Sonic finally returns home from space to discover that a year has passed, and Knothole and its inhabitants have changed considerably.
I liked this issue when I first read it, but the more I look back on it, the more disjointed and weird it feels. The emotional issues and a logic problem or two become apparent on repeat readings.
The first thing you'll notice is the amount of space this issue devotes to exposition about what's changed in the year of Sonic's absence (and presumed death), and more generally, to showing off new stuff. Sonic starts off learning about what Robotnik has been up to from Geoffrey and Hershey (in their newly-designed spy outfits) after rescuing them from newly-designed SWATbots. While he runs to Knothole with vital information, we cut to Eggman so we can be introduced to new characters Adam and M. Sonic then sees the new high-tech design for Knothole, learns how much time has passed, enters Castle Acorn and learns how much all his friends have changed.
I try to review issues on their own merits, but I can't ignore the way most of the changes in this issue have been reversed or otherwise rendered irrelevant over the nine years since this issue came out.
They're also pretty irrelevant within the story itself. I could overlook this, since this is the setup phase of the story arc, trying to set things up for the future. I won't, though, because the info-dump wrecks the pacing and squeezes out most attempts at character development, but offers little in return.
The plot is paper-thin and could be summed up as, "Knothole is way different and Eggman has missiles." This isn't a problem in itself. A simplistic plot would be just the thing to make this story a character piece, in which Sonic dealt with all the changes and reestablished his relationships with the other main characters.
In practice, however, we don't get that. There should be no reunion more important than that between Sonic and Tails, but that doesn't happen until three-fourths of the way through the story, in two panels he has to share with Amy, Rotor, and Bunnie. Antoine and Sonic's parents get the other half of that page. Unless you count Geoffrey and Hershey at the beginning, the only character to get an actual reunion scene was Sally. (More on that later.)
It's not like there wasn't page space. Knothole's Jetsons makeover takes up a two-page spread. A tree covered in computer screens gets a splash page, as does Sonic's crash-landing on page one. The reunion with Sally devotes yet another splash page to their kiss. It would be easy to free up a few pages just by not abusing splashes. As it is, the splash pages combine with the otherwise breakneck pacing to create a somewhat disorienting, start-and-stop effect.
But there's more to the characterization issues than just the pacing of the reunion scenes. There are some strange out-of-character moments, as well. Setting Antoine's new attitude aside since it's obviously seting something up, let's start with Robotnik. His new sidekick M., who addresses him as "Father," has never heard of Sonic; Robotnik deleted all the files on Sonic after his supposed death. But wait, isn't Eggman an alternate-reality Robotnik who already took over his world, and came here just to fight Sonic? I could see him being upset at not getting to finish off Sonic himself, but then why be mad at Sonic's return?
There's also the reunion with Knuckles. Sonic and Knuckles grin like idiots at each other, high five, and generally act extremely familiar and chummy. I admit I don't know much about the continuity right before #128, but from what I knew of the games (the Adventure titles) and the "Friendly Nemesis" thing they had going for much of the conic's run, it feels wrong. The nicknames and the almost-man-hug are just too much.
Then there's Sally. We find her weeping in front of Sonic's memorial. After all this time? Has she been doing this all along? And then she tells Sonic that she knew he'd come back to her: "It was only a matter of time." First of all, that's...not healthy. Second, if she was so sure Sonic would come back, why was she weeping at his memorial instead of going about her daily business waiting for him to show up?
Since I seem to be transitioning from out-of-character moments to logic problems anyway, let's throw in an internal continuity flub for good measure: When Geoffrey and Hershey tell Sonic about Robotnik's missiles, all they say is, "he's amassed [an] atomic arsenal...," but when Sonic relays the message to the king, he invents some detail about how "it's still too early to tell" whether the number of nukes is 2 or 200. Where'd he get that idea?
Finally, I want to make a few quick notes about the art. First, it has most of the standard problems of this era: Weird proportions, overly humanoid/shapely female characters (mainly Sally and Hershey), odd anatomy issues with the Sega characters (mainly Sonic's torso), and the absurdly inconsistent size and shape of Sonic's spines. There's a handful of anatomy and perspective issues as well, and...Is it me or does Julie-Su's hair look like spider legs?
On the other hand, there are some genuinely beautiful parts. I may not like the overuse of splash pages, but there are other less-than-conservative uses of space that I don't begrudge the artist at all. There's an early sequence of Sonic destorying the SWATbot army that's just a page of close-ups of robot parts, and later there's a slow push-in on Sally near Sonic's monument.
Sadly, those places where this is not the case suffer as badly as the writing does from the pacing issues. The reunion of Sonic with the Freedom Fighters and his parents is especially cramped, but other scenes feel crowded as well.
The cover, like the story, looks really good at first, but the more you think about it, the more off it seems. It depicts the Sonic-Sally reunion scene. The composition and the color scheme are quite nice, and I like the flowers and trees. But a closer look makes the Photoshop abuse apparent: There are two different lens flares, the lettering on the stone memorial is clearly computer-generated text, and the background is blurred in a way that makes it look fake, almost like a processed photo. There are anatomy issues, too. Sally doesn't look too bad, but Sonic looks like some kind of mutant.
Even the cover's captions get worse the more you think about them. It's bad enough that they distract from the somber feeling of the cover just by being there, but then you notice the groovy 70's-looking font used for the story arc's title. Why? Probably because the other caption is a reference to a disco song from 1978.
There's not a whole lot worth noting in the letters or fan art sections. The editorial ended up being wrong about how they were going to handle Sonic X, but I don't know if that's a bad explanation or just plans changing. There's also a lot of space devoted to plugging the then-upcoming "Mobius: 25 Years Later" arc. Sometimes hindsight can be depressing.
All in all, the quality of the issue is pretty mediocre. The art has highs and lows but averages out to being pretty decent. The writing, though, is middling at best. It's still an enjoyable read, but the pacing is off and parts of it just don't hold up well once you start thinking about them. Not a favorite, but worth checking out.