Comics Features

Archie’s Sonic Comics: A Retrospective on Freedom and Chilli Dogs

On July 19th, 2017, the end of an era came. Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comic book was cancelled after twenty-four years of publication, 290 issues, and two spin-offs. Sega announced that their partnership with Archie came to an end, bringing a close the longest-running video game-based comic book in history. It is a moment of sadness for the fanbase of this comic book, but perhaps a moment of relief to. “Archie Sonic”, as we shall call it for now, has had a lot of ups and downs during its many years of publication. Let’s take a nostalgic look back over the years at the rise and fall of this comic book.

The Archie comic began life as a four-part miniseries, inspired by the Saturday morning cartoon known as “SatAM”. It used early designs of the characters seen in “SatAM”, and the same basic premise. Though the early issues of the mainstream series were very laidback and wacky like The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, the other cartoon airing at the time, the story was slightly more edgier and dramatic.

Sonic the Hedgehog and his friends, the Freedom Fighters, were a resistance movement fighting against Dr. Robotnik, depicted as a ruthless dictator who overthrew the Kingdom of Acorn, and enslaved his victims via the nightmarish Roboticizer. The innocent days of freeing animals from Badniks were long gone, or at least in the comic book.

The comic was initially written by Michael Gallagher, with other writers like Karl Bollers and Ken Penders coming onboard and eventually taking over the main script duties, with Sega on hand to pass along editing notes – which would become all-too-common in the years to come. At first, the comic staff didn’t have much faith in Sonic and thought the comic would pack it in within fifty issues. So, the early years were a bit weird, often seen through one-shot special issues. There was the time Sonic crossed over with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and the even weirder time where the Freedom Fighters crossed paths with characters from Image Comics like Spawn.

Perhaps the most iconic character in the comic (and the cartoons) was Sally Acorn, Sonic’s love interest and has the widest love/hate metre in the entire franchise. Some love her for being a fearless, brave, mature character who acts as foil to Sonic, or as a spotlight-stealing hussy who has too much attention on her rather than the Blue Blur. Personally, I love Sally. Her sense of diligence and duty, opposed by her own desire to be a normal person brings a lot of conflict and personal growth for her. Her relationship with Sonic is definitely one of the many highlights of the comic’s runtime. Sally was meant to die during the fiftieth issue, but Sega and the fans convinced the writers to spare her, and thank goodness for that.

Knuckles the Echidna made his debut in the thirteenth issue. Mostly thanks to Ken Penders, Knuckles was given a huge universe of his own. In the games, he is the sole surviving echidna in the world. In the comics, it was revealed there was an entire lost echidna empire, introducing us to hundreds of new characters, including Knuckles’ own family and his eventual love interest Julie-Su. I think the triumph and popularity with the comic may have relied largely upon the world building crafted by Penders and the other writing staff during the first fifty issues. Knuckles gained his own spin-off series which lasted thirty-two issues.

The comics also explored a variety of different alternate universes and possible futures like the DC Comics, even with a “super highway” linking them all together. This allowed for a crossover with Sonic Underground, a variety of homages and parodies to other franchises, and the infamous parallel universe where Sonic had an evil counterpart, later to adopt a green tint and gain the name of Scourge the Hedgehog. By far, Scourge was the most popular of the comic-exclusive characters, allowing Sega’s mascot to have a bit of a bad side.

Most importantly of all, Sonic himself was made an interesting character. Though he was designed with the purpose of being appealing to audiences outside his games, he never really had much going for him in terms of romance, family, or even flaws. He gained all of them throughout the comics. He had his Uncle Chuck, but also parents called Bernadette and Jules, and numerous love interests apart from Sally, including Amy Rose, bad-gal Fiona Fox, and the extremely popular Mina Mongoose.

Dr. Robotnik met his end in the fiftieth landmark, destroyed by his own superweapon, altered by his nephew/minion Snively. After that, things certainly took off, now with Bollers and Penders running the show. At the time, Ken Penders’ world building and writing made him the architect of Sonic’s world, and the comic was vastly more detailed and populated than the games have ever been. Knuckles was his golden egg and much of the comic’s success stemmed from the world he had created for the echidna.

His crowning achievement was the “Mobius: X Years Later” arc, set in the future where the Freedom Fighters are all married and have children (yeah, once upon a time, Sonic had kids). Knuckles’ daughter, Lara-Su, was the main protagonist, and went on a convoluted, exciting adventure back and forth through time.

However, all good things must come to an end. There was known tension between Bollers and Penders during their time as the head writers. The focus was moving away from Sonic and onto other characters, relationships folded and crumbled, plots became weird and at times a little hard to swallow. Some say the bad times culminated in Sally infamously slapping Sonic when he wouldn’t commit to a relationship, since Dr. Eggman was still causing trouble. Bollers left around the publication of Issue 141, and Penders took over as the sole writer, dedicating himself to reconstitute the integrity of the comic, though his beloved future arc was no longer canon to the story but just a possibility.

But, Penders ultimately left the comic due to personal issues and hoped newcomer Ian Flynn would continue on with the comic, and the legacy he had left behind. Ian Flynn would become the sole writer throughout the comic’s run til its cancellation. The art style changed, closer to the games with the characters gaining more up-to-date designs. Flynn revisited Penders’ work via “Mobius: 30 Years Later”, taking the opportunity to answer some unresolved questions and character backstories Penders had not created.

A secondary comic series, Sonic Universe, was established to focus on side characters or serve as a way to explain things without taking focus away from the main story. Flynn’s run was quite popular, though Sega had started yanking Archie’s chain. See for years, the Japanese canon of the games was restricted only overseas, while Sega of America had made up their own stuff via the cartoons, comics, and even the early games. When Sonic Adventure rolled around in 1998, Sega started translating the Japanese-only canon to the western release. Dr. Robotnik started being called Eggman, and the planet Mobius as it was called, was just referred to as the unimaginative “Sonic’s World”. How creative, Sega.

Flynn’s writing served as a game changer, trying bold new things such as the destruction of Knothole, the secluded headquarters of the Freedom Fighters; Dr. Eggman having a mental breakdown, which he reasoned himself out of; and Sonic and Tails briefly turning against each other when the latter’s parents tried to lead a revolution against the blundering Acorn monarchy. The storylines were made shorter, but were certainly ambitious and good reads. There were even plans to write an official conclusion for Sonic Underground. But then in 2011, everything went to hell.

Penders sued Sega, Archie, and Electronic Arts in 2008 when several concepts and characters resembling his own creations popped up in the RPG Sonic Chronicles. Archie then sued back. Other former writers then hit back, leading to a long, painful period of legal ping pong between the various parties. The biggest victim of this whole debacle was the comic book, with huge amounts of characters suddenly disappearing altogether, with a rather insulting twist that all of the echidnas save Knuckles had been banished to another dimension. The end result left huge parts of the comic’s continuity hanging in the balance, with numerous characters and story elements unable to even be mentioned due to the lawsuits.

A settlement was met, and while the details are private, Penders said that if Archie (and the fans) wanted to include his beloved characters in the comic again, then the “Mobius: X Years Later” arc would have to be canon for the comic, or there would be no bargaining. Wow, talk about acting like a pouty child. Did Penders turn into Ronan the Accuser?

With the entire continuity of the comic now called into question, there was only one thing to do: Reboot the whole thing! In the comics, Dr. Eggman unleashes the reality warping Genesis Waves, used as an obvious way to change things in the comics and explain the sudden removal of Penders’ characters. It led to a crossover with the Megaman comic also published by Archie. When it was over, Sonic the Hedgehog was now a famous different creature. Gone were characters who had been with the comic for twenty years, but not just Penders’ creations, but every single character who didn’t originate from the games, early cartoons, with the exception of Ian Flynn’s creations. I guess this was Sega’s way of making things easy for the reboot.

The one good thing that came out of it was that the original Freedom Fighters, who had been sidelined throughout Flynn’s tenure, were given fresh new character designs and became the lead heroes again. However, it was obvious Sega had more influence and creative control over the direction of the comic. And it began with the systematic structure of the franchise’s entire multiverse, Sega destroying twenty years worth of creativity in favour of the games’ frankly boring canon.

They incorporated heavy rules of restriction on what could be allowed in the comic, some just as absurd as the rules for Spider-Man the Animated Series. Sonic could no longer cry (likely because it would cramp his outdated 90s radical image), have no romantic leads, characters could no longer have families with a few exceptions, the game characters had to remain the same and could have no character development without Sega’s explicit approval. Talk about control freaks. I understand Sega wants to keep their properties safe, but forbidding characters to grow, change, or even face personal obstacles just renders the storytelling dead.

Meanwhile, Penders the Accuser sued Archie once again in 2015, and reimagined his characters into yet-to-be-released The Lara Su Chronicles, where they are aliens. Sonic chugged along for a couple more years, offering fresh new stories and reinventing its core cast. However, I think its cancellation was inevitable. What had started and endured for two decades as a one-of-a-kind series that strived to grow beyond being a tie-in product was reduced to just that. The lengthy lawsuits, and the subsequent removal of characters and reboot couldn’t really be made up for, not even by Ian Flynn. The assumption that the comic was cancelled came in January when no issues were being released or even listed, until the inevitable news came at San Diego Comic-Con.

For all of the troubles, Sonic the Hedgehog provided a lot of entertainment for fans, serving as a main source of good storytelling over the years, and perhaps the closest Sonic and his friends came to being compelling, flawed characters. But, there is hope on the horizon. Literally days after the comic was canned, Sega announced that new Sonic comics would be published by IDW Comics, known for their excellent brand of quality. Just look at the Transformers comics they’ve been releasing over the past few years.

But does this mean that the likes of Sally Acorn, Bunnie Rabbot, Antoine D’Coolette, and Rotor Walrus to be now lost to history forever? Or will they return with whatever comes from IDW? Perhaps Sega will look back on their relationship with Archie and allow some more freedom with the next generation of comic books. Cause in Sonic’s eyes, freedom is way past cool…

Wow, that was a cheesy closing sentence. Almost as when Sonic’s name was revealed to be just an alias, his real name being “Olgilvie Maurice Hedgehog”. No, seriously. Look it up.

Will you miss Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog? What were your favourite characters or moments? What do you think will come out of Sega’s new partnership with IDW? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.

About the author

Mark Russell