I could make a whole Queen playlist to summarise this arc alone.
Sometimes, you need to take a breather. Right now, we’re deep into the events of Unleashed as told by the comic, and right on our doorstep is a multi-franchise crossover. So in comes this arc, which is very peculiar when looking at it from the perspective of its placement. It occasionally references the Unleashed events, but it’s ultimately a Sonic the Fighters adaptation, which also adapts Sonic 2 on the Game Gear, and also adapts an episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, and even throws in Sonic Heroes for good measure. As you might be able to guess, this isn’t exactly the most serious of premises. But will this tale be picking up the championship belt, or will be a first round K.O? Let’s get to the post-game analysis and find out!
We start off Sonic #268 with a flashback to an event in the past which seems like a mix of Game Gear Sonic 2 and the start of AoStH’s ‘Lovesick Sonic’. It goes about the way you expect up until the last panel where Breezie definitely does not look like the same damsel in distress she was in the cartoon. The Freedom Fighters exposit on why only Sonic, Tails and Amy will be in the arc out of the entire team, and we see Breezie in the present, a media mogul who has the sass and forces to be able to have Eggman play to her rules as she finds out that Knuckles has been entered into the tournament (although we aren’t privy to that yet). Eggman contacts the Hooligans en route to Casino Park to establish the plan, and he calls Metal Sonic as he’s assaulting Gergarios (the vicar person from Unleashed) in Apotos to summon him over there.
After this, most of the action takes place in Casino Park itself, with the rest of the first issue being set-up for the tournament. Sonic and Breezie reunite, exchanging passive-aggressive wit until Sonic uses his status to arrange for him to fight only in the daytime (because of a slight case of Werehog). Amy comes across Honey, who’s an idol to the young hedgehog, and we find out that she’s there to promote her clothing business and is willing to help the heroes in exchange for them promoting her next line. The Hooligans continue on with their primary plan to win the tournament (although Bean can see how that’ll go from a mile away), and Espio exposits to Vector that he was the one who put Knuckles into the tournament, convenient since Knuckles has just arrived with Chip.
Sonic #269, and cue another flashback, this time revealing that Breezie was gathering intel on Sonic all along after he rescued her, but bringing up the fact that she puts a lot of priority on herself as opposed to anyone else, as she sics Silver Sonic onto him. Back in the present, the first fight is already underway, and we get to see Sonic beat Segata Sanshiro (not named in the comic). Before he can bask in the glory too long, Amy reminds him that it’s almost sundown. He runs out of the arena and to his hotel room where he transforms into the Werehog. He watches Amy fight her match against not Jane from Fighting Vipers. He’s not the only one as Espio watches from the ceiling to see how the heroes progress, while wishing he could find Knuckles to tell him about his addition to the tournament.
Switch to Knuckles managing to pull a fast one on a wealthy lady who had a Master Emerald shard as part of her necklace. It looks like he and Chip will be watching Tails fight, but Scratch comes along to inform him that he has a round coming up soon, which Knuckles decides to go along with because of the Chaos Emerald at stake. The rest of the issue follows three matches and various outside reactions to it. Honey beats Tails, the Freedom Fighters react (Cream being more angry than the others, quite humourously). Honey tries to console him after but it’s not exactly looking effective. Bean beats Espio (with Espio being…eh, see the character section), the Chaotix react. Knuckles beats Bark, Thunderbolt’s faction reacts (although Thunderbolt herself doesn’t seem pleased about them watching it), Axel’s faction reacts and team Dark react (with Rouge being overjoyed). Tails is non-plussed about Honey’s bow tie, Amy finds out she’s been drawn against Knuckles and panics while Honey has Sonic, and the issue closes off with a bit more discussion between the Hooligans and Eggman.
Sonic #270 has another flashback to begin with, but this one starts with Breezie talking to (or flirting with) Neo Metal Sonic after seeing through his Eggman disguise and encouraging his independence. Back in the present, Tails is still smarting from his defeat at the hands of Honey, and Sonic acts the big brother figure by cheering him up with his other feats (including a reference to Sonic Adventure). They’re watching Fang and Bean duke it out, which is cut short when Fang orders bean to forfeit. Sonic and Tails get exposition from Espio about the roster change before we cut to Knuckles and Amy’s match. It begins, but Amy is distracted by how Sonic would react if she got to fight him. This results in an out of the ring flying rock and a trip to Amy’s bedside in hospital. But there’s no time to waste as Sonic squares up against Honey. After an impressive show, Sonic tosses her out of the ring. The Hooligans are talking tactics before they face Knuckles, which is in vein as Knuckles makes light work of the remaining mercenary. Eggman watches in frustration, but he’s not dettered. The Hooligans always have a back-up plan, and Metal Sonic is close to the venue for his own assault. As Sonic and Knuckles get into the ring, we see Fang preparing a sniper shot…
Sonic #271 changes things up by being very linear in narrative. The final has started, and Sonic and Knuckles are exchanging memories of old fights while the fists fly. We cut to a flashback of how Breezie came to have the Chaos Emerald in the first place (the SSSSS Squad retrieving it while each trying to claim credit) and her deciding to use it as a prize to lure in the big names. Back in the present, Sonic and Knuckles talk goals and working together to find the Emeralds and shards while still fighting, and we see everyone reacting to the fight between them. Meanwhile, Bean and Bark rig the generator to explode (in typical Bean fashion) and Fang gets his aim set when it does blow up moments later. Just when thing are poised for the Hooligan, who should enter but Metal Sonic himself, ruining their plan but making easy work of stealing Breezie’s emerald from the vault.
From here on, it’s basically a chase action sequence. Sonic tries to ground him, but Metal Sonic quickly recovers. The other fighters each have a go at slowing him down but he dodges them easily. Just as it seems Metal Sonic will fly out of reach, Tails turns out to be waiting on the roff for him and uses the element of surprise to kick Metal Sonic, knocking the Chaos Emerald from his grasp. As if Tails wasn’t champ enough already, he warns Metal Sonic that the back-up generators should be starting at that moment, prompting Eggman to call a retreat despite Metal Sonic seeming to want to fight. We cut to Honey and Breezie working out a deal where Honey designs clothes for Breezie’s robotic staff. Honey uses the opportunity to call out Breezie on her inaction to help the Freedom Fighters, which Breezie refutes and then suggests that Honey takes to heart. Honey leaves, clearly a bit doubtful on what she’s done. Sonic, Tails and Amy meet up with Knuckles and Chip, Sonic trying to convince Knuckles to go back to the Sky Patrol with them. Knuckles agrees, and introduced Chip to them (while still having banter with Sonic). They talk tactics on the jet (aka the car from All Stars Racing Transformed) before Sonic transforms into the Werehog, surprising the two newcomers. Finally, we cut to Sally, who’s receiving an urgent call from Gregarios, who says that he knows how to fix everything.
In all honestly, it’s a very simple story. The fighters get together, they fight, shenanigans happen in between (aside from the last part where there is one solid story thread). In this sort of situation, that sort of simplicity is pretty essential as you have to balance plot details with the action happening on the page. It’s all about the interaction that happens between the characters here, and that’s a joy to behold. Is this a profound narrative that will have you mulling and thinking about the implications of it on the wider Sonic universe? Not really, but that’s not what it exists for. It’s a serviceable story that lets the focus fall on what it needs to while still having enough to it that it doesn’t become repetitive or tedious to read through.
Diana Skelly, in charge of pencils, is some new blood at Archie, and Champions is her debut full arc. And boy, is she wild with her art. Her strength is evident right off the bat; she can do expressions like nobody’s business, with a crazy one to spot and marvel in almost every panel. The result is a wild and off the wall sight to behold, with the inking from Terry Austin and colours from Gabriel Cassata (who I believe only started with Sonic since Waves of Change) doing well to complement the manic tone the drawing aims to achieve . Sonic #271 is slightly different, as the pencils were actually also done by Ryan Jampole. It sounds like a small difference, but the results are easy to see; the characters look a bit more restrained and on model, save for the times when they really want to exaggerate the looks. This leads to a more professional look, but it also takes some of the edge off the style. In this case it isn’t that detrimental since #271 is the most controlled part of the arc by far, but it would have been nice for consistency.
As always, there’s also a cover review for each issue and its variant (glad I’m not doing Sonic Universe #75 and its eight variants, with that in mind);
-Sonic the Hedgehog #268; Evan Stanley, Austin and Ben Hunzeker are responsible for the main cover. It’s lovely to look at with all the characters and details, and I especially like the colouring, but the characters behind do seem a bit blurred together, and I’m not sure what’s up with the random fireball effect behind them, it looks out of place. The variant, from Jon Gray working with Austin, Casseta and Jack Morelli, has me conflicted. On the one hand, it’s nice and eye catching, with the casino motif very well communicated and Breezie’s nature just apparent from her gaze. On the other hand, I question the sensibility of putting a character who’s literally new to the comic as the focus of the first part’s variant. Maybe the second part would have been better. Ah well, see if you can spot the fun cameo.
-Sonic the Hedgehog #269; The main cover sees Austin and Cassata together again, this time with pencils from Jamal Peppers. On a technical level it’s really nicely done with wonderful lighting and shading, but it does come off as a bit plain with it just being a cropped profile view of Sonic’s head. T. Rex’s variant cover almost has the opposite problem. The image is interesting and hilarious, but technically it’s a bit off. Amy looks a bit strange, I’m not keen on the fuzz additions, ad Eggman is just off-model in the arms.
-Sonic the Hedgehog #270; This issue sees Jennifer Hernandez (who also debuted with Waves of Change), Austin and Matt Herms on the main cover. This one is stylised like fighter selection icons, and I’d call it my favourite cover of the arc (although it’s a difficult choice this time). The characters are cute and bold, and the layout and pattern choices for this one are particularly striking. Brent McCarthy, the sole artist for the variant cover, is not a name I recognise, and his style is nothing like I’ve seen before. It’s unique to be sure, but a tad on the static side as well. Then again that might be intention, as the cover is apparently homage to another famous comic cover.
-Sonic the Hedgehog #271; Tracy Yardley, veteran who mostly works on Sonic Universe these days, teams up with Hunzeker for the last of the main covers. It has Yardley’s trademark of managing to make a dynamic group shot without making it a mess, always appreciated for ensemble pieces. While it has a similar faded effect to #268’s main cover, the colour choices make it less of an issue. Rafa Knight brings us the last variant cover, going with emulating the arcade experience while still utilising 3D art (as well as some stock Sonic the Fighters character art). I don’t think the text adds anything, but I can’t hold it to the artist, and the overall result a nice throwback.
I’d say there wasn’t a cover I thought was bad during this arc. Certainly I had my preferences, but that’s more because I gravitate towards certain styles.
This arc boasts a huge number of central players. It’s almost to be expected when you have an arc based on a fighting game, but there’s plenty more on top of those. This section will be a pretty long one this time, so buckle in;
Sonic: Sonic may be sharing the spotlight with a huge cast of characters, but he manages to stay afloat and stand out as a highlight. First and most obvious is the fact he plays well to the camera, what with his ego and his natural ability to fight. But there’s more to him in this arc than that, he has an air of intelligence, or at least quick thinking. His manipulation of Breezie into giving him the day-only slots he wants was masterful and in character, and not something I think he’d get to do if the Freedom Fighters weren’t forced to stay out of the fight. His other shining moment is comforting Tails after all that Honey had put him through. Even with how jam-packed this arc is, the fact that it set aside a breather moment to let Sonic act the big brother to Tails was appreciated.
Tails: This arc is all about Tails suffering, but in the hilarious way. His interactions with Honey are great, both when they first meet and she wants him to model her clothing if she wins, and during the fight where she wins by sleight of hand (also known as telling someone to look behind them). But this misery isn’t left as a punchline. In the second half of the arc, we get a great moment of brotherly love as Sonic reassures Tails of his own ability despite the loss, and him being the one to ultimately beat down Metal Sonic long enough to obtain the Chaos Emerald from him is a crowning moment for him. Really great show here (especially off the back of his passive role in Spark of Life).
Breezie: Breezie has proved a pretty divisive character upon her revamp reveal. Within the context of the arc itself, she does absolutely fine, nothing too spectacular in the wake of others. Her history with Sonic makes for a golden opportunity for Sonic to show his wit, although after that her presence falls by the wayside with more focus being about her past, and the flashback to her talking with Metal Sonic is an interesting way to give a basis for her owning Casino Park and act as setup for the game events. Otherwise, it’s a lot of setup for future appearances she might make, as there’s still an apparent mystery as to what her origin truly is, not to mention her deal with Honey. So why is she so divisive? Essentially, she’s very different to her original incarnation in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. There, she was an agent for Robotnik before being swayed to the good side and eventually starting her life anew. Here, she starts out the same, but takes a very different road when she breaks off from Eggman once she’s got what she needs and becomes her own villainous force. Whether you like the drastic change or not seems to be a big element of how much you’ll enjoy her character.
Knuckles: In my last review, I mentioned how Knuckles seemed to be just a means to bounce off comedy as opposed to being a source of it himself. Not so this time; Knuckles is every bit as fun to watch as any other in this arc and really gets to be a highlight. Whether it’s him tricking his way to a Master Emerald shard, being oblivious to Amy’s moral deliberation which ends in her booking a new bed (in the hospital), or the on-going rivalry between him and Sonic, it’s just great to see him banter, while also being able to dish out the slapstick.
Honey: Another debut for the comic, Honey gets a lot more time to stretch her (literal) wings and stand out as a brilliant new addition. Devious and mischievous, she’s out for self-promotion and she’s not afraid to let it be known (with Tails being on the butt end most often). But vanity is not all her character, as she’s also feisty, a very capable fighter, graceful in defeat (in fact finding it great if the opponent used awesome moves to do so), and has more of a moral fibre than you might first suspect. The last scene with her calling out Breezie while doing deals cements her as a multi-faceted character, and I look forward to seeing what she’s got herself into.
Amy: Not exactly as much of a standout as some of the best, but she brings consistent entertainment nonetheless through supporting Sonic (and Tails when needs be). Her complete fangirling at the beginning towards Honey is both understandable and enjoyable, while her utter defeat at Knuckles’ gloves and the subsequent stay at the hospital draws some great reactions out of her. There may be some questions as to whether she would deliberate that much (since she’s shown no hesitation to fight Sonic in this sort of setting in the games…or even outside of this setting given Heroes), but it’s not a big point.
Chip: While he is in the arc, he doesn’t exactly have much of a presence. His main is to provide Knuckles someone to bounce off, and he’s serviceable in that role with his naivety and genuine caring for him. In the end, he finally gets to meet Sonic, and that’s when he reveals that Knuckles hasn’t exactly been telling Chip everything about Sonic honestly. That’s a nice moment for him.
The Super Special Sonic Search and Smash Squad: Comprised of Scratch, Grounder and Coconuts as always, here they’re acting as staff for Breezie’s casino. Comparatively speaking, they’re very underplayed. They do get to show their bumbling antics as they fumble over a roster change and (in flashback) argue over who found the Chaos Emerald, but otherwise they’re there in small bursts and rather reserved (except in the very early flashback where they were still working for Eggman and doing actual schemes to catch Sonic), which is surprising. I’m also kind of iffy on how Grounder looks in this arc, although a cover revealed after this arc (Sonic #275 Villains variant) is much more appealing so I don’t know if it’s down to artist interpretation.
Metal Sonic: Technically the biggest threat of the arc, although he’s not actually there for most of that time. He does what you’d expect Metal Sonic to do; wreak stuff, cause havoc and carry out Eggman’s orders of getting the Chaos Emerald. This last part does get to show off Metal Sonic as a force to be reckoned with as he manages to avoid every other fighter and only gets stopped by a surprise attack from Tails. We also get little bit strewn about showing Metal Sonic’s subtle independence from Eggman, with him showing hesitation to follow Eggman’s orders presumably because he’d rather keep fighting. Not only is this fleshing out his character, it gives the flashback to his stint in Heroes, where he’d gone fully independent of Eggman and was doing his own thing, some contextual link to the present events.
The Hooligans: There’s actually a rather big difference in character utilisations amongst them. Fang was the one focused on the job as usual, so he’s obviously the one who gets to suffer most. His banter with Bean is great, and he actually gets a shot at being a legitimate threat for his troubles, only being stopped with Metal Sonic literally entering the picture. Bean continues his streak of good writing in the wake of the reboot, his humour far more fitting for the setting he’s in. He’s also given a bit of depth as it’s shown that he can be quite the deceiver when given the opportunity and is creative when it comes to his demolitions role, giving him a legitimate root in the villain status. I’d say this is his best outing yet. Bark doesn’t really do anything, but with the Hooligans he comes with the package so he can’t help it if he has no purpose…unlike the next character.
Espio: Espio feels like he’s literally only here because he was in Sonic the Fighters. His only plot contribution was signing Knuckles up, which to be honest I don’t think was that necessary (Knuckles could have signed up himself if he sensed a Master Emerald presence there, or Breezie could have put him in if she figured he was there too). After that, he fights and then hangs around to react (and has one panel throwing a shuriken at Metal Sonic, when others were trying to stop him as well), and even in the fight Espio came off as a bit out of character. He’s supposed to be cautious and wary, but here the Sonic the Fighters persona (which did not follow that in the slightest) is forced into play to keep up the reference, right down to the tornado attack. At the very least, him being made too rash for his known personality makes Vector’s rant at him later seem very justified. Speaking of, aside from fighting with Bean, the most interaction he gets is with a payphone. At least his reactions are top notch, and some of the things they do to compare his habits with Vector’s are interesting, but I don’t think the arc would have missed him if he were gone (especially with how many key players there are already). Still surprising that Espio didn’t get to meet with Knuckles and tell him about the change despite expressing a desire to do so.
And even with all these characters directly affecting events, there’s still some callouts to be made to characters who weren’t there. Cream, Antoine and Sally all get small moments to cement themselves as great periphery cast (Sally being embarrassed by her reliance on the bank of dad, Cream’s anger at the result of Tails’ fight, and Antoine playing the rival to Sonic by supporting Knuckles in the last fight). Vector gets a lot of time to bring in his brand of comedy; in fact, he’s the only periphery character with a presence in every issue of the arc, impressive since he’s not physically there. Finally, the last issue shows us a random fish character amongst the double spread of Knuckles fighting Sonic. This is, in fact, not random, and is very likely to be a character mentioned in passing in an earlier part (the character wasn’t designed by Diana, and Diana’s fanart of her shows that the comic drawing is actually erroneous in missing something that would make her identity obvious).
The Underdog Story?
This arc aims for one very specific emotion; pure, unadultered fun. And to that end, it does its job with flying colours. The action is frenetic and the art complements that to a tee. There’s references abound that will garner at least an amused smile; Segata Sanshiro makes an appearance as a fighter, as does a animal version of Jane from Fighting Vipers (the same series with the character that Honey is an animal version of, Candy). There’s also fictional adverts interspersed like a real sports event, each showing some humorous reference to Sonic games past and present (Sonicman from Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) does shows at Casino Park in this comic, and Chao Boom is a pretty obvious reference to the other Sonic branch currently active now [except it doesn’t have a Chao Sticks since SEGA don’t want the branches mixing outside of the crossover]).
The real meat of the emotional draw come in the form of character interaction, as the arc is packed to the hilt with personalities bouncing off each other for comedic effect. Right at the start you have Breezie and Sonic’s passive aggressive manipulation of each other, Amy and Honey freaking out over fashion choices, and Tails being completely suspicious of both new introductions. This maintains throughout, whether in the ring (Bean playing up his oblivious façade to do some hilarious deception, any time Honey’s in the ring) or outside of it (the ending with Knuckles and Sonic, the gambling parallels of Vector and Espio). Surprisingly, it’s not as if it’s only kind of interaction we see. The scene with Amy in hospital shows how much cares for Amy’s well being and is uplifting to have right after she got crushed into a wall. And the aforementioned scene of Tails being bummed about his loss and Sonic reassuring him that he has plenty of ability and capability plays two functions; it shows us the brotherly dynamic between the two best friends, and it plays an instrumental role in setting up Tails’ victory against Metal Sonic in the climax.
On top of this, the arc an underlying sense of mystery to it. For something so straight forward, there’s a lot of little hints left vague. There’s the whole issue of Metal Sonic seeming to have a mind of his own in regards to Eggman’s orders, which will no doubt work against the good doctor later. There’s also the obvious cliffhanger with Breezie’s deal, and how that will affect Honey in the future. Then there’s the mysteries the arc doesn’t even put on the page and require you to have a more rounded memory to figure something is amiss. Breezie in her original incarnation wasn’t just an agent of Robotnik, she was a robot built for the purpose of luring Sonic. So while the flashbacks suggest she’s just a hedgehog, the sense of media control and some statements made outside the comic still leave It as something to be seen. And then you have the fish girl, who seems like a non-factor, but Waves of Change wasn’t that long ago.
All said and done, this arc is a real winner. It’s definitely the most complete story of the stories following the reboot thus far. The plot is fairly simple but has enough hooks to create interest, the art is appropriately zany and vivid to match the tone of the arc, most of characters are on point and at their best and there’s just this overall sense of fun that the comic has with the material its using. Any issues I have with the arc are minor at best, and aren’t enough to really alter the fact that this is one of the best that Archie Sonic has put on the table. I’d say this is pretty much a must-read; you don’t need it to understand the ongoing plot since it’s mostly detached from the overarching narrative, but it’s a fantastic display of what makes an entertaining comic tale.