Comics

Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 2 – Of Frightened and Dancing Crocs

When looking at Mobius: 25 Years Later as a whole, it is pretty clear just how important Ken Penders wanted this story to be for the readers. Running in the comic for over a year, coupled with its promise of wrapping up numerous storylines that had been running through his Knuckles narrative since nearly the beginning of his time writing for the title, it was meant to be this grand finale for a medium whose very nature would prevent an ending from coming about. If the series were to ever end, there might not be enough warning to give the comic any sort of closure, as has been the case for numerous titles throughout the industry, not just at Archie Comics. The publication of a licensed comic going for as long as Sonic the Hedgehog has is still unprecedented, and only in recent years have Archie and SEGA really begun to comprehend this. It’s been said more than once that SEGA’s input in the series currently far surpasses anything they did during Ken’s tenure, quite possibly wanting to avoid a situation where the interior of the comic book is in stark contrast with how the franchise is being portrayed in the games.

Though it’s uncertain if Ken ever thought about the possibility of his work being collected into a trade paperback, Mobius: 25 Years Later certainly feels like something that was meant to be released as a single volume at some point down the line, similar to how Archie have recently been collecting the Sonic the Hedgehog comics in its Archive and Selects books. While the issues 25 Years Later appeared in are still a ways away from being considered for inclusion, it wasn’t that long ago that almost the entirety of the storyline was published together in Issue #4 of the Sonic Super Special Magazine, a quarterly publication whose goal seems a bit all over the place, collecting random arcs of various quality.

For anyone who owns a copy of Issue #4, those in the know may have noticed two parts of the story missing: “Prologue,” which was covered in detail in our previous installment, and “Father’s Day,” the penultimate chapter which we’ll get to in due time. So for those who have only experienced the saga in magazine format, we’re reaching territory you are now familiar with as we once again journey into the world of Mobius: 25 Years Later

“The Unveiling,” once again written by Ken Penders and drawn by Steven Butler, starts off where the last story promised we’d be: at Lara-Su‘s unveiling ceremony. With the party just getting underway, we see Julie-Su greet a newcomer whom we’ve yet to meet, Mace the Echidna. By referencing to Lara as his niece, it only takes a second for the reader to realize that this very generic looking Echidna in a tuxedo is actually Knuckles’ younger brother. Yes, you read that right. Ken Penders decided to give Knuckles a kid brother. Casually mentioned two years prior on a single page during the “Reunification” story arc (which we’ll be referencing again later on if you can believe it), the unborn child was a plot point that most readers probably forgot about until seeing him full grown in this strange and boring future. It would take another few months before the toddler Echidna would be introduced in the main comic.

Unlike most fan characters, Mace doesn’t seem to possess any grand abilities that make him better than Knuckles. He doesn’t have an extra row of sharpened knuckles on his hands, or have the power to turn super in the presence of Echidna ceremonies. Instead, as cheerfully pointed out by Julie-Su, Mace seems to be a bit of a ladies man, with her asking him not to go after any of the women at the party as they’re mostly married. They leave out his success rate, so it is entirely possible that Mace is just as bad with women as Knuckles, he just tries way more. Not like it really matters to the story, since Mace will soon vanish into the background, having to seduce married women another day.

Just as Knuckles promised, the Guardian takes the first dance with his daughter, the two twirling about and once again sharing the corniest dialogue. Lara-Su complains about her dress like any teenager wearing something super frumpy would, and to be honest I can’t blame her. Here she is, dressed in a gown that a six year old girl wanting to look like a princess would wear, all the while her mother is in a gown that must have been designed to make men stop and stare. Yes, I wish I didn’t need to type that sentence, and yes, I wish this was the only time I had to comment on Julie-Su’s clothing. But I’ll leave that alone for now, and mention something that I should have in the first review – Lara’s glasses. While she isn’t the first character in the comic to have lensware, there is just something about her particular frames that seems so…wrong. Maybe it’s just the proportions of her head, or the fact they look like bifocals, but they just don’t look right sitting on her face. I know I wasn’t bothered in Sonic Adventure 2 when Knuckles wore those optional sunglasses, so they must be able to work on Sonic character designs, but the ones here…ugh. Sorry Lara, but you need a stylist that isn’t a pair of grown men slowly sexualizing your mother.

It isn’t long before Lara-Su is cutting up the rug with some nondescript Echidna, Knuckles wandering away from the party and standing on a balcony overlooking Echidnapolis. Julie-Su joins him, and we are once again greeted with dialogue that says, yes, Knuckles is trying to deal with the fact his daughter is growing up and soon won’t need him. These sort of exchanges would work so much better if we had actually seen Knuckles at any point trying to raise his daughter, but we haven’t been afforded that chance. We go from reading about teenager Knuckles in the first half of the comic to seeing this forced adult Knuckles, and it just doesn’t work as well as it should. We haven’t even seen Knuckles really mature, so having him deal with the concept on the other side is incredibly awkward. Maybe Merlin the magic narrator from part one should have shown us snippets of the last 25 years leading up to this point. Or maybe Ken could have found a far subtler way of showing Knuckles dealing with his daughter’s maturity instead of going “I am parent my daughter is getting older.”

Anyway, Knuckles and Julie-Su take a look over the balcony, staring into a night sky that happens to be full of lightning. Though they don’t say anything about it, we the readers find out that we’re meant to care as we jump back to Rotor, now joined by Cobar. Looking older than death itself, this cyborg-esque Echidna confers with Rotor over what they have discovered: that the very fabric of the universe is coming apart. While Rotor hopes his calculations are wrong, the margin of error proves that the end of existence is not just a possibility, but a certainty, the strange weather patterns being the first sign of a greater calamity. The cause of impending doom? Zone hopping. Apparently all those adventures that have been happening in the comic for the last 130 issues involving Sonic jumping from zone to zone have expedited the breaking of the space/time continuum. While there is mention of Dimitri and his followers doing all sorts of crazy things with space and time over the thousands of years Dimitri has existed, the Dark Legion’s shenanigans pales in comparison to Sonic the Hedgehog jumping on the Cosmic Interstate and being forced to take part in an Ally McBeal parody. That sounds about right.

Time for a brief history lesson: Back in 1993, Sonic was hot. Really hot. Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel had single-handedly made SEGA a household name. The merchandising blitz had begun, with every company trying to find some way of capitalizing on its success. Books, toys, television shows…you name it. So it wasn’t a surprise that a comic book company would start publishing a series based on the property. Initially a four-part mini-series to test the waters, Archie Comics were the winners in whatever bidding war the license may or may not have had.

When the comic first began, it was a far different beast than how it would look even just a few years later. With short, continuity free stories written entirely for laughs, it wasn’t trying to be a huge and sprawling epic. The original creative team also probably didn’t expect the series to last more than a couple years, the average lifespan of licensed material at the time. So when original comic scribe Mike Gallagher looked like he was to leave the series, well…I’ll let Ken Penders explain:

I had been working in the comics industry for a number of years already, usually as a penciller, though there was an inking assignment here and there, and I had recently worked on my first script, which I sold to then DC Comics STAR TREK editor Alan Gold. I hadn’t landed my first regular series yet, but I had come close on at least three occasions, only to see the brass ring snatched away.

Mike Kanterovich, with whom I’d known for several years, had been writing stories with his friend Tom Brevoort for several of Marvel’s kid-oriented titles. Mike in turn had been friends with Paul Castiglia for years. Paul was then working on SONIC THE HEDGEHOG as an editor for Archie Comics. At the time, Paul was concerned that writer Mike Gallagher might move on to other writing opportunities (which he did) and that the approval process with Sega might delay production (which it nearly did a couple of times). So he asked his friend Mike to submit some story ideas.

Mike, in turn, gave me a call concerning the matter. He explained what Paul wanted and how he, Mike that is, hadn’t a clue who or what a SONIC THE HEDGEHOG was. I replied that he was merely my son’s favorite character, which led Mike to suggest that him and I get together and brainstorm a few ideas.

Finally, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. By anticipating that the key to continuing my career in comics would be to get involved in every phase of production, including writing, I was able to say to Paul I was an established writer when Mike and I submitted our first story ideas for consideration.

We submitted three story ideas initially, two of which saw publication in issue #11, the third of which was rejected outright by Sega. We had suggested doing a Sonic versus Mario take-off, but the licensing rep at Sega was adamant that we not feature Nintendo’s characters even in a spoof. [1]

The main story of that first issue? “The Good, The Bad and The Hedgehog,” an eleven page adventure detailing Sonic’s first meeting with “Evil Sonic,” his exact double except for the clearly defined adjective. The plot is super simple: while trying to take a shortcut to get to where Dr. Robotnik has been doing his latest evil dealings, Sonic takes a wrong turn on the Cosmic Interstate and finds himself on a Mobius where everything is reversed. Though seemingly a throwaway story meant to harken back to the early days of the Silver Age of comic books (and an excuse to cram as many Beatles and Rolling Stone references in the script as possible), the plot threads of the Cosmic Interstate, as well as Evil Sonic, would continue to appear in subsequent stories, and are still one of the major aspects of the comic to this day.

So yes, the backbone of Mobius: 25 Years Later originates with the very first story Ken Penders ever worked on for the title. The main plot of strange weather patterns and impending doom is also a very clear reference to another superhero comic book staple, best encapsulated in the 1985 maxi-series Crisis On Infinite Earths. That series, published by DC Comics, took the previous 50 years of history across all its titles and used it to create an epic that both concluded decades of continuity and opened the door for brand new stories to be told. While I doubt SEGA’s licensing people would ever allow such sweeping changes even in “a possible future,” the idea of throwing our heroes against their greatest threat ever that also wraps up things in a brilliant, dramatic fashion is one comic book companies have been trying to do almost yearly. I can completely understand why Ken would want to replicate this sort of storytelling in the pages of Sonic, especially since he had been working on the book for nearly a decade himself at this point.

Right, back to the story. After casually ruling out time travel, the pair of Rotor and Cobar realize they have their work cut out for them. Before they can continue to work on saving all of existence, however, Rotor realizes that he still has to make an appearance at “a prior engagement” else it’ll be considered a royal snub. After all, if the fate of the world is hanging in the balance, you wouldn’t want someone you’ve known for decades to think that you’re being rude for not showing up at his daughter’s party, right?

With Rotor scrambling about in his oversized cloak (what’s the reason he wants to look like Obi-Wan Kenobi, again?), we get to see he isn’t the only one late to the Echidna festivities. Emerging out of their red flying car, Vector the Crocodile and his son Argyle (oh I get it) show up “fashionably late” to Lara-Su’s Unveiling, with both Vector and Knuckles encouraging the young Croc to ask Lara to dance. Ignoring the slightly creepy vibe this exchange gives off, the layout of this page just bothers me. The most prominent panel on the page is the arrival of a taxi, and while at first glance I thought it was driving away after having dropped off Vector and son, I realized that, no, it is actually arriving. While this was probably done to delay the unveiling of Vector’s future self, that doesn’t work since you see his face on the page anyway. When you look at a comic book, at least in my experience, your eye does take in the entire page at once. Even if you haven’t yet read any dialogue, even if you don’t exactly know what’s happening in that first split-second, your mind doesn’t black out the other panels you see. The way the layout works, it merges together to form a single work of art. Instead of something intriguing, all I take out of it is a taxi I’m supposed to think is more important than Vector, and that Knuckles loves giving vague directions to teenagers while standing outside of buildings. I’m pretty sure that while you’re egging Argyle on to dance with your daughter, he at least knows that she would be inside the building he just arrived at.

Stepping inside, we see Vector’s face in terror. Not because anything interesting has happened, but because he is frightened at the prospect that his son might not be a social butterfly. Glad to know that Vector’s priorities as a father are in the right order. Either way, it doesn’t matter as we see that he can keep his own, dipping Lara-Su and making Vector’s head slowly enlarge in shock. Before it can get too big, Knuckles’ attention is pulled away by Harry the Cab Driver, who hands the Guardian a note from “R.” Could it be the mysterious return of Dr. Robotnik?! No, it’s just a note from Rotor, asking Knuckles for a private meeting. With Knuckles dramatically setting it up at Locke’s Park, the second chapter comes to an end. Though I must ask, why couldn’t Rotor just ask Knuckles in person? Only one page earlier did we hear the walrus talk about not wanting to royally snub a previous engagement, which would make one assume he was talking about the Unveiling of the Guardian’s daughter. Guess he must have had some other super important task to attend to, like getting his dry cleaning done by a resurrected Tommy the Turtle. And why would Harry care if the meter is running? He’s the cab driver, if it keeps on going, he gets paid more!…hold on, who is he getting paid by? Is Rotor sitting in the cab? Did he just tell Harry to take the message to Knuckles and that he would pay him later? If Rotor is right there, he could have just walked in! Knuckles certainly isn’t paying anyone anything. Harry isn’t a courier. Harry is a Dingo. And Dingos are associated with Australia. Which is why he is talking in the most obvious British slang imaginable.

So the plot has been set up…again. Tune in next time for part three as we see Knuckles and Rotor reunited along with whatever else Ken decides to throw at us.

Missed how this all started? Then check out last week’s installment:

Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 1 – What’s Future Is Prologue

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1 Comment

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    “the Dark Legion’s shenanigans pales in comparison to Sonic the Hedgehog jumping on the Cosmic Interstate and being forced to take part in an Ally McBeal parody. That sounds about right.”

    The Ally McBeal parody was in Sonic Super Special #14. You linked to Sonic Super Special #8, which was the Sailor Moon parody. Minor oversight.

    But otherwise I’m really, really enjoying these recaps. Keep it up, David.

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