Academic Publications

After three years of studying English Studies at the University of Bedfordshire, I decided to pursue post-graduate studies at DeMontfort University in Leicester. After completing my Master’s degree, I spent the next five years working towards a PhD in the field of Adaptations and, as part of that, published the following works.

In the December 2012 issue of the Journal of Adaptation in Film & Performance, you’ll find my article “Aggressive action, Oedipal inaction and incessant procrastination: The genre conventions of Hamlet”, in which I discuss four different screen versions of Hamlet.

If you’re studying film or adaptations, you can also find this article on reference sites like ResearchGate, EBSCOhost, and the World Shakespeare Bibliography.

The culmination of five years of my life, “Interplay: The Adaptive Contexts of Videogame Adaptations and Franchises Across Media” is a huge 80,000 word thesis in which I discuss the history of videogames, videogame adaptations, and attempt to construct an academic language in which to talk about this unique genre of filmmaking using some of the most famous (an infamous) examples).

Interplay: Killer Heroes

Interplay

Before I earned my PhD writing about adaptations of videogames, I studied towards a Master’s degree in the same subject only, for my Master’s dissertation, I wrote about adaptations of comic books and superheroes. As many of you are probably aware, movies based on the likes of DC Comics and Marvel Comics costume-clad crimefighters are a prevalent subgenre in cinema these days but, back then, the boom was still reaching its apex; Marvel’s The Avengers/Avengers Assemble (Whedon, 2012) was still a year or two away from changing the genre, and cinema, and The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008) had just been released. It was an exciting time not just for move lovers but also for comic book fans; superheroes and comics have long been the basis of movies, cartoons, videogames, toys, and other media and have always been ripe for adaptation but, in the last ten years especially, they have really emerged as a successfully subgenre of cinema to dominate box offices and, thanks to the interconnected movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), change the way movie studios approach not just comic book movies but movies in general.

However, as with all adaptations, we’ve seen some changes to the source material during the act of taking these beloved characters from the restrictive panels and plash pages of comic books and transferring them to the big screen. The first thing you learn when studying adaptations is the inevitability of this change yet even when knowing this, those who critique adaptations do so to test their faithfulness and equivalence to a source material that is, by comparison, awarded primacy and authority simply because it “came first” (Hutcheon, 2006: 16).  Similarly, Dicecco (2015: 164) observed that adaptation theorists are generally exhausted with the concept of “fidelity” and the subsequent rejection of fidelity as constructive analytical discourse has been described as essential to adaptation theory as it “does not make sense as a critical framework because literal reproduction, which may or may not even be a formal possibility, is actually a relatively uncommon motive for adapters” (ibid, referencing Hutcheon and Leitch). Indeed, the very act of discussing fidelity is to express personal disappointment when an adaptation “fails to capture what we see as the fundamental narrative, thematic, and aesthetic features of its literary source” (ibid, quoting Stam), none of which is generally viewed as constructive to adaptation theory.

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No matter how good or faithful the adaptation, changes are inevitable.

And yet, for those of us who are particularly close to the source material and heavily invested in it, it can be difficult to accept when a movie changes something fundamental about our beloved characters; from having Jack Napier/The Joker (Jack Nicholson) be responsible for killing Bruce Wayne/Batman’s (Michael Keaton) parents, to the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) being little more than a drunken actor playing us all for fools, to Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) being the idealistic protégé of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jnr), comic book fans often lament startling changes and, with the internet and social media giving them the perfect platform to vent their frustrations, are never shy about letting others know exactly how they feel when movies alter their favourite comic book characters.

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But perhaps the biggest and most enduring debate amongst the superhero fan community is the question of whether or not their favourite heroes should be depicted as killers. It seems like every other day my Twitter feed comes alive with people raging endlessly about whether Batman should kill, protesting that Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) snapped General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) neck in Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013), and generally raging endlessly whenever someone dares to suggest otherwise. Honestly, it gets very old and aggravating; it’s almost as annoying and insulting as when these same fans decry superhero costumes in movies and television shows (no matter how faithful the design is to the source material, they still find something to complain about). So I figured that I’d go back to my Master’s dissertation and throw my two pennies into the well; however, as this debate could honestly go on forever and contain numerous example, I’m going to try and limit it to a couple of choice franchises: Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Avengers, and Star Wars.

While Bale’s Batman refused to kill, Affleck’s had no such qualms.

When I wrote my Master’s dissertation, the first chapter was all about Batman; his origins, his code, his various intricacies and how these had been summarised, distilled, and changed by the adaptation process when the character was brought to life in movies. At the time, the Christopher Nolan films were at their peak and it was generally understood that Batman (Christian Bale) had one simple rule: he would not kill, no matter the circumstances. Fast-forward to sometime later, after the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (ibid, 2016) and I revisited this piece in an attempt to get it published in a journal. However, when I came back to it, my entire argument had changed; having seen the way Batman (Ben Affleck) was portrayed in Batman v Superman, and actually being perfectly fine with a Batman who killed, my original piece was suddenly completely contradicted and it is this contradiction that I want to tackle first and foremost. Personally, I feel Nolan’s movies hammered home Batman’s no-killing rule in a way that is massively exaggerated for the source material. Whenever the subject is raised, people inevitably point to examples from Batman’s earliest days of publication, back when he was little more than another gun-toting pulp vigilante in the spirit of the Shadow or the Phantom. The “Bat-Man” as originally depicted by Bob Kane and Bill Finger was very nonchalant about killing criminals; he would kick them into vats of chemicals, snap their necks, or hang them from the Batplane, all while spouting a cutting quip or dry comment.

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Whenever talk about Batman killing crops up, these same panels appear.

However, examples of Batman killing in comics are few and far between and he is seen far more often opposing the killing of others than he is executing criminals. This was a driving force in the Under the Hood (Winick, et al, 2004 to 2006) in which Jason Todd, freshly returned to life, laments the fact that Batman would prefer to let criminal, murdering scum like the Joker live rather than end their threat once and for all. this idea of Batman resisting the urge to kill because it would be “too easy” and would start him on a downward path of death and destruction has been explored numerous times in Batman comics and is of particular relevance in Nolan’s films. In Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005) Bruce Wayne is fully prepared to avenge the death of his parents by shooting the man who killed them, Joe Chill (Richard Brake) right in front of entire host of witnesses. When the opportunity is taken from him, he becomes disgusted at himself for taking up the same weapon that brought such pain and loss to his life and, in that moment, literally and figuratively rejects such instruments of death. Later, when told that he must execute a murder to graduate from the League of Shadows, Bruce’s resolve remains steadfast (emphasis mine):

BRUCE (refusing the sword offered to him)
No. I’m no executioner.

DUCARD:
Your compassion is a weakness your enemies will not share.

BRUCE:
That’s why it’s so important. It separates us from them.

DUCARD:
You want to fight criminals? This man is a murderer!

 BRUCE:
This man should be tried.

DUCARD:
By whom? Corrupt bureaucrats? Criminals mock society’s laws! You know this better than most!

It’s a great scene, and a great moment, in which Bruce outright refuses to follow the League’s gospel to the letter and, instead, chooses to take their teachings and bring criminals to justice rather than end their lives. However, when faced with the choice of killing the man, Bruce takes drastic action and causes a fire to start in the League’s temple and ends up fighting with “Ra’s al Ghul” (Ken Watanabe); the fire causes the temple to become structurally unstable and, as a result, “Ra’s” is crushed to death by falling timber and, shortly after, the temple is rocked by a series of explosions. While Bruce risks his life to save his friend and mentor, Ducard (Liam Neeson, later revealed to be the true Ra’s), how many members of the League perished because of Bruce’s actions?

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In Year One, Batman put himself at risk to save a falling criminal.

This scene is, structurally, reminiscent of a sequence in Batman: Year One (Miller, et al, 1987) in which a young, inexperience and exuberant Batman is so frightening that he causes a robber to almost tumble over a balcony and to his death. Despite the fact that Batman takes a great amount of punishment from the other criminals (he gets a television bashed over his head, and not one of our light-weight flatscreens!), Batman makes a concentrated, deliberate effort to save the man from falling. “Lucky,” he remarks afterwards, “lucky amateur”. However, despite all of this, Batman is faced with a choice at the conclusion of the movie: the Gotham monorail is out of control and heading right to Wayne Tower and cannot be stopped. It’s breaking apart around him and his only option is to escape and let the train crash, destroying Ra’s’ microwave emitter in the process and saving Gotham City. Yet, he’s not along: Ra’s is with him in this moment:

RA’S:
Have you finally learned to do what is necessary?

BATMAN:
I won’t kill you…but I don’t have to save you!

And, with that, Batman unfurls his cape and is flown clear of the train, and of danger, and Ra’s is left to accept his fate. So, explain to me how killing a man and letting a man die are two different things? Remember, Batman has an entire utility belt full of gadgets and gizmos, the most prominent of which is his gas-powered magnetic grapnel gun. Rather than gliding away, he could have swung them both to safety or, better yet, took Ra’s with him as he escaped but, instead, he let Ra’s die through his inaction. Had Ra’s made a move or a fatal error that Batman was powerless to stop, this debate wouldn’t exist; we saw something similar in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (Geda, 2000) where Batman (Kevin Conroy) was too injured to stop Tim Drake (Mathew Valencia) from killing the Joker (Mark Hamill) but he most like would have tried to interject had he been physically capable.

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Alfred encouraged Bruce not to give in to the Joker even if it meant more would die.

In The Dark Knight, Batman’s code against killing is so widely known that not only does he rasp it at criminals at any given opportunity, but Gotham’s criminal underworld is “wise to [his] act”. Spurred on by Batman’s “morals” and his “mode”, the Joker (Heath ledger) wages a reign of terror across Gotham in an attempt to have Batman unmask and expose himself as a fraud. Interestingly, it is Bruce’s loyal butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), who tries to talk Bruce out of complying with the Joker’s demands:

BRUCE:
People are dying, Alfred. What would you have me do?

ALFRED:
Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it but that’s the point of Batman. He can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no-one else can make. The right choice.

This isn’t the first time Alfred has encouraged Bruce to accept that casualties are inevitable in his war on crime; in Batman Forever (Schumacher, 1995), Alfred (Michael Gough) actively encourages Bruce (Val Kilmer) to offer guidance to Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) just as he encourages Grayson to follow his own path towards vigilantism: “One day, Robin will fly again” he tells the troubled youth and he not only not only is conveniently lax about keeping the secret entrance to the Batcave hidden from Grayson he also “[takes] the liberty” of creating an armoured Robin costume for his young master.

Bruce repeatedly tries to convince Dick not to kill Two-Face.

Batman Forever is an interesting example as, whether fans want to admit it or not, this movie is tangentially connected to the two prior Batman movies, both of which depicted Batman as fully capable of killing. By Forever, though, Bruce has become so lost in his crusade that’s actually forgotten a pivotal motivation behind becoming Batman in the first place: the vow to keep anyone from experienced what he had to as a child. When it becomes apparent that Grayson is fixated on tracking down and killing the man responsible for the death of his family, Harvey Dent/Two-Face/“Harvey Two-Face” (Tommy Lee Jones), it is Bruce, not Alfred, who tries to talk him out of it:

BRUCE:
So you’re willing to take a life.

DICK:
As long as it’s Two-Face.

BRUCE:
Then…it will happen this way. You make the kill. But your pain doesn’t die with Harvey, it grows and so you run out into the night to find another face. And another. And another. Until one terrible morning you wake up and realise that revenge has become your whole life…and you won’t know why.

Grayson, however, is unconvinced at the time and Bruce’s words don’t truly start to sink into him until much later in the film, when he’s suited up as Robin: “I can’t promise I won’t kill Harvey,” he says…and Batman accepts this, having completed his own character arc and learned that he can’t deter Grayson from his path, all he can do is help guide him. However, when he finally gets his hands on Two-Face, Robin stops short of killing him and, ironically, it is Batman who causes the villains demise, in that moment, the shot clearly lingers on Robin’s face as he gets the catharsis he so desperately desired from Two-Face’s death but is spared having to commit the act himself thanks to Batman.

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Dent died as a direct result of Batman tackling him off a building!

Batman’s willingness to get his hands dirty, to “plunge [his] hands into the filth” so that others can keep theirs clean, is a pivotal plot point of The Dark Knight Rises (Nolan, 2012). This film is a culmination of the idea that Batman, as a concept, is not a hero; he’s a legend, an icon, an inspiration to others. We saw this in The Dark Knight when Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) believed so strongly in the Batman that he lied to the press and said that he was Batman right as Bruce was about to out himself to stop the Joker’s killings. We saw Bruce do a similar thing in Batman Forever where he didn’t hesitate to stand up and shout his secret identity to the world when Two-Face threatened the circus but, whereas his cries were drowned out by screaming Gothamites in that film, Dent is arrested and publically believed to be Batman until he dies. And how did Dent die? Batman tackled him off a high ledge! Harvey fell and broke his neck on impact and, with their “White Knight” dead, Batman chose to take the fall for his crimes: “I killed those people. That’s what I can be […] Because I’m not a hero. Not like Dent”. Only Batman and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) know the truth and this truth, and guilt, is what drives Gordon to become a shell of his former self in The Dark Knight Rises. The Dark Knight ends with the prospect of Batman being hounded by the Gotham police, who believe him a murderer, as well as the galvanised criminals of the city but, instead, Bruce simply retires from the role due to the physical and mental impact it has on his body.

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Batman’s got some nerve criticisng Batwoman considering some of the company he keeps.

When he finally returns to the cape and cowl, Batman picks up right where he left off, to his detriment. When he crosses paths with Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), he immediately discourages her from using guns or killing people; this is consistent with Batman’s methods in the comics where, despite referring to his crusade as a “war” and his protégés as “soldiers”, Batman constantly forbids members of his “family” from taking lethal action. This despite the fact that Batwoman, Kate Kane, is former military and has killed before, that Jason Todd/Red Hood regularly engages in gunplay and murder, that Batman’s own son, Damian Wayne/Robin, has killed before, and the fact that Alfred regularly patrols and defends the Batcave with either a shotgun or a musket! Furthermore, when Catwoman uses the cannons on his Bat-Pod to kill Bane (Tom Hardy), Wayne is still perfectly happy to retire from crimefighting with Selina by his side.

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This simple shot says more than words ever could about Bruce’s mindset.

So you’ll forgive me if seeing Ben Affleck mowing down criminals with machine gun fire and breaking them in two doesn’t offend my opinion of Batman. Of course, Batman films are often regarded as being especially important to comic book fans because they depict “a supposedly definitive representation” of Batman, belonging to a “multi-national conglomeration and the global audience” who buy tickets and merchandise, “rather than to the dedicated comic book readers” (Brooker, 2001: 293). Honestly, I think one of the issues hampering Batman v Superman and the film’s portrayal of Batman is the fact that Snyder’s directing style tends to be very loud and bombastic and on the nose but, when it comes to Batman, he is uncharacteristically subtle. I’ve mentioned this before but Batman’s entire motivation in this film can be explained in that one lingering shot of him first looking at the Batsuit with a mixture of disgust and conviction and then gazing in anguish at the Robin suit left on display. I fully believe that the visuals tell us more than words ever could in this scene, which clearly shows that this is a broken, desolate Bruce who, after twenty years (twenty years!) of being Batman, has become so jaded by his crusade that he has given up all hope: he now freely kills criminals or brands them with his symbol, ensuring they will die in prison:

ALFRED (handing Bruce a newspaper):
New rules?

BRUCE (barely glancing at the headline: “Bat Brand of Justice!”):
We’re criminals, Alfred. We’ve always been criminals. Nothing’s changed.

Sadly, Alfred (Jeremy Irons) then elaborates that things have changed…because of the arrival of Superman and alien beings on their world, rather than because of recent events in Bruce’s life. Yet, nevertheless, this is a Bruce so jaded and lost in his crusade for justice, that’s willing to pre-emptively kill Superman in order to actually affect real change in the world. Perhaps if the film had included a more explicit line of dialogue or explanation regarding Bruce’s state of mind rather than relying on the audience filling in the gaps through subtext, audiences would have reacted a little better to Affleck’s portrayal (or, at least, understood it better). While the eventual change in his perspective is quite jarring, Bruce spends the remainder of the film and the entirety of Justice League (Snyder/Whedon, 2017) trying to make amends for his actions. Indeed, in Justice League, Batman is so devoted to forming a superhero team and bringing Superman back to life that he’s willing to die to see this through. Superman’s sacrifice galvanises Bruce and he sees how far he has fallen and believes he has to atone for his sins; however, the team worked too well and saved him from not only death but himself as well.

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This issue is also referred to whenever the subject of Superman killing comes up…

Speaking of Superman, every other day I see the debate raging on Twitter that killing should, under no circumstances, ever be a part of Superman’s nature. No matter what the situation is, Superman, as the pinnacle of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” should always find another way to resolve the issue and never resort to killing.

Which, quite frankly, is utter rubbish.

If Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Meyer, 1982) taught us anything it’s that, sometimes, you’re in a no-win situation and there is no other way. To deny Superman, or any superhero, that kind of desperate situation is to deny us the chance to read interesting stories dealing with the fallout from that situation. If Superman always prevails and never has to address the fact that his actions may have fatal consequences, than surely that limits him as a character? In the comics, Superman has killed a few times, the same as Batman and other superheroes (even Spider-Man once accidentally killed a woman), but examples are far less prominent for the Man of Steel. One particular story that often gets brought up time and time again as an example of Superman killing is “The Price” (Byrne, et al, 1988), in which Superman is forced to execute some Kryptonian criminals with a chunk of deadly Kryptonite. This decision weighed heavily on Superman’s conscience for some time as he had taken an oath to never use his powers to kill and, as a result, tied into John Byrne’s over-arching goal of humanising Superman and making him more relatable to readers rather than him being some all-powerful, infallible demigod.

Never forget that Reeve’s Superman killed Zod as well.

Typically, though, Superman (like Batman and other superheroes) is generally depicted as killing one of the many parallel worlds that crop up in comics, with Superman generally becoming a merciless dictator once he starts down that path. In this story, though, one of the Kryptonians Superman killed in this story was none other than General Zod; of all the villains Superman has faced, Zod has perhaps met his ends at the hands of the Man of Steel more than any other. People forget that Superman (Christopher Reeve) threw Zod (Terrance Stamp) to his death after removing his Kryptonian powers, crushing his hand, and throwing him down a bottomless pit in Superman II (Lester, 1980). Sure, the Richard Donner Cut (Donner, 2006) showed that Superman was originally going to reverse time to restore Zod to life but, even if you consider this canon, he still killed Zod so how is this any better than what we see in Man of Steel?

Superman and Zod’s fight caused untold devastation and, surely, death in Metropolis.

In this revised origin story, Clark has finally discovered his true heritage and only just put on his Super-Suit for the first time when, all of a sudden, General Zod arrives and demands that he surrender to him. He’s not had a chance to properly reveal himself as Superman, much less use his powers in a fight, and he’s suddenly forced to battle against a group of dangerous, highly-trained Kryptonians who threaten his mother. How would you react in that situation? Would you calmly assess the situation and try to think of a way around the issue or would you attack head-first in an emotional attempt to save the woman who raised you? Obviously, the ensuing battles are quite devastating in their impact; Superman trashes most of downtown Smallville and never once during his subsequent fight with Zod does he try to direct the fight away from Metropolis. While this is mainly due to Zod blocking his path or forcing the fight to stay on ground level, there is that one sequence where the fight ends up in outer space and the two come crashing down right on top of Metropolis like an Earth-splitting meteor. This was easily Superman’s best opportunity to direct the fight away from the city but, again, this is a Superman who hasn’t been in action longer than a day and is overwhelmed by his emotions so of course his solution is to try and end the fight through brute force.

Sometimes, even the most righteous heroes have accidentally or indirectly killed.

Whether talking about Batman, Superman, or any other costumed hero, you have to factor in a degree of plausible realism; how likely is it that entire skyscrapers or cities would be evacuated when Doomsday comes crashing down into Metropolis? In the “Death of Superman” (Jurgens, et al, 1992 to 1993) story, Metropolis gets a great deal of advance warning before Doomsday rocks up, despite Superman’s best efforts to keep the creature from the city, and there are still countless civilians watching the fight and caught in the resulting destruction. We’ve also seen in comics before how, when dodging automatic gunfire, Batman has allowed others to be gunned down; is this not killing? By the logic of the internet, Batman should have taken those bullets and died right then and there rather than let someone die through his actions. As I briefly mentioned before, even Spider-Man has been guilty of this in the past; despite Peter Parker doing everything in his power to save lives, sometimes he fails to do so and, sometimes, his actions (or inactions) lead to yet more death and he is forced to deal with the consequences of that. Yet, apparently, according to some people, Superman doesn’t have to. In Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (2002 to 2004), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) is guilty of causing at least two deaths that we know of, intending to kill two others, and directly responsible for at least one death.

Could Spidey have done more? Maybe…and he’s haunted by that knowledge for the rest of the films.

In Spider-Man, enraged at the death of his beloved Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), Parker chases down the culprit, Dennis Carradine (Michael Papajohn), breaking his wrist and confronting him in a fit of anger. Peter demands answers from the murderer who, spooked by Peter’s enhanced strength and abilities, conveniently trips and falls to his death. Could Peter have saved him? Well…yes, of course he could have. He could have shot out his webbing and saved Carradine but, in the heat of the moment, he was powerless to stop the carjacker from falling to his death and, in the aftermath, vows to take his uncle’s words to heart and use his great powers responsible. And it works, for the most part, until he ends up locked in combat with Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe); beaten to a pulp by the chemically-enhanced madman, Peter is shaken when he discovers that the Green Goblin is the father of his best friend, Harry (James Franco) and, taking advantage of that distraction, the Goblin summons his rocket-powered glider to impale Spidey in the back, luckily, however, Peter’s spider-sense warns him of the danger and, acting purely on instinct, Peter flips out of the way and Norman is impaled by his own glider and dies. Should Peter have taken that fatal blow rather than saving himself? Could he have used his webs in mid-flip to knock the glider off course? Who can say, but the guilt of being directly responsible for Norman’s death haunts Peter throughout the next two movies.

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Spidey fully intended to kill Sandman in this fight.

I’ll cut Spidey some slack for the conclusion of Spider-Man 2 (ibid, 2004) as I don’t think anyone can really pin the death of Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) on Spidey but, still, you could make the argument that Spidey could have swung in and saved the misguided scientist from his death, no matter how willingly Otto went to meet his fate. In Spider-Man 3, however, Peter again lets his rage consume him when he discovers that Flint Marko/The Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) is actually the man responsible for the death of Uncle Ben. Fuelled by the symbiotic black suit, Peter obsessively monitors police radio frequencies and, as soon as he gets a lead on Sandman, tracks him down and washes him away with a jet of water. The liquid dissolves Sandman into a mushy mess as Spidey remarks: “Good riddance!” Clearly, in this moment, Spider-Man believes Sandman is dead and is glad to have killed him; he later admits to his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) that Spider-Man killed Marko and she is shocked:

            AUNT MAY (confused, shocked):
Spider-Man? I don’t understand…Spider-Man doesn’t kill people. What happened?

PARKER (clearly rattled):
I…uh…he was…I thought that…that you’d feel…he deserved it, didn’t he?

AUNT MAY:
I don’t think it’s for us to say whether a person deserves to live or die.

The revelation that Aunt May no longer wishes harm upon the man responsible for her husband’s death clearly knocks Peter for a loop and he questions his actions…but not enough to keep from tossing a pumpkin bomb right in Harry’s face when they fight later in the movie. Up until that point, the only person to survive such a blast was Spidey himself so, even if you want to make argument that Peter knew Harry’s enhanced strength would keep him from dying, he clearly set out to kill, or at least permanently maim, his childhood friend with that explosive.

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Aliens are, apparently, exempt from a superhero’s “no kill” rule.

Later still, having finally freed himself from the black suit’s corrupting influence, Peter prepares to kill once again; this time, his target is the alien symbiote itself, which he has contained within a bunch of vibrating bars. This is a common theme in superhero movies and comics where heroes like the Justice League and the Avengers are perfectly happy with killing sentient alien creatures; whether they’re part of an insect-like hive mind or mindless brutes, they’re still living creatures and the likes of Batman and Superman are more than happy to off them without a second’s hesitation. In this particular instance, though, Parker actually ends up killing Eddie Brock, Jnr (Topher Grace), who was so obsessed with the power and freedom offered by the symbiote that he leaps right into the blast and was summarily incinerated. Peter’s reaction? A look of shock, a scream of “EDDIE!!”, and he shrugs it off as just one of those things. The symbiote was a drug, after all, and Eddie couldn’t kick the habit and he paid for it. plus, to be fair, there was very little Peter could do to save Eddie in those final moments, certainly far less than he could have done to save Norman and Otto, and it’s obvious that he never intended for the bomb to kill Eddie but, still, a young man died as a direct result of Peter throwing that bomb.

Cap has a sizeable body count in the MCU thanks to his time as a soldier.

I mentioned the Avengers earlier so let’s go back to them real quick; while everyone cries and gets all stressed and upset when Batman launches a crate right in a goon’s face and smashes his skull open, no one bats an eyelid when the Avengers make killing a routine habit of their day-to-day lives. Obviously, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) gets a pass though, right? He was a soldier in the war and we clearly see him gunning down Nazis and Hydra agents in Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011) like any good soldier would be expected to do. Steve even says: “I don’t want to kill anybody” (emphasis mine) in his debut movie but it’s war: of course he’s going to and he does and nobody questions it.

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Team Arrow killed all the time so why can’t Batwoman?

Yet Batman has the nerve to lecture Kate Kane about not using lethal force in DC Comics and Kate (Ruby Rose) even has a crisis of conscious when she kills in her self-titled television show (2020 to present)…which is doubly ridiculous when you consider that Oliver Queen/The Hood/The Arrow/Green Arrow (Stephen Amell) and his allies routinely went around killing criminals and goons in Arrow (2012 to 2020) and it was perfectly acceptable! Hell, it was even part of Ollie’s character arc as he swore off killing for a time but, when he returned to murdering bad guys, nobody questioned it so why is there this double standard when it comes to superheroes killing? Similarly, in Avengers Assemble, we clearly see Cap gunning down those under the influence of Loki (Tom Hiddleston); these men aren’t actually evil or deserving of death, they’re just under a magic spell, but Cap offs them anyway and never gets a lecture for it. similar, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, who is so horrified and traumatised by his time as a prisoner of war and seeing his technology and weapons being used to kill American soldiers that he builds highly advanced suits of armour and flies halfway across the world to murder terrorists! The criminally under-rated and unfairly lambasted Iron Man 2 (Favreau, 2010) tries to explore the consequences of this but Tony simply laughs in the face of the American government…and is literally cheered for it!

Secretary Ross wants the Avengers to be put on a leash to control what they do, when, and where.

For that matter, all of the Avengers are publically lauded as heroes despite that fact that each and every one of them is a cold-blooded killer; Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is a former Russian spy with “red in her ledger” that she may never be able to erase no matter how much good she does, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) was sent to assassinate Romanoff and, while he made a “different call”, he’s clearly trusted enough to perform such an action, and even Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) was guilty of causing untold amounts of mayhem, destruction, and deaths when he was Edward Norton in his also-under-appreciated solo movie. Later in the MCU, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) reacts with horror when he kills a man even though it was a clear case of self-defence. Strange’s position is unique within the MCU; as a Doctor, he’s more accustomed to saving lives than taking them so his perspective on the matter, and approach to superheroics, is naturally very different to that of his fellow costumed peers. The consequences of collateral damage and the Avengers’ actions are explored in Captain America: Civil War (The Russo Brothers, 2016); here, the Avengers are placed under scrutiny when their largely unilateral actions result in a lot of innocent deaths. Up until this point, they have operated with “unlimited power and no supervision” and the decision is passed that, going forward, they should answer to the United Nations before jetting off to fight super criminals and terrorists, a decision which divides the team. Captain America’s outlook is very black-and-white and fitting for a soldier; he understands and sympathises with the guilt and shame Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) feels following her actions but doesn’t believe that it should spell the end of the Avengers’ effectiveness as an independent team:

STEVE:
People died. That’s on me. This job…we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody but, if we can’t find a way to live with that, next time…maybe nobody gets saved.

For Tony, the resultant Sokovia Accords are a means to alleviate some of his guilt and to show to his estranged girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), that he’s willing to step away from his role as Iron Man and hold himself accountable for his actions. Up until this movie, though, Tony’s view and methods reflected Cap’s more pragmatic view on the matter, as did the rest of the Avengers; they generally identify who the enemy is, engage them, and subdue them by any means necessary. In the course of their battles, which natural escalate, collateral damage is not just expected but all-but-inevitable; Cap understands this and, yet, even in the midst of city-wide destruction, will direct his team (and emergency and public services) to take the time to minimise civilian casualties wherever possible.

InterKillHeroCVEscape
Cap always prioritises saving lives whenever possble, no matter the circumstances.

As a result, Cap and the Avengers are never seen killing criminals indiscriminately and make every attempt possible to contain and reduce damage and casualties, but are not only willing to kill when necessary but accept that causalities are bound to happen. We see this when Cap goes to talk sense into James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and they end up having to fight off a riot squad; though he says he’s not going to kill anybody, Bucky, his head twisted by years of Hydra programming, is desperate to escape by any means necessary, is extremely aggressive towards his would-be-captors and Cap has to go out of his way to save them from serious harm and death. Cap recognises that these are the local authorities, not some Hydra goons, and therefore shouldn’t be killed or harmed at all, if possible, but has already showcased in the first Avengers movie that he’s used to seeing team-mates and innocents get caught in the crossfire during battle and has learned to compartmentalise that in such a way that allows him to continue function to save countless other lives whenever possible.

InterKillHeroDeadshot
Batman arrests Deadshot, kills random thugs, but lets the Joker live. It’s a bit inconsistent.

Let’s apply this to Ben Affleck’s Batman; despite popular believe, he isn’t some unhinged, murdering psychopath. He exists in a world where he’s perfectly happy to arrest the likes of Floyd Lawton/Deadshot (Will Smith) and where Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and the Joker (Jared Leto) remain alive and well; Batman v Superman implies that it’s only very, very recently that Batman has taken to taking more violent and extreme actions against criminals and he’s understandable a bit distracted by the oncoming battle against the forces of Apokolips but you have to believe that, if he wanted the Joker dead, he would be dead…but he’s not. Batman also doesn’t kill every criminal he crosses paths with; some are clearly only as maimed or injured as the countless goons Batman disables in the comics, while others are left completely unmolested. His methods are quite inconsistent but, for this Batman, the end goal is far bigger than just his city; in these movies, he’s concerned with the safety of the entire world and actually having a lasting impact outside of Gotham City. As a result, is approach seems to be one of sacrificing a few to save many, which isn’t a million miles away from Cap’s philosophy but, obviously, far more explicitly violent.

InterplayKillHanStormtroopers
Han wasn’t allow to shoot first but he could gun down countless Stormtroopers…

Finally, lets take a look at the characters of the Star Wars (1977 to present) movies. In Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (Lucas, 1977), we’re introduced to two characters who would become staples of the franchise: the innocent, wide-eyed farm boy Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who dreams of fighting space battles against the Galactic Empire and the rough-and-ready lovable rogue Han Solo (Harrison Ford), who wants little more than to be paid for his services. Famously, Lucas has butchered his original movie time and time again to alter the scene in which Han has a tense confrontation with Greedo (Paul Blake). Originally, Han blasted Greedo and killed him in a bad-ass moment that showed Han had no fucks to give but, feeling this made Han seem too cold-blooded, Lucas altered the scene again and again to have Han awkwardly “dodge” Greedo’s laser bolt and the two of them to shoot simultaneously. My question, as I’m sure many Star Wars fans also have, is…why? It seems completely redundant as, not long after this scene, both Han and Luke are blasting away at Stromtroopers without a care in the world. Is it somehow “better” because they’re being shot at? To me, it’s the same thing; killing is killing, the only question is how you can justify that killing and, in the case of Han murdering Greedo, he’s totally justified: Greedo confront Han with the specific intent on killing the smuggler so Han is simply defending himself by pre-emptively eliminating the immediate threat to his life.

InterplayKillLukeKills
How many innocents died when Luke blew up that Death Star?

Plus, like, Han is a galaxy-weary smuggler who has been around a while; he carries a blaster and is expecting trouble everywhere he goes so of course he would have had to have killed before so why Lucas chose to meddle with this scene but thought it was perfectly okay for bright-eyed and eternally optimistic Luke Skywalker to start murdering Stromtroopers (most of whom are simply following orders) with reckless abandon is beyond me. Oh, and let’s not forget the fact that Luke destroyed the Death Star! We know the Rebellion has spies within the Empire; how many of those were onboard those space stations when they blew? How many innocent lives were snuffed out? How sure are we that everyone on those battle stations was pure evil? Half of the Rebellion is made up of defected Imperial soldiers, for God’s sake! Even Han was an Imperial once and he ended up becoming a pivotal member of the Rebellion so who’s to say that a significant number of those hundreds of thousands of people actually “deserved” to die?

InterplayKillCasualties
There are bound to be casualties in war, no matter what your super powers are.

Again, though, it’s war so I guess that makes it “okay”, right? The fact that Batman often refers to his cruse as a “war on crime” never seems to factor in since it’s assumed that, obviously, there are different “types” of war. War is war; if you declare war, you’re at war and, in any war, there are casualties. Batman, of all people, should understand that. But don’t misunderstand me: I’m clearly not saying that Batman and every superhero should go out there and kill every criminal indiscriminately. That’s obviously not the point I’m making. What I am saying, though, is that if we’re to believe that a man dresses like a bat or an archer or wields incredible powers and regularly engages in city-wide battles or highly dangerous fights against armed foes, death is an inevitability. It should be avoided at all costs, sure, but it’s going to happen even if it’s just because our spandex-clad hero jumps out of the way of incoming gunfire. Hell, this was even a theme in the universally-maligned Batman & Robin (Schumacher, 1997) for God’s sake:

ALFRED:
For what is “Batman” if not an effort to master the chaos that sweeps our world? An attempt to control death itself?

BRUCE (contemplating, clearly affected by this):
But I can’t. Can I?

ALFRED (resolutely):
None of us can.

So what is it that makes killing acceptable for some characters but not others? Is it literally because these characters haven’t been so closely associated with not killing as Batman has (thanks, again, to the Nolan movies) or because Superman, with all his powers, should be capable of more? Okay, well, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is an actual God and he kills people all the time during battle and when his back is against the wall so why shouldn’t Superman? Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is obviously the better analogy as, like Thor, she’s this superpowered, God-like character from the pages of mythology and she kills so why is that okay but it’s not okay for Superman to snap a madman’s neck when he’s not only threatening to roast an innocent family alive but literally screaming about how he is genetically engineered to continue killing and causing as much destruction as it takes to resurrect Krypton? Of course, a lot of these examples are circumstantial; you could read an entire year’s worth of Batman comics and never see him kill, or through action or inaction allow someone to die, so it’s true that it’s hardly a normal, everyday occurrence for superheroes to kill (unless you’re talking about the likes of Spawn, Wolverine, or the Punisher, where it’s a given). Yet, it does still happen and, when adapting any character with as rich a history as the likes of Batman to the screen, writers and directors often tend to draw from the entirety of the character’s history, distilling their essence and reinterpreting the character in a way that hits all the familiar beats (and even introduces some new ones).

InterplayKillStories
Comics should never limit themselves in the stories they can tell.

Now, don’t get it twisted: I’m clearly not calling for these heroes to start killing their enemies indiscriminately but I’ve been a fan of all the superheroes and franchises I’ve talked about in this article for pretty much my entire life; I’ve seen Batman kill, abstain from killing, kill by coincidence, and lecture his fellow heroes on taking a strictly non-lethal approach and, yet, I am perfectly happy with either approach. Not minding (or even caring) when the likes of Batman kill doesn’t make me any “less” of a Batman fan; instead, it opens the door for deeper explorations of the character if you choose to look at the subtext of this approach and see what it does for the character. Personally, I am always open to the endless possibilities offered by comic books and their many adaptations and feel it is extremely short-sighted and limited to limit oneself to the types of stories they can tell. Use the pages to explore how killing this affects Superman and his faith in himself and his abilities; people always complain that Superman is too powerful to be relatable so any chance to humanise him and make us understand him better is an opportunity for a poignant tale without having him become some crazed dictator.  It’s the same for Batman; he’s always preaching and lecturing his protégés and extended family of vigilantes on the virtues of saving lives rather than taking them so what would it do to batman, to Bruce Wayne, if he were responsible for innocent lives being lost and caused a criminal to die? Would he quit, go on another voyage of self-discovery, change his tactics, go on a killing spree? Most stories tend to lean towards that latter and even the comics have basically said that, once Batman starts killing, he wouldn’t stop but…wouldn’t he? He didn’t kill every criminal in the Tim Burton or Snyder movies so is it really fated that he’d become a pseudo-Punisher once he took a life or could he, perhaps, have the strength of will to work through the knowledge that his crusade had led to someone losing their life and be a better, stronger character for it?

InterplayKillSHeroConclusion

I hesitate to ask you to leave your opinions on this matter as it’s a massively divisive can of worms, to say the least, but please do feel free to comment below on your opinions regarding this subject. Do you feel death is an inevitable part of a superheroes chosen career or do you think superheroes should be above that sort of thing? If so, why? Who is your favourite superhero? How would you feel if they took a life or, if your favourite superhero is already a killer, why do you feel it’s acceptable fort hem to kill but not others. Literally no opinion is “wrong” regarding this matter; it’s all a matter of interpretation so, whatever you think, leave a comment and, the next time you think about ranting about a superhero killing on twitter, stop and think about why it upsets you so much and maybe do a little research or dig a little deeper into the lore and the subtext before lynching those who disagree with your opinon.

Interplay: Sonic Adventure

Interplay

One of the great things about adaptations, and adaptation studies, is that they both:

“[continue] to expand and become more inclusive […] it is increasingly difficult to determine a cohesive theory that accounts for the division between adaptation and other intertextual modes: allusions, plagiarisms, remakes, sequels, homages, mash-ups, appropriations, and the list goes on” (Dicecco, 2015: 161)

This quote sums up perfectly what makes adaptation studies so interesting; adaptations can be anything and are restricted only by the scope of your imagination and your commitment to researching the links between media.

While researching the theories of Nico Dicecco (and his contemporaries) during my PhD, I chose to focus on the adaptation of videogames into movies, television shows, cartoons, and comic books. This was primarily because it’s a lot easier to talk about media that is adapted into film and there hadn’t really been any serious research into videogame adaptations at that time.

InterplaySAMerch
Sonic has always been a merchandise whore.

I’ve previously talked about how my studies into the Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team/Various, 1991 to present) franchise revealed that Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball (Polygames/SEGA Technical Institute, 1993) heavily influenced multiple Sonic adaptations over the years but there has been another Sonic videogame that has made multiple jumps to other media.

SonicAdventureLogo

Today, I’m once again returning to one of my favourite Sonic videogames, Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998), Sonic’s first real foray into 3D gameplay and a title that focused on multiple characters and gameplay mechanics, a far deeper narrative than the franchise had experienced in a videogame before, and functioned as both a consolidation of Sonic’s competing iterations and a “soft reboot” for the franchise, due its use of  “slight changes to be made without having to completely scrap the franchise and start over” (Bancroft, 2015).

SonicAdventureVariety
I can’t praise this game’s variety enough!

Coming after a long absence from a main series Sonic title (and at a time when SEGA were almost haemorrhaging money thanks to failures like the Mega-CD and SEGA 32X), Sonic Adventure became “the best-selling Dreamcast game of all time, with almost two and a half million copies sold”. (Pétronille and Audureau, 2012: 70). It reinvigorated the Sonic franchise in a way that I think has been forgotten over time; while the game may have had its flaws, it successfully revitalised Sonic and led to a string of successful sequels and follow-ups.

InterplaySALegacy
Sonic Adventure‘s speed-orientated gameplay definitely influenced later Sonic titles.

While these weren’t enough to curb SEGA’s financial woes, the success and impact of Sonic Adventure led to a shift in Sonic’s gameplay, narrative, and aesthetic direction; rather than racing along a 2D plane, players now ran along at break-neck speeds in fully 3D environments that were designed more like rollercoasters. Sonic was now “Taller, slimmer and somehow spikier”, his friendliness replaced with “an anime-style cool” (Jones, et al, 2011: 31), and his narrative was far darker and more mature than his bright, psychedelic 2D titles. Perhaps the most significant impact of Sonic Adventure came through Sonic Team eventually stripping away all other playstyles to focus purely on Sonic’s speed, an aspect that largely led to the development of the Boost-orientated gameplay of modern Sonic titles.

InterplaySAOVAAdv
Surely this can’t be a coincidence?

One thing to note before I delve into the main focus of this article is how the adaptation process appears to have worked both ways with Sonic Adventure. Many elements from Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie (Ikegami, 1996) are recognisable in Sonic Adventure, such as Tails’ workshop on South Island, the appearance of cities and structures that mirror those of our world, and a lot of Doctor Robotnik’s (Edwin Neal) personality and technology. For me, the Sonic OVA is clearly a precursor to Sonic Adventure’s attempt to leave behind Mobius and show him as an adventure-seeking teenager in a world not too dissimilar to our own (though I still pray for the day when his characterisation matches the snarky attitude of his OVA counterpart).

InterplaySAArchieComics
Archie Comics had included game adaptations for a while now.

Sonic Adventure didn’t just impact Sonic’s videogames, however; by 1999, Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comic books had developed into a continuation of the fan favourite Sonic the Hedgehog (1993 to 1995, more commonly referred to as “SatAM”) cartoon, infusing characters and events from the videogames into its narrative. With this in mind (and, possibly, in keeping with SEGA’s desire to create a homogeneous version of Sonic), it was inevitable that Sonic Adventure would feature in these comics before long.

InterplaySASonicDesign
Emerald energy alters Sonic’s look…and gives his shoes buckles…

Sonic Adventures’ influence began slowly but, in keeping with the increasingly-convoluted narrative of the comics at the time, was complex to the nth degree. First, the Archie team crafted an elaborate story to explain why Sonic now looked like his Sonic Adventure counterpart: ‘Retro Activity’ (Bollers, et al, 1999) not only showed how Sonic transformed from his pudgy, classic look to this edgier aesthetic by racing against a destructive energy beam so fast that he cycled through his various Super forms, but it told this story backwards! If you thought that was bad, though, the lengths they went to to explain Robotnik’s transformation into his Sonic Adventure counterpart, Doctor Eggman, were even worse! So, in ‘Endgame, Part 4: For Whom the Bell Tolls’ (ibid, 1998), Sonic finally destroyed Robotnik forever in a fight to the death involving his latest doomsday weapon, the Ultimate Annihilator.

InterplaySARoboEggman
Robo-Robotnik soon replaced his organic counterpart as “the Eggman”.

However, it is dramatically revealed in ‘I Am the Eggman!’ (ibid, 1999) that Robotnik has returned…in the form of his fully-robotic, alternate-universe counterpart, Robo-Robotnik. Though seemingly destroyed in that story, the issue ends with Robo-Robotnik downloading his consciousness into a body that is identical to his Sonic Adventure design; “Eggman” (for a long time “The Eggman”) would quickly become a derogatory nickname used to describe Robotnik until the madness was smoothed over by massive continuity changes much later down the line. The Sonic Adventure tie-in officially began with ‘The Discovery: A Sonic Adventure Tie-In’ (ibid), in which Sonic and the Knothole Freedom Fighters first learn about the “hidden city of the ancients”. Robotnik also learns of an ancient beast known as “Perfect Chaos” hidden within not the Master Emerald (…as that was where Mammoth Mogul was imprisoned) but the “Black Emerald”. Unearthing the Black Emerald in the Mysterious Cat Country, Robotnik discovers that it is severely depowered and promptly leads and assault on Floating Island to smash the Master Emerald in order to repower the Black Emerald.

InterplaySAAdventureBegins
Two issues in and I’ve already lost the plot!

After being denied the chance to accompany the Freedom Fighters, Amy Rose uses the magical “Ring of Acorns” wish herself into a more mature body in the follow-up story, ‘If Wishes Were Acorns’ (ibid), one that (you guessed it) is identical to her Sonic Adventure appearance. The Freedom Fighters then travel to the hidden city, which is located beneath an island (that is an almost exact replica of the OVA’s South Island) and accessed via a Mystic Ruins mine cart. A back-up story, ‘Swallowing Trouble’ (Penders, et al, 1999), introduces Archie’s readers to Big the Cat; his peaceful existence is disrupted when Froggy (who articulates through thought bubbles) swallows a piece of Chaos, grows a tail, and is promptly kidnapped by E-102γ (also known simply as “Gamma”). In the next issue, ‘City of Dreams’ (Bollers, et al, 1999) shows Sonic and friends exploring the hidden city, which is Station Square from the videogame and populated entirely by humans (who are different from “Overlanders”, the mostly-extinct human-like species that once waged war on Mobius), and sustained by an “artificial environment” (…that includes a sky, apparently).

InterplaySAVsChaos0
Things pick up with this Sonic’s battle against Chaos 0.

While they end the story making good progress in establishing diplomatic relations with the humans, the two back-up stories show Robotnik sending his E-series robots out to find more Master Emerald fragments to empower Chaos and Amy rescuing an injured bird from ZERO. Interestingly, while Archie bent over backwards to explain the characters new look, they simply have Amy’s Piko-Piko Hammer appear out of thin air with no explanation; even she is shocked to see it! Things finally pick up in the next issue’s ‘Night of Chaos!’ (ibid), which recreates (with amazing fidelity) the first encounter and battle between Sonic and Chaos 0. The back-up stories introduce Tikal to the story, as she relates to Knuckles her history (meeting and befriending Chaos and the destruction of her tribe when her father, Pachamac, tried to forcibly take the seven Chaos Emeralds from its shrine), how Robotnik finalised Chaos’ 0 form by infusing it with Froggy, and recreates the beginning of Gamma’s story by showing it pass a training drill and release Amy and her bird friend (here clearly identified as a Flicky) after overcoming its programming and gaining a modicum of sentience.

InterplaySASuperSpecial
The Sonic Super Special flew through the bulk of the game’s story.

Archie followed this up with a 48-page ‘Super Sonic Special’ that rapidly told Sonic Adventure’s familiar story beats: Sonic, Miles “Tails” Prower, and Knuckles battle Chaos 2 and 4 after Robotnik feeds it shards of the Master Emerald; Big, Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles end up on the Egg Carrier; there’s a tussle with Gamma (where Amy spares it from destruction) and they fight Chaos 6, destroying the Egg Carrier in the process.

InterplaySAArchiePC
Archie recreated Perfect Chaos’ birth in stunning detail.

The adaptation continues in the next regular issue; in here, Knuckles discovers “the Eggman” unconscious in the Mystic Ruins and Chaos, still alive, blasts through the land as a tornado, absorbing the six Super Emeralds, and transforms into Perfect Chaos, flooding Station Square (and attaching itself to the Power Siphon that control’s the city’s environment) exactly as it does in the opening and Super Sonic story of Sonic Adventure.

InterplaySADialogue
Archie just pulled lines directly from the game, for better or worse.

Perfect Chaos destroys the Egg Carrier then, after learning a bit more from Tikal, Sonic uses the Emerald’s to transform into Super Sonic and engage Perfect Chaos. It’s around about at this point that the story stops creating its own dialogue and starts lifting lines directly from Sonic Adventure but, considering the quality of Archie’s writing back then, I would necessarily say that this is a bad thing. The story finally comes to a conclusion in issue 84’s ‘Perfect Chaos’ (Penders, et al, 1999), in which Super Sonic struggles to subdue Perfect Chaos while Knuckles overcomes his fear of water and uses his immense strength to restart the city’s power generator (tapping into his latent Emerald powers for the first time, which would later significantly change his appearance and powers). This, coupled with Super Sonic’s attack, is enough to revert Perfect Chaos back to Chaos 0. At peace once more, Chaos and Tikal return “to the Zone [where they] belong” and the threat is finally ended (…once again glossing over the untold death and destruction in Station Square).

InterplaySAArchieLore
Archie lore was dense enough before they wedged in Sonic Adventure.

Archie’s Sonic Adventure adaptation is one of the few times they actually crafted a long-running narrative out of a videogame story; normally, they just produced one-shots or sort stories that briefly (and very loosely and awkwardly) spliced the game’s story into their own convoluted narrative. The incorporation of Sonic Adventure’s narrative was especially difficult given that several key elements had to be changed due to them clashing with Archie’s lore; Chaos’ origin and imprisonment, for one, and the weird way they introduced Station Square for another, to say nothing of how the entire Echidna backstory struggled to fit in with the messed up narrative crafted by the notorious Ken Penders. Nevertheless, this was, perhaps, the closest Archie Comics got to a straight-up, beat-by-beat adaptation of a videogame; they made it easier on themselves in the future by generally just adapting the opening portions of a game and leaving a dialogue box that said something like “Play the game to find out the rest” and then vaguely referring to the game’s events in subsequent stories. Here, though, we got lines from the game, locations, notable boss battles, and hit almost every story beat from the game no matter how at odds it was with the world Archie had created for their version of Sonic.

InterplaySASTCSonic
Sonic was a bit of a jerk in StC.

Over here in the United Kingdom, Fleetway’s Sonic the Comic (1993 to 2002, referred to as “StC”) was a little late to the party with their Sonic Adventure adaptation; like Archie, Fleetway had established their own, separate lore for Sonic and his friends, one that “felt” closer to the videogames but was still distinctly separate from it. Previously, their adaptations of Sonic videogames had tended to be multi-part stories that took the game’s characters and the vague outline of its plot and applied them to their unique narrative and Sonic Adventure was no different.

InterplaySASTCFearChange
Chaos cripples with its fear aura and alters Sonic’s look.

The arc began in issue 175’s ‘The Coming of Chaos!’ (Kitching , et al, 2000), in which Sonic and his friends race out to confront StC’s version of Chaos 0 in Metropolis City Zone. This battle, which is a truncated version of the first boss fight with Chaos 0, showcases that StC’s Chaos exudes an aura that cripples its foes with feelings of utter dread. Headstrong and arrogant as always, Sonic attacks Chaos head-on regardless and manages to fend it off but is left with glowing green eyes and jagged spikes. In the following issue, it is revealed that Robotnik’s assistant, Grimer, unleashed Chaos in the hopes of destroying Sonic and his friends and shaking Robotnik out of the slump he had found himself in after multiple defeats. However, Robotnik reveals that Chaos is truly uncontrollable and that, by setting it free, Grimer has “doomed the entire planet”.

InterplaySASTCJohnny
Defeating Chaos extracts a heavy price.

Meanwhile, Sonic’s tech buddy Porker Lewis arrives; he’s (somehow) discovered that it’s made up of Chaos energy and has whipped up a device to defeat it but Sonic, already weakened from his earlier tussle with the creature, is unable to fight through its fear-inducing aura to complete the process. Luckily, Johnny Lightfoot steps in to lend a hand but, while he succeeds and Chaos is seemingly defeated, he dies in the process! Yep, a kids comic actually killed off a beloved, long-time character and not just any kids comic, a Sonic comic! Up until this point, death had largely been a stranger to StC’s stories; characters were used as batteries for Robotnik’s Badniks or turned to stone, or trapped for all eternity (…for a while), but they had never died before!

InterplaySASTCChaos
Chaos was an intelligent creature in StC.

StC hammered home that Johnny was actually, really, 100% dead in the following issue, where the guilt and shame of having recklessly led his friends into danger causes Sonic to quit the entire thing. However, Chaos reappears the Floating Island’s Emerald Chamber, now able to talk and state its intentions: it claims ownership of the Chaos Emeralds and desires to absorb their power. Knuckles is left with no choice but the jettison the Emeralds in the following story, ‘Splash-Down!’ (ibid), which causes the Floating Island to crash and sink into the sea. There’s an interesting wrinkle here where Knuckles, despondent at his actions, resigns himself to facing the same fate as his ancestral home and has to be coerced by Amy (and a good knock on the head) to avoid killing himself.

InterplaySASTCNewEgg
Robotnik’s new look is a much simpler affair this time around…

Also in this story, rather than going through a whole complicated mess involving robotic counterparts and body swapping, Robotnik simply…puts on a jacket so he resembles his Sonic Adventure design. I find this doubly amusing and ironic considering the lengths StC went to to show Robotnik transforming from his classic design to his Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993) look.

Oh, and Sonic just…comes back at the end of the story, ready to jump into the fray once more.

In the next issue’s story, ‘Out of Time!’ (Kitching, et al, 2000), Porker continues to obsess over Sonic’s green eyes and the Chaos energy he apparently absorbed from battling Chaos. This turns out to be a pretty big deal as Sonic is the only one who can see Tikal when she suddenly appears and promptly zaps him 8,000 years into the past.

InterplaySASTCTikal
Tikal raised new questions about StC-Knuckles…

This (and the subsequent issue) is also where StC loops Sonic Adventure’s lore into their own narrative regarding Knuckles’ past; we learn not only that Knuckles existed in the distant past (a plot thread that wouldn’t be resolved until StC was continued online) but also that the extra-dimensional Drakon Empire (who had previously attempted to invade Mobius) were involved in Chaos’ origin. After defeating a Drakon Prosecutor, revealing the heavily-armoured warriors to be mutated fish in armoured shells, Sonic chats with Tikal’s father, “Pochacamac”, who reveals that the Echidnas stole the seven Chaos Emeralds (and the Master Emerald) from the Drakon Empire after they invaded the Echidna’s sacred Emerald Mines and infused the gems with their patented Chaos energy.

InterplaySASTCChaosOrigin
StC gave Chaos a completely new origin.

During a battle with Drakon Prosecutors in which a stray energy blasts hits the Emeralds and causes their powers to surge out of control, the Drakon Sonic had previously defeated is released from its prison and fuses with the Emeralds to transform into Chaos. Sonic attempts to get revenge for Johnny in the following issue but is transported back to the future in order to weaken Chaos enough for past Knuckles to do…something to imprison Chaos. Sonic returns to the present just as Chaos arrives at Robotnik’s mountaintop fortress, where Robotnik gathered the Chaos Emeralds in order to lure it in…though he does this merely to have a front row seat to the end of not only Sonic and his friends, but the entire world. All hope seems lost in ‘Perfect Chaos!’ (ibid) when Chaos absorbs the power of the Chaos Emeralds and transforms into Perfect Chaos (which actually more closely resembles Chaos 6) until a severely weakened and dying Super Sonic arrives.

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StC‘s Super Sonic was a demonic entity that lived to destroy.

How, I gave Archie flack for how complicated some of their stories were so I guess it’s only fair to deviate here to explain this a bit. In StC, Sonic absorbed a huge amount of Chaos energy a long time ago; this lay dormant in him for years and, whenever under extreme stress or driven to severe rage, he would transform into Super Sonic. StC Super Sonic was an uncontrollable, rage-filled, super-powered demon with maniacal eyes who could shoot energy blasts, fly at incredible speeds, and was all-but-invulnerable. However, Sonic’s friends eventually found a way to separate Super Sonic from him and imprisoned the demon within a time dilation of sorts. Super Sonic did eventually escape but the effort drained his power so much that he eventually lost his memory and became a confused, but harmless, individual.

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Chaos, and Super Sonic, are both defeated, ending both the story and StC.

Sonic’s fears regarding his demonic counterpart are realised in the finale of the Sonic Adventure arc, ‘Point of no Return!’ (ibid), in which Super successfully drains Perfect Chaos of all its energy and regresses it back to a harmless Drakon fish. The Chaos energy returns Super’s memories and powers and he attacks everyone, intending to kill them all, and begins to drain the life energy out of Sonic. However, Super’s friend, Ebony, uses her magical powers to fuse Super and Sonic back into one being again. Grimer quits Robotnik’s employ, disgusted at his lackadaisical attitude to what looked to be the end of the world, and the story ends with Sonic and his friends triumphant. Sadly, the Sonic Adventure arc would be the last time StC ran original Sonic stories in their comics; for a while, the comics had consistently largely of reprints of old stories, even though the writers could have done what Archie did and used the extra pages to tell back-up tales to expand the story rather than rushing through everything in the main Sonic strips.

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StC didn’t really give these guys anything to do in this arc…

Compared to the Archie adaptation, StC’s interpretation of Sonic Adventure is not only rushed but has some pretty weak connections to its source material. The characters never visit any of the locations from the game, Chaos is significantly different (though, in some ways, better; its “fear aura” was a nice inclusion with a lot of potential), Big is reduced to a throwaway, one panel cameo, Gamma doesn’t appear at all, and neither Tails or Amy have anything near the significance of the roles they played in the game. While Knuckles plays a vital part, he’s far more hands-off than in Archie (and the videogame), and Robotnik barely features at all (though this does make sense considering where the character was, mentally, at the time). If Fleetway had been able to use every page of their issues to tell this story, it probably would have landed much better; while I don’t doubt that they still would have sought to slot Sonic Adventure’s canon into their own as best as they could, at least e could have seen a five page back-up story featuring Knuckles, or Big, or anyone. Instead, it’s a very poor effort; StC did a pretty good job of telling stories heavily influenced by the videogames in the past but, by the point, the comic was on its last legs so I guess we were lucky to get anything.

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A similar storyline featured in Sonic Underground.

Chaos would go on to sporadically appear in Archie Comics as it continued on, even when the license switched over to IDW Publishing, but it also notably appeared in Sonic X (2003 to 2006) when the anime did its own six-part adaptation of Sonic Adventure. Before I get into that, though, I just want to briefly mention Sonic Underground (1999), the oft-lambasted follow-up to SatAM that, for all its faults, at least featured Knuckles (Brian Drummond). There’s a couple of points in the series where characters refer to “Chaos” as being the destructor of Mobius and, in ‘New Echidna in Town’ (Boreal, et al, 1999) Chaos Energy transforms Dingo (Peter Wilds) into a mindless beast, Chaos Dingo, who takes on a malleable form. While this link to Sonic Adventure is tenuous at best (made all the more so by Sonic Underground’s dramatic departure from all Sonic lore), it’s still an interesting connection to make.

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Sonic X weaved the game’s story into its lore and mixed it up a bit.

Despite looking fantastic due to its anime aesthetic, Sonic X was a bit of a disappointment when it first started for a variety of reasons: Sonic (Jason Griffith) is largely lethargic, preferring to spend his days taking naps or smelling flowers, and all of his iconic friends are pushed to the side to make way for Chris Thorndyke (Michael Sinterniklaas) and a host of other human characters forced into the show when Sonic and the others are transported from their world to Earth. However, for me at least, things started to pick up near the end of the first season and with the episode ‘Pure Chaos’ (Kamegaki, 2004), which kick-started the Sonic Adventure saga with Froggy swallowing a Chaos Emerald, Dr. Eggman (Mike Pollock) launching the Egg Carrier, and Sonic and Knuckles (Dan Green) battling Chaos 1 and 2. Straight away, Sonic X is ahead of the curve simply by including Big in a role more suited to his videogame story and, like Archie, the series sticks quite close to the source material.

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Sonic X featured almost all of Sonic Adventure‘s bosses.

The adaptation continued in the following episode, ‘A Chaotic Day’ (Kamegaki, 2004), which focuses a bit more on Knuckles’ side of the story, detailing how Chaos broke out of the Master Emerald and his search for its shards, which also brings him into contact with Tikal (Rebecca Honig). Sonic and Tails (Amy Palant) then battle both Chaos 4 at Eggman (in the Egg Hornet) at the Mystic Ruins (in what is a pretty faithful adaptation of the same boss battles from Sonic Adventure) before pursing Eggman to his Egg Carrier. They crash, as in the game, and Amy (Lisa Ortiz) and Cheese the Rabbit (Rebecca Honig) are attacked by ZERO, who kidnaps Amy and the birdie, Lily (Sayaka Aoki). Amy and Gamma’s (Andrew Rannells) stories are the primary focus for the next episode, ‘A Robot Rebels’ (Kamegaki, 2004), in which Gamma kidnaps Froggy right after Chris helps Big to rescue him and he subsequently frees Amy after suffering a bit of a short circuit at the sight of Lily just like in the videogame. Similarly, Amy convinces Sonic to spare Gamma and Knuckles recovers the last piece of the Master Emerald in the following episode, and, though Eggman successfully uses Froggy’s tail and Chaos Emerald to transform Chaos into Chaos 6, Sonic and Knuckles (randomly sporting his Shovel Claws) defeat it. The episode ends with the finale of Tails’ story, in which Eggman launches a missile at Station Square and he must gather his courage and self-sufficiency in order to disarm it (though he doesn’t battle the Egg Walker).

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Gamma’s tear-jerking story is told from start to finish.

‘Revenge of the Robot’ (ibid) primarily wraps up Sonic and Gamma’s stories from the game: Gamma travels through the locations of Sonic Adventure deactivating its robotic brethren and freeing the Flicky’s trapped within (which is considerably easier than in the videogame) and eventually destroys  itself and its older “brother”, E-101β “Kai” (Andrew Rannells) to reunite with its Flicky family.

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Sonic actually battles Dr. Eggman before Perfect Chaos wrecks Station Square.

While Sonic does go on to defeat Eggman and his Egg Viper, Chaos obtains all seven Chaos Emeralds, transforms into Perfect Chaos, and floods Station Square in the final episode of the saga, ‘Flood Fight’ (Kamegaki, 2004). Up until this point, Chris’s involvement (and the involvement of his extended family and friends) was largely painless and unobtrusive. The changes this, however, as the destruction brought upon Station Square has a significant impact on the lives of Sonic’s new human friends and, wouldn’t you know it, it is Chris who supplies with the last Chaos Emerald he needs to transform into Super Sonic. Unlike in the videogame and the Archie Comics adaptation, Super Sonic defeats Perfect Chaos with hardly any issue at all in Sonic X; while Perfect Chaos had never looked bigger or badder, resembling more a water-based version of Biollante, and packs some serious firepower, it is defeated and reverted back in Chaos 0 with very little effort. To be fair, though, Sonic X’s Super Sonic was always far more powerful than his other incarnations, being more of a God-mode than a power-up. Still, Chaos is defeated and returns to the Master Emerald with Tikal, at peace once more. Station Square is left in ruins and, while the anime also glosses over the death and destruction the flood must have caused, subsequent episodes dealt with (or, at least, referenced) the restoration process.

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Sonic X told the entire game’s story, giving everyone their due.

Like the other adaptations of Sonic Adventure discussed here, Sonic X incorporates the game’s narrative into its own unique lore but, in a twist, includes characters like Cream and Rouge the Bat (Kathleen Delaney) who debuted after Sonic Adventure. However, even these videogame characters have smaller roles than Chris and his cohorts; given that Chris was obsessed with following Sonic everywhere and putting himself in danger, this isn’t too surprising but, honestly, their inclusion and involvement is no more or less, better or worse, than those of the Archie and StC extended cast. However, Sonic X’s Sonic Adventure saga is easily the closest, most faithful adaptation of the source material of these three; Archie Comics came close bit their impenetrable lore meant that too many compromises had to be made. Both comic adaptations focused more on Chaos than other bosses and events, but Sonic X includes almost everything from the videogame, giving plenty of time to each of the game’s six characters and adapting their stories with a high degree of fidelity. It even streamlined and improved the story in many ways, such as having characters team up against Chaos’s various forms and improving the appearance of Perfect Chaos.

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Sonic Adventure told a complex, interweaving Sonic story for the first time.

Sonic Adventure has been a rich source of adaptation, second only to Sonic Spinball; aside from the more direct adaptations I’ve talked about here, stages, bosses, and narrative themes from the game cropped up in many subsequent Sonic titles. Unlike Sonic Spinball, I feel like this is probably because of the game’s story; this was the first time Sonic and his friends and enemies had a real voice in the videogames and the first time Sonic Team tried to tell a deep, overarching story. Add to that the influence that Sonic Adventure’s gameplay and aesthetic choices had on Sonic’s canon and future release and it’s not hard to see why. The only thing that hampered each of these adaptations was their attempts to shoe-horn the videogame narrative into their existing lore, rather than using the general story and themes of the game and threading it through in a more natural way. While Archie Comics and StC had good reasons for this, Sonic X had every opportunity right from the beginning of its run to properly prepare and lay the groundwork for its eventual videogame adaptations and, instead, it was happy to waste time focusing on Chris, his idiotic behaviour, and having Sonic be this bland, lethargic goody-too-shoes rather than a snarky, hyperactive adventurer.

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Which of these three Sonic Adventure adaptations was your favourite? How did you find Archie’s writing at the time? Do you remember Sonic the Comic? What were your thoughts on Sonic X and Chris? Drop a line below and stick around for more articles in the future.

Interplay: Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball

Interplay

Among many things, adaptations can be described as being:

“An acknowledged transposition of a recognizable other work or works […] A creative and an interpretive act of appropriation/salvaging [or] An extended intertextual engagement with the adapted work” (Hutcheon, 2006: 80).

The great thing about adaptation is that it can be literally anything; it’s restricted only by the scope of your imagination and your commitment to researching the links between media. When I studied the writing of Linda Hutcheon (and many others like her) as part of my PhD, I chose to focus on the adaptation of videogames into movies, television shows, cartoons, and comic books.

There were two reasons for this: a) Because it’s a lot easier to talk about media adaptations like these and b) Because there hadn’t really been any real, serious research into videogames as adaptations. During my studies, though, I came across a curious statistic: of all the videogames that make up the entirety of the Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team/Various, 1991 to present) franchise, there is one that stands out as having had the most adaptations and it’s probably not one you were expecting…

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Today, we’re talking about Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball (Polygames/SEGA Technical Institute, 1993), a spin-off of the main Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Spinball was the first Sonic title to truly embrace the pinball-like gameplay mechanics of the series popularised by the Spring Yard and Casino Night Zones.

Just controlling Sonic in this spin-off title can be a chore.

Rather than being a fast-paced action/platformer, Sonic Spinball sees Sonic’s running speed scaled back and his bouncing speed boosted up as he trades running through loops for being flicked about inside a giant, pinball-like fortress created by Doctor Ivo Robotnik (now more commonly referred to as Doctor Eggman). Robotnik’s Veg-O-Fortress is made up of four stages, each one containing a number of Chaos Emeralds (unlike most Sonic games, Spinball has multiple Emeralds and they’re all blue). Using the flippers and a variety of gameplay gimmicks, Sonic must retrieve the Emeralds and battle the mad Doctor himself in a number of massive and increasingly difficult boss battles. In the Bonus Stages, Sonic operates an actual pinball and attempts to free his friends from Robotnik’s capsules. Other than that, the game offered little despite having some funky tunes and a charming aesthetic; the controls were clunky (Sonic feels unnaturally heavy and awkward), the stages were large and vibrant but it was often difficult to tell where you needed to go or what you had to do, and there’s very little incentive to play again except to beat your high score. Yet, Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball has been adapted into other media and forms more times than any other Sonic title; right off the bat, the game was ported to the Master System and Game Gear, for one thing, but, more than that, the game formed the basis of plots for Sonic’s cartoons, comic books, and other ancillary media.

Let’s just say there were some…differences between Sonic in the East and the West.

At the time, Sonic was in the middle of his first (and, arguably, most prominent) surge in popularity; bundling Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team, 1991) with the Mega Drive saw the console sell over fifteen million units during its American debut (Pétronille and Audureau, 2012: 39) and catapulted SEGA’s speedy mascot to the stratosphere. SEGA immediately followed this up with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992) and, just like that, Sonic was everywhere. Not content with a gigantic Sonic balloon in the Macy’s Day parade, SEGA capitalised on Sonic’s popularity; Sonic appeared on every piece of merchandise imaginable and that, of course, included cartoons. Nintendo had seen significant success in this area in the past and, seeking to usurp their rival once more, SEGA turned to DiC Entertainment. The concept was spearheaded by producer Robby London, who recognised Sonic’s charisma and appeal but struggled with the “elusive and impenetrable” story of the videogames (Jones, et al, quoting London, 2011: 29). This isn’t particularly surprising as, while Sonic typically has an extremely simple premise (hedgehog hero destroys robots to save woodland friends), differences between the Japanese and American versions saw dramatically different versions of Sonic presented across the world.

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Spinball included a lot of influences from SatAM.

Regardless, after bringing in Jaleel White to voice the character, DiC produced a pilot episode that was largely comprised of slapstick comedy and was deemed to be unsuitable for ABC’s Saturday morning slot. Undeterred, DiC made the extraordinary decision to instead produce two Sonic cartoons: one for weekdays and one for Saturday morning. This is how we ended up with Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993) and Sonic the Hedgehog (1993 to 1995, more commonly referred to as “SatAM”) airing simultaneously; one emphasised slapstick comedy and the other was decidedly much darker and serious in tone. For a time, these two cartoons were often closely associated with each other; this was mainly due to the Archie Comics series in the US initially mixing characters and concepts from both shows together rather than picking one as its basis (eventually, however, they settled on SatAM) but this can also be seen in Sonic Spinball. Sonic not only encounters Cluck, Doctor Robotnik’s (Jim Cummings) mechanical pet that briefly appeared in both SatAM and Archie’s comics, in the Toxic Caves, but must also free Princess Sally (Kath Soucie), Bunnie Rabbot (Christine Cavanaugh), Rotor (Mark Ballou), and Antoine Depardieu (Rob Paulsen) during the game’s Bonus Stages.

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I still have no idea how the hell Robotnik did this!

This would be the first and only time SatAM’s characters would appear in a Sonic videogame; given that, unlike Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (Compile/SEGA Technical Institute, 1994), Spinball appeared to be a straight forward spin-off of the main Sonic series, their inclusion only served to further muddy the waters as to the coherency of SEGA’s flagship franchise. To further confuse matters, it was the Adventures depiction of Robotnik (Long John Baldry), rather than SatAM’s, who appeared on the cover art for Spinball’s Game Gear port. Indeed, while Archie eventually restructured its Sonic comics into a continuation of SatAM, it was Adventures’ Robotnik who seeped into other Sonic media and became the default depiction of the dastardly Doctor in storybooks and comics for many years. This was most prominently seen (at least in the UK) in Sonic the Comic (1993 to 2002, referred to as “StC”) where, in issue tweny-two, Doctor Robotnik inexplicably transformed from the rotund antagonist seen in the videogames into “that weed from the rubbish cartoon series” (Fielding, 1995: 32; Kitching, et al, 1994: 1 to 7). While SatAM is often lauded as a significant influence to many for its darker, more adult themes, Adventures is often overlooked for its fidelity to the wacky nature of the videogames due to its childish humour. Of the two, only Adventures incorporated the game’s iconic theme song and more accurately depicted certain gameplay mechanics, such as Special Stages, Golden Rings, and Chaos Emeralds. Yet, don’t let that fool you: Adventures is a full-on acid trip most of the time and, despite pulling some inspiration for the source material, only ever adapted the plot of one videogame: Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball.

Robotnik’s plans often involve an impractical, giant pinball machine.

‘Attack on Pinball Fortress’ (Butterworth, 1993) saw Sonic, Miles “Tails” Prower (Christopher Welch) join forces with Sergeant Doberman (Phil Hayes) and one of Adventures’ more amusing reoccurring characters, Wes Weasely (Michael Donovan), when Robotnik threatens Mobius with a gigantic Stupidity Ray housed within his Pinball Fortress. When the group infiltrates the Pinball Fortress, they are knocked about by giant flippers and into other gigantic recreations of cliché pinball machines before they encounter Boss Scorpion, a massive robotic scorpion that Robotnik uses to try and thwart the heroes. Obviously, this fails and it isn’t long before the robot is devoured by lava and Robotnik’s plot is thwarted. As an adaptation of Sonic Spinball, ‘Attack on Pinball Fortress’ is very bare-bones; it’s almost as if the writer, Bob Forward, was given a few pieces of concept art and nothing more as the episode has next to nothing to do with the videogame beyond the vague concept of a pinball-themed fortress and a giant scorpion. Yet, as basic an adaptation as ‘Attack on Pinball Fortress’ is, it’s got nothing on ‘Game Guy’ (Myrick, 1994), an episode of SatAM that sees Sonic trapped within a pinball-themed game right at the conclusion of the episode, which mostly concerns Sonic and Sally being at odds over the appearance of another Freedom Fighter, Ari (Dorian Harewood). Ari betrays Sonic but, when Robotnik nearly uses his giant pinball table to suck Sonic into the Void, he sacrifices his freedom to not only save Sonic but lead the Freedom Fighters towards other allies. Literally the only thing in ‘Game Guy’ that comes from Sonic Spinball is the giant pinball-themed trap that Robotnik nearly bests Sonic with, but then this was par for the course for SatAM, which was concerned more with environmental messages than adapting plots from the videogames.

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Archie Comics sure loved their puns…

Things begin to look up, however, in ‘The Spin Doctor!’ (Gallagher, et al, 1994), the official Sonic Spinball adaptation featured in issue six of Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Here, Sonic and the Freedom Fighters lead a random assault on Robotnik’s factory, only to be informed (via a hand-written note) that he has moved his base to Mount Mobius. Racing there without hesitation, Sonic finds the Veg-O-Fortress and is immediately attacked by (you guessed it) giant pinball flippers and bounced across lava. Racing up the pinball tracks and into the fortress, Sonic battles both Scorpius and Rexxon in the Toxic Caves, defeating them with ease. Sonic then ends up in the Lava Powerhouse, where Hip and Hop help lead him to a bunch of captive Mobians but giant plants force Sonic into a final Showdown…which consists entirely of Robotnik launching him out of the fortress using a giant spring. ‘The Spin Doctor!’ is little more than a glorified advertisement for Sonic Spinball; there’s just enough of the game’s premise, first stage, and other recognisable elements to inspire young kids to buy and play the game but not much else that directly links to it. Archie had a habit of doing adaptations of this kind; typically, they would produce a story that ended with the instruction to readers to play the videogame to find out the rest, despite the games and the comics being wildly inconsistent and at odds with each other. Other times, like this, they would attempt a very loose adaptation but be more concerned with servicing their own, unique narrative over anything.

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There’s not much to link this to the game….

Elements of this story were relegated to extremely minor roles or cameos; Scorpius, Hip, and Hop (two characters that serve only to launch Sonic into the Lava Powerhouse in the videogame) were amongst them but, while Mount Mobius did show up (and erupt) in the ‘Heart of the Hedgehog’ two-parter (Fingeroth, et al, 2000), the Veg-O-Fortress never appeared again. Finally, there’s ‘Spinball Wizard’ Millar, et al, 1996) from StC. In this story, Tails, disheartened at his lack of fan mail, attempts to drum up some support by cleaning up the Casino Night Zone and ends up being captured in Robotnik’s Spinball Murder Machine which is, wouldn’t you know it, a giant pinball table. Rushing to the rescue, Sonic is bounced around by flippers and seemingly defeated until Tails manages to free himself and use Robotnik’s “Hedgehog-crushing super pinball” (literally just a giant pinball…) to destroy the generator that powers the machine. And…that’s it. I mean, I gave Archie some flack over their adaptation but ‘Spinball Wizard’ is only very, very loosely drawing from Sonic Spinball; you could even argue it’s simply adapting elements of Casino Night Zone into its plot but I’m including it simply for the name of Robotnik’s machine. To be fair, StC was often fast and loose with its adaptations as well; they also favoured their own unique narrative over being slavish recreations of their source material. But we’re not quite done yet because a rollercoaster at Alton Towers was once rebranded as Sonic Spinball between 2010 and 2015. As you might have guessed, the rollercoaster has a pinball theme and, as part of its Sonic rebrand, featured red and blue tracks, songs from the videogames, and even commentary from Roger Craig Smith, Sonic’s current voice actor. So, just what was it about Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball that meant it formed the basis of so many adaptations? It was, even at the time, only ever an average title and far from the rich narrative resource as Sonic the Hedgehog CD (Sonic Team, 1993) or Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Sonic Team/SEGA Technical Institute, 1993) yet these two latter videogames were only given the most basic of lip service and SatAM and didn’t factor into Adventures at all.

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Sonic animation tends to benefit from its source material.

Perhaps it was the simplicity of the concept: Sonic bounces around like a pinball in comics and cartoons anyway, so maybe it’s easier to literally stick him into a giant pinball machine than have him race a robotic version of himself or go head-to-head with Knuckles the Echidna? Other anime and cartoons managed to include these two elements, however, and quite successfully in some cases, so it does remain a source of wonder (if not outright confusion) that Sonic Spinball, of all Sonic games available at the time, should be returned to and adapted so often. A large part of the explanation probably can be traced back to Sonic’s growing popularity at the time; Sonic Team USA had invested a considerable amount of time, effort, and money into rebranding Sonic for his US debut and crafting an entirely unique backstory that was completely different to the one found in Japan (and quite separate from the one in the UK, as well). Sonic Team, SEGA, and DiC seemed to see Sonic Spinball as a natural bridge between the videogames and the cartoons; they were certainly enthusiastic about the tie-in enough to insert their cartoon characters into the videogame and onto the art work (Hazeldine, 2014: 35).

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Others have tried, but no adaptation comes close to Sonic Spinball.

Perhaps there was no need to mine other Sonic titles; Sonic’s popularity didn’t begin to wane until the end of 1996 and, by then, both cartoons had finished producing new episodes, Archie’s comics and StC were content with forging their own narratives, and Sonic was firmly established as a successful and popular videogame icon in the cultural consciousness. Sonic X (2003 to 2006) would later produce surprisingly faithful adaptations of both Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998) and Sonic Adventure 2 (Sonic Team USA, 2001), while also loosely adapting Sonic Battle (Sonic Team, 2004) and appropriating many elements from Sonic Heroes (Sonic Team USA, 2003) and Shadow the Hedgehog (SEGA Studio USA, 2005). These all saw adaptations in Archie’s comics and StC (except for the latter four, at least officially, as StC had ceased publication by that point) but no other Sonic the Hedgehog videogame can boast as many adaptations as Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball, a largely average and arguably insignificant spin-off that nevertheless defined the golden age of Sonic across all forms of media.

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Sonic Spinball even made it to the real world!

What do you think about Sonic Spinball and its adaptations? Can you think of any other videogames that received undue attention in other media? Leave a comment below and join me next time for more interplay.