-place where Hope is tinkering with an airplane as a school project. Snively trys to think of an indirect way to tell her that Knothole's gonna be history, leave while you still can. The plane lets him segway into the idea of travel. Snively tries to convince her that she should consider moving to Overlander territory, or at least visiting. Hope seems to like the idea, and asks Snively to come with. Snively makes a non-comittal "maybe" and runs off to join Robotnik after a hug with Hope.
"And so," we see Snivelly standing on a an airship in the Egg Fleet, complete with a new costume and a name change: "Snively Robotnik." He's thankful for the help the Freedom Fighters gave him, but he says that it'll be their downfall. Finally, he privately hopes that Hope will escape.
It must be noted for continuity purpose that this story actually takes place after "The Darkest Storm," and therefore it will not occur for another two issues. So we're getting a vision of the future. It's like Mobius: 25 Years Later! Only not.
The first thing that simply must be said is that I love the character of Snively, but that it must be very difficult for the writers to handle him in a convincing way. Here in this story, Ian does just that.
The main story is so concerned with affecting the continuity that the reader can't connect with the characters. This story only does one thing to the continuity: it restores Snively to his status-quo position as Robotnik's lackey, somehting that isn't too hard to do. Because of this, the story is allowed to focus on the relationship between Snively and Hope, somehting that seems obvious but has never even been mentioned in the book.
Ian tries to convince us that Snively and Hope have been chatting off-panel since Ian arrived in Knothole. This isn't exactly a surprise, but what surprises us is that Snively seems to actually care about his half-sister. That's tough for Ian to do, but he makes it believable by showing us that Snively is relationally awkward and doesn't know how to protect Hope.
Slightly less creidble is that Hope accepts his offer, if that's what actually happened. Perhaps she was merely telling Snively what she knew he wanted to hear, because she didn't want to disappoint him. Or perhaps she only intends to visit the Overlanders. But seeing Hope accept the idea of returning to the Overlanders so easily isn't exactly right.
The other issue is Snively's relationships with Robotnik, but that's mostly old news and Ian is merely following up on the well-established principle that Robotnik and Snively still don't trust each other but work together anyway. Now all he needs to do is explain the fact that Robotnik is able to teleport to Knothole at will, which leads us to wonder why he's never done it before. But despite all of that, the relationships with Robotnik and to a greater extent Hope allow us to connect with Snively in a way that we couldn't connect with any of the heroes in the main story.
The final issue in this story is the art. Since the shift away from the SatAM art style, the comic has always had difficulty depicting Snively in a convincing way. However, Yardley manages to give us a Snively that looks just as Snively should, and he looks great in his new Eggman-like costume. Hope is cute, Eggman is menacing, and Yardley has proven his mastery over our primary human characters. The only problem with the art is the final panel. Snively is thinking two things: "Such Weakness will not be tolerated in Dr. Eggman's empire," followed by "Run, Hope... run." These are two completely different emotions, and Yardley chooses the first one, conveyed with an evil grin. Not only is this a mismatch with the final sentence, but as Dan Drazen says in his own review, it "subverts the emotional subtext of the story." This is a serious blow on the story as a whole.
This story seems to apologize for the issue's main story, and it does this quite well despite some flaws. Yardley's art is very pretty but the final panel is a big let-down. If the final panel were fixed, this story would be a 9. I'm giving it an 8.
Overall Score: 8/10
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