Well, Sonic Universe #73 is out and I wrote another review to voice my thoughts on it. Yes, I know I said I would save this for the end of the arc, but there's a lot I want to talk about without congesting it into one journal entry. SPOILERS BE WARNED!
So the story picks up outside Dr. Ellidy's house, where Sally discovers a shrine dedicated to a young lynx girl, who happens to be Ellidy's deceased daughter, Nikki. Ellidy reveals that Nicole was actually an attempt to digitally preserve Nikki, although the process was incomplete. Distraught, he passed Nicole to Sally instead. It's only when Sally notices the Dark Gaia presence is enraging them that they take refuge inside. Sally sends Tails and Big to fight their way through the horde of monsters and retrieve the Chaos Emerald at the Lake of Rings. Meanwhile, Nicole gets an unpleasant visit from the virus Phage in the digital world. After capturing her, Phage announces its allegiance to Eggman and his evil schemes, prompting Sally to hop into Ellidy's digitizer to try and rescue Nicole.
So that's our rundown of the third issue. Overall, I'm less enthusiastic about the way the story progresses after the positive build-up in the first two issues. For starters, why is Tails here? He's done absolutely nothing of importance since the beginning of the arc, and he seems like little more than Sega's mascot in this story. Visually, the third issue is on par for the course with good layouts and expressive characters, but what bothers me is the utterly bland and vapid digital world. It's just an endless sequence of cubes and polygons like what a developer would use to debug a game. Did Tracy Yardley ever watch Tron? That's how to do it. Considering anything is possibly in the digital world, it's a shame it's so uninteresting to look at, and I pity Nicole for spending her time there.
The concept of Nicole being based off Ellidy's deceased daughter was an obvious one, although the details of that event were disappointingly unclear. Ellidy makes vague references that Nikki was wasting away, but we don't know what she was suffering from or what went wrong with the digitizer process. Maybe Archie is saving a full explanation for Nicole's Origin story later on, but this incomplete picture doesn't deliver much emotional punch. The pacing is off too. The story jumps between the present danger and the brooding past without any sort of transition panel to segue the narrative. And what flashbacks occur are so fleeting that I couldn't latch onto them.
For example, this issue features Sally's first encounter with Nicole's holo-lynx form. Nicole explains that this was a project she has been working on for some time because she wanted to see the stars the way Mobians do. This is a reference to the short story "Stargazing" in Sonic #151 where Nicole makes her first physical appearance in much the same way. It's nice to see that Archie retained one of the more touching stories from the original timeline, but the pacing is so brisk and the encounter so brief that all the poignancy of Stargazing is missing. Moreover, it doesn't seem like Archie plans on integrating the short story "Circuit Me" from Sonic #146 as the source of Nicole's desires. Pity. If there's one story I would definitely want Archie to revisit from the original timeline, it's Nicole's infuriatingly short experience in Sally's body (about which I complained bitterly here).
The revelation that Phage is Eggman's program is sadly underwhelming. It removes the mystique surrounding the character and becomes little more than just another one of the bad doctor's creations to defeat. I feel like more could be done with the character. The emotional conflict of this arc revolves around Ellidy's feelings towards Nicole. I think that Phage could have been written to play some part of that, perhaps as a corrupted offshoot of Nikki's incomplete digitization (whatever that may be). It would bring the story to a thematic climax rather than deviating into another badnik battle. Ridding the system of such an aberration with Nicole's help would reinforce Ellidy's faith in her and help him find closure in his work. There's still one more issue to go, and I hope the story comes to a satisfying conclusion. I was right about my guess that Sally would have to jack into the digital world, and I'm eager to see how her avatar fares against Phage....