Sonic The Hedgehog #55 Review by Dan Drazen
"Monkey Madness"
"Rise Of The Robians"

Frank Strom And Karl Bollers(W)
Frank Strom And Andy Underwood(A)
Since I have been getting photocopies of the black-and-white pages from Archie, I got to see the Maxwell/Harvo drawing of the new primate on the block underneath the text. Just my luck -- no biggie. The text deals with a plot point but otherwise doesn't hint at what waits within.

Sonic, Sally, and Antoine are off to investigate the Eggbots. Remember the Eggbots? Don't work too hard at it; you won't need to soon enough. Sally travels first class in Sonic's ever-lovin' arms, leaving Antoine to hoof it. They come upon the Eggbots doing some serious drilling; if they're looking for Naugus maybe they should think of looking ABOVE ground first. While Sonic and Antoine watch the digging, Frank Strom demonstrates his knowledge of Star Trek gadgetry by having Sally use Nicole like a tricorder. She doesn't even CALL her hand held (pawheld?) computer "Nicole" and Nicole doesn't have any lines. Frank may know Trek, but this is a serious sign of Sonic ignorance. Still, this is NOT the most serious breach of Sonic continuity; there's worse to come.

While scanning the area for energy signatures and any sign of approaching Cardassians, Sally homes in on another energy signature coming from a hidden structure. "If I didn't know any better," Sally observes, "I'd say it was some sort of crypt." And seeing as how Sally was supposed to have died about 8 issues ago, I'd say she's the expert! She opens the door and...hello, someone's inside (another situation to which Sally can relate). At least he doesn't say something along the lines of "Greetings, boys and ghouls!" so we know it isn't the Cryptkeeper. The occupant has been sealed inside for "over ten years" but credits Robotnik's craftsmanship for the great shape he's in. Either that or he's been in one of Quack's stasis units all this time. Ladies and gentlemen, heeeeeeeeere's Monkey! Or, to be more formal, "Khan. MonkeyKhan".

Meanwhile, the Eggbots have gotten their instructions scrambled: they weren't homed in on Naugus, but on a subterranean power ring "of immense proportions" though it looks to be the same size as any other power ring. Snively's been monitoring the dig on his bionic thumbnail and he doesn't care for this development, but before he can get his troops back in line the power ring flies up and lands on Khan's cranium. So now he's got a power ring that he wears like a crown, a long spear, a nifty vest with little yin- yangs on the front, and now that he's supercharged he rides through the sky on a cloud. People, we are in the presence of royalty.

One of the most endearing figures of Asian mythology is the Monkey King. Known as Hanuman in India, he is the hero of numerous legends. In one epic poem, the Ramayana, he is a sun hero who is granted eternal life. According to one encyclopedia on mythology, "The solar nature of the mythical monkey is repeatedly manifested in the poem, as he travels through the air, enters into darkness and emerges from it." "Emerging from darkness" -- well, I'd say that Sally letting him out of the box certainly qualifies. Another well-known story (in Asia, at any rate) is the Chinese-taoist epic "Pilgrimage to India", also known as "The Monkey Who Went To The West." It concerns the Monkey King being sent by the Buddha to guide the monk Sanzang to India. An e-mail correspondent from Singapore, Hee En Meng (aka "Fred"), who also helped me by supplying some of the background information on the Monkey King, informs me that the story was recently made into a spectacular Chinese animated feature, "The King of the Monkeys Wreaks Havoc in the Heavenly Palace." I'm sure the title is snappier in the original Chinese. Even if you haven't seen this film (and given relations between Beijing and Hollywood lately it's likely it'll never be seen in the West), or even the 1961 turkey "Alakazam The Great" which was a badly edited dub of an animated Monkey King movie produced by Toei Films based on Osamu Tezuka's retelling of the myth, you've probably been exposed to some influences of the legend in..."Dragonball Z". Yes, the violence may be serious and the pace may be unbearably slow, but why do you think Goku's son has a monkey tail? Where do you think that the pig in the Mao jacket comes from? These are both homages to elements of "Pilgrimage to India." So we're up against a heavy-duty guest starhere.

And he proves it by trashing both the Eggbots and their drilling rig. While Snively monitors all this, Sally fills in Sonic and Antoine. Sonic automatically assumes that anything that rolls off Robotnik's assembly line is guilty until proven harmless, and he and Khan start to mix it up. Sally tries to tell Sonic that Khan is on their side (which was news to me because the blathering baboon has been talking about himself mostly). But Sally's got bigger problems because at that moment Khan's monkey glands kick in. Khan grabs Sally and flies away with her while saying: "Such radiant beauty....I shall now devote my every waking hour to basking in the heavenly glow of your loveliness." All together now: "FANBOY!!" Didn't Sally have to put up with this kind of treatment from another anthropoid android, King Gong, back in Sonic #17? Sal, you gotta stop using that Eau de Chiquita cologne.

While Khan flies off with Sally and while Sonic and Antoine banter, the cavalry shows up. Unfortunately for Sonic and Ant it's Snively's cavalry: another carton of Eggbots. Sonic and Antoine take them on while we take time to read the "Find Your Name...." page. Guess who's name is in there about 3/4 of the way down the first column? "Green Gibbon." I couldn't have planned it any better myself! And Fan Art returns: including two anime-style drawings of Sonic and Amy Rose, and two drawings of Sally -- too bad the whole Acorn Crown angle collapsed on itself, because Branci Epps has done a dynamite drawing inspired by the angle (though he makes Sally look WAY too sexy--and yes, I DO believe such a thingis possible).

Enough about sex, let's get back to the violence. Sonic and Antoine continue in fight-and-banter mode while we find out that Sally's playing hard to get with Khan. Sonic and Ant are trapped's Khan to the rescue! He zaps most of the EggBots, and Sonic gets to push a few off the cliff as a consolation prize. Snively observes: "My EggBots have been eliminated. Those freedom fighting weenies have destroyed my last cadre of EggBots!" Well, THAT angle sure evaporated in a hurry -- it only got introduced last month! And the story ends with good will all around and Khan taking some R-and-R.

Rating: 1/2 Rings

It's something of an impressive debut for Frank Strom. It struck me that his art strongly resembled that of Ken Penders' work in "Brave New World"...until I remembered who inked this one. As for the story, it's perversely gratifying to someone like myself (and NOT in the way you're thinking!). There are a lot of us who engage in writing fanfic (and our name is Legion) who can't help but derive a measure of satisfaction from the knowledge that our stuff may be just as good as what Archie pays to publish. For Frank Strom has committed THE UNPARDONABLE SIN OF FANFIC, that which has given the genre a bad name.

When I began writing, I noticed that a lot of Sonic fanfic stories featured characters who were faster or smarter or stronger (or all of the above) than Sonic. These characters (who were PROTAGONISTS, mind you) usually sprang from role playing or from crossover stories based on films or TV shows or other video games. But whatever their source these stories all had one thing in common with each other and now with "Monkey Madness": THEY INTRODUCED CHARACTERS WHO UPSTAGED SONIC THE HEDGEHOG!

Look at this story: Who trashes the EggBots and the drilling rig? Khan. Who takes possession of the only power ring on display? Khan. Who runs off with Princess Sally without facing any challenge? Khan. Who trashes the second wave of EggBots? Khan. "'SONIC THE HEDGEHOG': I think that's still the name of this comic book!", as Sonic put it in the recently-reprinted "Lizard of Odd". You wouldn't know it from THIS story. It should have featured Sonic pulling Khan's prehensile tail out of the fire, not the other way round! You expect the villains such as Mammoth Mogul or Enerjak to put on a good show, but no other subsidiary good guy or guest character has ever been so powerful -- not the Forty Fathom or Downunda Freedom Fighters, not Geoffrey St. John, not even *gag* Mobie! Maybe Knuckles counts, but now he's got his OWN book to run around in. But for Khan this was a free ride!

I'm sure that few of Sonic's readers in this hemisphere know very much about the Monkey King, which makes me feel like this story was primarily put together to introduce Sonic comics to the Asian market. If Archie wants to sell to the Pacific Rim that's their business ("business" being the operative word if that is indeed the case, because there was really no aesthetic reason for this story), but here's a tip for Archie: tell Frank to keep the Monkey King on a shorter leash from now on. Otherwise Archie's got no right to diss us fanfic writers.

Backup Story: Remember the last issue, the part where Geoffrey talks about not having the manpower to stop "mobs of crazed Mobians" from going after their roboticized brethren? Ever wonder what happened to the mobs? Well, here's one now, complete with torches; throw in some pitchforks and you've got a group that could have come from "Beauty and the Beast" or "Young Frankenstein": "A riot is a terrible zing...und I zink it's about time ve HAD von!"

As the mob approaches the...well, here on earth it's the MALE peafowl that has the impressive plumage, but the robot is too bosomy to be anything but a female...victim, they suddenly see the light. Several of them, in fact, courtesy of Uncle Chuck detonating some "photon flash-pellets." The mob, however, isn't surprised that Uncle Chuck is sticking up for "Fanny Dupin" [why do I feel that there's a pun hidden in there somewhere?], and their concern is voiced by the rabble-rousing "Tusk Luza" [a pun which isn't hidden but which really wasn't worth finding]. The pugnacious porker actually comes up with what seems like a reasonable solution: let Princess Sally decide.

"I'm sorry, Princess Sally is unavailable at this time; please wait, and the next available lead character will assist you." Uncle Chuck lays out the situation for Geoffrey's benefit, who explains that Princess Sally is away at the moment resisting the advances of Monkey Khan. But just as Geoff is about to put the case on indefinite hold, who should walk in but...King Acorn. He's left his sickbed and has decided to judge the case himself, having overheard the particulars. His less-than-Solomonic decision: to dismantle all roboticized Mobians. Uncle Chuck's opposition and Geoffrey's mild remonstrance only serve to get the king so worked up that he collapses but not before Sonic, Sally and Antoine walk in. They barely get to utter five lines total when Knuckles calls them: "Excuse me, but you're needed for your cameo in Knuckles #9."

Rating: Rings

The artwork-by-committee looks basically good, though Geoffrey is a little cartooney in his proportions. But the big draw here is the story, which won't be culminated until the "Return of the King" special. This HAS to be the most compelling premise to come down the pike in quite some time. Both Sonic and Sally each have an emotional stake in what happens: Sonic won't want to lose his Uncle Chuck, and Sally is faced with either obeying her father or saving "our family and friends" as she called them in "Brave New World."

So place your bets, folks: how will this story resolve itself? One of the possible solutions, which is also rather cliched, would be to have someone like Bunnie interpose herself between the two constituencies. Another possibility would be to have Princess Sally state her intention to step into the Roboticizer herself, giving her father second thoughts about his dismantling order. This is heavy stuff and an extremely dramatic premise, and my deepest fear is not that Archie has hopelessly darkened the Sonic continuum with talk of a Mobian civil war, but that Archie will discover a way to trivialize a great premise. Hey, after what happened to "Growing Pains" (Sonic #28 and #29), I can't take it for granted that the Archie crew would know a great premise if it jumped up off the drawing board and started gnawing at theirankles.

Overall Rating: Rings