COMIC BOOK REVIEW: Sonic Universe Volume 1 — The Shadow Saga Graphic Novel TPB

Sonic Universe Volume 1 -- The Shadow Saga Graphic NovelSome thought this day would never come, but it has–the first-ever release of a regular-sized trade paperback graphic novel from the Archie series of Sonic the Hedgehog comic books! Surprisingly, it contains not issues from the main Sonic book, but its modern off-shoot, Sonic Universe. The Sonic Universe series just began in 2009 and tells stories featuring different characters (other than Sonic) in each story arc, a radical departure from the Sonic-centric comics we’ve been accustomed to since the Knuckles series was cancelled a decade ago! Volume 1 is “The Shadow Saga” and contains the first four issues of the series, starring fan-favorite Shadow the Hedgehog and the creation of Team Dark.   The Right:

The very existence of this regular-sized graphic novel is a huge “Right”.  The cute little manga-sized Sonic Archives books that Archie has released the last few years are alright, but I know myself and a lot of others have been waiting for true comic book-sized graphic novels. The first story arc of the popular Sonic Universe series was a great place to start, as fans and collectors can start right at the beginning and build from issue 1 up. Since the regular Sonic the Hedgehog series is at 230+ issues now, it would take a tremendous amount of time and money to build up that series in this format.

This first volume is entitled “The Shadow Saga”, and appropriately, it heavily features Shadow the Hedgehog in every issue. In fact, Sonic only appears in Issue 2 of the 4 issues contained within this graphic novel. I love that Archie Comics has finally realized that the Sonic brand and its characters are strong enough to support stories that don’t revolve around Sonic himself.

The writing is the same top-notch stuff fans are used to by Ian Flynn, who also writes the main Sonic book. Just as familiar will be the outstanding artwork by main series regular artist Tracy Yardley. It was important to make this series feel consistent with the main Sonic book, and having the same creative team does that in spades. It feels just like reading the same Sonic book that’s been going on for nearly two decades, but featuring characters who aren’t always given a chance to shine!

The first issue contained (Sonic Universe #1) builds off of a fight through different dimensions between Shadow and Metal Sonic. The two fall into the world of Blaze the Cat and continue their battle, but the real struggle is internal conflict of Shadow’s need to redeem other lost souls–a plot thread that will continue throughout the rest of this story arc.

Issue #2 is an adaptation of Sonic Adventure 2 which compares and contrasts the evolving relationship between Sonic and Shadow. This issue illustrates the personal strides Shadow has taken as a character since his first confrontation with Sonic, and does a terrific job showing that Shadow is a dynamic character. I’ll talk about this one more later on in the review.

The third issue contained is by far the strongest, and addresses the fate and whereabouts of E-102 Gamma from Sonic Adventure and the introduction of E-123 Omega from Sonic Heroes. This issue was spellbinding and emotionally-charged, making it one of the best Sonic comics in recent memory.

Finally, the fourth and final issue contained debuts the full Team Dark. We get a rare glimpse into the Special Zone and its “God”, but more interesting is the inter-team dynamics we see developing between Shadow, Rouge, and E-123. This issue was a good introduction to the team and a necessary one for when Team Dark eventually reappears within this series and the main Sonic book.

Finally, the end of the graphic novel contains around a dozen pages filled with fantastic bonus features! We get data profiles that explain the full comics history of all the characters that star in this story arc, a Robotnik family tree, a cover gallery, and more! Archie really went the extra mile to make this first volume complete, and I for one am highly impressed with the final package.

The Wrong:

Since this is Volume 1 of Sonic Universe, I wasn’t expecting to be lost by the plot as soon as the book started. Apparently the Shadow vs. Metal Sonic battle began in the main Sonic the Hedgehog series, but it wasn’t clearly-explained enough to stop me from scratching my head. I fully understand the value of launching this spinoff from the main book, but a recap or flashback of some kind to start the issue would have greatly boosted its accessibility.

In addition, for some baffling reason Issues 1, 3, and 4 are all part of one character arc for Shadow in this graphic novel, whereas Issue 2 is an unrelated sidestory examining the past and present relationships between Shadow and Sonic. The ordering of stories in this book damages the cohesiveness of the whole, and I truly can’t understand why they placed the Sonic and Shadow issue where they did. It’s interesting enough, but it breaks the flow of the story being in the middle and would have been more appropriate as Issue 1 or 4.

“Where Can I Buy It?!”

This graphic novel retails for $11.95 and can be found at many retail book stores. But why go to the trouble of hunting it down, when Amazon has it available for a couple bucks below retail at about $7 and with FREE shipping (click here to go direct to it)? They also have Sonic Universe Volume 2: 30 Years Later available for pre-order at the same great price.

Overall: Sonic Universe Volume 1 “The Shadow Saga” is a fantastic starting-point for Sonic graphic novel trade paperbacks. The paper is glossy, the extras are a great and welcome bonus, and the story does a great job of developing Shadow the Hedgehog and introducing Team Dark. The book stumbles a bit with the oddly-placed second issue that examines the relationship between Sonic and Shadow, but otherwise this is a pretty consistent volume. While some of the arcs are better than others, I love this series and its rotating spotlight and will be buying all of the graphic novels released.

GRADE: B

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