Sonic Super Special #5 Review by Dan Drazen
|"When You And I Were Young, Sally"|
Mike Gallagher, Karl Bollers, And Tom Rolston(W)
Manny Galán, Art Mawhinney, Nelson Ribeiro, John Hebert, And Sam Maxwell(A)
Spaz/Harvo cover: Sonic standing like Luke Skywalker in the old "Star Wars" posters, holding aloft the Sword of Acorns. In the background are Uncle Chuck and King Acorn.
I've been waiting for this one to come out. This issue will be a true test of my abilities to evaluate the comic because I'm going to try like crazy NOT to judge this issue by the standards I have set for myself when writing fanfic about the Freedom Fighters in their younger days. I gave a lot of thought as to where everyone fits into the continuity, how old they were, etc. Let's see how the boys from Mamaroneck did:
Spaz/Ario/Ray/Heroic Age cover: The two words guaranteed to start a stampede anywhere in the world: "Class dismissed." I'll bet the eyes of that character on the clock on the wall move back and forth like those weird cat clocks. From left to right: Sally with a gigapet, Antoine on a big wheel, Sonic with a yo-yo, Rotor on in-line skates, Tails with a doll (which is probably a character from some other video game, if I know Spaziante). Above are transparent images of Sally and Tails, and also Sonic doing that eye thing that creeps me out.
Contents page: Show of hands: who else thinks Spaz's drawing of the young Tails exceeds the minimum daily requirement of cute? The coloring book format was also a nice touch. That title reference is a REALLY obscure one! Like the title of the second story it's an allusion to a song, but we're talking an old song. A VERY old song! How old? Try 1866. That's not a typo: 1866 was the year "When You And I Were Young, Maggie" was written by George Johnson and James Butterfield. About the only people who are familiar with it nowadays are devotees of barbershop-style singing (for the record, I sing tenor at the Benton Harbor chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America...but I digress). "Let us dream of the days that are gone, Maggie/When you and I were young...."
Rosie returns from the hairdresser with...green hair? She must have tried one of those blue tints to cover her gray and gotten it mixed up with some blond dye. Mixing yellow and blue will do that. Anyway, she arrives to find that, like most kids, Sonic and the gang have managed to forget the "No ball playing indoors" rule. The kids must only have one ball to play with, and it's apparently doing double-duty as a combination volleyball and soccer ball. Trouble is, it's a basketball, so Antoine's headerhad to hurt.
As the kids move outside, Sally stops short as...
When I last heard from Frank ("Monkey Madness") Strom, he informed me that Archie's method of bringing him up to speed was to supply him with five issues of the comic and the "character bible." Presumably he was then directed to the deep end of the pool. IMHO this is NOT the best way for a newbie to get the flavor of the Sonic characters and situations: I myself would also supply the newcomer with a videocassette containing about a half-dozen eps of the old SatAM series to get a TRUE feel for the characters and how they interact. Sure, the show may no longer be on the air, but no matter how good a writer is, nothing can adequately take the place of hearing the voice work from the series by Jaleel White, Kath Soucie, Christine Cavanaugh, Charlie Adler, et al. Besides, the issues with which one is supplied may themselves be flawed; I pity the newbie who's handed five issues of the Sonic comic and four of them are the "Endgame" arc! That is the ONLY charitable explanation for the fact that Manny Galan punted the drawing of Julayla on page 2! He went with the drawing of Julayla that appeared in "The Dream Zone" (#43), which I have always suspected was supposed to have been a depiction of Sally's mother rather than Julayla and which was altered at the last minute by Sega for some reason. But, c'mon! It was right there in the freakin' editorial box! Sonic #18, the story with the most extended appearance of Julayla. She was a TABBY!! A CAT! A ginger....
Forget it. Archie is obviously going to play this however they want. And that means breaking with their OWN continuity instead of merely breaking with the SatAM continuity. Fine, have it your way: Julayla's a shapeshifter, for crying out loud! Draw her however you want! But I'm willing to bet money that Archie's Sonic character bible is BADLY in need of revision. And I would LOVE the chance to be the one to attack that document with a redpencil!
Man, I'm on page 2 of the first story and already I'm making myself crazy! OK: relax, collect, move on.
After a pause for some exposition, Sally joins the others. As Sonic gives new meaning to the term "one-on-one," and Gallagher gives Rotor and Antoine some genuinely funny dialogue, Sally finds herself consoling Miles: "I'm just sad because I'll never be as fast or as cool as Sonic is." That's a pretty complex sentence for someone who, judging from the illustrations so far, I'd have thought to be a mere toddler. Sonic, however, takes it upon himself to get Miles off the ground. Having started, though, he doesn't know how to stop and Miles flies off into the forest.
Rotor (who, in a bow to the old continuity, is called "Boomer") then demonstrates his "remarkable ability with machinery" by slapping together a sextant out of twigs and vines. How that's supposed to help them locate Tails isn't spelled out, nor was it really necessary as Sally's ears worked a lot better at finding the lad. In a nice 3-panel gag, the rest of the kids soon discover that Miles has joined the underground, and so have they.
The lot of them have fallen through the surface to an "underground limestone cavern" complete with aquifer. It must be a reference to the early days of the comic when Knothole was an underground location rather than being located in the Great Forest. Check the last panel on page 5 of "Back To Basics" (Sonic #57) to get an idea of what they were trying for. Sally then launches into take-charge mode, pretty much organizing her friends into the Freedom Fighters and saving herself a lot of exposition by saying she's "not at liberty to discuss everything I've learned from Julayla." Sounds like something from a Ken Penders story. Job one: get the heck out of that hole. Guess who comes up with the following plan: "I'm pretty sure I can control my flying ability...I'll go up and out through that tree trunk and drop down a strong vine so you can all climb out." Like I said, Tails may still be working on his motor skills but his language skills are right up there. And so "Miles" becomes "Tails" and Rotor will be stuck with being called "Boomer" until issue #6.
Despite several unconscionable lapses (the depiction of Julayla being especially galling), this wasn't a bad story. In fact, this is one of Gallagher's strongest pieces to date, lacking a dependence on mere joking and relying more on character. Miles/Tails and Sally get to take the spotlight, which is as it should be: I think most fans are at least as interested in these two as they are in Sonic. It's too bad we weren't let in on the relationship between Sally and Julayla to a greater extent: exactly what she's been learning about her family, her history, and her responsibilities would have made a great story, but Mike Gallagher only had 8 pages. I also wish they had clarified how old the characters were supposed to be. If most of the kids were (let's say for the sake of argument) 10 years old, which is close to the age of core audience readers, Miles/Tails should have been more like a preschooler: think Jeffy from "Family Circus." And one of these days the story of how Tails got to Knothole (he wasn't part of King Max's flashback in "The Living Crown" in Sonic #58) should be told as well. And despite Galan's gaffe, he succeeded in making the characters look younger and more appealing, Tails especially. It needed some work, but it was a good first attempt at depicting the characters outside of their usual milieu. So let's see what the next attempt is like:
Story #2 - Stop!...Sonic Time:
Another song title reference! This song was NOT written in the 19th Century, though for all the core readers may know it might as well have been.
We're almost back in the present, apparently somewhere between the defeat of Robotnik in "The Big Goodbye" (#50) and Sonic's bugging out of Knothole in "Back To Basics." Sonic is burdened with a bunch of Mobian younguns who are all hero worshippers, and of course he's the hero. One tyke comes up with what must qualify as a Frequently Asked Question on the Sonic-Grams page: "Where can I get shoes like yours?" With that, we get two REALLY wordy balloons where Sonic gives the explanation usually found in the Sonic-Grams whenever the subject comes up. Then, to general acclaim, he launches into the story of how Tails supposedly got HISsneaks:
We flash back to "a few years ago." Tails has outgrown the cute and cuddly phase and is starting to look positively gangly, so I'd say that he's about 6 or 7 years old in this story (which, if you take the six year age gap between Tails and Sonic into account from the SatAM series, means that Sonic, Sally and the other kids have just about hit puberty). Another clue to his age is that he's begun what passed in Knothole for "formal education" and everyone is fussing over him because "he had gotten straight A's on his report card." Somehow, I have a hard time picturing the grown-ups being concerned enough about grades while practically in exile to issue report cards, but that's just me. And Art Mawhinney, oddly enough, seems to have had a hard time picturing Rosie in this story. She looks...off...somehow, and her buck teeth are conspicuous by their absence. Anyway, while everyone is pouring on the positive reinforcement and generally building up the big guy's self-esteem, Tails is wondering where Sonic is.
Turns out he's somewhere in Robotropolis, rendezvousing with a mysterious cloaked figure. In what's supposed to be a transaction on the Mobian black market, he turns over a bag of rocks in exchange for Tails's trademark sneaks and heads back to Knothole. Only then do we learn that the figure making the one- page cameo is...Merlin Prower, uncle of Miles/Tails and last seen as the Charlatan in "Knuckles' Quest #2" (Sonic Live special).
Sliding past a two-page attempt to get kids to eat more junk food by bribing them with merchandise, we zoom in on something tall, round and sinister. And I don't mean the building. Yes, for all you Robotnik junkies who've been missing the fat boy since his departure in "The Big Goodbye," here's your chance to get a fix. He orders Cluck (in a rare allusion to the SatAM show's first season) to fire the "time immobilizing ray," a narrow-focus beam that is supposed to cover "as much of the forest as possible" but still manages to just miss Sonic on his way back from shopping. By the time he arrives at Knothole he realized that the ray that (conveniently) missed him has hit Knothole and everyone there has been "frozen." Back in the early '60s when I was growing up, the technical term for this condition was "scrooched." Just as Sonic realizes this, a transport arrives and SWATbots begin loading up the frozen furries in a nearby meadow. Sonic then hides Tails's sneaks and (reasoning that he himself was the intended target) plays a very serious round of "Statues" so that he gets loaded onto the transport.
Back in Robotropolis, Robotnik displays Sonic like a piece of statuary, and then we get three panels of The Villain Blabbing His Head Off Concerning His Plans, in this case for roboticization and intergalactic conquest. Taking that as his cue, Sonic un-freezes and begins messing with Robotnik's control panel. We haven't seen this kind of random button-mashing since "The Last Game Cartridge Hero" (Sonic Live special) but once again it's sheer dumb idiot luck to the rescue as the scrooched Mobians get mobile and Snively (who is with the transport in the forest) gets scrooched. Sonic escapes Robotnik's fortress, barrels past Snively (whose condition seems to have been only momentary) and returns to Knothole where Princess Sally is suffering from an after-effect of being frozen: her normally auburn hair has temporarily turned candy apple red. When I think of redheads I usually picture something along the lines of Rita Hayworth; this reminds me more of Cyndi Lauper. Unlike the infamous Death Egg #2 where several pages ended up with color oversaturation, Sally's hair is the only color anomaly on display. Anyway, Sonic shows up and bestows the sneaks upon Tails as Sally's hair goes back to normal and Sonic winds up his narrative to discover that his fan club has fallen asleep on him. Tough room.
This was a good basic Sonic story, but more important it is also the first Sonic story I have come across where there are separate credits for story and for script, and I think I can guess why (and keep in mind that this IS only a guess). In the promotional copy for the special, Tom Rolston had been given the story credit. Here in its final form, Karl Bollers had a credit as well, possibly as the comic book equivalent of a "script doctor." And it appears that his idea of doctoring the original story was to add one-page bumpers front and back so that what could have stood on its own as a simple 14-page Sonic Kids story ended up as a 16- page story being told BY Sonic.
Unfortunately, like the Ultimate Annihilator, this device failed. Things happen in the story that Sonic should never have known about if he were simply relating what had happened to himself. He wouldn't have known about what was happening in Knothole while he was shoe-shopping, he wouldn't have known about Merlin Prower (who never even MET any of the Knothole crew to date, only Knuckles!), and he wouldn't have known what went on between Robotnik and Snively. Nor is there any sign of the narrative form throughout the story, no caption boxes with phrases like "Meanwhile, ol' Buttnik was cooking up a surprise of his own, and it was NASTY!" or "While I was juicin' back to Knothole I noticed something mondo WEIRD!". And finally there's the business with Sally's fire engine red hair on page 14, which suggests to me that the color separation for that page took place apart from much of the rest of the story.
If the Tom Rolston original had fallen a couple pages short of the 16-page quota, it strikes me that it might have been easier to simply pad out the story: stretch the "shopping" interlude by one page to show Sonic collecting the rocks he ended up giving to Merlin (which would have meant losing Sonic's thought balloon on page 4 panel 2 but that shouldn't have been that big a problem-- it's not like Spaziante has never stepped in and re-inked a panel or two), and lengthening the opening sequence by another page to show what gifts Tails got from Sally and Rotor. I don't think this would have been as noticable as sandwiching the story between a prologue and epilogue that basically messed up the story structure. I don't know the history of "Stop...Sonic Time!" but I have to wonder if THIS wasn't supposed to be the main story (it goes for the full 16-page maximum and follows the "Sonic Kids" theme, and the promotional copy certainly leaves that impression) but my spider sense tells me that it ran into trouble somewhere along the way. If anyone from Archie Comics wishes to enlighten me on the subject, I'd appreciate it.
Story #3 - Total Re-Genesis:
We open on Sonic, Sally and Antoine standing near some flaming wreckage; they've looked better. Sonic gets on a wrist communicator to his Uncle Chuck, as Sally informs him that the three of them had a run-in with a leftover Combot from "The Rise of Robotropolis, The Fall of Sonic" (#38). The three page set-up is, as it turns out, a prelude to a "Rashomon" plot.
"Rashomon" (pronounced RAH-SHOW-MON, no accent) is Akira Kurosawa's famous 1951 film set in medieval Japan. A bandit attacks a nobleman in a forest, and of the four persons involved each tells their own version of what happened, including the ghost of the person who was killed. It's a meditation on self-interest, on the slippery nature of Truth and Reality, and it fits in with the Oriental notion that life is something of an illusion. It's an extremely servicable plot device, and I've seen versions of it in (among other places) episodes of "All In The Family" and "Rocko's Modern Life." So it's time to recap:
Premier Sally artist Art Mawhinney, appropriately enough, illustrates Sally's version of events: the three Freedom Fighters come upon the reactivated Combot, the lower half of which had been blown away [insert Lorena Bobbitt joke here]. It fires a couple of missiles that knock out Sonic and Antoine, whom Sally drags to safety. Acting as a diversion, she lures the Combot away from her fallen comrades and under a nearby cliff where she blasts off a chunk of rock which falls and crushes the Combot.
Quick switch to Sam Maxwell illustrating Antoine's take on what happened: according to him, it looked more like a fight scene from a samurai _manga_ complete with sunbursts and sound effects. In this version, Sonic and Sally are out cold and Antoine had to fight against the Combot (which still had its legs) even after the bot had cloaked itself.
John Hebert then steps in to show Sonic's side of the story: while Antoine ducks and covers and Sally implores him to save their hides, Sonic goes one-on-one with the bot, easily getting the upper hand while setting a new record for the number of times he uses the word "cool" in a story.
In the end, thanks to an uplink from Nicole to Uncle Chuck's "prototype spy satellite," lead-off artist Nelson Rebeiro (using nice neon-style graphics) illustrates the REAL account of what happened: Sonic buzzed the Combot's legs off as Antoine tried to slice at the Combot's exposed wiring and Sally ended up rocking the Combot to sleep with a real rock. Uncle Chuck credits the trio with "grasping the concept of teamwork" before the humbled Freedom Fighters can apologize.
As much as I've bemoaned the changing of artists in midstream in "The Big Goodbye," the gimmick actually WORKS in the context of this story. Each of the different styles conveys the action well, though I thought Nelson Rebeiro's depiction of Uncle Chuck was a little weird, especially that Pez dispenser of a mouth. And Karl Bollers came through where it counted in that he displayed a firm grasp of the characters involved in their narratives: Sally was cool and efficient, Antoine was grandiose and self-important, Sonic was all speed and ego. In a special issue titled "Sonic Kids," it's ironic that this was the most successful story of the bunch.
Overall, this issue worked pretty well. "When You and I Were Young, Sally" could have used a little tweaking, though the tweaking bestowed upon "Stop...Sonic Time!" hurt rather than helped the narrative. The main thing is that the theme of the Freedom Fighters as children (however ill-defined their ages) managed to survive relatively intact. I can see maybe one Sonic special per year or two given over to Sonic Kids stories. And I'd STILL like to get a crack at proofreading the Sonic character bible. Classdismissed.
Overall Rating: Rings
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