Back Issues [Sonic 3’s Day]: StC & Knuckles

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 Titles: “Enter Knuckles” (Part 1 and 2), “Power of the Chaos Emeralds“ (Part 1 and 2), and “Robotnik’s Revenge” (Part 1 and 2)
20 August 1994 to 29 October 1994
Writer: Nigel Kitching
Artist: Richard Elson

The Background:
After allowing SEGA to knock Nintendo from the top of the videogame industry, the company almost immediately set about transforming Sonic’s popularity into mainstream success through a slew of ancillary media and merchandise, most notably cartoon sand comic books. About six months after the first of Sonic’s Archie Comics adventures, United Kingdom publisher Fleetway Editions Limited began their own series with “Britain’s Official SEGA Comic”, Sonic the Comic (StC), a fortnightly publication that I collected diligently until its unfortunate end. Heavily influenced by the now defunct Mobius and Doctor Ovi Kintobor storyline that was popular outside of Japan, StC quickly veered away from the source material to portray Sonic the a mean-spirited leader of a gang of Freedom Fighters comprised of both videogame characters and anthropomorphic characters adapted from the videogames. Like the Archie comics, StC included some very loose adaptations of the videogames that were often truncated or heavily altered to fit with its noticeably different lore. Their adaptation of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles (SEGA Technical Institute. 1993; 1994) was no different, though it was framed as a lengthy ongoing storyline that was built up over holiday specials and multi-part tales. It also stands as one of the most prominent storylines as it introduced Knuckles the Echidna to the comic, a character who would be at the forefront of his own solo series within StC and some of StC’s most important stories.

The Review:
The arc begins with Dr. Robotnik having gone missing; a previous story in one of StC’s summer specials detailed how the dictator’s Death Egg II fell from orbit thanks to the efforts of Sonic the Hedgehog. While the doctor is believed to have perished in the crash, readers of the summer special would be aware that he was discovered by Knuckles, but the wider world, and the Freedom Fighters, don’t know that since, at this point, the Floating Island is considered to be a legend. Indeed, Amy Rose is sceptical when their artificial intelligence, the Kintobor Computer (which is the personality of Dr. Robotnik’s kindlier previous form…it’s a whole other story), suggests that the Death Egg II crashed into the legendary island. Sonic, already irritated at having to investigate the myth, is thus stunned when he and Miles “Tails” Prower find the Floating Island based on Kintobor’s hypothesis. Sonic and Tails land in a loose approximation of the Marble Garden Zone and are instantly attacked by an arrow-spitting totem pole, just one of many hazards and traps littering the mythical island. Thankfully, the sarcastic Sonic is saved from falling to his death by the much-abused Tails, and even demonstrates a secret new ability of his, a forcefield he creates by vibrating the air molecules in front of him at super speed.

Sonic meets his match in Knuckles, but ends the fight by finally capturing Dr. Robotnik!

The presence of a Badnik is all the proof Sonic needs that Dr. Robotnik is on the island, but the egg-shaped tyrant makes a physical appearance at the story’s end and Sonic learns the hard way that his hated enemy as a new ally: Knuckles, guardian of the Floating Island and last of the echidnas, who lays Sonic out with a single punch. Sonic recovers pretty quickly but learns that Dr. Robotnik has duped the isolated echidna into thinking that Sonic and Tails are petty thieves and despots looking to steal his island’s Chaos Emeralds; naïve and trusting that Dr. Robotnik is a kind-hearted soul, Knuckles has pledged to defend his island and its Chaos Emeralds, and a fight ensues. While Sonic has the speed advantage, Knuckles exhibits extraordinary superhuman (superanthro?) strength, walloping Sonic over the head and causing a significant tremor by punching the ground. When Sonic sends Knuckles flying with a whirlwind-like Spin Attack, the echidna surprises him by tunnelling under the dirt and the two battle so fiercely while underground that the landscape cracks apart. Sonic gains the upper hand but, although he’s taken a beating, Knuckles is still more raring for more; however, Sonic manages to outsmart his new rival by thinking of the big picture and has Tails literally capture Dr. Robotnik in a net and fly them away from the island.

Dr. Robotnik reveals his true nature, but his lofty ambitions are immediately undone by Knuckles.

Although Sonic exudes his usual brash arrogance, he admits to himself the Knuckles was tougher than he looked, and his troubles with the misguided echidna are soon revisited when Knuckles burrows into Dr. Robotnik’s cell at Sonic’s space thanks to a homing device the mad scientist implanted at the base of Knuckles’ skull! Dr. Robotnik takes Porker Lewis hostage and demands that Sonic hand over the six Chaos Emeralds in his possession; left with little choice, Sonic reluctantly hands over the gems and tries to appeal to Knuckles, but to no avail, so he and Tails quickly pursue the duo back to the Floating Island to retrieve the jewels. Sonic and Knuckles get back into it, but while Sonic is able to pummel the dreadlocked echidna, he’s at a disadvantage due to Knuckles’ knowledge of the island and all its secrets; Sonic feigns being crushed by two giant stone hands in order to get a better idea of Dr. Robotnik’s endgame, much to Tails’s chagrin, and the two follow their enemies to the Temple of Chaos. These stone runes seem to be acting as a temporary stand-in for the Hidden Palace Zone, and are home to the Floating Island’s six Chaos Emeralds; Knuckles is delighted to have the twelve Chaos Emeralds finally reunited after being split apart untold aeons ago, explaining how there are two sets of Chaos Emeralds in StC lore. However, at this point, the Chaos Emeralds are emerald cut and resemble the 2D sprites from the first two Sonic games rather than the diamond cut design of Sonic 3 and more commonly associated with them, and the Master Emerald is noticeably missing. Instead, the “Control Emerald” is the long-lost Grey Emerald, but Dr. Robotnik utilises a device of his own creation to replicate the Grey Emerald’s power, merge the twelve gems back into six, and then surprise Knuckles by absorbing the Emerald’s energy into himself! Nigh-invincible and grown to gigantic proportions, Dr. Robotnik easily turns Tails to glass and reveals his true nature as a manipulative, malicious dictator with designs of using the Chaos Energy to dominate and destroy everything in his path. However, Knuckles easily turns the tables by revealing not only that he’s not as gullible as Dr. Robotnik thought but also that he’s been in possession of the Grey Emerald all along; he easily saps the Chaos Energy from the would-be God, restoring Tails in the process, and teleports him away from the Floating Island, ending his threat before it can really begin.

Knuckles comes to Sonic’s aid to atone for leading Dr. Robotnik to his secret base.

With the truth revealed to Knuckles, Sonic offers him a place among the Freedom Fighters, but he refuses; not only is Sonic’s war none of his business, but he’s patiently waiting for his people to return from the stars, and the three part was amicably…but far from friends. Although Dr. Robotnik’s dreams of Godhood have been dashed, he poses an even more significant threat than ever as he now knows the location of Sonic’s hidden base and he launches an all-out assault against the Freedom Fighters with a legion of his Badniks and piloting the “Squeeze Tag Machine” (basically the Big Arms from Sonic 3). Tails and Amy have already abandoned the base, but Sonic and Johnny Lightfoot are forced to engage with Dr. Robotnik to buy Porker the time to download Kintobor’s program to the Golden Ring he came from to preserve his personality. The maniacal megalomaniac isn’t messing around this time, though, and the Squeeze Tag Machine proves too tough for even Sonic’s patented Spin Attack, but he’s able to buy them just enough time by burying the machine under a cave-in. While this is going on, Knuckles is working his way across the Floating Island, removing every trace of Dr. Robotnik’s influence; his first target is the Death Egg II, which is under repair at the tyrant’s man-made Launch Base Zone and under the supervision of the doctor’s slimy little assistant, Grimer. Knuckles coerces Grimer into delivering a false message of his death, simply to make a dramatic last-minute save right as Dr. Robotnik is closing in for the kill; with his incredible strength, he smashes open the Squeeze Tag Machine and allows Sonic to deliver the final blow, but there’s still the issue of the doctor’s Badnik army. Knuckles busts them out into the open and the two begrudgingly join forces to fend them  off, trading barbs and making a competition out of the combat. Although they clearly have no love for each other, there’s no denying that Sonic and Knuckles make a formidable team and (with some help from Johnny) and it isn’t long before they’re surrounded by a mess of broken mechanical parts. However, this is enough of a distraction for Dr. Robotnik to make a hasty retreat, and the status quo for Sonic and his friends has forever changed as they’re forced to go on the run, and in disguise, as “Bob Beaky’s Travelling Circus”. As for Knuckles, he commandeers one of Dr. Robotnik’s Egg-O-Matic’s and returns to his island for his first solo run, parting on amicable but strained terms with his newfound rival.

The Summary:
I was super hyped for Knuckles’ big debut in StC; the character had really captured my imagination and fascination at the time and I was eagerly anticipating his first story arc after his brief introductory story. Thankfully, StC definitely delivered in these stories; thanks to the unparalleled art of Richard Elson, Knuckles is at his absolute best here, appearing intimidating and confident and strong and he never comes across as a gullible, sheltered fool. Instead, he’s simply misguided; he has no reason not to trust Dr. Robotnik and is focused only on protecting his island and reuniting the Chaos Emeralds. Sure, it’s a bit weird how his chest fur is imagined as a necklace, but the character brings probably the most physical challenge to Sonic since Metallix. Though outmatched by Sonic’s speed, Knuckles more than holds his own with his superior strength, durability, and unrivalled knowledge of the Floating Island and all its secrets. He also ends up proving himself to be a wily and honourable warrior, deceiving Dr. Robotnik about the Grey Emerald and even helping Sonic out despite having no interest in the troubles of the surface world.

Very few locations and elements from the source material make it into the story.

It’s a shame, then, that the story really doesn’t explore the Floating Island all that much; the only location the story visits from the game is the Marble Garden Zone and the Temple of Chaos (which doesn’t appear in the game) and, as always, simply cherry-picks elements from the games such as Badniks, hazards, and Dr. Robotnik’s battle craft. However, it’s important to note that Knuckles’ story didn’t end here; far from it, in fact. Through his own solo run, and a subsequent story arc, we would see much more of the Floating Island and adaptations of Sandopolis Zone, Carnival Night Zone, and Sky Sanctuary Zone in a loose adaptation of Sonic & Knuckles that served as a conclusion to this arc. Here, though, there’s very little pulled from the source material and more of the story takes place in the Emerald Hill Zone thanks to the amount of time spent in Sonic’s base. Despite this, Knuckles’ big debut did shake things up in StC for quite some time; Sonic and his friends no longer had a hidden base to operate out of, and had gained a tentative ally in the reclusive echidna, who would reluctantly help Sonic out in future stories as well as have both solo adventures and team-based stories with the Chaotix Crew.

Richard Elson’s art, and the fights between Sonic and Knuckles, are the best parts of this story arc.

Overall, this is a fun story that is given a lot of time to breathe across its six issues, and yet is still primarily more focused on adding to the original lore of the comics rather than delivering a faithful adaptation of Sonic 3. I often wonder just how much material, context, and gameplay the writers and artists of these comics were given access to as there’s rarely an attempt to directly represent the events of the videogames, or maybe it was simply just easier to spend the time introducing and familiarising readers to this new, bad-ass character rather than dwell on the specifics. The general thrust of Sonic 3 is (Dr. Robotnik tricks Knuckles, steals the Chaos Emeralds, and has Sonic fight Knuckles while he works to repair his Death Egg) but the lack of representation from the Zones is disappointing. It would’ve been nice, for example, if Sonic and Knuckles had had their rematch in Angel Island Zone rather than crash-landing in Marble Garden Zone, and the paper-thin explanation for Sonic’s new forcefield ability seemed forced to me (I don’t recall this ability ever appearing again in the comics, either). The best part of this story arc are the fights between Sonic and Knuckles, which are wonderfully brought to life by the amazing Richard Elson. Sonic’s biting wit and abusive attitude are a fantastic counterpart to the proud Knuckles, and this arc really expanded the world of StC into new arenas thanks to the mystery and lore surrounding the last guardian and his Floating Island and went a long way to bringing the comic a little more in line with the source material.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Knuckles’ debut story arc from Sonic the Comic? If so, what did you think of it and which of the six parts was your favourite? Did you enjoy the artwork and Sonic’s abrasive attitude? What did you think to the way certain aspects of Sonic 3 were adapted into StC’s lore and would you have preferred a more faithful rendition? Which of Knuckles’ StC stories was your favourite and what did you think to the changes they made to his character and backstory? How are you celebrating the anniversary of Sonic 3’s release today? Please feel free to share your memories of StC and Sonic 3 & Knuckles below by signing up, or on my social media.

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