Obligatory splash page with what could have
been a cute design by Sam Maxwell (who seems FINALLY to have gotten the
knack for drawing Princess Sally's face decently!)--I like the way she's
got hold of Sonic's necktie. Too bad it's once more obscured by the
wording. Note to the wireheads at Archie putting together www.archiecomics.com
[yes, come Sep. 1, 1997, they've officially got their own Website; see
also the Notes From The Net in
this issue]: how about putting together a gallery of JPEGs featuring the
splash art WITHOUT the words?
As our story begins the brown-eyed blue one is supposedly instructing Tails "in the ways of speed," which makes him sound like a cross between a Zen master and a drug dealer. Their attention is drawn to a gray two-piece suit with a white shirt, striped tie, and fedora. "What the heck is that?" Sonic asks; a fair question coming from someone who's spent his career buck nekkid. Sending Tails back to Knothole, Sonic follows the suit into a cave where he's engulfed in a blinding flash and...
Let's Do The Time Warp Again! We look in on a little Deco dance hall, the Wharf Side. There's a 1940's-era Packard outside parked next to the late 1960's-model Batmobile so you know when they say "Another time, another place" they're really saying "Well, not any time or place in particular so I hope you don't mind if we fudge the details."
Into this dive steps a certain "Ms. Acorn" wearing a dress cut high up the skirt, low in the front, and strategically in the seat to accommodate the tail. You know which tail I mean, wise guy! It ALMOST works. Remember, we first met Sally when she wasn't wearing anything in the world but a pair of boots, and in certain poses her vest looks far sexier than the slinky number she's got on here. The attempt to make her into a 40's bombshell doesn't work as a result: More is definitely less in this case.
Of course it doesn't help that Manny Galan is doing the artwork. Even setting Sally's clothes aside (maybe I should rephrase that...Nah!), his Sally is not so much off-model as out of proportion, especially when compared to Art Mawhinney's more definitive Sally in the next story. And his Sonic hasn't gotten much better since the "Death Egg Saga." After achieving such a resounding success in defining the look of the Knuckles comics, why Galan was brought in to do another Sonic story (where he's consistently demonstrated that he's in over his head) I'll never know.
Enough with the harping, let's get to the plot. Ms. Acorn joins Sonic at his table; he's now wearing the suit of clothes, which looks more like a zoot suit than anything Bogart ever wore. You Gen-Xers out there may have no idea as to the mystique of the zoot suit with the reet pleat and the tuff cuff and the drape shape. And I'm not about to go into that here. But I WILL point out that Sonic also has spats on his sneakers. She tells Sonic that she knows someone who can rid Mobius of Dr. Robotnik; all Sonic has to do is find her "friend" Nicole, last seen at a slide factory in another part of town.
As Sonic juices toward the factory he pays homage to Dick Tracy by talking to Uncle Chuck on his two-way wrist radio. Once inside the factory he finds that the place has been searched; he also notices "robot oil" all over the place (yeah, whatever). Uncle Chuck informs him that there are still four bots in the area and Sonic is in pursuit. The bots...OK, Manny, I'm trying to retain SOME good will for the artist who created the look for Julie-Su the echidna; for THAT I am ever in your debt. But WHY inna name of Fritz Lang did you cheap out on the robots? I know, it was supposed to be a visual gag to have the bots resemble R2D2 with limbs, Robbie the Robot from "Lost in Space", and bulked-up versions of "Mystery Science Theater 3000"'s Tom Servo and Cro (or is that "Crooooooooo"?). Why didn't you just throw in the Tin Woodsman from "The Wizard of Oz" while you were at it? Sonic beats up the bots and takes something away from Crooooooooo (or is that "Cro"?) thinking it might be a clue as to the whereabouts of Nicole. To the surprise of nobody who's a fan, what the bot was carrying WAS Nicole. It's hard to tell because she/it has the habit of growing and shrinking throughout the story: at some times she looks like a hand held, at other times she's the size of a laptop.
Back at the club, Sonic delivers Nicole to Sally just as a rather rotund presence makes itself known. No, it's not Sidney Greenstreet; it's Dr. Robotnik dressed as...Dr. Robotnik. I'd hoped for clothes that were a little more in the spirit of the story. Anyway, the Fat Man tells Sonic that Ms. Acorn is "Princess" Sally, "the leader of the rebellion," and Nicole contains the plans of all his research facilities. Sonic starts trashing the bots until Robotnik offers to do a retake of the Sally-being-fired-upon scene from "Taking The Fall" and improving his aim this time. Sally fills in the blanks for Sonic: after downloading info from the slide factory on Robotnik, she was interrupted by the 4 bots. While getting herself away, she dropped Nicole. Sonic grabs Sally and makes a dash for it anyway. While Robotnik heads out of the club to give chase, we realize that Sonic and Sally were actually still in hiding inside the club. With a getaway plane on the way, the pair head down a secret passage under the bar. At the airstrip, Rotor brings in the getaway plane (yeah, it's a Concord but what's one more anachronism between friends?). Sally tries talking Sonic into joining them. Instead of going their separate ways with a wistful "Here's looking at you, kid," Sonic agrees to join the team.
Unlike "The Wizard of Oz" which was a color film with black- and-white bookends, we now shift to the color ending of this black- and-white story. Following Tails, Sally and the others find Sonic staggering out of the cave and into the sunlight. However, Sonic passes on the chance to say that he'd just had a weird dream, "and you were in it, and you, and you..." Sally says that she'd heard Sonic had "followed a leisure suit into the woods." Needless to say there's a world of difference between a leisure suit and a zoot suit, but given what Sally's wearing at this point (or NOT wearing, as the case may be) she can be forgiven for not knowing the difference.
OK, here's one more film term: "High Concept." The term High Concept refers to a kind of verbal shorthand used especially when pitching a story idea. Here's a story description: "A former member of a street gang on the Lower East Side falls in love with the sister of the leader of the rival Puerto Rican street gang with tragic results." You recognize the plot: "West Side Story." But here's the High Concept description of the plot: "It's 'Romeo and Juliet' in Spanish Harlem."
The first I heard of "The Discovery Zone" was as a High Concept description in one of the comic preview mags as "A cross between 'The Mask' and 'Casablanca'." That description left me anticipating this story about as much as I'm looking forward to my appointment with the dentist next month. In fact, NEITHER of those rather diverse films is very much in evidence here, thank goodness: "The Mask" can be seen as inspiring the Wharf Side interior (and the loutish behavior of the customer on page 4 panel 3), while "Casablanca" is vaguely echoed only on page 16 in the airport scene. The Tom Rolston plot was really rather routine if you look past all the anachronistic trappings.
This does not bode well for post-Endgame developments. One other fan as much as said that the notion of the multiple zones that were created when Robotnik's device went off would allow the writers to come up with any hare-brained plot or glorified dream sequence they want, with the excuse of setting it in some "zone." I can only hope that this development will be temporary until the writers get their post-Endgame bearings.
Yet having said all that, a Sonic treatment of "Casablanca" might very well have worked if played straight. The casting is right there: Sonic in the Bogart role as Rick, Sally as Ilsa, Tails as Sam, Rotor and Uncle Chuck as employees of the bar, Antoine in the Claude Rains role as the cheerfully corrupt Prefect of Police, Bunnie as the chanteuse, Snively in the Peter Lorre role as Duarte, Robotnik as Major Strasser of the Luftwaffe, and Geoffrey St. John as Victor Laszlo. Of course the story would have had even more emotional kick if Sonic had found himself in this extended dream sequence while still under the impression that Sally was truly dead. He then would have been in the same predicament that Rick was in in the film: to use the Letters of Transit to get him and the woman he loved out of Casablanca, or to let her get on the plane with her husband. In Sonic's case it would have been: to stay with a dream Sally or to wake up knowing that she's gone. If this situation ever occurred to Tom Rolston we'll never know.
Fan Art: We have a theme here: rabbit lips! While Ambryice Biggs shows Bunnie with prominent lips, Noele Carballo demonstrates how to use them. Austin Abbamonte draws "Ryu Sonic" based on some fight game or other, I think it's the original "Street Fighter"; I'm waiting to see a drawing of Bunnie, Sally, Lupe, Amy Rose, and Julie-Su as Sailor Scouts. And the Names In Tiny Type Page: this month's award goes to "Amanda 'Swiggy' McSwiggin (from Plymouth, MA 'The place with the rock')." Hope the rest of the letter was that interesting.
Sally is so preoccupied with something that
she walks past Bunnie, Rotor, and Tails. Finding out you almost died
will do that to you. Her attention is on uplinking to one of Robotnik's
communication satellites to contact other Freedom Fighter groups.
Uh, Sal, you're thinking of a "conference call." She manages to reach,
among others, Knuckles and the Chaotix, Sealia Seal of the Polar Freedom
Fighters (last seen in Sonic #32, "Tundra Road", Part 2), Lupe and the
Wolf Pack, and some cute little anime character. Her purpose for
contacting them: to take two pages to recap the ENTIRE Endgame story arc.
As she goes on to warn them of the "alternate realities" (i.e., the new
"zones") she runs out of time on her calling card. End of story.
This story should have been titled: "Endgame Part 5: Closure." There is a COHERENCY here that was sorely lacking in the patchwork quilt that "The Big Goodbye" turned out to be. I've long thought that the final page of that story should not have shown the cast members in a disjointed "American Graffiti"-style ending; instead, it should have shown the cast members standing around, dusting themselves off, and asking one another if anyone had gotten the license number of that truck. I would LOVE to know the history for this story. Was this intended to be merely a transitional story, a bridge between Endgame and the upcoming "Sonic: Brave New World" to which she alludes; or was this story commissioned because of what finally happened to Endgame? Did so many fans across the age spectrum react to the conclusion of Endgame by saying "Huh!?" that Archie felt the need to clarify what had just happened? I really don't expect anyone at Archie to answer that.
Ironically, Sally is the central character here, and they even dusted off the old Princess Sally logo for this one. Remember, it was originally Ken Penders' intent to truly render Sally living-impaired. The idea was to shift the focus to Sonic and Tails, and away from Sally and the other subsidiary characters created by DiC. To put it in Biblical terms, Sonic must increase and Sally must decrease. Apparently that strategy hasn't kicked in yet. Either that, or the "bring back Sally" count was higher than Archie is willing to admit. Still, it's nice to see Mawhinney back in top form after having to pull his punches on page 26 of "The Big Goodbye."
Sonic-Grams: Promos for "Brave New World", which I'm anticipating to see what direction the comic is now going to take; and Sonic #53 which features Knuckles and Julie-Su arriving in Knothole (perhaps for a double-date with Sonic and Sally) and a back story featuring a couple of alternative villains until such time as Robotnik finds his way back from wherever. Plus Freddy demonstrates that the Archie crew is clear on the concept of "cut- and-paste" after having demonstrated their mastery of the concept of "I thought YOU were supposed to paste in the credits last issue!" Someone with the nickname "Reptile" confesses to being a fan of Mobie the Cave Whatchamacallit (why am I not surprised?); we learn that Sally's mom was a chipmunk (probably NOT Brittany); Sonic wonders out loud why after two letters in a row that touch on the subject everyone thinks he hates Knuckles -- gee, I don't know, it might have something to do with all those fights you used to have. Note from the Net: plug for Sonic Firsts (vintage reprints). They must have LOTS of posts to wade through at NftN because they don't give the e-mail address; they DO give the address of the upcoming Archie Comics Website. My guess is it could have been unveiled earlier, but if they'd have done so during Endgame they might as well have used the URL www.flame-us-mercilessly.com.