After a major comic series has been established in the market, a common tactic to attract new readers is to introduce a sidekick to aid the hero in his/her quest for justice. The addition of Robin to Detective Comics served a two-fold purpose: to offer younger readers a character to which they can relate and to provide an outlet to explore other facets of Batman’s personality. Once Batman gained his young ward, the brooding lone wolf was no longer just a one-man force in the fight against crime. He could be a mentor and father-figure to this newly orphaned boy, and Robin could be a source of hope and help for Batman in his darker moments.
A similar situation occurred in many of the hit video games during the 8- and 16-bit eras. So many titles included a sidekick to encourage new players to buy their product and to expand on the experience of play. Mario and Luigi had been brothers from the start, but in Super Mario 3, players could finally work together to clear stages and make their way to Bowser. Dr. Light constructed a canine companion for his robotic son, and thus players could use Rush to reach new heights in Mega Man 3. And in 1992, a certain two-tailed fox made his debut in the world of Sonic the Hedgehog, offering a second player to race beside the fastest thing alive.
Tails made his first appearance in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Sega Genesis. Conceived by game artist Yasushi Yamaguchi for an internal competition to create a sidekick for Sonic, Tails was designed as a friend who had a deep admiration for the blue hedgehog. Even though he started as a sort of tag-along character in Sonic 2 (I imagine for younger siblings to play as), Tails went on to be a standalone character in Sonic 3, thus cementing his unique role in the Sega universe. The vulpine sidekick also played an important role in the Sonic stories produced by Archie comics, often helping the Freedom Fighters make their getaway from dangerous situations. But after dozens of issues spent keeping the car running while his friends went on amazing adventures, Tails revs up his personal submarine and takes off on a comic adventure of his own.
The first installment of Tails’ three issue mini-series hit store shelves in December of 1995. Written by Mike Gallagher and illustrated by a team of talented artists from Archie Comics, this story arc features Tails trying to take down a satellite operation of the evil Dr. Robotnik. Each of the three issues begins with a rather meta framing device wherein Tails is writing his own comic series called “Tails to Astonish,” starring himself as the superhero main character. Within these action-packed comics, Tails has written himself as the mutant-cyborg clone Captain Super FoX-Man, a strange mix of Cable and Superman. In the context of the actual comic, these one page stories serve to catch the reader up on the events of the story thus far.
Following a brief introduction to the “Tails to Astonish,” the story begins with the two-tailed hero reviewing a list of supplies he picked up in his last encounter with Dr. Robotnik. Knowing that the list proves an evil plan is afoot, Tails decides to take matters into his own hands and departs in his submarine, The Sea Fox, to track down Robotnik’s evil robo-blimp. After a battle with some Swatbots on open waters, Tails is captured and nearly killed by a giant mechanical octopus (aptly named, Octobot). Fortunately he is saved by an underwater squad of Freedom Fighters who help transport him to the robo-blimp’s destination, the continent of Downunda. Meanwhile, readers are introduced to Robotnik’s new underboss who will be spearheading the conquest of Downunda, Crocbot. Little does the evil egg-man know, Crocbot has no intentions of playing second fiddle, and plans to double-cross Robotnik with his army of mechanical winged dingoes.
The other two issues continue Tails’ quest to stop Robotnik and Crocbot from their takeover of Downunda. Along the way, he meets a team of Freedom Fighters who serve the greater good of this alternate Australia. Working together, the entire group of animal heroes destroy Robotnik’s blimp and take down Crocbot once and for all. There is also a side story about a prophecy involving Tails and his future role as the Chosen One who will begin a Great Harmony using the energy of the Chaos Emeralds. But for the most part, the Tails mini-series is chock full of cartoon battle scenes and puns based on Australia, including a mechanical Merino sheep tank called the CD-Rom Ram.
The artwork featured in the Tails comics is made up of classic cartoon illustrations: bright colors and simple line work. Each of the animal characters is drawn with minimal shading and expressive facial features, which serves as a sharp contrast to the heavy shading and rigid emotions of machines like Crocbot and his winged dingoes. The backgrounds feature very few details, which allows the reader to focus on the characters and action in each panel. Battles are full of traditional comic book onomatopoeia and every single motion seems to warrant a “whoosh,” “zoom,” or “flop.” The cover of each issue features very impressive artwork, advertised as, “awesome computer-colored covers,” in the conclusion of the second book.
Since I have two younger siblings, I have often enjoyed when a developer would include a sidekick to balance the main character of a video game. These beloved partners provide wonderful co-op fun in the main entries of a series, and give way to independent titles where new game mechanics can be explored without radically changing the formula of core games. Similarly, when the Tails comics made their debut alongside the main Sonic series, my brother and I each had something on which to spend our hard-earned allowance. These sidekicks might change up the traditional ways of a series, but the resulting experience can be shared with loved ones who might not have approached these games and comics if it weren’t for these plucky partners.