SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 was poised to answer the captivating question set up in the previous issue. Namely, with Sonic infected by the metal virus, what would the Restoration (the new group, after Knuckles disbanded the Resistance) do without their hero?

Because it came with the preview pages, it’s not a spoiler to say it. Sonic is actually doing okay in SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16, more or less. Although it was a little disappointing for me, did I really think the creators would remove their eponymous character?

Tonally, the Plot Varies Wildly

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 had a difficult niche to fill regardless of the events of the previous issue. The last week of April and the first week of May saw the release of  TANGLE AND WHISPER #0 and SONIC THE HEDGEHOG ANNUAL 2019. We didn’t cover them at ComicsVerse (at least not yet), but they were canon stories in the IDW continuity. IDW is pushing Tangle (and Whisper), which isn’t a problem, necessarily.

And so with two stories front-lined by Tangle, it’s not surprising that she kicks off SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 too. She comes in to Tails’ workshop, hoping to share stories of her adventures, only to find Sonic running off the metal virus. Sonic and Tails recount what happened, and the scene cuts as Tangle prepares to tell them about her adventures in the annual.

Image courtesy of IDW Comics.

But the issue isn’t all a series of recaps and plans made between Sonic, Tails, and Tangle. The other major story — the major story — is what Dr. Eggman and Dr. Starline are up to. If the former’s story is calm and maybe even whimsical, the latter is much, much darker, closer to the tone of previous issue.

Image courtesy of IDW Comics.

The resulting effect on the overall feelings of SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 thus becomes mixed. Interactions of the main cast of characters are one tone; the rest of the world in the comic is another. The characters with which we’re supposed to be empathizing seem aloof to everything else going on in their world. I recognize that’s on purpose for the sake of suspense, but in the end, it came off weird.

The Characters of SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 Act Normal — With the Exception of Two

For the most part, Sonic, Tails, Tangle, Dr. Eggman, and Dr. Starline act as they’ve been presented in the series. Tails remains rational and calm, Tangle remains energetic and optimistic, and Eggman is confident and diabolical. It’s really Sonic and Dr. Starline who depart from the molds in which the series has cast them.

If Sonic’s personality exists on a spectrum between 1990s-‘tude and laid-back, IDW Sonic has always favored the latter. This issue starts much the same, especially with Sonic beating the metal virus. But during the penultimate scene, Sonic shows a new dimension. He’s no longer unflappably confident — there’s some doubt in his character. Sonic, who (with the exception of Tails) likes to work alone, now has to work alone due to the infection. To add to that angst, Eggman is not being as predictable as Sonic knows him to be. Flynn may not have gotten rid of Sonic, but he did diminish his confidence. Surely, that’s worth something.

As for Dr. Starline, his characterization still seems to be floating in the creative ether. Granted, Starline doesn’t depart from his normal behavioral attitude — arcing on the well-worn path from reasonable concern for Eggman’s plans to tearful reverence — but this still comes off as weird. If SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 builds off of Sonic’s typical personality to add a new, negative dimension, Starline’s just gets more muddled by the end of this. It seems strange that someone so intelligent and ruthless — as we’ve seen Starline on his own — can still be so starstruck and fawning in the presence of Dr. Eggman.

I’ve written before that I hope Dr. Starline will become a counterpoint for Eggman: someone who disagrees with his outrageous schemes and makes good on his objections. But right now, that’s not what I’m seeing.

If Nothing Else, Read SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 for the Art

Although some of the character choices seemed a little questionable, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 has one of the best scenes yet in the series. If about two-thirds of the plot matches the typical, mildly serious tone of the comic, the last third drops off a cliff. It’s a brilliant sequence that touches on Eggman’s cruelty — apt for this issue’s title of “Infection!” — and the damage he’s willing to inflict on the world. And even better than that, Ian Flynn holds the script’s tongue during the entire scene. The most critical aspects of this comic that will affect the rest of the series proceed with no dialogue. It’s chilling in the best way.

That sequential work is handled by one of the two contributing artists in this issue. Jack Lawrence handles Eggman’s, Starline’s, and Windmill Village’s scenes. He suffuses emotion and action without the need for any dialogue. Diana Skelly, on the other hand, draws the scenes with Sonic, Tails, and Tangle. She did a great job emoting with Tangle’s signature tail, something that was fun to see.

Image courtesy of IDW comics.

While both artists depicted a wide range of emotions in their characters, there were a few parts that were dissonant with the script. Skelly had Tails smiling when he was talking about hoping Tangle’s village wouldn’t be attacked again; Lawrence made Eggman look a little goofy when he was trying to be sinister. These aren’t major complaints, but they did take me out of the story a little.

I have to also give credit to Priscilla Tramontano’s inks and Matt Herm’s colors. So much of SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 involved reflecting the metallic-liquid look of the vats of metal virus and zombots, and they both nailed the lighting and shadows. This was good work.

Final Thoughts on SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16

This isn’t the first time Sonic has faced the threat of imminent roboticization. And although I was hoping Sonic would get taken out so that others could fill his place, Flynn is following in the tradition of Sonic comics. Sort of.

A few more thoughts before I conclude…

Ian Flynn has stated, in writing, that one of his favorite arcs from Archie Sonic is “Mecha Madness.” Starting in Issue #39 and concluding in the SONIC & KNUCKLES: MECHA MADNESS SPECIAL, the story covers what happens when Dr. Robotnik roboticizes Sonic. It’s a fun arc put together by two Sonic luminaries — Mike Gallagher (script) and Patrick “Spaz” Spaziante (art) — and I recommend tracking it down if you want a light read.

The covers of SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #39 and MECHA MADNESS, courtesy of Archie Comics.

What makes this story different from the current IDW Sonic arc is Sonic’s characterization. In the Archie story, Sonic’s plan of getting roboticized is shot down as foolish by the rest of the Freedom Fighters. And when that eventually does happen anyway, the Freedom Fighters don’t balk at putting Sonic down. Sonic is an important ally to Princess Sally and the rest, but he’s not above reprobation. As a slight teaser, Issue #40 of Archie Sonic is proof of that.

From SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #39, courtesy of Archie Comics.

With the IDW continuity — and especially with this arc — Sonic hasn’t gotten that treatment yet. Even if the first few issues imply how the other characters carried on without him, Sonic is still the unapologetic focus of the stories. I know that Tangle and Whisper are getting their own spin-off, but that’s not the same. I was hoping SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 would experiment with this, and it didn’t happen.

…but to actually conclude

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 may not have gone the way I wanted it to, but that’s okay. The tragedy of Windmill Village and Sonic’s doubt added dramatic dimensions that I didn’t expect, and that’s good. It’s good to be surprised by stories, especially when the surprise is pleasant.

And yes, I may be a little sore about Sonic being able to run off the metal virus, but it’s not like Sonic is immune to these pseudo-deus-ex-machina moments (just see the end of the aforementioned “Mecha Madness”). SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 has stellar sequential art and a story that doesn’t offend. That’s as good as we can sometimes expect for the Sonic fandom (my only tangential reference to the trailer).

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 by Ian Flynn (script), Jack Lawrence & Diana Skelly (art), Priscilla Tramontano (inks), Matt Herms (colors), and Shawn Lee (letters)
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #16 frames a terrifying story within a relatively calm recap of the series up to this point. That calm recap involves Tangle, fresh from her one-shot story, checking in on Sonic and Tails, who fill her in on the metal virus that’s infected Sonic. The terrifying story involves Dr. Eggman and Dr. Starline at long last deploying the metal virus into the wild. Although this would generally create suspense, the tonal dissonance between the stories muddles the take-away message. Nothing too surprising happens with the characters, although Sonic begins to doubt himself and Dr. Starline comes across as even more confusing than before (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Nevertheless, it’s the art that stands out most in this issue, with a thrilling and emotional entire sequence played out without any words. This issue may not be the strongest, but it’s not technically terrible, either.
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