Sonic is one mess of a property. Once the face of a genuine competitor in the video game field, the franchise now spirals on the edge of complete bankruptcy, reinventing itself to try and claw into gaming relevance so desperately that the series actually manages to bury what few strong entries it produces under blockbuster failures. But travel back in time before Shadow's twin Desert Eagles, before Boom Knuckle's infinite jump, and before Sonic kissed Lacey Chabert. Sonic was a brightly colored franchise featuring an aesthetic all its own with a cast of appealing well-designed characters. Sonic: Mega Drive takes us back there, both in story and art, a charming bit of reminiscing that won't save the Hedgehog from being meme fodder but might appeal to nostalgic gamers from a different time. The story is as bare bones as one of Sonic's original platformers. Dr. Robotnik is collecting themed MacGuffin's called 'Ancient Gears' to power a superweapon, and Sonic has to foil his plan. Author Ian Flynn keeps the story minimal and light, emphasizing light period appropriate (and occasionally self-aware) comedy. In the best way, the comic captures the tone of 90's platformer adventures, not updating the tone or humor to fit more in line with what readers expect from today's licensed comics. It's breezy and light, a casual read that won't grab hold of you but hits all of its marks regardless.
The real star of the book is the art. The lines by Tyson Hesse are some of the best I've seen in a Sonic comic, not to mention all-ages video game adaptations period. Rich with character expression, perfectly composed, and with energetic action, Hesse nails the tone while not being so beholden to being on-model that he can't illustrate with his own personal flair. If I didn't know better I would have credited the art to a Japanese artist, as the manga inspired lines are so natural feeling you wouldn't guess that a Western cartoonist was responsible for them. Add on top of that Matt Herms vibrant colors, perfectly balanced and sharp, but with a faint watercolor texturing, and you have one of the best looking books of the month.
Sonic: Mega Drive isn't a game-changing story, but it is stand-out example of how licensed comics should be done. It's respectful to the property and the era it recalls, puts genuine talent on illustrating it, and never tries to do too much. It reminds you how fun that era of gaming could be, nostalgia without the sense of irony, cynicism, or questionable expertise that I have come to associate with the marketing trend. I would read more of this. I would read more by this team doing something else. Sonic hasn't been this fun or good looking in ages, and maybe Sega could take some pointers from this classy and entertaining direction.
[su_box title="Score: 4/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]