This was popular when I did it on the STC-O forums so, hey, why not.
Also I’m going to finally get around to doing that one story I missed SO LOOK OUT FOR THAT!! I’ve edited a couple of the entries, too, in the name of making them good and better.
Basically, if you’ve never had an advent calendar then a) sort your life out and b) the idea is you open a door each day on the run-up to Christmas and something nice is behind it. Like a baby Jesus or a chocolate or a chocolate baby Jesus. So yeah. Open the
Dragon Gate Advent Door.
Ho ho ho, Boomers, ‘tis the season to be jolly! And how more fitting a way to celebrate could there be than to reminisce over the STC Christmas stories? Well, to answer that question, I’d have to say, lots more fitting ways. And why? Because they’re almost all dire.
Christmas is a weird time for comics. In Marvel or DC, the continuities would be wrecked by having a Christmas story every year, yet keeping a small time-frame (Spider-Man, for instance, covers less than ten years of in-universe time), so you may, if you’re lucky, get the occasional Christmas story in the main books, a one-shot here or there, or get as little as a bit of snow in the backgrounds. In UK comics, there may be a slight Christmas theme to some 2000AD stories whereas you’re almost certain to get a Christmas story in the kids comics, which is where STC fits in.
So why are STC’s Christmas stories so bad? To me it seems that it’s down to the fact that having to do a Christmas themed story is out of place, particularly as it involves putting Earth holidays into Mobius’ world. It generally forces the overall narrative to grind to a screeching halt too, as the heroes celebrate and the baddies do little more than say “Grr, boo, I’m bad and I don’t like Christmas”.
Not all of the stories are bad. There are some absolute gems in here. Unfortunately, though, the bad ones are really bad. So, let’s open the first door on the STC advent calendar and see what’s inside…
Happy Christmas, Doctor Robotnik
First printed in issue 16, cover dated 25 December 1993
Reprinted in issue 196, cover dated 13-26 December 2000
Script by Mark Millar, Art by Brian Williamson, Lettering by Elitta Fell
First off, I have to say the cover art here is really quite great, it’s a Carl Flint picture of Robotnik, dressed as Santa Claus, reaching menacingly at a Sonic-shaped bauble on a tree, as Porker and Tails baubles look on, worried. It’s weird, though, that the Sonic Christmas decoration was mounted on a lazy cover on a November issue rather than put on this issue.
I may as well say it before we get into anything else: the art in this issue’s lead strip is absolutely atrocious. STC had a lot- a lot, mind you- of crap, crap artists in the early days. Brian Williamson and Woodrow Phoenix, however, may be the worst ever artists to draw Sonic professionally. The art here is just abysmal. The really unfortunate thing is, this being a Christmas story, it was probably finished well in advance and, of course, by that time, we’d seen Richard Elson draw Sonic, which completely shames the rubbish surrounding those early Elson pieces.
It’s fortunate that the STC editorial staff realised the fans wanted more Elson and less garbage (a letter got printed to that effect, actually, so I can only imagine how many letters they received that they didn’t print complaining about the art).
So, anyway, let’s inspect this story in all its felt tip pen glory. Maybe the script will make it a bit better. I mean, it’s by Mark Millar. And he works for Marvel. So it must be good, right? RIGHT?
The story opens in a snow-covered Green Hill Zone. The various terribly-drawn, arm-breakingly posed animal friends open multitudinous presents. A rabbit tells Sonic they were given the gifts by Doctor Robotnik himself. Sonic, of course, dashes off to inspect this further. Interesting art note: one of the presents has a tag wishing “Merry Xmass”. That is not and never has been an acceptable spelling of that faux-word. Incredibly enough, however, Robotnik does indeed appear to have turned into a goodie! He’s dishing out presents like it’s going out of fashion. He even has a “Ho! Ho! Ho!” to offer up to the little animals as a Trooper stands extremely menacingly in the background with an angry Robotnik face emblazoned on his chest, creating no contradiction in the slightest, except for that giant massive one and how did they fall for this oh my goodness why.
Even Tails has been taken in by Robotnik’s newfound kindness, as Robotnik’s given young Prower his own special power sneakers, just like Sonic’s! Now, tangentially, I must split off here. I realise this was written by Mark Millar and Sonic No More! was by Nigel Kitching, whereas Amy’s Secret Past, continuity issues of its own notwithstanding, was by Lew Stringer. But if Robotnik wanted super speed, why did he not just make more of these magical trainers? They evidently work as Tails is running off at Sonic-esque speed levels. I know, I know, I’m looking at this way too deeply. But it’s stupid. Robotnik could have made those shoes in one of Millar’s own stories and become a threat. It was not to be. Anyway, the capitalistic little idiot animals urge Sonic to forgive Robotnik because he bought them presents and that obviously makes up for him kidnapping them all and encasing them in metal shells to use as organic batteries for his robot army. However! The twist lies in the fact the real Robotnik is sat in his base of operations, watching from a camera (presumably) and saying if his plan works, this will be Sonic’s last Christmas!
Later, at a party, the worst art in the entirety of STC’s history kicks into action, with googly eyes, wacky limbs and squashed heads all over the place, while Sonic plays music on a turntable (because he’s cool and hardcore!) while encouraging the animals to “RAVE! RAVE! RAVE! ALL NIGHT LOOONG!” in what has to be the most embarrassing pile of bad-turdings-we-bring up to yet. The first panel of the party alone is all it takes to convince me that, were it not for Nigel Kitching and Richard Elson, STC would have been cancelled before issue 20. Sally proposes a toast and Flicky calls for three cheers for Doctor Robotnik. Sonic quips “more like three chairs” (HAHA get it? It’s because Robotnik is fat and has to sit on three chairs! Come on, keep up!). An inexplicably drunk Trooper Badnik (why would Robotnik program them to be able to get drunk???) tells Sonic the friendly Ivo ain’t the real deal. Sonic is so shocked he has to remove his sunglasses! The Trooper elaborates; the friendly Robotnik is a robot with a bomb in it, and the real Robotnik will blow everyone sky high! Finally, something resembling a plot in this story.
Sonic hoiks the Robot-nik over his head and zooms away. To Robotnik’s credit, he’s programmed the impostor to be unfailingly friendly to the last, even as Sonic whizzes him away! Sally wonders where Sonic’s running off to with “Robotnik”. Tails tells her he’ll follow them. I guess Tails had to have lines? Seriously, cut him completely from this story and he isn’t missed. Sonic legs it to a cliff and prepares to hurl the Robot-nik off it and into the sea as the poor clueless droid gets quite upset that he’s melting (as the bomb is going off, of course).
The screaming Robot-nik goes careening off a cliff just as Tails arrives on the scene to ask Sonic what his [censored]-ass problem is. Sonic explains it was a bomb and Tails thinks Sonic’s some kind of moron. The bomb then explodes, wiping out Joe Sushi’s family in the process (probably). Sonic chastises Tails for being stupid as hell and probably punches him in the arm off-panel. At least a kick in the shin, surely.
Sally is concerned when she sees the explosion but the rabbit from before is pretty cool about it because Sonic’s no wimp. Whaddya know, he’s right, because here come Sonic and Tails! Everyone prepares to tuck in to a big feast of turkey burgers. WAIT JUST A DAMN SECOND. Number one, why is nobody concerned about Robotnik? For all they know, Sonic just murdered the guy! Number two, why are they all so cheery about EATING DEAD ANIMALS?! That’s just messed up! And before I can think of a number three, the fourth wall explodes, with bits of brick hitting me in the face as Sonic, Tails and the animal friends all look out towards us and shout “MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL OUR READERS!”. Sonic then addresses the readers and tells us to have a “cool Yule” (STC proceeds to use that line EVERY YEAR) and to watch out for robot impostors, as he smears a cream bun over his chest. What completely worthless panels. This is like that episode of Doctor Who where the Doctor breaks the fourth wall to wish the viewers a happy Christmas except this can’t be blamed on the lead actor’s senility.
Robotnik, in his base, watches on with anger at his plans being foiled once again. Sonic and co apparently do not question the camera that must be following them. Two Troopers tell Robotnik that “the Baddos clubbed together” and bought him a present. Baddos? Did Millar not read any of the source information? Robotnik opens the large present and finds, to his joy, an egg-cup shaped chair because his name is definitely Eggman and those jokes definitely belong in the Western Sonic material in the 90s. Robotnik then says that the Troopers must be underworked if they have time to go shopping, so he gives them double shifts over Christmas, causing them to make “d’ohhhhhhh” faces like they have a social life. Robotnik then claims he always preferred Easter to Christmas and the story ends. Get it? Because his name’s Eggman. Except it’s not.
What a dire little turd of a story. Even the “next issue” caption box is crap, telling us Casino Night is next when the awful Sonic the Human is in the next issue. It’s like they wanted people to stop reading. Elsewhere in this issue, Ecco fights a polar bear, then gives him a fish, Gilius and Tyris battle a man with “Snakejaw Hands” (of course I’m not making it up) and Nigel K gives us the lovely first Nameless Zone story. So one good story. What a terrible issue. Sadly this is very much indicative of the early days of STC. It becomes pretty obvious here why Nigel K belongs at the front of the book (shared with Lew Stringer, of course), not behind three other writers (especially when they write uninteresting rubbish).
Do stick with me. They get better (though not by much in some cases). STC as a whole was not very good in the early days. Some publications take a while to find their feet- with STC, that also involved finding what the readers liked. That’s why we don’t see Golden Axe after the story seen in this issue is concluded. That’s why Woodrow Phoenix wasn’t allowed to draw anything else. Tragically, Brian Williamson was allowed to draw more lead strips, even doing one of Nigel K’s (Hero of the Year, which would have come across a lot better with Elson drawing). Just a year later, STC had begun to seriously hit its stride. It hadn’t reached its peak yet, but it was a much stronger comic, with most of the creators we know and love on board. When Lew’s scripts started coming through, that’s when STC really took form and Bob Corona and, later, Nigel Dobbyn, helped round out STC’s “big five”.
To be fair, at this stage, the Sonic strips only have three of the main cast (and Tails is all-but useless in the Sonic strips, which makes his first solo adventure all the better). Both Amy and Knuckles would be introduced within the next year, rounding things off and giving more scope for good stories, Christmas or otherwise.
Tomorrow, on our STC advent calendar, we openthe first of a pair of double doors for 1994/5’s two-parter, Ice Cap Attack! It is much better than this one, I promise.