Sonic and Tails face Eggman's "children" while Knuckles, Amy, and the Chaotix fight the horde of robots attacking Fort Acorn.
The first and biggest problem with the story is that it's mostly dialogue. It opens with monologues many times too long for the actions they're paired with, and while the time-warp wears off after a couple pages, the rest of the story is still bogged down with verbiage. Most of it is exposition, not all of it relevant, but even when the characters aren't explaining the plot or recent history, they're still running their mouths.
It's not just the number of lines, either; the dialogue is wordier than necessary. At one point, Sonic's word balloons all but crowd him out of the panel. You could probably cut the word count by a quarter or even half without losing any meaning.
Most of the dialogue is as lifeless as it is lengthy. Nobody's character really comes across. Aside from verbal tics (like accents, slang, and robo-talk), everyone sounds more or less the same. This is par for the course in this era of the series, but the sheer amount of dialogue makes it more noticeable in this issue.
Character doesn't come across much in actions, either. I don't buy Julie-Su as worrywart, as Knuckles must have done something dangerous between his "death" and now if he's been fighting for the kingdom. Knuckles himself is uncharacteristically cheerful when not sheepishly letting Julie-Su boss him around, and Rouge shows no personality at all. Antoine's attitude may be part of his arc since #130, but his one-panel cameo just to be needlessly rude was, well, needless. I'll get to Amy later.
Sally isn't exactly out of character, since emotional outburtsts, temper tantrums, and defeated obeisance to her father are all pretty standard for this era. That doesn't make the characterization good, though; just a long-standing problem.
There is one performance I like, though: Eggman's. I enjoyed his quick shift from being deathly afraid of Sonic to cackling and gloating. His arrogance is delicious. Don't get me wrong, the execution still suffers due to the dialogue problems, as well as the art troubles I'll get to in a moment. Plus, the notion that he can't do his own dirty work is a bit out of character for a hands-on villain like Eggman. But not only does his switch from terror to total control of the situation remind me of the games (for instance, the end of Sonic 2), but the way he regains his composure even while Sonic is standing on him makes him possibly the only character in this story with any dignity.
I also appreciate a couple of action set pieces that give Amy and Vector something interesting to do in the fight against the robot horde. These idiosyncratic combat techniques are far more fun than if it were just everyone punching or shooting robots. Unfortunately, as with the story's other good ideas, the execution is off.
Vector's style is comedic, which is good. The story needs the levity, and it's a great fit with his personality from the games. (The issue came out around the same time as Sonic Heroes.) I don't know as much about the old Knuckles comics, but from what I do know, this isn't out of place. I'll buy that Vector would try this, and even that it would work.
What bugs me is that it obviously took time to set up, yet the robots just seem to stand there and let him do it At the end we're told that his whole goal was to buy time for Amy, but there's no apparent reason she couldn't have started sooner. Why didn't she buy time for him?
One problem with Amy's fight is how underplayed it is. It gets buildup, sure, and later we're told how effective it was, but all we get is a half-page splash and a page-and-a-half spread showing the actual fighting. (That's two panels, albeit big ones.) Her actual technique isn't that unorthodox by Sonic standards, so it needed a little more to sell it.
Then there's that character issue I didn't get to before: For most of her appearance in this issue, Amy is less a character than a weapon or a force of nature being unleashed on the enemy. We don't see her girly side (pink hearts aside) or her protectiveness or compassion. There's no room to showcase those traits by her actions, and the dialogue is too generic to show any personality. It's better than Sonic X's hair-trigger psycopath act, but she's still basically a cannon for Knuckles to fire.
Incidentally, Knuckles, the other Chaotix, and all Fort Acorn's troops mostly just stand there and watch Vector and Amy do all the work.
One other thing that shows signs of quality is the conflict between Tails and A.D.A.M. When Tails tries to hack Eggman's network to shut down the missile launch, A.D.A.M. is able to take control of the plane, nearly killing Tails. Tails figures out a way around this that I won't spoil, keeping both characters occupied for the rest of the story. Whether this is clever or stupid may be up to your tastes, but I liked it. It's nice to have something going on that isn't a fight.
Again, though, the execution has problems. A.D.A.M. spends most of the issue flying the plane erratically. This seems like a logic problem. (If he wants Tails dead, he can do that easily. If not, why risk injuring him with the crazy maneuvers?) If you look closely, you can see a reason for it. But in between not seeing an issue and seeing the reason, there's a sort of "Hey, wait a minute..." feeling. That's minor, though. The real problem is that this extra peril undermines the non-violent nature of the conflict, and is unnecessary given all the other scenes full of action and suspense.
The Sonic vs. Mecha fight is actually pretty boring, though: Sonic gets kicked around while Eggman stands off to the side and monologues.
Moving on to the artwork, there was one thing I liked: Not only does Amy's hammer leave a trail of hearts, but the arc of the hammer as she swings it leaves a trail in roughly in the shape of a heart.
That aside, the best that can be said for the art is that it's functional; almost every panel has at least one error. Nearly every character is off-model to one degree or another, but most of them aren't unrecognizable--just wonky. Little attention seems to have been paid to character anatomy. The only characters who are even close to consistent are Eggman (who has teeth bigger than the rest of his head) and Mecha (the attractive female android, who looks mostly okay). Perspective is either nonexistent or an afterthought. Panel layouts aren't unreadable, just a tad bland and with one or two questionable choices. Actions are stiff and sometimes inconsistent from panel to panel, but you can still tell what's going on.
It's not the worst art I've seen in the comic. It's just barely good enough that the art quality doesn't get in the way of the reading experience. It certainly doesn't help, but eventually you get used to it.
There's a lot going on in this story. Unfortunately, most of it isn't really memorable or compelling, either due to implementation problems or being just plain bad. While the plot moves more than last issue, it's still just buying time while the tension ratchets up in preparation for the finale. It's more than nothing, but there's still an awful lot of nothing.
Knuckles and family attend Lara-Su's Unveiling, while Rotor has a meeting to discuss an impending disaster.
This story is about a teenage girl's coming of age party. Despite what you may think, that does not make this a boring story. Unfortunately, the plot-relevant section in the middle is more than boring enough to cover for the rest of it.
There's some good character stuff in the first half or so of the story, as well as another chunk toward the end. It doesn't go deep, but it does introduce a couple of new characters and Vector making his M25YL debut. The art and writing, even if they're short of perfection, come together to give us a pretty good idea of who these people are.
On that note, I should address Knuckles' brother Mace. I try not to bring real-world events or information from future issues into my reviews, but in this case the context matters. Besides, I already mentioned Merlin dropping out of the arc in my review of the last issue. The same thing happens here: The grown-up Mace never appears again, though he is mentioned once and he makes a few appearances as a baby in the present-day stories. By this point, it's safe to say he's never going to appear again.
It's not fair to fault this issue because future issues didn't use what it set up, but it's also not fair to hold it against every future issue. The blame has to go somewhere, so I'm pinning it on the story that introduces the irrelevant character in the first place.
It may not matter: Mace drops out of this story, too. Having no effect on the plot, he may as well be a random background character, not Knuckles' brother. So if he doesn't affect anything now or later, then he's just wasting space. As much as I like the extra flavor Mace adds, the story would be better off without him.
You could almost say the same for Vector and another new character, Vector's son Argyle. (It's a Sonic comic. Characters are going to have stupid names.) However, they both have meaningful interaction with Knuckles and Lara-Su, and they provide some decent comic relief. They're still expendable, plot-wise, but at least they have a reason for being here.
Most of the party scenes avoid being boring by not overstaying their welcome. There's enough movement to keep things from getting too static, but the pacing feels natural and everything flows pretty well.
Where it all goes down the toilet is with the transition to Rotor and his scientist friend Cobar. This scene is a lot like the cover story: An info dump that is far more verbose than necessary. The dialogue is just as generic--you could probably reassign word balloons at random and never notice the difference. Some of the lines are just arbitrary and nonsensical, like when Rotor says he has to leave "before [his] non-appearance is perceived as a royal snub!" but then he doesn't actually go to the party.
As much as I wish I could say the scene should have been cut, I'm not sure the story can stand without it. The party scenes don't really move the plot forward, but the character bits don't really go deep enough to justify the story as a standalone character-development episode. This scene probably needed to be there, but it also needed to be better.
Apart from the Rotor/Cobar scene, the big problem with this story is that its focus drifts away from Lara-Su. Part one made it seem like the M25YL arc was going to center on Lara-Su, or at least give her and Knuckles equal attention. Here, in a story that's about her party, Lara-Su vanishes from the story almost as completely as Mace does. After the father-daughter dance, the camera follows Knuckles, and that's basically it for Lara-Su. She does appear later in a scene with Argyle, but she has no lines. The real main character of this story is Knuckles, which I wouldn't necessarily mind except that, again, this installment is ostensibly about Lara-Su's party.
That's not to say the story is without merit. Like I said, I appreciated the comic relief with Vector, and while I don't think Mace's scene had any business being here, it was enjoyable. I also appreciate that Knuckles and Lara-Su get a chance to just talk to each other like people; there's not enough of that kind of thing in the stories I usually read. Knuckles' moment on the balcony with Julie-Su was a nicely bittersweet but heartwarming touch.
The artwork, while a little rough in spots, is pretty good. There's nothing particularly breathtaking, but there aren't any major flaws, either.
The character design is hit or miss, though. Not counting background characters, this story introduces three new characters. Argyle's design is pretty good: He bears a strong family resemblance to Vector, but is distinct enough not to look like a clone, and his personality comes through on his face. Mace, on the other hand, is just Knuckles, if Knuckles still had both his eyes and his ability to smile. Cobar looks awful: His face looks more melted than wrinkled and he has tufts of gray hair like shrubs planted on the sides of his head. He's covered in little tubes and other bits of metal, but it looks like nobody cared whether those pieces were attached to his skin or his clothes, much less whether they actually serve any purpose.
Design complaints aside, the only place I feel like the art really let me down was when Lara-Su was dancing with Argyle. It's not bad, but it doesn't have much of a focal point. What focus it does have is on Argyle, and secondarily on Vector and Knuckles in the background. Intentionally or not, it underscores the problem of the story not being able to focus on Lara-Su.
I'm a bit torn on this story. It has some good moments, and for the most part it's inoffensive. But it tries to move the plot along with a big, ugly bob of exposition, and it never fully recovers from this mistake. It's a breath of fresh air after the cover story, but I'm not sure that's good enough. Overall, it's mediocre.
This issue's letters column takes the phrase "insulting the reader" a lot more literally than it's normally used. The first letter is inane and should have been omitted, but it was inlcuded so the assistant editor could complain about having to proofread it. Having thus invoked Muphry, the assistant later retorts, "Glad you read this cause your [sic] stuck," in response to one fan's proud assertion that "you've got some fans that have stuck with you all the way!" Not every response is an insult, and some border on being funny, but the rudeness leaves me soured on the whole thing.
The cover isn't offensive; just poorly drawn. Most of the characters are just a bit off-model, and the open-mouthed smiles of some characters look downright bizarre. Tails, for instance, has the widest-open mouth, but no teeth. The bright orange background combined with the usual color palettes of the characters comes off as garish. I also question Fiona's presence, since she only gets a fleeting cameo in the story.
In many ways, this issue is better than the previous one: It feels like some effort went into it, and there are some genuinely nice moments. But that also makes its flaws stand out that much more. Where #131 was boring and pointless, this one's frustrating. It's far from the worst issue of the series, but I wouldn't call it good.