The American Superhero Comic Book. A strange enigma in the creative world that attempts to be the small, self-contained tales of yesteryear while also being a sprawling epic that will leave people talking for years to come. While many have attempted to find a balance, few have truly succeeded. Now, you could say that Ian Flynn‘s work on the Sonic the Hedgehog comic by Archie has attempted this formula, having smaller arcs and stand alone issues that build upon what he’s been doing with the comic since cleaning up all the various threads left by his predecessors. Even Archie has acknowledged this by compiling his work for the Sonic Saga line of graphic novels that are slowly being released. Discussing just how well he’s done could make an interesting article, but would be lacking until his tenure on the comic is over.
However, Ian wasn’t the first to use the Sonic comic book as a canvas to tell a much larger story. No, the first man to truly try and tackle this feat in the pages of the licensed series was Ken Penders. The name should not be unfamiliar to people who have read my previous articles on the front page, or even those who can’t help but watch the slowest moving trainwreak of our times. But there was a point not all that long ago when he was considered the architect of Sonic, even though he wasn’t the main writer for the flagship title during much of his time working under Archie. Still, many of his concepts and characters that he came up with became integral parts of what the other writers played with during the 90’s and early 2000’s. He would be the one fans turned to for sneak peaks and explanations of what was happening in the monthly adventures of everyone’s favorite blue hedgehog.
Though he clearly had a passion for Sonic in his writing as evidenced in the originally intended finale Endgame, Ken’s true baby was his Knuckles the Echidna line of comics. Starting with specials and mini-series, Knuckles was spun off into his own comic book that lasted for thirty-two issues before being unceremoniously canceled right before the Sonic Adventure adaptation (something I’ll get to eventually – I haven’t given up on the game adaptation reviews). Ken’s work did continue as back-up tales in the main Sonic series, and while he reveled in the continued adventures of the Floating Island, there was one arc that stood out in his mind. What he wanted to be his legacy and wrap up the Sonic series once and for all. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the first in the multi-part feature to look into Ken Penders’ “crown jewel” of storytelling: Mobius: 25 Years Later.
Though there are many places one could start, the best point to get the ball rolling in explaining just what the heck Mobius: 25 Years Later is all about is to jump right into the first published part of the “epic.” Clearly marked as a back-up tale, it was enough to actually get top billing on the cover of Issue #131, the headliner story “Home” being pushed to the sidelines, the strange tale of Sonic returning from space after being missing for a year even though it didn’t seem that long for him. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds, but we’re not talking about that right now. Instead, we flip through the pages to see “Prologue,” written by Ken Penders and drawn by Steven Butler. Unlike most back-up stories of both past and present, our introduction to future Mobius gets a full twelve pages instead of the usual six, which should tell us we’re in for something special. “Should” being the key word here…
To let us know we’re in for a bumpy ride, the readers are given a simple one page introduction by none other than Merlin Prower, an uncle of Miles “Tails” Prower who possesses magical abilities, if his first name didn’t give that away. Because of his powers, he is somehow able to look into the future of his friends and allies, already knowing their destined fate. Something like that I’d think would come in handy if he actually used it to help his friends instead of telling a bored audience, but what do I know? We also see a panel of Sonic and Princess Sally, the former telling his long time love interest that while she was born for the throne, he was born for adventure. A bit of foreshadowing, ironic or otherwise? Well, I can promise you we won’t find out this issue. However, we are promised that “worlds about to collide” will reveal “secrets long held.” So many promises! Will this epic somehow tie back to the earliest pages of the comic, revealing something we thought to be true actually false?
The next page jumps right into the action that any young child wants to read about – the star of our story sitting in school. Now, I understand that part of this is for exposition, but moving from one talking head to another just seems like overkill. Either drop Merlin or have him tell us everything, Ken. Regardless, we get to hear a super old looking Echidna named Mr. Perriwinkle talk to his students in a social studies class. Wrapped up in a history lesson, he explains what has happened on Angel Island over the last 20 years, though he gets into very little detail, simply stating that now “more than one city exists isn’t that cool?!” He then goes on to say that Echidnapolis (still the most original city name ever) has become the center of government, and that the island is recognized as being the oldest democracy on Mobius. Boy, isn’t this all exciting, kids?
We then get to hear an explanation of what a republic is, which I feel these kids should know already. Not only are they living in Echidnapolis, they are also 16 and the sons and daughters of some of the most influential members of their civilization. Maybe Ken is just trying to be informative to the 11 year old kids who are reading this comic, but at the same time I don’t think any 11 year old really cares about the politics of a future Angel Island. All they care about is seeing Sonic and Knuckles fight Eggman, which also lets people question how much anyone reading a comic book about Sonic the Hedgehog wants to see the adventures of Knuckles’ daughter in a seemingly utopian future.
For those who are not familiar with the intricacies of the “Knucklesverse” as told by Ken Penders, I suppose I should clarify a couple things. In the games, Knuckles the Echidna is the last of his civilization, inheriting the task of protecting the Master Emerald from any and all intruders. While this is how things started in the comic books, the stories soon revealed that Knuckles wasn’t alone, and that not only his great-great-great-great-however-many-great-uncle was still alive, but his entire civilization was fine. Caught up in some sort of pocket universe that Knuckles freed them all from in his second mini-series, they are also joined by an evil group of Echidna’s who worship technology, which is where Julie-Su comes from. A female Echidna who starts off a villain, she eventually becomes Knuckles’ love interest. Since that’s how relationships work.
Getting back into things, I must admit I was a bit confused looking at the page where we see the class Perri is teaching, because I thought Julie-Su was in class trying to answer questions as well. Then I realized she was just one of two Julie-Su clones, not to mention the Lara-Su clones hiding in the background. Oh right, I almost forgot to introduce our main heroine in this little story: Lara-Su, daughter of Knuckles the Echidna and apparently the only one who pays attention in class. Getting in a small fight with a boy named Rutan who insults the role of Guardian in modern Echidna society, we are shown that she has all the stubborn, hotheadedness of her father. See, she really is the female version of Knuckles!
While this zany high school drama goes on that wouldn’t even be interesting enough for Archie Andrews and the gang, elsewhere in the city a shuttle lands, with two passengers emerging. The first tries to strike up a conversation with the second, asking if it is their first trip to the island. The cloaked figure responds with “Yes. It is a beautiful day, isn’t it?” I absolutely love idle chit-chat in a story that is bound by page limitations. Before we can hear them talk about their local sports teams, the cloaked figure disappears, even though the pair are still in the middle of an escalator ride. Does this mean the cloaked figure is some crazy magician of a time long past? No, it’s just Rotor Walrus, whose transportation act is never explained. Instead, he hops into a taxi cab driven by stereotypical Brit Harry. At first, I didn’t even realize this was a character from the comics, but after thirty seconds of research I was surprised to find that, yes, Harry was indeed a taxi driver back in the main comics of the era. I need to know the fate of my favorite taxi drivers, after all.
Making it a point that Harry has the clearance necessary to drive Rotor around, we find out that this top secret mission that even the drivers need to be screened for is simply Rotor meeting Espio to ask if Sonic and Knuckles can have dinner. Fascinating stuff, right? To be fair, I shouldn’t be too hard on the lack of action at this point. Since we are 25 years removed from the continued fight between Sonic and Eggman, it only makes sense to show what peace time is like. It allows the reader to become invested in the norm before it is shattered by some unseen force, creating a tension as to whether or not the characters can ever return to that state, or find something better. Seeing Rotor and Espio being nothing more than messengers in a peaceful time when years past they were once in the heat of battle, it shows the reader that life has gone soft. It’s even pointed out in the dialogue, where Epsio wonders aloud what happened to make them go through ceremony to simply hang out, in which Rotor replies they must have grown up.
Unfortunately, I’m giving Ken Penders way more credit than I should be, which will become evident as we continue on this journey.
We skip over the rest of the conversation, finally catching up with one of the principle characters of the main comic – Knuckles the Echidna, now clearly older because he wears clothes. I can only assume the hat is a nod to his appearance in the two-part direct-to-video series made in Japan. Sitting in a chair somewhere underground, he talks to Espio about how one of Sonic’s kids has a crush on his own daughter. With dialogue perfect for your average sitcom, I can’t help but feel that this is becoming more dull by the minute, with a plotline the target audience has no interest in. Once again, maybe I’m being too hard, especially since this is just chapter one.
The first seedling of something amiss is planted in this scene, though, with Epsio mentioning that Rotor likely didn’t just show up to make dinner plans, but to see Cobar, a fellow scientist who once was part of the Dark Legion just like Julie-Su in the past. Now, for those who are intimately aware of Ken Penders’ unused plans, one might be thinking of far more subtle seeds he hoped to plant with Rotor and Cobar, but that is something I will leave to talk about later. We still have much, much more of Mobius: 25 Years Later to go through, and plenty more scenes where we’ll get to see the pair in action. With a mention of their “last project” and how amiss it went (it’s not like we’ll ever get to hear about what could potentially be an interesting story), we get a shot of the futuristic Master Emerald chamber. Not quite the Hidden Palace and not quite the shrine from Sonic Adventure, there are plenty of clearly electronic devices hooked up to it, which kinda goes against everything the shrine is supposed to be. Maybe it’s powering the cities on the island, I don’t know. Hey, let’s move on to something avid Archie readers might care about!
Walking merrily along unaware of anything, we once again see Rutan, who is returning home. Surprise surprise, seems he happens to be the son of none other than Lien-Da, Grandmaster of the Dark Legion! Yes, the same Dark Legion that Julie-Su was from and the same Dark Legion that had tried to kill Knuckles more than once. So why is her son going to school with the Guardian’s daughter? Well, at around this point in the main series, there had been an attempt for “Reunification” between the two separate sects of Echidna civilization. Though later on Lien-Da would go off and do her own thing, at the time Ken must have assumed that the two sides would reach peace and be able to live together without much hassle. She looks exactly the same, though certainly drawn to…um…accentuate, for lack of a better description. Along for the ride is Dimitri, who is that great-great-great-great-however-many-great-uncle that I mentioned earlier, though in her case replace “Uncle” with “Grandfather.” What I didn’t mention is that the first time he woke up, he tried to kill Knuckles for no good reason, and when he calmed down soon took charge of the Dark Legion and tried to kill Knuckles a few more times. Even though he is nothing more than a head in a jar in this future, I must ask: why doesn’t anyone go to Echidna jail? I would think multiple counts of attempted murder, not to mention the fact he tried to completely take over Echidna society would make some people weary of the floating head, but I guess not. I’m sure someone invested in the comics could explain how they’ve gotten out of it, but that’s not where my curiosity lies. No, I’m far more interested in the passive concern Lien-Da possesses for her son and his head injury. Super concerned in one panel, extremely bored in the next. Dimitri isn’t helpful in the situation at all, the pair baffled by the Mobian teenage mindset.
Meanwhile, Knuckles comes home and…oh right, Knuckles has a robot eye. If you recall in the previous scene with Knuckles, the angle in which he is displayed was very deliberate, making sure to only show one side of his face. So you’d think the writer/artist was planning some stunning reveal that would shock the readers in learning that sometime in the last 25 years, something happened in which Knuckles lost an eye and was forced to replace it with cybernetics. But no, we get to see it as Knuckles casually walks home to see the wife and kids. No dramatic attention brought to it, just super casual, making the tease from the last scene a complete waste of time. Similar to the rest of what we’re about to read.
Now, I don’t know if you’re fully aware of this, but Knuckles’ kid, Lara-Su? She’s a teenager. In fact, she’s not just a teenager, but a female teenager. And there is only one way a female teenager can act – crying alone sitting on the toilet. Julie-Su tells Knuckles that his daughter wants to be left alone, a desire that doesn’t phase him at all. After all, his one defined character trait up to this point has been his own desire for privacy, a nod which would have far more impact if he wasn’t constantly surrounded by people in his solo stories. However, it isn’t because Lara-Su wants to be brooding and mysterious. She just wants to get out of her “Unveiling Ceremony.” This would probably have a bit more impact if the readers were clued in that this was going to happen in the first place.
The concept of a young woman having an “unveiling” as she comes of age is not something without precedent, echoed in the modern era of the American “Sweet 16” and the Mexican “Quinceañera” birthday celebrations. Lara-Su’s reasoning for wanting to miss hers? She wants to be Guardian, and gosh darn it, Knuckles won’t let her be one! The readers are treated to some extremely awkward dialogue that is very…un-Knuckles-like, where he gets to once again be a sitcom dad, having a heart to heart with his daughter though a bathroom door. Ignoring the fact that every principle character in the comic is meant to be a teenager outside of the 25 Years Later future, the whole crisis seems out of place. Instead of dealing with Knuckles threatening to spank his daughter then explaining his reasoning for not wanting her to be a Guardian, wouldn’t it have been easier to establish more of this in the classroom scene? It feels like that’s what Ken wanted to do, but was just unable, settling instead on Rutan teasing his cousin in the most basic fashion. We could have seen a tomboy-ish Lara complaining about the assuredly-girly unveiling ceremony, how it wasn’t something she needed to even go through if she was to take up the family job of Guardian, and have Rutan tease about Knuckles’ plans for discontinuing the centuries-old practice.
Instead, we get the awkward exchange of Knuckles threatening to spank his daughter, then calming down and giving the worst pep talk imaginable. While most teenage girls would stay locked in the bathroom, Lara is somehow convinced to step outside, her mood swing completely over and asking her father to be her first dance. That was quick.
With that, the first part of Mobius: 25 Years Later draws to a close, showing a sliver of a future and opening up a ton of questions on both sides of the story. What brought everyone to this point, and what is about to happen to justify us seeing this “happily ever after?” It’s been over eight years since this was published, so it is hard to judge the story as if the rest hadn’t come about. Although it might be funny to hear, this back-up story is the stronger of the two featured in the issue, “Home” a large mess to try and mess with the status quo in an utterly forgettable way. Even so, it doesn’t make “Prologue” a good story. Like I said before, it would have been more effective if there was just one solid introduction instead of two meandering talking heads, dropping Merlin and not assuming your audience is unable to understand that things are going to be different. After all, the story is titled Mobius: 25 Years Later, how much more do we need to be told for it to come through that things are different? And if Lara-Su was presented as a stronger character instead of her personality being composed solely of “Knuckles’ daughter,” the anticipation of finding out what happens next would actually exist. Regardless, quite a bit of potential is set up in these twelve pages. Too bad almost all of it is squandered in the next thirteen installments of the saga that Ken penned. Of course, there’s always a bit more to the story than what we see on the printed page, in which I’ll be getting into as these columns continue.
The hope is for these to be a weekly feature until I’ve gone over way more than anyone ever wanted to know about Mobius: 25 Years Later, so until next time, I leave you with these words…