Today, I shall be reviewing the ‘Spark of Life’ story arc from Archie Comics’ ‘Sonic Universe’. Written by Ian Flynn / Aleah Baker and pencilled by Tracey Yardley, the arc takes place over issues 71 – 74.
For those that don’t know, SU is the spin-off series from the main run of ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’, and was designed to expand that particular world and give less prominent characters more prominent roles. In this case, the story focuses on Nicole the Holo-Lynx.
Background: The story starts with the Sky Patrol being attacked by the Dark Gaia Creatures of Sonic Unleashed fame. Once the battle has ended, Nicole receives a distress call from her creator Dr Ellidy and is whisked away to the Digital World. While Nicole is making quick work of some digital monsters, several of the Knothole Freedom Fighters (in this case Princess Sally Acorn, Miles ‘Tails’ Prower and Big the Cat) make their way to Dr Ellidy’s home on ‘Isolated Island’ to investigate and aid in any way they can.
The Good: I was genuinely quite excited to read this run, as Nicole has long been a favourite of mine in the series and while previous issues had given her plenty of room to grow, I’ve really felt that less has been done to progress her since the main series reboot. Ah yes, the reboot … that would be an article in itself, so I won’t go into it here. Needless to say though, if you’re interested in this particular incident and don’t already know about it, simply searching for ‘Sonic Archie Comics reboot’ will bring up a few hits dealing with what happened, who was involved and the repercussions as a whole.
But I digress. The aim here is to add some layers of depth to Nicole and flesh out her new backstory, and I am happy to say that it succeeds greatly in both. Over the four issues, the story takes us through not only the present battle with a new villain called ‘Phage’, but also a series of past events that show Nicole’s importance in various characters’ lives. Firstly, the circumstances surrounding Nicole’s creation are absolutely heart breaking, and in being so have a direct effect on how Dr Ellidy interacts with Nicole upon her arrival. Meanwhile, we also get to see how Nicole has been an adviser, an emotional rock and a friend to a growing Princess Sally, a fact that is expanded by her own current difficulty in understanding how she views Nicole. Through their interactions with not only Nicole herself but with the other supporting characters around them, both Ellidy and Sally undergo some growth of their own and by the end of the arc have comes to terms with their own feelings about their holographic companion.
The art is exceptionally strong throughout the arc with a great deal of attention being given to Nicole’s facial expressions. This is particularly important for this story as the outward display of emotions is integral to giving the holographic AI the feel of being alive. That’s not to say that the other characters have been neglected, the art is wonderfully consistent in that regard, but the focus is quite rightly on Nicole here.
To briefly touch on the villain of the piece, Phage, her design is an interesting one. From how she views Nicole, there is some potential for future growth there too with the distinct possibility of her becoming the dark equivalent of our holographic heroine.
The Bad: The subject matter essentially deals with AI sentience and how it is viewed by others. Being a comic series that is designed to be suitable for children, it does not deal with this in as great a level of detail as Hard Sci-Fi fans may expect. Now, this isn’t strictly a problem. Certainly from my own standpoint, I too deal with the same subject in a simplistic way in ‘The Spark Form Chronicles’, so it would be ridiculous of me to be overly critical of this. That said though, it may be disappointing for some. I’m also sure that there will those who don’t agree with Nicole’s backstory being rewritten, but personally I really like the direction that the writing team have taken with this.
While interesting, I would have liked to see more done with Phage in the story. Again, this isn’t a major issue as ‘Spark of Life’ does a good job of introducing her as a strong foe and there’s no reason that she can’t return later on.
Final View: I was worried that, given how much I was looking forward to this story arc, that I may have placed too high a level of expectations on it and would end up disappointed. Thankfully, this was far from the case. Whether you want to see some progression for Nicole and Sally, or you just want a good story arc that doesn’t feature the titular character of the Sonic Universe (see what I did there?), you could do far worse than jumping in with ‘Spark of Life’. Honestly, I cannot recommend this enough.
Final Score: 5 / 5