Review: The Great Chaos Caper

Review: The Great Chaos Caper

Insert some lyrics to one of Knuckles’ numerous rap themes here.

chaosleaves

He must go, his planet needs him. Literally.

It’s rather apt that the second comic arc review I’ve done after Countdown to Chaos is another arc with Chaos in the name, even if not technically in the same comic series (Sonic Universe this time, instead of Sonic the Hedgehog). Believe me; I think the appropriate name linking goes beyond just a word in the title. The Great Chaos Caper, I’d say, is a thematic opposite to Countdown to Chaos at its fundamental core. But I’ll get more into that way later on.

What we have here is the first foray of Knuckles and the Chaotix in the new universe. Knuckles is still as much of a stubborn island loner as ever, but he needs a bit more help if he’s going to try and fix his currently battered island. And it’s not just a gang of petty thieves he needs to face off against, with aliens and monsters also getting mixed into the fray, even if Knuckles himself isn’t the one who encounters them all. So, armed with his wits and a detective trio who want something different but happen to be going the same, how does he fare in this tale of mystery? And how does the story hold up in general? Read on to find out. Spoilers for Great Chaos Caper obviously, and some minor details about Total Eclipse and Champions, nothing very plot specific though.

Comedy and action is a pretty good summary of it.

Comedy and action is a pretty good summary of it.

When Two Tribes Go To War

While Countdown to Chaos showed us the beginning of the shattered world crisis, Great Chaos Caper follows on by showing us the first major character to be affected by it that isn’t a freedom fighter. Knuckles, physically alone while guarding the Master Emerald, is horrified at what’s happening; Angel Island has fallen apart quite literally. Chaos springs to the planet surface for his appearance in Waves of Change and Tikal (the comic wants it to be a mystery but it really isn’t) tells him to the surface for a mission he’ll find out when he discovers it. He gets help in to look after the M.E, the reader is introduced to the new cast of Knuckles comprised of Relic the Pika with Fixit, and he sets off. While a pretty short introductory sequence, it’s an effective one for quickly placing the reader into an entirely new scenario, bringing old game elements and new comic additions together for an intriguing start.

Knuckles’ mission brings him to Pumpkin Hill, and in the path of emerging Dark Gaia monsters. After the Chaotix show out of nowhere and help, the vast majority of the rest of the arc’s narrative can simply be described as “shenanigans”.  The crew navigate Pumpkin Hill while putting up with magic rubber bands and Charmy flying scared. Not long after he’s found again, they run into the Hooligans and begin fighting. When it becomes apparent that neither party has the Chaos Emerald, the Hooligans retreat to Aquatic Mine with the heroes in pursuit. They struggle to work their way around the mine, with Knuckles almost forcibly separating from the Chaotix out of frustration until a few seconds later they run into Chip, who has the Chaos Emerald everyone wants. Knuckles and Charmy bond with Chip for a bit while everyone is walking around, but then the Hooligans show up again to cause trouble, this time managing to take Chip as a by-product of stealing the Emerald. Knuckles and the Chaotix are left to fight a Dark Gaia Titan, which they manage to elude through some quick-thinking from Vector. They catch up to the Hooligans again, take back Chip and the Emerald, fight off the Titan and escape. After a return to Pumpkin Hill where the Chaotix give Knuckles the Emerald for safekeeping during the crisis, Knuckles returns to the Island only to be told by that she suspects an alien invasion, tying up Shadow Fall to this and the upcoming Total Eclipse.

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The sub-plot does have some wonderfully eerie shots. Fitting for its purpose.

In terms of total plot, there isn’t that much. The main focus is more on the interaction and character banter. From Bean breaking the fourth wall in a rather obvious manner to Fang being his usual temperamental little self to half-issues dedicated to simply Knuckles going around with the Chaotix and reacting to their eccentric personalities, it seems a comic form of a road trip film for a good chunk of the story.  There is one strong thread of a plot though, and that would be through new girl Relic; disobeying Knuckles’ orders to watch the Master Emerald, she spies on some strange plants on the island, and goes through various zones trying to figure out where they might have come from. It’s this plot, which results in the earlier mentioned alien invasion revelation, that really acts as a bridge between the events of Shadow Fall and Total Eclipse and justifies it as a trilogy of arcs. Otherwise, there is no connection is just standalone fun. One thing I will say is that there’s a single page in between the Chaotix’s escapades where we get to see team Hooligan fall under tensions themselves regarding moral boundaries. There’s no fruit seen in this arc for it, but with the ending page teasing a new story for them to be in (which takes the form of the upcoming Champions arc), it will probably be revisited again in the future.

The big controversy I’ve noticed crop up from this arc is the arrival of Chip, or more specifically how it’s done. In Unleashed, Sonic crashed into him, felt bad because he thought he’d caused the amnesia, named him and then hung around with him not knowing about his Light Gaia status. Here, he’s found in a mine by Knuckles and the Chaotix, named by Charmy after Chip mentioned various dairy products, likes hanging around Knuckles (and Charmy, before he departed) and already knows he’s called Light Gaia thanks to Tikal telling him. Me, I’m on a fence about these changes. While they don’t personally drag the arc down for me, I do have to wonder if the Chip and Sonic stuff will seem as good as Unleashed when (or if) it happens because of all this occurring before, it certainly won’t seem as strong to start with. And I have to raise my eyebrows at how Chip already had enough knowledge of sweet things like chocolate chips and custard to be able to give Charmy the cue to name him, that just felt forced and could have been handled a bit better.

Theatre Role Call

Great Chaos Caper has a pretty big cast lined up for some hi-jinks. Some work well with this ensemble, others seems to lag behind a bit from all the madcap antics going on. I’ve done an individual breakdown to fully explain how they all work, in my view.

  • Knuckles is pretty much the main character in this arc…and the story, in my opinion, suffers for it a bit. Knuckles in the comic was always sombre and full of melodrama. This is worlds away from his game self, who has been comic relief for a long time. Going into the reboot, I was expecting a balance of the two. What I got was more of the sombre Knuckles, and aside from some moments drawn from his shyness around girls, he was a non-entity. In an arc where the character sells it, it’s weird that Knuckles is more just a board for other characters to bounce off than an entertaining character in his own right. What makes it more perplexing is that traits he has in the games that would naturally make for some nice comedy (most prominently his aversion towards ghosts) are given to characters who don’t have them in the games and quite frankly didn’t need them. Ian did great Knuckles characterisation in Worlds Collide, the only reason I can think of for not using that here is to make him fit better in the upcoming Total Eclipse arc. And that’s not really a benefit to him here, nor would I say necessary for the long run. Then again, in the first part of Total Eclipse he seems more in line with that compromise idea anyway, so perhaps he just doesn’t work as well when the rest of the cast is so zany.
  • In this particular arc, Charmy gets to be the character who bounces off Knuckles the most, making comments on him and joining in on befriending Chip by naming him. In the past, he had been brain damaged and very awkward to focus on (only starting to get focus again in Chaotix Quest). Because of this, I can understand why Ian, no longer shackled by his narrative regret, would want to really utilise Charmy for all the interaction he can get. And it’s not like it doesn’t work, so it’s nice to see Charmy flying high with the big guys. And he gets some great moments of humour to boot, especially with Bean.
  • From a story perspective, Chip is a bit confused right now. Amnesiac, but with knowledge of products like cookies and custard (the former is what inspires Charmy’s naming). Unaware of his purpose, but aware of who he is. It’s definitely a system shock for those with familiarity with Unleashed, but we likely don’t have all the pieces yet. From an interaction standpoint, he’s decent. Mostly from how he hangs with the above characters, but he gets a joke or two in with the other people he encounters.
  • Vector is on good form in this arc. There are no notable down to earth, serious moments for him, but he works well as a greedy but clever and big-hearted comic relief. Honestly, if he’d be nothing but comic relief throughout, I (and probably Jason too) would have been a bit miffed about it. Fortunately, he really gets to shine in the last issue of the arc and demonstrates why he’s the head honcho, something which I’d argue the old continuity sold him short on.
  • Espio’s good too, although arguably the member with the least to do in this arc. He spends most of the time bouncing off Vector for humour, he gets a snarky word/serious word in at Knuckles on occasion and he gets to beat up baddies in the usual ninja fashion (and do some hacking). When you have about eight leads for almost every issue, not all of them can get equal share.
  • Nack makes his first appearance since all the way back in Treasure Team Tango, and nothing has been lost in the transition. Aside from getting a very slight redesign to make him look more like his classic self (note how his nose colour changes from black in Universe 63 to blue in Universe 64!), he’s as dastardly as ever and draws out humour from his short fuse and comical reactions.
  • Hot off the heels of Pirate Plunder Panic and their small bit in Countdown to Chaos, Bark (and Bean) reunites with Nack to reform the Hooligans. Bark still is the silent type with a bit of a grumpy attitude on the side. He gets a little more depth here though as he shows that he does have some moral qualms with the work that they’re doing. Perhaps the future story will really start to push him out as an individual.
  • I’ve always been one of the minority who wasn’t so fond of Bean’s humour.
    upsidedown

    I’m not sure what’s more impressive; the fact that Bean can speak upside down, or the fact that Charmy can understand that it’s upside down.

    Despite this, I felt that Pirate Plunder Panic was genuinely one of the best shows for him in the comic and enjoyed the way he was handled there. While not quite up to the bar set by that arc, Great Chaos Caper is another pretty good showing for Bean as he gets to show off his attitude, as well as a surprisingly volatile temper. For some readers, he’ll probably be a scene stealer.

  • Relic is the new character on the block, and she’s nice for what we’ve seen of her. She’s an archaeologist who seems a bit overeager about her work, and her character contrasts with Knuckles effectively. Her subplot is set-up for Total Eclipse so we get to see her curious side as well. I fully expect her to get some great moments in throughout Total Eclipse.
  • Fixit is Relic’s Gizoid helper. He doesn’t really do much here, but his very presence sets up mystery about the exact nature of the Gizoids in the new continuity. A small but appreciated expansion on the lore.

This arc doesn’t have many characters in there that aren’t just bit parts; everyone gets at least a good portion of time at the forefront. Tikal shows up at the end after being the one to send Knuckles on the mission, and she’s shown to deeply respect Chip to the point of divulging his identity to him (although he doesn’t understand the implication of the title). Eggman just shows up for one page as the one who hired the Hooligans, and that’s set up for the aforementioned Champions arc, not really a display of character.

Sketching Out The Suspects

Sonic Universe tends to have just one set of art personnel per arc, and Great Chaos Caper is no different in terms of internal art and regular covers. Tracy Yardley helms the way on pencils, with Jim Amash on inks and Matt Herms on colours. As always, the cover is the first thing you see, so that will be covered first.

  • The regular cover for Sonic Universe #63 (which Yardley has sole credit for)is effective at showcasing just what the comic wants the readers to know about. You have Knuckles as the action guy, Espio as the cool ninja, Vector as the determined leader and Charmy as the less serious member who uses the Spongebob joke about bubbles being equivalent to smoking. Set in what looks to be Mushroom Hill Zone, the bold colours used and the poses chosen make for quite a simple but eye-catching piece of art. Ryan Jampole did the variant cover, and it’s as adorable as the chibi title would lead you to believe. It also shows that Bean isn’t that oblivious to imminent dangers.
  • For Sonic Universe #64, Yardley takes a very stylistic approach for its regular cover. Neon eyes are dotted over darkness, with very little lighting for Knuckles and Bean to boot (Bean’s face being lit by the fuse of his bomb. That’ll end quite messily). It’s a fresh approach that makes it welcome amongst the comic fold. The variant is a SEGA variant, with Knuckles standing amongst shattered Island fragments. The original artwork for the background at least adds spice to the pose
    Just look at that gorgeous sunset lighting.

    Just look at that gorgeous sunset lighting.

    chosen.

  • Sonic Universe #65 sees the whole team on the regular cover, and I have mixed feelings on this one. On its own, it’s a neat cover focusing on Knuckles, the Chaotix and the Hooligans scrapping over Chip in a fun and dynamic way. With the variant cover to Sonic Universe 63 being the way it is, it sort of feels very similar in idea and execution, and I find it easy to confuse the two. The variant is another SEGA variant, this time with Chaotix on a surreal background heavily based off the Knuckles Chaotix title screen. It feels less contextual than the last SEGA variant, although the composition and colours seem better.
  • Sonic Universe #66 goes back to action for the regular cover, with Knuckles beating on a Dark Gaia Titan in a flooding shaft. Definitely the most dynamic of all the covers, but I’d argue it’s not quite as eye catching as previous covers in the arc. I have no idea what the deal is with the variant though.  This effort from Brent McCarthy certainly looks the part, with a great use of contrast and effects to give the clash of the two heroes some punch. Trust me when I say that no such confrontation lies within the pages; Sonic doesn’t even show up in this arc.

With the entire arc being done by three people, the artistic tone throughout is very consistent from one issue to the next. In this case, that’s a very good thing. All three are very skilled in their particular areas, and the result is a vibrant looking arc that has some genuinely awesome moments throughout. From the rocky crevices of Pumpkin Hill to the caverns of the Aquatic Mines to more bit places like Launch Base Zone and Flying Battery Zone, each location is given life through its art. And every character is bursting with energy and a treat to look at (even with the occasion bout of off-model art for certain situations). Every issue certainly is a treat if you want some good artwork to look at while reading through the caper.

The Logic of Case Solving

Within the boundaries of the comic itself, there isn’t that much emotional core with this arc. And that’s not particularly a bad thing in this case; Great Chaos Caper from the start makes it very clear that this an arc that’s more focused on light-hearted fun than deep character moments and has various moments of referential humour (re-read #63 with Ghost Pumpkin’s Soup’s lyrics on hand). It’s cool to see arcs like this from time to time, especially when all the arcs in the new continuity so far have been more about the consequences of the shift and its effect on the population therein. Knuckles’ Island was affected, but that’s more a motivation for his story than the focus of the entire thing, and aside from a brief flash at the detective office the Chaotix don’t make mention of it. It’s just a normal caper for them. There was a brief moment of potential drama when Knuckles wanted to ditch the Chaotix, but that’s resolved in less than a page. And Relic’s story was emotional in that the emotion it conveyed was tense, which is pretty different. But on a more metaphorical sense, this arc is a pretty sharp counterpoint to Countdown to Chaos.

Drowning in feels? Not particularly. Drowning in water? Plenty of that.

Drowning in feels? Not particularly. Drowning in water? Plenty of that.

In Countdown to Chaos, the fact of old characters not being seen was more of a general footnote for reference. Here, it’s definitely more apparent. While the main comic has focused on Sonic and SatAM characters, and Shadow and Blaze’s history are pretty independent of comic exclusive stuff, Knuckles and the Chaotix had deep roots in comic exclusive lore. From around 1995, Knuckles had huge swathes of lore surrounding his family and society, including the Brotherhood of Guardians, Julie-Su and Finitevus. The Chaotix, meanwhile, were Knuckles’ equivalent of a freedom fighter group including Mighty (because of Knuckles Chaotix) and Julie-Su, and gained some more members through associations (Ray being Mighty’s friend, Saffron being the 16 year old Charmy’s fiancé). Even in the more modern run they stuck with the old 1995 set-up, and there were only showings of a more modern Chaotix literally the last full Universe arc before the crossover. With a combination of SEGA wanting the comic to be more in tune with the game versions of the characters and the lawsuit that went down, everything about these characters has been rearranged.

Knuckles is once again the last of his kind, but he still has much of the same attitude from before the crossover.  Relic and Fixit are support, effectively usurping Julie-Su’s role but without the romantic tension (in fact, the idea of romantic tension between them has been mocked by the comic itself multiple times now). It’s actually quite a bit of fresh air that allows Knuckles’ characters to spread his proverbial wings further. The Chaotix are now the three-man detective trio. While they still know Knuckles and the duo of Mighty and Ray from past adventures the comic has not shown us, you can tell right away that the dynamic has altered between them and that they’re not Knuckles’ groupies any more. Even when comparing the dynamic between Vector, Espio and Charmy to their older versions, there’s a marked difference from Charmy’s distant status (whether it be through princely duties or mental wiping) and the general friends hanging out on occasion vibe, instead leaning towards a closer family unit of sorts. I like the change since I’ve always preferred the post-Heroes take on them in the games, but this change will likely be more infuriating to those who liked the old set-up. Fortunately, with the two most awkward groups being dealt with in one arc, this is the last time the old continuity will linger on any characters.

In Conclusion

The Great Chaos Caper is meant to be a light-hearted, comical arc, and it pulls it off well. While there’s not so much stake involved with the events and there’s very little in the way of emotional moments, if you just want a fun romp with some great art all the way through then this will probably be right up your alley. You might notice that Knuckles is fairly reserved here, but it’s really a minor point when everything else is on great form.

Best Issue: It’s a hard toss-up between #63 and #66 because they’re both at showing their cast at their most fun and dynamic. At a push, I’d edge slightly towards #63 for Pumpkin Hill being a cool setting and the interaction being a bit tighter.

Worst Issue: Universe #64 isn’t a bad issue by any means, but in the scope of the whole arc it’s the one that starts to feel like it drags due to not much going on in it. After the fight with the Hooligans, not much of anything happens until Chip shows up…which is the final page of the issue.

As it turns out, Great Chaos Caper was part two of the Dark trilogy, with Shadow Fall being the first. Total Eclipse brings the two arcs together to bring a conclusion to both Shadow and Knuckles’ stories, and it seems to have the stakes a lot higher. Part 1 is already out, but you’ll have to keep an eye out for the rest in the coming months to see the fate of the Dark Arms and Angel Island!

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Pictured: The main villain of a year’s worth of Sonic Universe