April 19, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages? #3 (Sonic Universe: Spark of Life by Ian Flynn, Aleah Baker, Tracy Yardley and Matt Herms)




See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

Let’s get this out in the open immediately: I have an admitted bias in favour of these characters. It’s one of the main franchises that I developed an unhealthy attachment to when I was younger, specifically Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, so all of this commentary needs to be read through those lenses. Sonic Universe is an ongoing title that serves as an anthology title that exists in parallel to the main stories being told over the title aptly named Sonic the Hedgehog. The primary architects of this work are writer Ian Flynn, penciller Tracy Yardley and colourist Matt Herms. Each arc of Sonic Universe is a self-contained little story that explores what a certain grouping of characters is currently up to; you therefore don’t need to worry about the ongoing continuity and simply enjoy it for what it is.



This particular story, named Spark of Life, follows characters as they adventure deep into the digital world after identifying an ominous presence. Before you roll your eyes and click away, hear me out; it gets better than that, I swear. Using this as a framing for the real story, Flynn, along with guest scripter Aleah Baker, explores the various manifestations of grief and how, in a world as futuristic as this one, people can survive through that final destination. Now that I’ve over-corrected and made this arc seem immensely morbid and depressing, I can tell you that the actual story falls shrewdly in between these two extremes; it’s humourous and silly, but it also has a lot of depth to it.

Nowhere is the inherent absurdness more clear than in the character of Big the Cat. He began life in the 1998 game Sonic Adventure and quickly fell into the role of comedic relief for the heroic team of Freedom Fighters. The large majority of his humour comes from a place of immaturity and lack of understanding of the world outside of his forest home; his silliness will either instantly charm or repel you. I personally adore his childish nature as it comes with an unrivaled and contagious enthusiasm. He is going to be a dividing point around which everyone's classification of All-Ages or Small-Ages will fall.




An original, terrifying villain isn’t something that you would expect for a Sonic the Hedgehog antagonist. While Dr Eggman (Robotnik) is still the ongoing challenge, a new middle-level manager steps out of the read-only memory to tower over our heroes. Phage is drawn by Yardley with this lifeless and yet all-encompassing quality, giving her an omnipotence that makes her genuinely unnerving. Although her appearance will draw inevitable parallels to Spirited Away’s No-Face, she comes off as very unique and also surprisingly powerful. One way to demonstrate the abilities and danger that a new threat possesses is to put them up against the strongest member of team and have them immediately discarded. Flynn understands this concept by having the character Nicole throw herself into the battle and get immediately rebuffed.

Nicole is, for me, the unquestionable star of this arc. She is an artificially based lifeform that has created her own physical body to be able to interact with the world; putting her at such a youthful age makes this story all the more tragic and engaging. The way that she strives for individuality and how deeply she connects with her teammates, especially Princess Sally, adds a layer of depth to an already fascinating character. Such a strong relationship between two female characters, specifically one that doesn’t revolve around their competition over a man, is a rare thing in most media. Observing the degree of trust between them and their willingness to fight to the death for each other is one of the most inspiring moments and is one of the core reasons why this arc is so compelling.



All of these adventures into the digitial world (I can literally hear you rolling your eyes) are, as previously mentioned, the framing for the exploration of a father dealing with the loss of his daughter. Such a heartbreaking subject wouldn’t be something that I would immediately associate with a group of characters that are famous for running fast, but it’s handled so magnificently in this story. It’s introduced gradually at first, but eventually ties into the end of the arc to create an extraordinarily cathartic finale. Without spoiling the entire plot, you get a chance to explore how far, if it were possible, people would go to save the lives of the people most important to them. On top of that, it deals with the definition of life which, in a time where the singularity has become a genuine concern, could not be more topical.

This arc is an admittedly brief journey into, for some, an oversimplification of how technology actually works. If you’re unable to see how a fight against a digital consciousness with a virtual sword and shield is exciting and, at its very core, fun, then we’re on entirely different wavelengths. The plotting is surprisingly tight for a comic about video game characters and sells you on this brand new cast very quickly. With the pitch perfect pencils from Tracy Yardley and the bright and rich colours from Matt Herms, this a world that I never wanted to leave. This book was unfortunately drawn into a crossover immediately after this arc, but there’s still an enormous library for you to delve into. This is a series that I expected to be all show and no substance so, even bearing in mind my predisposition to this series, it is undeniably an all-ages book.
Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mark@thegreengorcrow.com or head over to thegreengorcrow.com for a daily dose of comic reviews, interviews and more!