As I played through the Sonic games from 1994, I continued reading along with Sonic the Comic. 1994 was a big year for the comic, with Sonic still a massive success for Sega in whatever media they put him into. The release of Sonic 3 early in the year allowed the comic to do an adaptation of a major Sonic title for the first time.
The year gets off to a fairly rough start with the story Sonic the Human that’s just never worked for me at all. It all ends up being a Robotnik induced hallucination, but what’s the point of a Sonic story where he isn’t Sonic? It didn’t go down very well with readers either, and ended up being writer Ed Hillyer’s first and last script.
It improves quickly from there as, after a strong beginning in 1993, the team of Nigel Kitching and Richard Elson end up firing on all cylinders in 1994. The pair contributed strips to nineteen of the twenty five issues released that year. The team’s two part Casino Night story, which introduces the Mario Bros/Marx Brothers knockoffs the Marxio Brothers, is probably their weakest of the year but it’s quickly followed by the introduction of Amy Rose in the story that also features Robotnik encasing himself in an egg to turn into the version of himself from The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s a really odd choice, and something that I can only imagine was editorially mandated for synergy with the cartoon which was on constantly over here at the time – though it did make me realise that Elson’s pre-transformation Robotnik was always oddly off model with an outfit that’s a combination of the classic game Robotnik design but with the addition of the central yellow trim and circle that both TV versions had…
The team also introduced Captain Plunder and the Mystic Cave Pirates, who would return a number of times over upcoming issues and eventually end up with their own series. While the crew lineup would change down the line, the two most memorable are Plunder himself and his sidekick Filch – who is now a ghost after being killed by Plunder, though Sonic ends up not believing in ghosts a number of issues later.
Those stories were just a warmup for the epics to come however, as they were soon followed by the five part ‘The Sonic Terminator’ which adapted the events of 1993’s Sonic CD before moving on to Sonic 3 over the course of six issues – they’re technically titled as three two part stories, but that’s not how they read. These two stories are what I remembered most of Sonic the Comic from reading it as a kid, and they still hold up really well all these years later. Elson’s art on these stories in particular are what formed my mental image of the characters for so many years to come. The Sonic 3 story of course introduces Knuckles, and sets up his long (and originally not so friendly) rivalry with Sonic, as Robotnik had tricked him into thinking that Sonic was the villain.
Kitching also wrote a number of stories illustrated by other artists, including the standalone story The Sentinel which somewhat impressively would end up being followed up on over 100 issues later..
1994 also saw Lew Stringer join the team as alternating Sonic writer with Kitching, and the two would write the vast majority of the lead strip for the remainder of the comic’s life. While I enjoyed some of his later strips, I’m not too fond of Stringer’s early work and in particular his pet character Metamorphia who features in the first two.
1994 saw a huge increase in Sonic related stories in each issue. The final issue of the year, the larger sized issue 41, featured six stories of which three were Sonic related – including Amy’s first solo story penned by Stringer.
Amy wasn’t the only one though as Knuckles began a first solo story from Kitching and Elson while they took a break from the main strip featuring, unfortunately, the Marxio Brothers again as they set up the Carnival Night Zone on the Floating Island.
Tails wrapped up his first series from the previous year and would go on to have several more goblin fighting adventures in the Nameless Zone before ending up back on Mobius in the Chemical Plant Zone to become the trenchcoat wearing Zonerunner.
There were also several stories published under the Sonic’s World banner. Initially these focused on the history of Mobius, Sonic and Robotnik before becoming additional stories that followed other characters. The first story in this manner followed Burt and Cam of B.A.R.F., Robotnik’s Badnik repair team.. Somehow as a kid I don’t think I ever noticed Burt constantly referring to the Buzz Bombers in the story as Moto Bugs, I guess he could do with the Badnik Spotter cards that were given away later in the year, as could the editors of some other stories as it’s not the only time this mistake is made.
Meanwhile, despite the increasing emphasis on Sonic and crew, there were still plenty of stories based on other game properties. Ecco and Golden Axe wrapped up both of their stories from 1993. Ecco would eventually be back with a sequel, but unfortunately that was the last we saw of Golden Axe – despite the last part ending with the promise of more.
The first completely new series of the year, Eternal Champions ended up having two stories over the course of the year. The first featuring all of the team members, while the second focused on arguably the two leads from the ensemble, Larcen Tyler and Shadow Yamoto. The first story begins with Brian Williamson on art before being replaced with Shinobi‘s Jon Haward, who then returned for the second story. A fairly straightforward comic at first, Haward brought his distinctive style to the series and improved it substantially.
The Eternal Champions also got their own special issue near the beginning of the year to introduce the characters and setting to coincide with their series starting in issue 19 that had three new stories. I believe this was part of a big push by Sega for the game’s PAL release in early 1994 (I recall most Sega themed games magazines at the time making a really big deal of it) as they hoped that the game would be popular enough to stick around for multiple sequels.. It almost worked, with a Mega CD sequel being released in 1995 and a couple of spin-offs, but by the time the Saturn rolled around the series was never seen again. Despite their high profile, the Eternal Champions didn’t appear in STC again after 1994.
The final series from the first issue, Shinobi, made a comeback in 1994 as well. Joe Musashi continues his war against the evil Neo Zeed organisation, this time taking the fight to the enemy and attacking their headquarters to rescue his girlfriend. Jon Howard continues to draw the series, pulling double duty with finishing off Eternal Champions as both series were running at the same time.
Next, we had a return of one of the second wave of stories, Streets of Rage that actually had two storylines start this year. First was Skate’s Story, which introduced the popular Streets of Rage 2 character. Still quite an enjoyable read, the series continued to be somewhat more violent than pretty much anything else in the book. This would turn out to be Mark Millar’s last story for the series, as Nigel Kitching would take over and pen all future appearances of the team. Right at the end of the year, the third storyline ‘The Only Game in Town’ began, which would finish in 1995.
Wonder Boy was also back for a second story, this time adventuring in Ghost World. As with Golden Axe this would also be his last appearance. There’s no giant death mushroom this time sadly, though there are ghost dinosaurs so I guess that’s ok.
Rounding out the returning series, was another Decap Attack story. I still couldn’t get into it at all. Maybe I should give the game another try?
By far the strangest story of the year (and probably the entire run of the comic) was Pirate S.T.C. To this day I’m still not quite sure what this series is actually about, and it features the ‘Demon Barber’ character and skull logo from the Sega Pirate TV advertising campaign. A comic about an advert about games that the comic is based on.. what?
Next up, and looking like the most sensible and normal strip by comparison, was Mutant League. Based on the game of the same name, which has just this year gotten a sequel/re-imagining, it features mutants (shocking, I know) playing a futuristic version of American Football. Sports games and stories don’t really do anything for me so one that I mostly glossed over.
Finishing off the year, the ‘mega sized’ issue 41 featured two completely new stories. One was the first part of Marko’s Magic Football which is about a kid called Marko with, you guessd it, a magic football. As with Mutant League, having never been a football fan as a kid or played the game, another one that completely passed me by.
And last of all, series host Mega Droid got a story of his own. Set as a behind the scenes look at a fictionalised version of the Sonic the Comic offices, Mega Droid takes readers on a tour before ending up answering letters for the letters page.
As well as the regular comic and the Eternal Champions special, 1994 saw a number of other spin-off issues. The Poster Mags continued throughout the year, and now featured a short comic strip on the other side of the poster. Seven issues were published in total, with five Sonic stories and single issues of Streets of Rage and Shinobi. These all featured standalone stories, and had no bearing on events of the various ongoing strips. The final Poster Mag of the year was also the last issue of that series.
Finally, summer saw publication of a holiday special. Included were a number of text pieces such as a history of Sonic and a fictional interview with Doctor Robotnik, and of course some comics. A two part Sonic story bookended the issue with solo stories for Tails and Doctor Robotnik in between that were all largely forgettable, but the most noteworthy piece was a four page Knuckles story that directly led into his then upcoming appearance in the main comic.