Shard must battle the latest Metal Sonic, which has been upgraded with battle records from its previous incarnations and a Power Gem.
This is one of my favorite issues of the comic in recent years. Perhaps I'm biased because I like Shard so much, but this story impressed me quite a bit.
One important thing to note right off the bat is that this is a fight story. A single fight scene accounts for 10 of the issue's 24 pages. Ordinarily, this would be a recipe for disaster, but not this time. The setup and the fight itself offer plenty of character development for both Shard and Metal Sonic.
The fight is also well-choreographed. I mean, a prolonged brawl can only be so interesting, but this one makes the most of each combatant's personality and skill set, so it never gets boring.
Shard relies heavily on his arm cannon, both as a cannon and by transforming it in a few interesting ways. He doesn't use Sonic's moves any more often than Metal does, but he clearly embodies Sonic's brashness and nobility, jumping into the fray to protect the city, even at the cost of injury to himself.
Metal Sonic is clearly the cleverer of the two, in addition to being cold and merciless. He not only utilizes the previous models' data to the fullest, but he also makes full use of the impressive skill set demonstrated by Metal Sonic in the games. (Though he didn't transform into a giant dragon and fly around tossing airships at Shard. I wonder why...) He finds and exploits Shard's weaknesses with ruthless efficiency.
The fight reaches a point at which Metal Sonic has a battle record that covers pretty much every strategy Shard tries. This could easily have felt too convenient: Shard just happens to keep using techniques Metal is already familiar with. But instead, it feels perfectly natural.
I've gone on at length about the fight because I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed it, but that's not all the story has to offer. The opening expands on scenes from STH #240 in which Shard took out some Egg Swats and a Metal Sonic. The transition to the next scene addresses one of my biggest complaints from #240: It turns out Eggman was watching when Shard introduced himself to Metal Sonic; footage from that (short) fight is what inspires Eggman and sets up the rest of the story.
A one-page interlude with Team Freedom (because Sonic's name is on the cover) seems a tad out of place, especially with Sonic talking about Shard "still figuring out if he's a good guy...or a bad guy" when Shard hasn't shown even a hint of being a bad guy since his reintroduction.
However, closer inspection suggests that this scene might be something deeper than it appears: Sonic is haunted by images of Metal Sonic, Shard, and Scourge. What's Scourge doing there? Well, every other time Sonic thinks about Scourge, it's a callback to the famous "...you'd be just like me!" exchange from STH #172. Sonic may be talking about Shard, but it looks to me like he's really thinking about something else. I may be reading too much into it, but I still relish the opportunity to see Sonic open up a little.
Speaking of opening up, you'll notice that Metal Sonic has been given more than just smarts, skills, and battle records: He has a personality, too. However, it's still very cold and robotic. Your mileage may vary, but I think the comic strikes the perfect balance. We don't need Metal Sonic to be one more mindless Badnik, but we also don't need another "robot with a soul" type. We have Shard for that, and at least a couple others.
The scene between Shard and Nicole is a little on the corny side, and arguably even a tad heavy-handed, but I still found it heartwarming. It's honest character development, and it builds at something that was suggested in "Secret Freedom." Shard having a heart-to-heart with Nicole makes perfect sense given that he isn't exactly the type to hide his feelings under a bunch of layers, but these particular feelings show a vulnerability he probably wouldn't reveal to (let's say) Silver or Elias. The similarities between Shard's and Nicole's situations are not just established to cement their relationship, but also used to highlight the differences between them. All in all, it's done well.
No comment on Shard's crush on Nicole. I'm going to wait and see where it goes.
One other thing I appreciated about this story were various little continuity nods. There's an appearance by the comatose Antoine and a mention of Snively. Metal Sonic's battle records are taken directly from previous issues. And then there's the power gem, which used to be a frequent plot point in the comic way back when.
There's a small continuity error in Metal Sonic's memories. Among the flashbacks are references to Sonic Universe #1, which was the finale of an arc that spanned all three Sonic titles. The arc started in STH #195, when Eggman rebuilt Metal Sonic with the zone-jumping SXSU-401 engine. Between Eggman's reaction then and the fact that Metal Sonic sought out Robotniks local to the other Zones, it seemed clear to me that the 401 Metal Sonic was out of communication with Eggman until its destruction in SU #1. So where did Eggman get the footage?
Another minor annoyance came in the early scene in Antoine's hospital room: Antoine isn't hooked up to any kind of machinery at all, despite the fact that he's supposed to be in a coma. It's not that big a deal in the scheme of things, but the lack of attention to detail here disappoints me for some reason.
Speaking of attention to detail, the climactic fight scene could have used more of it. It's not bad, of course, but Shard's auto-repair should have been clearer. Some injuries only last a panel. The auto-repair of Shard's gun is significant, so it would have been nice to see it heal gradually rather than being completely busted up until it's suddenly fixed. Again, though, not a huge deal.
The one thing I can say really needed work was the ending. It was just unclear exactly what happened. The sequence of events was only a little fuzzy; what I still can't figure out is the specific reason for what happened. It's explained, but the wording is ambiguous enough that it doesn't really help. I can't really get any more detailed than that without spoiling it.
So the story had a few rough spots, but there's plenty here to love. Definitely one of my favorites.
Part 3 of Shard's debut, as "Mecha Sonic," reprinted from Sonic the Hedgehog #25. Sonic must win a race against Mecha Sonic in order to rescue the captured Amy and Tails.
There's an arbitrary point halfway through the reprint that is billed as the beginning of "Part 4" of the four-part "Go Ahead... Mecha My Day" story. My understanding is that this sort of thing was common in older issues, and it persisted for a long time. At least there was an obvious act break in Sonic #128 that arguably justifies it; here, it may as well have been any scene change.
Okay, fine. If that's how Archie wants to play it, so be it. But if they're going to try to bill an arbitrarily small chunk of issue #25 as a story on its own, then I'm going to review it that way.
Anyway, the story is part of the Sonic CD adaptation. This (*ahem*) four-parter introduces Amy Rose and Metal Sonic (misidentified as "Mecha Sonic"), and focuses almost entirely on the climactic race between Sonic and Metal/Mecha Sonic. Whether it's a problem that they didn't try to adapt the whole game is a matter of opinion, I guess; it doesn't bother me.
Part 3 begins just as that famous race is about to start. It works reasonably well as an adaptation of that event (or at least the first half of one). I might quibble that Stardust Speedway looks almost nothing like the actual in-game level, but it is reasonably close to the version in the game's end credits animation, so I'll give it a pass. Robotnik's killer laser makes an appearance, and the bit at the end of the boss fight... well, I'm getting ahead of myself.
The corny humor, while sometimes overdone, actually works reasonably well. It makes a nice contrast to the seriousness of "Forged in Fire." Amy's "engaged" joke was cute, and most of the banter between Sonic and Mecha Sonic on the two-page spread montage is legitimately chuckle-worthy. Even Sonic's fourth-wall-break at the beginning (a common occurrence in old issues) was funny while not damaging suspension of disbelief. Sometimes a little silly fun is just what you need.
Most of the dialogue doesn't work so well; it's too wordy. Robotnik and Mecha Sonic make lengthy speeches, and Robotnik's lines are padded with sound effects like "chortle." I can see the overacting, taken with the puns, as a legitimate stylistic choice, but that should only be taken so far in a comic. Comics are supposed to be visual; too many word balloons just get in the way. Some lines, like Mecha's "stardust" pun, could be shortened without losing anything.
Snively's role in the story is rather pathetic, especially since parts 1 and 2 are missing. (That's him, disguised as Robotnik, chasing Sonic on page 1.) He drops out of this part completely after that one panel, and even if we include part 5, he only gets one more panel.
Sally and Rotor get a one-panel appearance, too. It probably worked in the context of the full issue, and it's not too bad if you take parts 3 and 4 together. In Part 3 taken alone, the panel feels about as out of place as the one page of Team Fighters in "Forged in Fire."
Finally, I must admit that while it still feels more like a scene change than an act break between parts 3 and 4, they did at least pick a fitting scene to end on. It functions nicely as a cliffhanger.
Part 4 of Shard's debut, reprinted from Sonic the Hedgehog #25. As Sonic continues to race Mecha Sonic, Sally and Rotor enter Stardust Speedway to confront Robotnik.
The story begins with the race already in progress, the real threat (since Mecha's really just racing Sonic) having been established in the aforementioned cliffhanger. Overall, the multi-part gimmick bothers me less here since this is the conclusion, and it really doesn't feel any different than conclusions to arcs spread over multiple issues.
Unfortunately, the overall quality of the story is much lower. For one thing, Sally's role is entirely superfluous. Tails and Amy are basically props. Even Mecha Sonic is handled badly, his wit replaced with a failed gag that attempts to reference the game.
Did I say Part 3 was too wordy? Part 4 is jam-packed with dialogue that badly needs to be edited, if not cut entirely. Case in point: Rotor's thought bubbles admiring Sally, reminding readers that Sonic and Sally are an item, and making an awkward segue back to the race.
That same scene was clearly setting up something important involving Rotor, but it's kept ambiguous, and it looked like it didn't pay off at all. Closer inspection of the climactic splash page reveals that the resolution of Rotor's subplot was crammed into the background. That's the only other time it comes up.
Speaking of that splash page, it is just completely wrong. It has too much going on for just one panel, even one that takes up the entire page. The perspective is a mess, with characters out of proportion to each other and at least three different angles smushed together in the same frame. Almost every character gets a line (or two) of dialogue even though the actions depicted are quick ones. The page wastes a lot of space despite the crowded composition. It's an eyesore.
Robotnik's behavior at the end of the story is just insulting. He acts like a petulant child. I know he could get rather silly in defeat in this era of the comic, but this isn't funny. It's just sad. I'll be bringing this up next time someome calls Eggman a "man-child."
The reprint really suffers from the fact that part of it is missing. for instance, the presence of multiple Robotniks makes no sense out of context. (Then again, since one of them is Snively in a Robotnik costume, I guess it doesn't make sense in context either.) Speaking of missing pieces, even the ending was censored: The bottom two-thirds of the last page has a thanks-for-reading flyer pasted over it, and even if you're not familiar with the story, it's still pretty obvious that the dialogue in the top panel was re-written.
I wouldn't say the flawed but workable story from part 3 has been ruined completely, but it definitely deserved a better conclusion than this.
The cover comes with a red metallic foil effect on the logo, Metal Sonic's eyes, and the "Worlds Collide" countdown logo. I think it's neat that they did something a bit special to celebrate the 50th issue, though the cover would have looked fine without it. (Plus, it doesn't work well with the small print.)
That aside, the cover is a fairly nice, detailed image of Metal Sonic in all his menacing glory. It's not perfect, though. I can ignore the anatomy issues (if that's the right word when talking about a robot) on Metal Sonic, but the reflections of Sonic just aren't working. He's reflected in different surfaces that should all be at different angles, yet the reflections themselves are a shameless copy-paste job. I'm also not thrilled by the "50th Issue Throw-Down!" blurb. While annoying, these issues don't keep me from enjoying the cover.
I thought it was a neat touch including the STH#25 cover inside the book, before the reprint. It's not an especially impressive cover, but if every 25th issue is going to be a celebration of the comic itself, including old covers for nostalgia is as good a way to do that as any.
The editorial column is given over entirely to an ad for the upcoming crossover, consisting of a pledge to annoy friends and relatives until they all buy copies of every issue of the "Worlds Collide" Sonic/Mega Man crossover arc. As much as I like seeing the Sonic Heroes logo get some love, I honestly have to wonder if even the little tykes (a.k.a. the comic's target audience) would be impressed by the "Sonic Heroes Brigade badge," especially if they have to cut up the comic to get it.
I could rant for a while about everything that's wrong with the Off-Panel, but it's just not worth it. Suffice it to say it's stupid and pointless, and a straight-up "Celebrating 50 issues" strip would have been much better than celebrating by insulting the hero.
Finally, while this isn't exactly a criticism of the story itself, I'd be remiss not to talk about the fact that the second part is a reprint. The comic itself might have quite a few more pages than normal, but that extra room isn't being used for new material. In fact, it's being used for material that even newer readers may already have thanks to the Archives series (which Archie misses no opportunity to plug). Ultimately, this doesn't bother me, because we still got a full-length Shard story, but that may be partly due to my never having read #25 before. And either way, I can see why it would bother people.
It helps to look at the reprint as bonus material and consider this issue mainly on the strengths of the first story. That story, while flawed, is not only an entertaining fight story but also a solid attempt at character development for Shard and at rehabilitating Metal Sonic's reputation as a villain in this series. The peek into the comic's history is nice for those of us who haven't been reading since mid-1995, even if the reprinted story itself falls flat.