in which i bore the audience to death with sonic the comic

I love comics. I always have since I was a kid, and I used to draw comics all the time filling entire scrapbooks with them. What were those comics about, one might ask? Well, they weren’t about the X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman or any of what you might think. My first comic that I collected and kept for years on end was… Sonic the Comic. Do I hear a few sniggers in the back there? I suppose it is slightly embarrassing as I’m meant to turn around and say I was into the X-Men or something like that, but at the time I was around eight and only vaguely aware of their existence through arcade games and the then-newly debuted cartoon which would actually lead me over to a decent comic universe, but in the summer of 1993 Sonic the Comic ruled my world.

This was a comic released at the height of Sonic-mania, when Fleetway Publications decided to cash in on all the kids that liked Sonic and Sega games and released Sonic the Comic, a fortnightly publication that had a comic strip starring the eponymous hedgehog, and also strips based on other games such as Kid Chameleon, The Revenge of Shinobi and most notably Streets of Rage, which we’ll come to in a bit as it’s actually a footnote in the career of someone who’s gone on to become massive within the comics industry. Back to my boring personal, story, anyway. When I saw this in the newsagent on holiday:

I couldn’t resist it. A comic book that contained “All-new, all-action” stories based on the little bunches of pixels that leaped around my screen making bleeping noises? How could I refuse? Looking back on it now, I can see why my parents generally thought it sucked. The stories in STC #1 are wafer-thin and nothing more than continuous action sequences that highly resemble the games they were based on, but with dialogue. The lead story “Enter Sonic” features Sonic running around, hitting Dr Robotnik’s robots with the then-famous “Sonic Spin Attack” and then going on to do battle with Robotnik’s secret weapon, a “neutrino accelerator” (as someone with two physics degrees, this makes me wince) which explodes a la Robotnik’s contraptions in the games, before he realizes that his sidekick Tails has been kidnapped and shoots off to save him, leaving the reader with a “to be continued”. STC #2 was similarly unsophisticated containing a mind-numbingly dull story about Sonic doing battle with a roboticized version of Tails.

If you think this sounds dull, it was. Of course, being eight at the time I thought it was awesome but given that I was growing in sophistication I began to want a little more out of my stories. It took a while to get started, but in issue eight they tackled the origin story of Sonic and that pretty much sealed the deal for my love of this comic and why I still look back on it fondly (even if now the dialogue makes me want to throw up). Sonic went back in time through the Omni-viewer, an original Fleetway creation, to show his friends how he’d gotten his abilities. After following through a standard origin story (accident gives hero special powers, creates villain as well), the Omni-viewer spits Sonic out in a world changed beyond all recognition as the comic chose to do something the games never did: show a world where Dr Robotnik managed to conquer the world…

And suddenly, they’d manage to find a much greater level of sophistication than simply “small hedgehog pops robots”. Sonic the Hedgehog was now leading a rebellion against the ruthless and brutal dictator Robotnik, and became a much deeper and more interesting character. This plotline would form the central backdrop of STC from now on, and it had me hooked. This was mainly due to the fact that it became a hell of a lot more interesting as the Fleetway Sonic universe became a hell of a lot more sophisticated and began to develop a complicated mythology, filled with original characters such as Captain Plunder:

and “Shortfuse the Cybernik” (basically, an STC version of Iron Man)

who had interesting backstories and actually made the previously dry Sonic stories interesting to read. The comic didn’t ignore developments in the Sonic game series either, and adapted the games into arcs that spanned multiple issues and at least for a kid my age seemed epic in scope and always left me wanting more when I got to the cliff-hanger. One of the best was an adaption of Sonic CD, turning it into The Sonic Terminator, an epic five part arc where Doctor Robotnik, desperate to stave off defeat by Sonic, creates a metallic rival to him that would come to be one of the other great villains of the Fleetway Sonic universe, Metallix. At the time the storyline blew my mind as it contained time travel paradoxes (which apparently confused the artist drawing it, Richard Elson) and epic fights between Sonic and his metallic rival that at least for me, were the equivalent of a blockbuster movie.

Some of the other original characters such as Shortfuse, as well as Sega-created characters such as Knuckles the Echidna and Chaotix  ended up having their own spinoff strips within the comic that had their own plotlines. These also existed in the same universe and continuity as Sonic and would cross-over from time to time, often in big events that would involve threats that none of the heroes could face alone (Avengers Assemble!) such as when the time-travelling Brotherhood of Metallix (there are many Wikilinks, dear reader, in case all this talk has piqued your interest) went back in time and erased Robotnik from history, creating a dark alternate timeline even worse than the Robotnik-ruled one resulting in a surprising retcon where Sonic has to actually be the one who was responsible for the incident that created him and his arch-nemesis.

Admittedly I am blathering, but I’m blathering because there’s still part of me which remembers how awesome I felt it was at the time. This is pretty much the comic that shaped my enthusiasm for comics today, and lead to me discovering the likes of WatchmenPreacher and The Boys, all of which are very fine comics but yet use many of the tropes that I first found out about in this: my first comic. I followed STC until around issue 100, where the Dictator Robotnik arc was bought to a conclusion in a story called “The Final Victory”, an epic story which pretty much drew together all of the threads of a mythology laid down over five years and brought it all to a stunning conclusion. Not bad for a kids’ comic, really. After that, though, my interest kind of petered off as I was seduced by the  Sony PlayStation and the Mega Drive game series kind of jumped the shark with the shitty Sonic 3D. I turned to the PlayStation, and that was the end of that.

Sadly, my Sonic the Comic collection is no more either. Household space was needed and so my mother persuaded me to throw a great deal of them out, and several years before that our cat, urgently in need of something to piss on when the litter tray was unfortunately absent happened to find a few STC issues left lying behind the sofa and let rip. Cat piss-sodden comics are not fun to read for many reasons, primarily due to the smell and the fact that they’re a health hazard, and they were quickly disposed of…

Or it would appear to be, but there’s a few interesting things in STC history which are worth elaborating on. The first is something that writes STC into the larger world of comics: several early Sonic strips were written by Mark Millar who later went on to write Kick-Ass and create much of the Ultimate Marvel universe, including the excellent The Ultimates 1 and 2 (if you haven’t checked them out yet, do so: they’re basically a take on The Avengers but with a more cynical and thought-provoking political undertone). It could be hard to believe that Millar could have gone from writing something like this (taken from Issue 12’s story Hidden Danger):

to this:

but there was another strip in STC based on Streets of Rage, the excellent side-scrolling beat em’ up. This was entirely different in tone to the Sonic strips, set against a backdrop of a city torn apart by gang warfare, political corruption and drug dealing. It was gritty, dark and surprisingly violent for a kids comic (the first strip lead to my mum banning me from buying it for an issue until nagging caused her to relent) and if I read it today still holds up as a sophisticated story that treats the reader with respect rather than condescending to them. Also when reading it I can pretty much see the Millar of today in it too, and it amuses me no end that I was enjoying Mark Millar’s work way before I knew who he actually was. I will say, however, that the Grand Theft America arc of The Ultimates 2 beats STC’s “Hidden Danger” into a cocked hat…

Millar’s work on Sonic was rather limited though; he wrote most of his Sonic stories and went on to pay more attention to Streets of Rage, which is most definitely his best work. I have to say I kind of appreciate these stories a lot more now than back then – they were quite mature for STC and the fantasy based Sonic stories were obviously what drew my eight-year old self in. It’s safe to say that the writers who blew my mind as a child were Lew Stringer and Nigel Kitching, who were responsible for the bulk of the story arcs that captured my imagination.

Nigel Kitching also worked on 2000AD and is currently a senior lecturer at Teeside University. He summarizes his time at STC here and was also responsible for a hilarious comic strip based on the little known Mega Drive platformer Decap Attack. It’s safe to say he pretty much put his stamp on that property and while the game was complete and utter balls (indeed, one of the first games I returned to Game, then Future Zone for being shit) I have very fond memories of the antics of Chuck D. Head as wittily written and drawn by Kitching. I’m glad to see he’s teaching the next generation of writers and artists as they couldn’t learn how to write or draw a good story from anyone finer.

Lew Stringer was responsible for some of the best issues of STC as well, such as Project Brutus which lead to the creation of another Sonic nemesis – a robotic clone of Robotnik who would go on to try and stage a coup d’etat. He also wrote a lot of the issues of STC post-issue 100 (which I haven’t read and should check out) and has worked for a lot of the major publishers of the UK comic industry. He runs a blog on that topic, too, which I will have to read as admittedly, that’s an area of which my knowledge is poor…

So yeah… if you’ve got here, thanks for reading through what has been me geeking out about a twenty year old children’s comic. While it may seem silly, I think STC is actually an important comic in recent UK comics history as I could be wrong but I think it was the entry point for many people of my age into the world of comic book culture and exposed a generation of young minds to the early works of some of the finest writers and artists in British comics, and indeed many ways it’s lead me full circle – twenty years later I’m still enjoying Mark Millar’s work although now it’s reading The Ultimates rather than Sonic the Hedgehog…

This has been rather backwards looking, anyway. Rest assured that the future won’t purely involve me writing posts slavishly praising old comics from my childhood (although I reserve the right to do it again…) but I’m going to blog about a load of other stuff too – needless to say, this summer’s slate of films such as The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers and Prometheus will probably provide me with inspiration and I might try and give a blow-by-blow analysis of the upcoming Marvel Avengers vs. X-Men arc which I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Also, I know one or two things about physics so I’m sure that will come into play at some point along the line too… and hopefully, the “reboot” will ensure I find more to do with this space than just slag off politicians.

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