Sonic the Hedgehog has come a long way since he burst onto the scene all the way back in 1991, but they say history is cyclical, and so it make sense that one all-but-forgotten name from the Blue Blur’s past has come back into some sort of prominence. Well, “back” may be stretching things just a bit — for all intents and purposes, this character never truly existed.
“Madonna” is a name that may ring a bell for some, though in this instance, she is not the singer-songwriter who has had an everlasting presence in American pop-culture. For whatever reason, SEGA of Japan originally had designs on giving their new mascot a female companion who — let’s face it — could easily pass as a cartoon caricature of the “Material Girl” singer. Perhaps it had something to do with Sonic’s original role as a member of a band?
According to the book Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris, Tom Kalinske and Madeline Schroeder of SEGA of America were both immediately worried upon seeing what sprang forth from the mind of Naoto Ōshima, with the latter believing her inclusion to be too “Japanese” for the audience they were targeting. Among other changes to soften up Sonic, who originally sported fangs, the decision was made to ditch the girlfriend.
Not listed among the reasons for her removal is the possibility of litigation from the real-world person bearing the name. Whether such a move would have held up in court or not may be up for debate, but one has to imagine that as small a company as SEGA of America was at the time, they would probably not want to take the risk.
Incidentally, Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka would offer a differing perspective, stating that the reason she was removed was that her purpose was to be something of a “princess” who would be rescued by Sonic, but that such a concept seemed a little too similar to another character — i.e. Mario. Instead of this “male fantasy,” the focus would be more on the conflict between Sonic and his nemesis, Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik.
Interestingly enough, Sonic Team would seem to return to the idea many years later.
In 2006, SEGA released Sonic the Hedgehog for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Known by fans and detractors alike as simply “Sonic 2006” or “Sonic ’06,” Naka stated that with this title, “we have gone back to our starting point, more than 15-years ago, to reinvent the attitude and speed that made our hero a legend. The ‘rebirth of Sonic’ will offer an unparalleled sense of speed that is only possible using the processing power afforded by the new systems.”
While it was believed for a time to be a full reboot of the series, one way that Sonic Team did go back to their roots was a return to the idea of rescuing a princess. Sonic 2006 introduced the character of Princess Elise the Third, sovereign of the Venice-inspired nation of Soleanna. Unlike Madonna, however, Elise doesn’t seem quite as inspired by any particular celebrity, though she was portrayed in the game by voice actress (The Wild Thornberrys, Transformers: Rescue Bots) and Mean Girls star Lacey Chabert.
Even though Sonic Team tried to veer away from more similarities than necessary to Super Mario Bros. 15 years earlier, they seemed more than willing to make up for lost time as over the course of her one starring title, Elise racks up a kidnapping victim record that would make Princess Peach’s pale in comparison. What’s more, she also seems to develop a romantic relationship of sorts with the game’s eponymous star. Though most of their interaction merely seems friendly at best, slightly flirty at worst, it ultimately culminates at the end of the game when she brings the Blue Blur back to life with a kiss.
As it turns out, SEGA of America circa 1991 called following the game’s launch, and all that could be heard on the other end was tons of laughter. In other words, it seems that they were proven right, as the game was not only the recipient of plentiful commercial and critical scorn, but that one moment would turn out to be one that was often highlighted as a problem with the game, albeit one among many. Suffice to say, they’ve not gone back to that well since.
However, that little saga does not mark the end of Madonna or her seeming legacy. In fact, her true story (in-world, at least) may only be beginning.
As seen in the preview for this week’s 12th issue of Archie Comics’ Sonic Super Digest, there is a familiar — yes, it’s Madonna. Let’s not even pretend it’s a surprise, because why else would I be bringing it up?
Nonetheless, she appears quite different from what anyone would have expected:
A couple of months ago, writer Ian Flynn was asked on Twitter about whether we would see Madonna in the comic. He replied, “Yes – but not in any way you’d expect.”
Few would have expected the musician/damsel-in-distress to turn up as a member of the series’ Guardian Unit of Nations (G.U.N.) army, appearing closer to Resident Evil‘s Jill Valentine than Donkey Kong‘s Pauline. True to his word, Flynn has become known well not only for his ability to mine the history of Sonic the Hedgehog for old, obscure, and forgotten characters, but to also reinvent them in such a way that they make sense within the modern context of the franchise. As you can see, Madonna is no exception.
However, Flynn has pulled off a triple-hit with this latest move. The newest addition to the longest sequentially-running licensed comic book ever is not a reference to one character, but three at once!In addition to the obvious, the rechristened Madonna Garnet also references another character from Sonic‘s past — specifically, a G.U.N. agent from the Sonic X branch of the franchise known as Agent Topaz. This is thanks to their respective surnames, as both garnet and topaz are types of gemstone minerals. As a side note, SEGA seems pretty intent on keeping most different branches of the Sonic franchise segregated with little overlapping; as such, while Agent Topaz may never be able to appear in the Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Universe comics, Agent Garnet can work in her stead.
However, that’s not all; the name “Garnet” has an interesting place in the Sonic franchise as a name from a bizarre origin story for the franchise. A story from an unknown point in time was published in a history book included in a special Sonic Adventure 2 “Birthday Pack” made to celebrate the SEGA mascot’s 10th anniversary. There, a writer of children’s books named “Mary Garnet” was the wife of a United States Air Force pilot who wore the symbol of a blue hedgehog and perished when attempting to become the first man to break the sound barrier.
To top it all off, the term “garnet” describes “a group of several closely related minerals,” according to Minerals.net. As such, it’s a fitting surname for a character who draws inspiration from a group of several closely related sources.
It’s interesting to see how Sonic the Hedgehog has managed to come back to such an obscure part of the franchise’s history twice now. It also leaves one to wonder if we could see it happen yet again.