More like Revelations than Genesis in hindsight.
IDW are set to release their new comic in just a few days from now. But as most of you know, before IDW there were the Archie Sonic comics. Spanning 290 issues, it lasted an eventful 24 years before it met its end in December 2016. To celebrate the passing of the torch from one company to another, I will be reviewing the entirety of Genesis of a Hero (AStH#288 – AStH#291), the last arc of the book.
Before we start, some background on how Genesis of a Hero came to be; As part of the Archie Comics’ upcoming 25th anniversary blowout, several events were scheduled including the conclusion to the very popular Sonic Mega Drive, the milestone 300th issue of the main book, the milestone 100th issue of Sonic Universe, an arc dedicated to the Freedom Fighters and this nostalgic throwback to the start of the franchise.
But is this like a trip down memory lane, or a holiday you’d rather forget? Join me as I take a Mega Driven critical eye to these issues!
It’s All in the Manual
Unlike every other Archie Sonic arc I’ve reviewed, the issues of Genesis of a Hero are entirely disconnected by narrative, linked only thematically. As such, this review will take an issue-by-issue approach in this section, assessing each story individually.
StH#288 (part 1)
The story begins at the end of Sonic 1. Sonic is facing Eggman down in Scrap Brain Zone, with future treacherous lackey Snively there to add even more bother for him. After traversing a mechanical nightmare, diabolical speed traps and purple water, he finally manages to get to Eggman in his final area. Eggman and Snively enter the final ace up their sleeve and try to crush Sonic. Undeterred, Sonic is able to lay waste to the machine and stop the first of many evil schemes from Eggman.
Upon victory, Sonic races back the way he came, through each Sonic 1 zone, to Knothole. It’s here we learn that Sonic was on a mission for the residents of Knothole to rescue Sally’s father and see what Eggman was up to. There’s a lot of exposition here, but we find out that Sonic has six of the Chaos Emeralds (which he only discover the existence of on this mission), Tails and the Freedom Fighters resolve to come along and help Sonic in the future, and there’s even a hint of King Acorn not being who they think he is (he’s Naugus, by the by).
This issue feels disjointed compared to the rest of the arc, and even compared to itself. The first part in Scrap Brain Zone is fine and a smooth integration of SatAM and classic elements. It’s suitably well-paced and comedic when needs be, and the banter between Eggman, Snively and Sonic is good stuff. Not quite as sharp as something like Sonic Mega Drive, but that mini-series had a lot more time to explore those dynamics, and had Sonic Mania animator Tyson Hesse as a baseline for how the characters should interact and react. To be frank, it was probably never going to match that. Not that it doesn’t have its own highlights, like Sonic versus the purple water.
The second part in Knothole feels bolted on, as if they just had to get the formation out of the way because it’s what SatAM fans remember. It makes the pacing of the issue way more clunky as you go from a nice action segment that still gives you plenty of information to a huge exposition dump running through why Sonic was doing what he was doing, why they want the Chaos Emeralds, how each Freedom Fighter acts, and so on. Surely there was a better way of doing this.
In addition, I don’t know why it was felt that the Naugus as King Acorn thread needed to be here. Not only does it not play a role in the arc, but the present time of the Archie comics have made no reference to this point either as it’s been long resolved by then. It’s only referenced in a shadow, but it’s still a sub-thread that ended up going nowhere.
StH#289 (part 2)
Sonic the Hedgehog #289 starts in the skies of Sky Chase Zone. After dodging numerous Badniks, Sonic and Tails manage to reach the Wing Fortress, only for the Tornado to be shot down with Tails in it. With newly kindled rage in his heart, Sonic tears through the defences of the fortress before eventually finding Snively. Snively unleashes the familiar boss of the second act. Sonic manages to quite swiftly dispose of it, but isn’t quite able to catch up to Snively and his escaping shuttle. It’s a good thing Tails got the plane repaired then!
Thanks to the little boost, Sonic is able to grab the wing of the shuttle and follows Snively into space. This is much to Snively and Eggman’s chagrin mind. Snively flees when he lands, but Sonic opts to calmly stroll through the space station. Things are going fine until Eggman reveals his latest creation; Mecha Sonic, a robot duplicate of Sonic himself. With some near misses and some strategic planning, Sonic is able to exploit the duplicate’s weakness and bring him down. Eggman and Snively flee, Sonic giving pursuit. Eggman manages to reach the holding bay and reveals his would-be coup de grâce; the Death Egg Robot…
This is more in line with what I’d like; a story that manages to interweave the classic narrative with the SatAM elements seamlessly. Not only is Snively there to add some back-and-forth to scenes Sonic would usually be alone, you even get some world building as to how the game zones relate to cartoon areas. Aside from that, there’s some good banter here as well (although I feel it’s slightly weaker than in StH#288), and it’s got very even pacing.
The one thing that seems strange to me is that no reference is made to what the other Freedom Fighters would be doing at the time. I only say this was brought up in the comic in a prior issue, and not making mention of it here feels like a missed opportunity. Otherwise, probably the best story of the arc for me.
StH#290 (part 3)
Sonic is zipping around by his lonesome when he comes across the chained up Little Planet. He deduces that must be an Eggman plot and is about to set off and stop him when Amy Rose comes along to meet him for the first time. After some light discussion on fate and divination, Sonic runs off to get to the Little Planet and is surprised by the sheer number of forces in Palmtree Panic Zone. Sonic traverses the place and runs into Dr Eggman. They engage in battle with some particularly funny dialogue.
Sonic almost manages to catch Eggman before he can fly off, but Amy catches Sonic and he’s stopped before he can stop the good doctor. Sonic warns Amy that she should go home. Before she can do anything, Eggman’s newest weapon Metal Sonic comes along and abducts her. Sonic rushes off through various other zones, making good futures and observant quips along the way.
Eventually, he manages to come across Eggman and Metal Sonic again. They’re trapped Amy at the end of a road, and Eggman’s pitching Metal Sonic in a race against his organic foe. Sonic manages to succeed despite the various traps being pulled out. With Metal Sonic destroyed and Amy rescued, Eggman flies off again. This time, Sonic realises he can use the power of the Time Stones to help him. With this in mind and Amy along for the ride, he sets off to collect all of them to stop Eggman’s plan for good…
StH#290 has the strongest bits of dialogue for the characters out of all of them, I think. It helps that they’re allowed to be the focus as the moments from the game are just as focused on what the characters are doing as the comic is. Sonic and Amy’s interactions are great, as is Sonic bouncing off Eggman’s ego (both literally and figuratively). The moments they picked to focus on are pretty much a must for any Sonic CD adaptation, and they’re done with solid execution.
I’m not so keen on the pacing of the issue, but in this case it’s a necessity as opposed to something that feels thrown in. The events of the game are heavily weighted towards the beginning and the end of the story, so it essentially follows a bell curve where the middle has nothing happening except Sonic going through zones on his own. As such, I’m willing to let it slide on this occasion, although I still think StH#289 is a stronger narrative for it.
I suppose some also might take umbrage with the implied chronology of Sonic CD compared to the other classic games. The most popular theories about its placement is before Sonic 2 or after Sonic 3 & Knuckles. This arc just goes by game chronology, so Sonic CD happens between those two. I personally don’t care about this point as it has no bearing on the theory surrounding the games (it’s a different continuity), and ultimately I don’t think the order matters all that much anyway.
StH#291 (part 4)
Sonic and Tails have made it to Hidden Palace Zone, when Tails notices the massive mural in the room. Their sight-seeing is disrupted by the appearance of Knuckles the Echidna. Sonic and Knuckles exchange blows. Tails tries to help Sonic, but Knuckles manages to throw his efforts back in Sonic’s face (literally). Before they can keep fighting from there, a rumble cuts the skirmish short. Knuckles rushes off to find the source, and sees Eggman taking the Master Emerald! He tries to stop the theft, but Eggman responds by electrocuting him, then blasting the floor so all three heroes fall through.
After they gather their senses, Knuckles concedes that he was tricked, and starts to help Sonic and Tails by taking them to a secret transporter. This leads up to Sky Sanctuary Zone. Knuckles elects to stay there and let Sonic and Tails finish up Dr Eggman, which they oblige. After a bit more traversal of the ruinous paths, they eventually run into the Egg-O-Matic, wrecking ball and decoys at the ready. They work together to down the vehicle…but it turns out Eggman isn’t in there. Out of its remains rises the latest Mecha Sonic.
He proves a challenge for them at the start, but Sonic and Tails manage to work out how to combine their skills to outwit the one-robot defence, and they manage to take him out. They can’t contemplate for long as the rest of the ruins crumble away. They’re just about able to run up a spiralling path and leap onto the Death Egg before it falls away entirely. They congratulate themselves on their progress, Knuckles glides away in a forest while looking back at the Death Egg, and the remains of Mecha Sonic are shown on a beach surround by ruin blocks. Sonic and Tails begin their perilous journey through Death Egg Zone…
With Sonic 3 & Knuckles’ narrative being as explicit as it is anyway, there wasn’t any doubt that the story itself would be solid, it’s practically laid out for them. It still manages to do its own thing by using the strengths in character writing to expand on the final confrontation between Sonic and Knuckles. The body language alone is enough to convey exactly how the characters are feeling in that fight, and it’s very effective throughout. The smaller moments of empathy really seals the deal there. Sonic and Tails’ moments are pretty well displayed too.
Unlike the Naugus = King Acorn allusion, the Mecha Sonic stinger makes a lot more sense in relation to the main comic. We’ve heard that Snively was involved in the aftermath of Sonic 3 and Knuckles in the comic version of events, and Snively actually had plans to revisit the idea of stealing the Master Emerald as hinted by “Total Eclipse”. As such, I don’t have a problem with this foreshadowing.
I’m not going to lie though, the story beats feel like a repeat of StH#289 again. Granted, given how the games went in the sections they chose, it’s not like they were going to get that much variety. That being said…ah, I’ll save it for the last section.
Graphic Design from a BigIsland
The art in Genesis of a Hero is a lot more consistent than most arcs, as the two-man team of Tracy Yardley and Gabriel Cassata take the helm for the entire duration.
Yardley’s lineart has been altered in style slightly for this arc, and it’s all the better for it. It retains Yardley’s personality while fitting the more cutesy style of new age classic Sonic. The expression work is suitably on point throughout, with highlights including the entire fight between Sonic and Knuckles, Sonic’s reaction to purple water and Amy’s attempt to flirt with Sonic.
Cassata’s colours, meanwhile, work well with this style, reflecting the vibrant use of colour in the classic era with vivid appeal, while not being so saturated as to be overly strong to the viewer. It also adapts to suit the mood of the scene, which is always a good thing when the tone can vary as much as it does here.
While generally the artwork is on point, I do have two or three negative points about it. The first is that there’s a surprisingly common lack of backgrounds throughout the arc. When they’re there they’re nicely done and they’re certainly provided for the key moments, but it is something you can pick up on. That being said, it’s not so common that it’s a major distraction, so this is more on the minor side of things.
The second is that Eggman in StH#290 is extremely strangely drawn compared to the rest of the arc. I don’t know if this is because he was done like this in Sonic CD or if there’s other circumstances that forced it, but it is off-putting after just reading the two issues before it.
Finally, and this is really more a matter of preference, I preferred the way the Metal Sonic race was done in StH#25 to here. Not sure why, might be a combination of the lack of colour used or the fact StH#290 presents a more rigid, static structure to the scene, contrasting with the more surreal and abstract nature of the game’s presentation. Again, that’s more my preferences on show.
Overall though, this is a good showing for the artwork, even if it’s not the greatest masterpiece ever.
Choose Your Player
In most arcs I’ve reviewed, the recurring casts throughout have been huge and there’s been reams of writing on how they all come together and interact. This arc is entirely different, as there are only two characters present in all four issues. Nonetheless, this will still be a thorough look at what’s on offer.
Sonic the Hedgehog – Unlike his mute current classic self, Sonic has a lot to say in this arc. He’s generally got a good balance between his confident and cool persona and his more caring and empathetic side. This is mostly displayed to Tails, although he gets a moment to reach out to Knuckles and Amy as well. Sometimes the confident side can become a bit too overbearing, but I just blame that on it being partially influenced by his SatAM portrayal, and thankfully it’s rare. Getting to show off in some nice action scenes is not so rare.
Dr Eggman – What else would you expect from Dr Eggman in the classic era? He’s bombastic, he’s arrogant, he’s active, he’s controlling, he’s easily angered and takes it out on everyone, he sometimes gets a moment to be outright threatening, he’s a joy to watch because of his larger than life personality. Ian Flynn has never really had an issue writing Eggman after the reboot aside from pushing his sadism to questionable levels, but since that doesn’t come into effect here you’re looking at a very good interpretation of Eggman.
Miles “Tails” Prower – Technically he only appeared in three issues, but that’s recurring enough to take a look at him. He’s fine here. StH#288 portrays him more as a little kid just wanting the hero to notice him as it’s set before Sonic 2 and influenced by SatAM. StH#289 and StH#291 have him more where you’d expect him, as a foil to Sonic who can be a capable hero in his own right despite his youth. His interactions with Sonic are top-notch. He gets to provide a lot of opportunity for Sonic to show his considerate side, while also helping Sonic on his journey and beating down threats just as readily. If anything, my one issue with Tails is that the disconnect between the first issue and the other issues is a bit jarring, and I think part of that is because there isn’t time to expand on why Tails looks up to Sonic so much (aka the canonical game backstory, which can easily fit in).
Julian Snively – He gets a shot at only two appearances, but he gets mentioned in StH#290 so he counts too. This version of Snively borrows very heavily from his original SatAM self (as opposed to his later self who is working at G.U.N. in order to carry out his own plans and get back at Eggman). Despite the wildly different circumstances he’s in compared to the show, he still acts as decent foil to Eggman. His cowardly and timid nature bounces off Eggman’s boisterous and unwavering drive to succeed, so there’s plenty of opportunity to mine that for comedy. Aside from that, he gets to have some funny reactions to Sonic, but he doesn’t get other facets explored.
The rest of the characters come and go as needed, so there’s not a whole lot to say about them. Amy Rose probably has the lion’s share of content, being present throughout StH#290. Fortunately, she has some great characterisation here. She’s plucky and energetic, willing to follow Sonic to the ends of the Little Planet, no matter what he’s doing. At the same time, she’s also an 8 year old kid, and is as naive and fallible as one would expect one to be. She still has her heart in the right place despite the problems she sometimes causes.
Knuckles the Echidna is what you’d expect, given that Sonic 3 & Knuckles laid the narrative bare. His sparring with Sonic is good to see nonetheless, as is the handling of his eventual realisation and redemption. The Freedom Fighters are mostly there to praise Sonic’s effort and be inspired by him, they don’t get the opportunity to actually interact off him. There’s not even enough material to address them individually save for the character moment provided for Bunnie, which is pretty effective regardless of what I think of their overall contribution.
A Balancing Act
The main goals of this arc were threefold; to celebrate the classic era, to celebrate SatAM and the start of the Archie Sonic comic (which was in 1993), and to try and make them work together. As far as celebrating the classic side goes, it was mostly successful (save for one issue I’ll address at the end), recounting the games faithfully while having room to expand them. Theoretically not hard to do, but I still want to give kudos for that.
As far as the SatAM stuff goes, I would debate how effective that ended up. As said before, the Freedom Fighter stuff feels bolted on. What I didn’t say was that this was the only time they appeared or even got mentioned, compounding the issue further as that scene had no bearing on the rest of the arc. On top of that, the main comic had already alluded to what the Freedom Fighters were doing during the events of Sonic 2, but there’s nothing to reference that at all.
That leads right into the integration of the two. At some point, it feels like the arc became less concerned with how the classic games and SatAM elements meshed as the latter got less and less panel time. I said the handling was clunky at the start, but by the third part only Snively was referenced, and he only got to speak to Eggman via communications for four speech bubbles, he didn’t actually appear or get to play off anyone. The last part doesn’t seem to present much opportunity for SatAM elements, if any. You certainly don’t see any.
Speaking of that, if I was writing StH#291 myself, I would have started it on the Death Egg instead of in Hidden Palace Zone, and had Knuckles interspersed reflecting on what happened while hinting at his story occurring after the main events. This serves two purposes; to differentiate it from StH#289 (which also featured the “some shenanigans then robot duplicate then cliffhanger with Death Egg” format), and to give it a truly celebratory ending as it would allow the cliffhanger to feature Super Sonic about to face off with Eggman’s Master Emerald-powered machine. As it stands, the arc doesn’t really have a moment that feels like it’s ramping up to a proper climax, which is weird when it’s supposed to be a pretty big deal.
Then again, there’s a more pressing issue with StH#291. Remember way back at the start when I said the Archie Sonic Comic ran for 290 issues? That wasn’t a mistake; technically speaking, this arc was never finished because StH#291’s release was cancelled. The reason I know so much about the issue’s content is because Yardley released the pencils for the issue on his Patreon. Out of respect, I’ve only used the page he released for free as an image source.
That doesn’t alter the fact the average reader will never get a complete experience with this arc, and that honestly sort of hurts the impact of the arc despite the stories not being connected. If you want a series of stories combining SatAM and the four classic games everyone remembers to commemorate their milestones and returning influence, you can’t get it. End of.
I find Genesis of a Hero to be a weird arc to assess quality-wise. There’s plenty of stuff to like about it. This includes generally consistent good interactions, nice artwork, good action scenes, strong characterisation, and other elements here and there. Taken on that basis, you couldn’t really ask for more from it.
On the other hand, I’m not sure if it was entirely successful. The strongest elements were expanding on the game side, the SatAM side’s impact was minimal at best, and detrimental at worst. I think the arc had the same idea when the SatAM influence got lower and lower from one issue to the next. Might have been a better idea to concentrate on weaving the good guys of SatAM more naturally in there.
Ultimately, Genesis of a Hero is alright. As a person with little interest in the classic games or SatAM, it still does plenty to be able to stand on its own two feet and be enjoyable by itself. I suppose that is the key thing to take away from it, given that this would as much be a gateway for new fans to learn about the old as for old fans to relive it. I can’t say Genesis of a Hero particularly stuck with me though, not when Sonic: Mega Drive exists and does what this arc wants to do with way more to sell itself on.
If you want your favourite classic games in print form for a nostalgic throwback, or want to see how the old cartoons could possibly fit in, this arc fits the bill nicely for the most part, it’s more than just a regurgitation of what has been before. Just bear in mind it will never be complete as the last issue was never released. If you just want something to fill an itch for new classic content in general, you might want to look at Sonic: Mega Drive instead. Just…bear in mind it will never be complete as the last issue was never released.
Nor did the Freedom Fighters arc come to fruition, nor did either milestone get reached. What a celebration, eh?
The raw art of the variant for Sonic the Hedgehog #291 is from Matt Herms’ DeviantArt account.
The interior art for Sonic the Hedgehog #291, as well as the other pencilled pages for that issue, can be found at Tracy Yardley’s Patreon (the rest of the pages require you to be a $5 Patron).
Every other image in this review is sourced from Sonic the Hedgehog #288, Sonic the Hedgehog #289, Sonic the Hedgehog #290 and Sonic: Mega Drive #1.