Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 4 – The Mobius Girls Can’t Help It

Sonic the Hedgehog is not a superhero. Yes, Sonic is a hero in the sense that he fights evil and wants to save his friends. He has an arch nemesis, he has a sidekick, he has a friendly rival, he kinda has a love interest depending on how you look at it. Unlike the traditional American superhero archetype, however, Sonic does not fight Eggman because he feels he has to. The blue blur possesses a strong sense of justice, but at the same time lives a carefree existence based on his own rules. He did not have a tragic event in his childhood that made him realize he had to dedicate his life to fighting evil, or come to find he was the only being on the planet with a gift he had to use for the betterment of mankind. Sonic is, to quote a phrase, “just a guy who loves adventure.” His fights with Dr. Eggman are not just because the doctor put his nose in his friend’s business, but because it is something exciting to do. If Eggman had looked for the Chaos Emeralds elsewhere, or decided not to start capturing the animal friends on South Island? Sonic would never have gone looking for Eggman just because he was power hungry.

In most western-produced media, though, the idea of Sonic actually being some sort of superhero took hold, with secret origins becoming motivators for Sonic’s entire philosophy. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Ken Penders writing style doesn’t always work for what Sonic is supposed to be. Ken grew up on superhero comics. The works of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby shaped in his mind how a comic is supposed to be written. He wanted to emulate his heroes, and used the world of Sonic & Knuckles as his canvas to do so, his first real writing job. Also trying to match the trends of modern comics with long-form storylines that are really meant to be read in graphic novels and not the monthly publications they are confined to, Ken wanted to do so much more than what he could. Not just because he was using other people’s characters, but because his writing just isn’t up to par with those great iconic comic book writers. His own ideas seem to escape him, and while there are moments of brilliance, I often get the sense Ken is desperately fighting with himself to reel everything back in.

To be fair, he never did make Sonic adopt a secret identity and wear a mask to fight crime. That was all Karl Bollers. But that’s a story for another day.

Issue #135 continues the saga of Mobius: 25 Years Later with “Dealing With The Devil,” an ominous title from the pair of Penders and Butler. The scene opens with a very prominent shot of Lien-Da, and unlike the last time we saw her, there are no pesky word balloons blocking her figure. So yes, we get to have yet another sexy Echidna lady confusing so many adolescent readers. At least she’s still wearing what she wore 25 year ago. Though I hope she’s washed those clothes at least once or twice in the interim.

Once a feared member of the Dark Legion, Lien-Da has fit comfortably into the roll of “mother,” her passive aggressive face being all that she can muster this late in life. Her current focus: her son Rutan, looking none too happy about what his mother might do. Playing with some floating ball for no real reason, he listens as his mother asks what he really did, since she knows they weren’t with any friends the night before. Rutan thinks to himself on how he wishes he was dead, but by the confused look on the floating head of Dimitri, I would think that he would be the one wishing for death to come. He’s been alive for thousands of years, and his only life support is a bubble that has to be working overtime to keep his head alive. What kind of an existence is that? He has to be, what, 90 percent mechanical at this point? Though if he’s being pumped with all sorts of drugs, maybe he’s just half alive in some weird euphoric state and doesn’t care anymore. Heck, it’s possible Lien-Da is just forcing him to stay alive so he can be a really cool talking piece when company comes over.

Telling his mother outright that explaining the story could be embarrassing (has this kid never gotten in trouble before? Don’t tell your mother vague statements that make it sound like you had crazy sex and you can only explain it in the most awkward detail imaginable), Rutan gets blasted back with this lovely line of dialogue: “You can’t even begin to know the meaning of that word until I’m done with you!” What is she planning on doing, pantsing her son in the middle of Echidnapolis? With that, Rutan says a guy doesn’t kiss and tell, but Lien-Da will have none of it. Ignoring the fact that by saying he doesn’t kiss and tell, he’s already admitted he did something with noseless Salma. Not that it really matters since I’m confused already by this conversation. Is this really how a mom talks to her teenage son about premarital relations? If so, I really don’t want to know the kind of things Lien-Da starts talking about after she’s had a couple drinks at family gatherings.

Our awkward conversation is thankfully interrupted by Dimitri, having woken up from his coma to talk about how “boys will be boys.” We then get into a lovely discussion about the double standard of men vs. women, Lien-Da bringing up how she was never even allowed to be the leader of the Dark Legion. I would be able to take this conversation seriously if it wasn’t for the prominence of Lien-Da’s chest across the entire page. Even Rutan looks bored, and only seconds before was longing for death. That should tell you something! All this talk of the Dark Legion does give us an excuse to enter the world of the flashback, where for the first time we get an answer to why Dimitri is a floating head. Seems that while he still had a body, Dr. Robotnik (since Penders never was partial to the “Eggman” name) attempted to ally himself with the cyborg Echidna, but Dimitri refused the partnership because he had a change of heart. Since people often change their philosophical beliefs after three thousand years! But…um…I’m still not sure how Robotnik decapitated Dimitri and put him in a bubble. Or even why he would do that. Is that what we’re supposed to think happened?

Before Mobius: 25 Years Later began, the last time Dimitri was seen in the main comic was in a story by Ken called “Ultimate Power,” where Knuckles ended up dead for a week. Dimitri, who was on the edge of death (but still had a body…well, a cyborg one) was strapped to a life support system not unlike the one seen in the flashback with Robotnik. After Knuckles sacrificed his life to save Dimitri’s (yes, the same Dimitri who tried to kill Knuckles more than once), the fate of the crazed leader of the Dark Legion was left up in the air. See, he needed Knuckles to save his life not in the superficial way he ended up doing (by stopping Mammoth Mogul‘s plan of world conquest) but by using his Chaos abilities to bring him back from the edge of death. This was also during the period where Knuckles was green…oh right, I didn’t mention that at all. After the cancellation of Knuckles’ solo title and the subsequent Sonic Adventure adaptation, Ken Penders attempted to continue what he envisioned as his grand epic but in a more confined page count. The next big event that had been planned was the disappearance of everyone who lived on Angel Island, orchestrated by Dimitri and the Dark Legion so they could reclaim Angel Island for themselves, forcing Knuckles to go searching for answers at the lost Echidna city of Albion which he had found many issues beforehand. The stress at losing his people caused his untapped connection with the raw Chaos Force energy that every Guardian is linked with to explode with power, changing his physical form to that of a green hue, a nod to his earliest concept art that Sega had drawn up. Of course, this was also a time when no one knew that Knuckles was originally colored green, so the reference was lost on every single reader.

Anyway, Knuckles, in his powered-up state, was able to recover everyone who was lost because of the Dark Legion’s plot, but in the process decided to form a shaky alliance with the villains so that the two sects of Echidna society could live side-by-side. Didn’t work too well, especially since Lien-Da was doing everything she could behind the scenes to prevent “Reunification.” When Knuckles died for that short time, Dimitri’s only hope to continue living was gone, so whatever powerful moment was supposed to come from Knuckles sacrifice was completely lost. Even when Knuckles came back to life to help fight an alien invasion on Mobius, no one was really concerned with Dimitri. Everything from Sonic #88 to #125, and the story in Sonic Super Special #14 that kicked it off? A long, drawn out piece that feels more like a waste of time than anything else. Sprinkled with plot points that languished until other writers visited them and wrapped them up in the worst way imaginable (such as the Tails “Chosen One” arc), it feels like that entire era of Ken Penders’ Knuckles narrative slipped through his grip, almost as if the 25 Years Later material was what he really wanted to do, but was told by the powers-that-be that he had to wait.

One brief note: the disembodied head of Dimitri would end up becoming part of the main storyline, but his transformation was not done by the hand of Robotnik but instead part of an experiment by crazed Echidna scientist Dr. Finitevus, in an effort to understand certain Echidna’s connections to the Chaos Force, not wanting Dimitri to die just yet.

Right, where were we? Ah yes, the future. With Dimitri reminiscing about his past, Lien-Da becomes defensive, sounding like a 16 year old girl herself, saying that its unfair for him to try and blame her for his current condition. Though he says he doesn’t and only blames her for her selfish behavior in the aftermath, Lien-Da finally makes the point that all of this conversation has nothing to do with the situation at hand. There has to be a better way to explain what’s been happening over the last 25 years then the forced conversations the characters have been participating in! With a melting word balloon, we turn back to Rutan, whose heartbeat starts overtaking the entire comic. Finally, he admits to spending the night in the park with Salma, the news causing Lien-Da to shoot fire out of her mouth. She says that she taught him better, but really, if there are secret cameras in her house, maybe the park is the only safe place one can go on Angel Island.

Rutan does try to comfort his mother by telling her nothing happened because they were interrupted by other people being in the park, but that still doesn’t explain my earlier question: what were they doing between being in the park and ending up at home? Knuckles and Rotor‘s meeting wasn’t in the dead of night, and from what the story seemed to imply, Lien-Da only confronted her son and Salma the next morning. Maybe nights on the island only last four hours? Eh. Either way, Rutan explains what happened, Lien-Da posing way too sexily for a mother being angry at her son for fooling around with the noseless wonder. Hearing her brother-in-law’s involvement, Lien-Da tells her son that she believes him, much to Rutan’s surprise. Feeling a creepy vibe, the young Echidna runs off to his room, thinking to himself how he wants to get out of here. You and me both, bub. The dead-inside Dimitri tries to get his distant offspring to open up, but Lien-Da says she has to make a call, and…oh god, really? We get to see Julie-Su wearing something else?! This time an apron with the word “chef” placed quite prominently across her chest. If I wasn’t so distracted by Julie-Su’s proportions, maybe I’d be able to wonder why the video phone in the Knuckles’ household answers calls automatically. What if she had been in the bathroom? That would have been an extremely awkward last panel.

Moving quickly along, we get to part six of the story, “Girl Talk.” Rewinding slightly before the end of the last story, we get our first glimpse of future Princess Sally, who is now a full-fledged Queen. After all, it has been 25 years, and King Acorn never did look all that well after he was saved from the Zone of Silence way back in the comic’s heyday. Sally’s worried look on the videophone, once reserved for bad news on the front of the Robotnik wars, has now been relegated to fretting over dinner. Julie-Su, still in that apron getup, does her own “hey look at me” pose, holding…something. A tablet of some sort, though I really don’t know what it has to do with cooking, especially as we find that the Echidna’s have their own cook. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Abby the Koala, the live-in domestic of the Guardian’s household. Complaining about the dietary needs of the parties involved for the upcoming get-together mentioned way back in part one, Sally joins in, poking fun at her son while at the same time letting everyone know that Rosie is still alive. Yes, Rosie the Nanny, first introduced in the Saturday morning series in the two-parter “Blast to the Past,” and comic staple since. I can only wonder how old she looks now…is it possible she looks even worse than Cobar?! Haha, just kidding. No one can look older than Cobar.

Julie-Su comments that overthrowing Robotnik was easier than trying to setup a dinner party, and at this point I’m inclined to agree. This is only the 37th page of the story, and yet I feel like it has been going on for as long as the title implies. This gives Queen Sally the perfect moment to bring up how Sonic and Knuckles are more similar than either would like to admit, talking about how Sonic still hasn’t gotten used to the protocols of being King, even though he has been doing it for seventeen years. Just to push the point, Sally holds up a photograph of the two of them getting married, which…well, I don’t see why she would do that. I’m pretty sure Julie-Su would have, at this point, seen photos of Sonic and Sally’s wedding day, assuming the slim chance that she wasn’t at the wedding ceremony itself. I understand its just an excuse to show the readers a drawing of the wedding, but isn’t this the one point where a flashback would actually work?

Confused about numbers, we get a strange aside about how King Acorn didn’t give up the throne until two years after Sonic married his daughter. Now, I know in royal lineages marriage doesn’t automatically make someone a king or queen, and that offspring are sometimes forced to wait decades before they have their shot at the throne. But it is still one of those random details that take the story nowhere when we’re begging to have more important facts clarified. Seeing a flashback of the wedding with a disgruntled King Acorn in the audience would have been more satisfying in this instance, I feel.

Julie-Su comments that she feels Knuckles never wanted to be a Guardian either, another strange aside that doesn’t get followed up on. Sure, we know he wants the Guardianship to end with him, and Knuckles certainly would have a million reasons why he might resent being forced into the Guardian role. It’s never followed up on, so it is possible that Julie-Su is just imagining things. Sally asks why Lara-Su just doesn’t become Guardian, which Julie has no real response to give. Instead, Sally starts complaining about her own children, how her son Manik has no interest in being a Prince, and how Sonia is only interested in the royal life when she gets to dress up, crown and all. Julie-Su says she wishes she could get Lara-Su to do the same. Don’t know why that’s a concern, since the only time we really know that Lara had to dress up in Echidna society, she did. It’s not like she is royalty, even if the Guardian role is respected and revered.

Also, yes. Manik and Sonia are the names of Sonic’s brother and sister in Sonic Underground. It is a not-so-subtle reference to that continuity. Maybe the Sonic from Archie really loved the names that one time he crossed over into their universe back in Sonic Super Special #10. Or maybe Merlin Prower subconsciously placed their names into Sally’s mind as a young girl as a practical joke.

Sally tells Julie-Su that Lara reminds her of her friend’s younger self, which Julie-Su says she is afraid of. I can’t blame her there, either. After all, Julie-Su did start off life in the comic as a member of the Dark Legion working to overtake Angel Island, restore their people to power and kill Knuckles in the process. Sure, she started acting nice later on, but she was still putting herself in the strangest situations. Knuckles and Julie-Su’s lives as teenagers can’t exactly be secret, though. Lara-Su has to know what her parents were like in some regard, even if she doesn’t know the whole story. Same with Sonic and Sally’s kids – why would that pair be interested in being Prince and Princess when they know their parents were forced to grow up in the forest and banded together in guerrilla warfare to overthrow an evil dictator who had taken over the entire planet? Being told to sit in a chair and look proper would just sound hollow coming out of any of their mouths.

We finally catch up to where the previous installment left us, with Julie-Su receiving a call from Lien-Da. This time, however, we actually see her answer, so before was simply an excuse to make a dramatic cliffhanger that wasn’t all that dramatic. Sally’s face lights up, and before long a three-way call engages, with everyone involved acting like giddy 14 year old girls who can’t wait to talk about how cute Bobby looked in class today. In the background, Abby the Koala can’t help but throw in some much needed sass into the conversation, which reminds Julie-Su to tell Sally that Lara just doesn’t want to hang out with her son Manik. Why she has to tell Sally, I don’t know, but it gives an excuse for Lara-Su to wander back into the story. Sally tells Lara that her son has a crush on her, which causes the Guardian’s daughter to freak out, feeling she’s too old for him. While she is only 16 and he is 14, in the world of teenage relationships, she might as well be 106. She gets Lien-Da to promise not to mention anything to Rutan because she wouldn’t hear the end of it at school, which prompts her mother to ask why she isn’t there right now. Seems the power went out because of the weather, and everyone was sent back home. Oh yeah, the plot! Almost forgot about that.

Julie-Su asks Sally if they’ve been experiencing any strange weather lately, though I don’t know why she would think to ask since they’re on an island that travels across the globe high above the surface of Mobius. But the Queen does confirm they’ve been having “irregular lightning” and “strong winds” in some clunky dialogue that I can’t help but read in Ken’s voice. They muse about it for a minute, Sally saying that Rotor says its nothing to worry about (I guess Rotor is the default weatherman of the Acorn Kingdom as well), with Lien-Da asking if she believes the walrus. Oh right, that’s why she called in the first place! A secret meeting between Knuckles and some other fellow, whose description matches that of Rotor. Julie invites her half-sister to the dinner the other women have been planning (much to the continued sass of Abby) but she turns down the offer, citing prior engagements. I suppose we’re meant to think she’s going to do her own private investigations into whatever is happening, but wouldn’t going to dinner with them give her some more clues about it? Or does Ken not want to write so many awkward scenes at once?

The three-way call ends, Julie and Sally resuming their idle chit-chat as Abby announces what they will be having for dinner the night the two families meet, preceded by the most uncomfortable chopping of a lemon in existence. While the two mothers love her suggestion, Lara-Su acts like she’s 10 and calls it gross. Because she’s a teenaged girl and that’s what teenaged girls do! Right? Right?! The last panel does remind me of one annoying aspect of the art not just in this story, but through the entire comic during this point – the number of fingers on everyone’s hands. While Sonic, Tails, Eggman and every other official Sega character has five fingers, the rest of the cast only has four. While four fingers are common in animation, the reasoning behind it was so hand movement would be easier to keep track of. I can’t say if that’s true or not, but in a comic book, there really is no reason for someone to have four fingers. Everything is static, and if you’re being dictated by the company who owns the license to make sure certain characters look on model, why not let everyone have five fingers to keep consistency? It was eventually fixed. If you pick up a current issue of the comic, everyone has five fingers, so we no longer have to deal with the strange discussions of how Overlanders have four fingers but humans have five but both were drawn wrong depending on what the artist felt that day.

So there we go, two more installments of Mobius: 25 Years Later. While the plot has slowly inched ahead with Lien-Da’s interest in whatever is going on, the whole story stills feels like it’s setting up for something. Remember, even though it’s only been 42 pages, this was spread out over six months in publication time, having to share space with all other sorts of nonsense in the main comic. And while the concept of what Lien-Da is doing should be interesting, something just seems off about it. In the issues these stories appeared in, the present day Lien-Da was finally in charge of the Dark Legion, Dimitri’s fate left up in the air. For the first time, she was in a position to actually get what she wanted in life, and wasn’t going to let anyone stop her. Meanwhile, 25 years on she is a domestic just like everyone else, and while we know what happened to make Dimitri a floating head, we don’t know how the rest of the Legion joined up with Echidna society. Was she dragged into it? Did she spearhead the campaign to make things easier for her? This would be something more interesting to get into than the adventures of Rutan trying to cop a feel or the finicky palette of Lara-Su. Those aspects of life should just be the window dressing, not the main focus of what has been presented to the reader so far. Yes, we get it: life is super normal and everyone gets to deal with the mundane that is far removed from the continuous fighting of the Eggman Empire. But when you have a limited space to tell a story, you shouldn’t focus on every mundane detail, especially when there are so many other interesting things going on that you could be focusing on. Unless Ken was told that he could spend as long as he needed writing this story…if that’s the case, he must have gotten a rude wake-up call.

Next time: Why was everyone psyched for this story? There is a reason, folks.

Can’t wait for next week? Then take a gander at the previous installments of the series:

Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 1 – What’s Future Is Prologue
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 2 – Of Frightened and Dancing Crocs
Mobius: 25 Years Later, The Review: Part 3 – The Adventures of Lara-Su and Old Rotor

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    Christ, this really was a terrible era for the comic. The art is just atrocious regurgitated deviantart garbage.

  • Reply

    David, you’ve certainly posted a fair amount of food for thought, and I was planning to wait (if comment at all) until your final instalment, but your opening stanza has caused me to speculate over “what Sonic is supposed to be”.

    Are you attempting to suggest that Sonic CAN NOT be a superhero-type, or that Sonic SHOULD NOT be a superhero-type? When you really break it all down to the basics, I’m left to wonder exactly how Ken (or Karl, or Mike, or Dan, or anyone else) is doing anything wrong by giving a personal interpretation as to what our favourite furry blue rodent is all about, when you consider that there isn’t much to go by at all.

    Sonic the Hedgehog, for all intents and purposes, is a “blank slate” of a character. And while I can see some of the more vocal members of the minority standing up now ready to ravenously slit my throat, hear me out for once. Seriously, what type of character is he exactly from a game standpoint? Sonic is blue, runs fast, acts cool, and fights a fat man with a moustache. That’s really about it when you narrow it all down. Hardly anything warranting a boundary as to what he can and cannot be, since (again) there is so little to go by aside from the above.

    Now, saying that, I am certainly not bagging the character at all. In fact, being an “empty slate” means that creators (and fans) can go right ahead and have fun creating their own version of who and what the Hedgehog is. For instance, SEGA of America was running two entirely separate cartoons at the same time back in ’93, and aside from the above traits, they are completely different monsters. One focused on the Tex Avery/Warner Bros. slapstick comedy aimed for the younger demographic, and the other was an older good-vs-evil freedom fight with environmental undertones. Even the cast is entirely polar opposite with the exception of Sonic, Tails, and a Robotnik of sorts. Does one automatically invalidate the other because it’s too “superhero-like”? Not at all.

    If it was a bad idea, then the series in particular wouldn’t have such a strong following even after the show was cancelled nearly two decades ago.

    It all comes down to a matter of personal perspective, and I have no problem if you feel Sonic cannot be viewed or written with the standard “superhero” framework in mind. That said, what I do have a problem with is suggesting what Sonic is/isn’t, because there is little to actually go by, and those with enough imagination can take a series like this and transform it into a runaway success. But as they say, different strokes for different folks.

    As for the last instalment featuring the adventures of Lara-Su, I found myself in agreement with “Just An Archie-Sonic Fan”, and if they are reading this, the teaser cover of “Knuckles: 20 Years Later” featuring Knux and Locke is an entirely new one on me.

    Guess even Notorious Penders Fanboys can learn something new every day. 😛

  • Reply

    @Paul-Agnew – though the exact date of when this was written is ambiguous, it is clear that the description of Sonic the Hedgehog is based on how Naoto Ohshima and the rest of Sonic Team conceived the character back in 1990. They wanted to make it explicitly clear that Sonic wasn’t your average, run-of-the-mill superhero. Even if the concepts were basic, the character was layered to a degree, which was fleshed out ever-so-slightly with each game. He wasn’t supposed to be Superman. You couldn’t even say he was supposed to be like Spider-Man, everyone’s go-to example of an “everyman” with superpowers.

    To be fair, when the Archie series began, the idea of what Sonic should or could be was still open to interpretation. In America, you not only had the two different TV shows and the comic, but you also had the Troll Associates books telling you something different, not to mention the old Francis Mao comic with the Kintobor/Robotnik origin. That plot screams 1980’s children’s cartoons, which is the demographic Sega of America was going for. And while there were definitely shades of superhero-dom in that story, they did try to steer away from completely entering the world of the cliche.

    Not every story published by Archie has Sonic being a superhero in the traditional sense. Ken certainly used the character in different ways. But the staff grew up reading American comic books. They fell back on the norms of the medium simply because they could. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, and sometimes it felt like the traits of Sonic were lost in the shuffle. This was made even worse when SEGA as a whole began to push what Sonic was “supposed” to be. Sonic, as portrayed in Sonic Adventure, began to embody what had only been in bibles and reference sheets at that point. And this characterization didn’t always mesh with Archie Sonic.

    I have nothing against alternate interpretations of characters. I have nothing against pushing things beyond the boundaries of what is stated in a character bio. There are times in Ian’s run on the comic where things feel superhero-y, but he’s found a balance that works for the most part. Of having Sonic be faithful to his game counterpart, while at the same time being something completely separate. Earlier on in the comic, it just felt like the writers had to go either one way or the other, and had difficulty balancing things. I’m not saying Ian is a genius, because he’s had his fair share of moments that don’t work.

    Also, I’m wondering if “Just An Archie-Sonic Fan” is just misremembering the cover to Knuckles #25. That does have Knuckles and Locke standing next to each other…I only say that because I don’t remember every seeing a mock-up cover to the original story. But hey, maybe there was one. Writing these reviews, I’ve certainly come across things that I don’t remember reading when all this was new.

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