Following a highly anticipated release, bolstered by an extravagant marketing and release schedule, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992) not only improved on every aspect of its influential predecessor but also went on to become the second best-selling SEGA Mega Drive game of all time. Expectations were high for the equally-anticipated third entry, a game that ended up being so big that SEGA made the decision to split it into two, birthing perhaps the greatest 2D Sonic adventure in the process.
Story Title: “In the Claws of Doctor Robotnik”
Published: October 1994
Artist: Mister B
It didn’t take long at all for SEGA’s supersonic mascot to achieve an unprecedented level of mainstream success; Sonic basically single-handedly allowed SEGA to usurp Nintendo’s position at the top of the videogame industry and the company almost immediately set about capitalising on the Blue Blur’s popularity with a slew of videogames and merchandise such as cartoons and comic books. While the most notable Sonic comic books were the long-running series published first by Archie Comics and then by IDW and the United Kingdom’s Sonic the Comic (StC), there have been a number of lesser known Sonic books, comics, and manga released over the years but one of the most intriguing for me has always been the two Sonic Adventures comics published only in France by Sirène in 1994 to promote the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles (SEGA Technical Institute, 1994).
The series only ran for two issues, with one being the full-length comic book I’m talking about today and the other being more of a character/game guide to Sonic 3. As a lifelong fan of the Astérix series (Various, 1959 to present), I was immediately drawn to the expressive and vibrant art style of “Dans Les Griffes De Robotnik” but what really makes this comic stand out is how obscure it is. I’ve never been able to find a copy only but, thankfully, a fan translation by Sonknuck and Manic Man is readily available to read online. Like a lot of Sonic media outside of Japan at the time, Sonic Adventures pulls much of its lore from the now defunct Mobius and Doctor Ovi Kintobor storyline, depicts Doctor Eggman (or “Robotnik” as he was widely known then) as his Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993 to 1996) counterpart, and features an interesting twist on Sonic 3 & Knuckles’ story that omits Knuckles the Echidna altogether, includes Amy Rose, and actually has some similarities to later narrative elements introduced in Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998).
“In the Claws of Doctor Robotnik” begins in the skies of Mobius, specifically on board Doctor Robotnik’s airship. Robotnik, whose design is ripped directly from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, basks in his victory and own magnificence when his Penguinators present him with Sonic bound in chains. Although initially musing on why Sonic was doing wandering about the “Marble Temple” on Angel Island, he is driven into a rage when Sonic taunts him by briefly referring to Robotnik’s origin as the kindly Professor Kintobor.
Robotnik’s mood lightens once more, however, when the Penginators present him with a bag full of Chaos Emeralds (which Sonic had been carrying on him) and the mad scientist boastfully proclaims himself to be the “king of the world!” Robotnik’s victory is extremely short-lived, though; Sonic breaks free on his chains, punches the Chaos Emeralds from Robotnik’s grasp, and leaps out of the airship to plummet back to the planet alongside the legendary gems. Luckily, Sonic had spotted his friend, Miles “Tails” Prower, skulking about outside the ship and the two-tailed fox is able to save Sonic just in the nick of time.
The two land in an “unexplored [region]” of Mobius; although Robotnik immediately leads his Badniks down in pursuit, Sonic’s primary concern is shaking himself loose from the jaws of ordinary piranhas using the same technique players used in Hydrocity Zone. Unlike his videogame counterpart (but similar to Sonic’s depictions in cartoons at the time), Sonic has no problem swimming once he shakes off the critters but he and Tails are soon forced to make a desperate retreat when Robotnik and his Badniks bombard the area with fire (similar to Angel Island Zone; Robotnik’s craft even somewhat resembles his contraption from the finale of that Zone).
With RhinoBots literally raining down around them (on cute little parachutes, no less), Sonic and Tails are driven down a waterfall (Tails having, apparently, forgotten how to fly despite flying in the panels leading up to this plummet). Luckily for them, they find a cache of Golden Rings at the bottom of the river; Sonic, however, decides that discretion is the better part of valour and allows the river to carry them away from danger rather than use the Rings for a power boost. Instead, though, the river leads to another waterfall and the two are dumped into a hidden echidna society that bares a resemblance to the one seen in Sonic Adventure that is too uncanny to just be a coincidence. The echidna “savages” (whom Sonic describes as being “fools [that] are descents of Mobius’ first race” and all of which look exactly like Knuckles despite him being entirely absent from the story) attack the two with spears in an attempt to kill them, leading to Sonic destroying their wooden boats with his patented Spin Attack and a “knuckle sandwich”.
Meanwhile, Robotnik has captured Amy Rose (whose hair, much like in StC, has been erroneously stylised into a high sweep because of that one piece of Sonic the Hedgehog CD (SEGA, 1993) artwork) and plans to use her as leverage against Sonic. While Amy was characterised as a meek, lovesick damsel in distress in Sonic CD, here she’s a snarky, defiant tomboy who openly mocks Robotnik at every opportunity. Back at the ruins, the echidnas have captured Sonic and Tails (mainly because the two are more used to smashing robots and didn’t want to hurt the savages). They are taken to Princess Alucion, the ruler of the echidna tribe, who has the long-lost Grey Emerald imbedded in her crown. Alucion showcases the grandeur of “the antique city of the first people” and then prepares to push them down a tube so that they can be roasted alive inside a volcano that somewhat resembles the one from Lava Reef Zone.
Fortunately, Robotnik attacks at exactly the right moment; Sonic and Tails dive down the tube, taking Alucion with them, to avoid Robotnik’s missile attack and, while the mad doctor believes them to be dead, Sonic revels in the twisting, turning slide that carries them to their doom. When a Penguinator shows Robotnik that his prey has survived, he moves to intercept them and, in to process, kidnaps Princess Alucion. Tails saves Sonic from a dip in molten lava (again, right at the last second) and, despite the obvious trap, rushes to save Amy when she is flown past tied up to a bunch of Jawz Badniks. Amy berates Sonic’s plan, since the two are left suspended over the volcano, and Robotnik swoops in to cut the rope and send them plunging to the burning crater (taking a picture for prosperity).
When Robotnik moves to retrieve the Grey Emerald from Alucion, she bites him and dives after Sonic and Amy while Tails is left wailing in despair and vows that everyone will know of their bravery and courage. His lamentations are premature, however, as the volcano is home to a Big Ring, which transports Sonic and Amy to a Blue Sphere Special Stage. Thanks to his super speed, Sonic easily bests the challenge and Alucion praises his achievement and awards him with the seven “magical emeralds, the golden armour, and the power to be transported wherever [he] wants”. While Tails is regaling their friends in Green Hill Zone with the tale of Sonic’s end, Sonic and Amy miraculously materialise before them. Tails is elated to see his friends and awestruck to see Sonic transformed by the “golden armour” into a glowing, super-powered form and the comic ends with Super Sonic promising the Robotnik’s problems are just starting.
“In the Claws of Doctor Robotnik” is one of the best of Sonic’s obscure comic tales; similar to Sonic the Hedgehog Story Comic (Unknown, 1991), the comic is full of some truly gorgeous artwork that reminds me of the Astérix comics and contains many of the gameplay mechanics and hazards from the source material. While Sonic is sporting his much-maligned Mohawk design, I seriously cannot get enough to the artwork here; characters are cartoony and exaggerated, similar to in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, but also full of snark and attitude, exactly like Sonic should be.
Of course, being that it’s a fan translation, there are some oddities to be found in the comic; referring to Super Sonic as the “golden armour” sticks out the most but there are a number of odd grammatical errors and inclusions to be found as well. Still, Sonknuck does a pretty good job at adapting the original French text for an English-speaking audience and the story is peppered with all kinds of quirky comedy and phrases; Sonic loves to exclaim “Darn and blast!” and there’s some amusing sayings such as “I haven’t seen the movie” and “No need to send me post cards!” Other translations don’t land quite so well, however, and I would love to see this comic officially translated and released some time.
Still, “In the Claws of Doctor Robotnik” is a lot of fun; it appears to read like this quirky amalgamation of the Western Sonic lore and as a prelude to Sonic 3 & Knuckles, though obviously the Mobius story doesn’t really align with that presented in the videogames. The imagery used, though, is fascinating; it’s amazing how closely the echidna civilisation seen in Sonic Adventure resembles what we see in the comic and it was fun seeing mechanics from the videogames crop up. Obscurity and nostalgia also play a large part in my appreciation for “In the Claws of Doctor Robotnik” but that doesn’t change the fact that you should try and seek this one out online and give it a read sometime.
Have you ever read “In the Claws of Doctor Robotnik”? If so, what did you think of it? Have you read the original French comic and, if so, how does this translation measure up? Did you enjoy the art style and quirky humour in the comic or do you prefer the Archie and IDW comics? What did you think to the original characters and would you like to see this comically officially translated and more widely available some day? How are you celebrating the anniversary of Sonic 3’s release today? Whatever your thoughts, please feel free to share them and your memories of Sonic 3 & Knuckles below.