A lot can be said for having a character study in a strip that is otherwise full of action and adventure. While it’s fun to watch the hero punch the bad guy and save the day, you can only do so much. Without engaging characters at the center of the story, there’s no reason to keep on watching. Having one-dimensional hijinks from two-dimensional characters can only keep people intrigued for so long. Video games don’t have to be as great in the characterization department as a major motion picture, yes, but a person playing a game is expecting different things than the person sitting down and, say, reading an issue of Sonic the Hedgehog. I don’t need to know every detail of Eggman‘s motives as I run through the Green Hill Zone. In a comic, I need texture. Having 22 pages of Sonic running and jumping and saying nothing is not how you keep a comic book going for two decades.
At the same time, you can’t have a comic book about Sonic be just a bunch of talking heads. You need a careful balance of exposition and explosions. Having the occasional issue where the characters are able to sit back and talk is important. Being able to examine everyone’s motives, explore their hopes and fears, and even having them grow in some fashion can keep people interested. Then you can go back to Sonic popping badniks and throwing out one-liners.
Ken was acutely aware of this as he tried to shift the comic towards the Saturday morning mindset, having extended plotlines showcasing the heroes with both victories and failures, not to mention the occasional introspective moment. But whatever balance he had in those early days seemed to disappear long before he got to writing Mobius: 25 Years Later. Having a hundred pages of flimsy character study with nothing else does not inspire your audience to read on.
No installment to Ken’s final “epic” is more guilty of this than “Slumber Party.” Written and drawn by the usual suspects, we pick up right after the dinner we saw last time. Queen Sally and Julie-Su are hanging out in the kitchen, not doing much more than getting in Abby the Koala’s way. Preparing snacks for the girls, we get to hear the koala say a bunch of foods which sound made up, but all too familiar. Jellystars and buttercorn, not to mention frutello to drink down. You can have butter on corn, you can make jelly in the shape of stars, but frutello…another Google search brings up all sorts of foreign companies that make edible products. Who knows if Ken was aware of this, or if these places even existed before this issue came out. I know I’m not going to spend hours researching the topic.
Queen Sally comments on how she feels like a “junked SWATbot” standing around the kitchen not helping, giving Abby room to throw out some sass, making it clear she doesn’t like people messing about in “her” kitchen. Hey, you know what you could do so you don’t feel useless, Sally? Be concerned over the fact all of space and time is about to come crumbling down on you. Even if there’s nothing you can do about it this very second, show some concern. Don’t just sit there giggling about Julie-Su’s maid. Julie asks if Abby’s shown Manik the game room, thinking he wouldn’t want to hang with the girls. Sally mentions she can think of a reason, so it’s nice to know that she is aware of how hormonal her son is. Wonder how many restraining orders he’ll have once he’s older! Also, shouldn’t Manik know where the game room is? He’s been there before. Unless the house is completely different than it was last year. More than likely it’s just a case of Ken trying to tell the reader something without coming up with a far better way to do it.
Sure enough, Manik is hanging out with the girls. Lara-Su and Sonia are there, along with Salma the Noseless Chameleon and someone named Riki-Le. Who is she you ask? A friend of Lara-Su’s who showed up in a panel way back in “Prologue,” surprised you don’t remember. Especially since I didn’t point her out and didn’t realize she would be coming back this late in the story. Manik is cheerfully trying to convince everyone there to play spin the bottle, without calling it as such. Instead of just kissing, the bottle spinee must listen to whatever the spinner tells them. A bit more dangerous, considering what must be going on in Manik’s mind. More than likely Archie or SEGA told Ken he couldn’t actually write about kissing, but really, who wouldn’t know what is being talked about here?
Salma is the most gung-ho, saying Manik should spin first. Lara-Su is skeptical, knowing full well what’s going on in that hedgehog brain. Riki-Le suggests they beat him up if he gets out of line, while Sonia would rather throw up than listen to anything her brother had to say. Salma doesn’t understand how siblings couldn’t get along, although she admits her own sister annoys her sometimes. Really, you can’t understand why Sonia might not want to play spin the bottle with her brother? Thankfully, everyone gets interrupted by the arrival of the moms, one of them asking what game they were about to play. Lara-Su suggests the moms join, but Manik freaks and runs out the room, much to Lara-Su’s delight. At first looking suspicious, Sally stares on with confusion, saying that boys are hard to understand sometimes. Weren’t you the one who knew why Manik was there in the first place? Why are you surprised he ran off once the adults showed up?
Lara-Su makes a snarky remark, which Julie-Su has to ask about. The Guardian’s daughter tells everyone that Sally’s comment made her think about Salma, which makes everyone interested in the chameleon’s love life. Seems the fact her and Rutan are dating is a secret. A poorly kept one, seeing as Lien-Da and Knuckles both know. Who was she trying to keep it from? Salma’s dad? Who is he supposed to be?…is she supposed to be Espio‘s kid? I mean, he is the only Chameleon that we know of in the main comic, but…yeah. It probably is. Because that’s something this comic would do. Of course, Lara’s thought patterns don’t make sense, as there’s no reason for her to go from making fun of Manik to suddenly telling everyone about Salma’s personal affairs. I was almost certain the first time reading this that the “numbers” comment was meant to be about Manik, but giving it more thought, it could just be her going “unless you’re dating them haha did you know Salma has a boyfriend so she understands boys.” And if Salma is the only girl there who is dating someone, why was she the only one excited about spinning the bottle? Is she a sex-crazed maniac because she has no nose?! I hope the comic doesn’t answer that.
With Salma becoming more flustered, Abby interrupts again, offering her tray of snacks to the teenaged girls. Sonia becomes super polite asking to eat some while Julie asks again what just happened, the moms inviting themselves to this sleepover. Not at all awkward! Thankfully glossing over the bottle situation, Lara-Su grabs a board game called Situation, which the other girls go nuts over. The Queen says she’s never heard of it, looking as dumbfounded as a typical 13 year old girl who is hanging out with the wrong crowd. The young Echidna says a few words about how when you land on a space it determines your fate, which I’m sure Ken thought was super clever. But this isn’t Jumanji. We don’t even get them playing the game and landing on a space which alludes to the situation at hand. Instead, we see a rough drawing of a fake Sorry that simply takes up space. Fate of the world in the balance, remember?
Sonic, being the only smart one, hid away from the rest of this nonsense in the aforementioned game room, playing pool. Manik strolls in, super excited about his dad’s skills. Personally, I would have rather Sonic play pinball, but what do you expect from someone writing on the front page of Sonic Retro? The two high five, making me wonder how tall Sonic is supposed to be as an adult…or how short his kid is. Sonic’s son asks where Knuckles is, though I don’t know why he particularly cares, as they just started having a father/son moment.
What is Knuckles doing? Staring at the moon, the only one who is in serious contemplation about everything that’s going on. Don’t know why Knuckles is the only one who cares. All the adults of the piece should be acting solemn! I get that they might not want to act that way in front of their kids, but a girls slumber party would be the perfect excuse for them not to be around. Instead…here we go again. Everyone is in a nightgown except the Princess, who is wearing an oversized t-shirt. Couldn’t the mothers wear a robe or something? They talk about boys some more, this time Lara asking the scoop on their dads and why they don’t get along. I’m sure her friends really care about this. We don’t learn much except that Julie-Su has loved Knuckles since the day they met, even though they were trying to kill each other. The Guardian continues to stare at the moon, and this character piece finally comes to a close.
What did we learn about these characters? What insight do we now have on Sonia and Manik, for example? Not much of anything. Even Lara-Su’s brief moment in the sun is really her just wanting to avoid a boy’s affection, something already established last issue. All we get is a befuddled Queen Sally, showing that wisdom doesn’t grow with age. It doesn’t even work as a “calm before the storm” piece, since in those sorts of stories, the main characters are acutely aware of impending doom. They try to have one more normal night in spite of what is to happen, even though it is still filled with unease. The slumber party of Lara-Su? I doubt it would have changed one bit if the principle characters were oblivious to what Rotor discovered.
Things only get slightly better in “A Difference of Opinion,” a six page look at the relationship between Sonic and Knuckles. It’s only taken us ten months to have these two alone together. With the slumber party nonsense thankfully going on off panel, Knuckles comes across Sonic the Hedgehog, sitting peacefully in the courtyard drinking a soda. The hedgehog king asks if he can join the Guardian, and some quick banter later the two start walking side by side as their wives look on. Yes, it’s creepy that Sally and Julie-Su are both thinking the same thing as they stare out at their husbands, hoping they work things out. Why do they have to be the best of friends to save the world? No reason, especially since they never were the best of friends back when they fought Dr. Eggman. Why is it even up to Sonic and Knuckles to figure anything out? Aren’t Rotor and Cobar the only people who understand in the slightest what is going on?
Sonic makes his doubts clear about what Knuckles told him during dinner, with the world ending and all that. Even though he knows Rotor is the one that told Knuckles. Even though Knuckles only counterargument is that Rotor and Cobar have been right about all sorts of things in the past. This statement of a fact that Sonic is already aware of is enough to convince him that there is something going on. Why even bother with making Sonic doubt it in the first place? I suppose it could have been used as some sort of plot point, but I guess not. Wouldn’t want Sonic to be disagreeable, that’s Knuckles job! And he isn’t questioning a thing because he’s Knuckles and Knuckles is the coolest Sonic character ever right?
Sonic asks Knuckles what they’re supposed to do, the Echidna just as stumped. It’s the forces of nature, which is out of their control. How do you fight the weather? They didn’t have a game plan the last time crazy weather happened. Back in Knuckles the Echidna #10, a global event called the “Days of Fury” happened, in which a series of bizarre natural disasters broke out all at once in every corner of every continent. Unexplainable hail and snow, earthquakes destroying entire towns, the toll on the planet being something that would take ages to recover from for the lucky few who would survive. Or at least, that’s what happened in the ancient past. The Day of Fury Knuckles dealt with was an earthquake where no one died, in a remote part of the world that people were just passing through anyway. Quick glimpses of the rest of the planet made the whole event look like a minor annoyance rather than a global-changing catastrophe. Wait, why doesn’t anyone make reference to this during Mobius: 25 Years Later? Even if it was Knuckles going “are you sure it isn’t just another Day of Fury? We made it fine that time, maybe you’re just overreacting Rotor.” Or have this be the actual Day of Fury. Something to tie it into the “here comes a natural disaster” plot that Ken had already used.
Sonic brings up the time Knuckles was a living Chaos Emerald, in response to the Guardian saying that maybe the cause of everything that’s going on goes beyond the usual forces of nature. It might not be the best transition, but this conversation is all set-up for the ultimate flashback, the answer to the question that has been lingering in the back of each reader’s mind: just how did the final battle with Dr. Eggman happen? The fight between Sonic and Eggman is the central focus of the main book, and the last confrontation is something that might never be shown, because of how comic books work. Having this flashback kicked off with Sonic reminiscing about Knuckles turning green…well, it’s easy to guess how underwhelming this is going to sound.
With his empire crumbling around him, Dr. Robotnik broke into Angel Island‘s chaos chamber, stealing the Master Emerald once again. Using it to power himself up, Knuckles goes crazy and turns green again, fighting Eggman. In a very brief confrontation, Knuckles defeats Eggman once and for all. While still feeling the powers of the Chaos Emeralds fueling him, Knuckles decides that he’s going to go crazy and remake Mobius the way he feels it should be. Sonic confronts Knuckles with some deus-ex machina button that’s supposed to power him down, but it goes off early, turning Knuckles back to normal but in the process taking out one of his eyes. Yep, it was Sonic that make Knuckles lose his eye, which could explain the animosity the two share.
Now, back when Knuckles turned green the first time, it was the stress of losing his people again that triggered it. Here, it was just Eggman doing something he had done a million times previous: trying to steal the emeralds off the island. Yet that was enough for Knuckles to go crazy again immediately. I should mention that back when Ken teased the original “Knuckles is green” storyline, he was talking about how one of the main cast would become the ultimate villain. He was talking about Knuckles, assumingly the whole allying with the Dark Legion storyline, which of course went nowhere. Knuckles going power crazy and trying to rebuild Mobius in his image? That sounds a bit closer to what an ultimate villain would do. It also sounds strikingly similar to something DC Comics did back in the 90′s…
I’ll assume most people reading this are vaguely aware of the Green Lantern, especially since he had a sub-par film come out not that long ago. Back when every DC character were having year-long storylines about the worst things happening to them (The Death and Return of Superman, Batman’s Knightfall) DC wanted something crazy to happen to Hal Jordan, the Silver Age Green Lantern. The best they could come up with was having his city destroyed while off planet, causing Hal to lose his mind and try to recreate Coast City with his Green Lantern ring. The Guardians of the Universe, essentially the people in charge of the Green Lantern Corp, turned off his ring since he was using it for extreme personal gain. Hal flies to Oa, their home planet, and ends up murdering a lot of people. He also almost succeeds in destroying all of time and space so he can just start the universe from scratch in his image. These threads sound familiar?
The only problem here is that Knuckles has no reason to want to recreate the planet. He defeated Eggman, the biggest threat on Mobius. The emerald was safe, he should have calmed down. He was never all that crazy when he first became green Knuckles, why would it be so much different a second time? I wouldn’t be surprised if the “Knuckles recreating the universe” bit was meant to be the original ending to his green Knuckles story, but was removed to tie better into the rest of the comic. Ken definitely had more of Chaos Knuckles in mind, that’s for sure. But all of this doesn’t tackle the biggest issue I have with the flashback: that Knuckles is the one who ends up defeating Robotnik once and for all.
What’s the name of the comic? Sonic the Hedgehog. What is the main story? Sonic fights Eggman. How should the story end? With Sonic fighting Eggman. Yet here comes Ken’s favorite Echidna wrapping everything up in an instant. I know Sonic had his “final showdown” moment in Endgame, but that was years ago. The comic went through numerous changes since that point, and to say the final, final ending had Sonic make Knuckles calm down without even doing anything Sonic-y? That goes against everything the comic has been building up to. “Tails,” Knuckles, even Sally could be present during a hypothetical last battle, but without Sonic taking part, it feels hollow.
Reminiscing about the past makes the duo fight even more. Sonic blames Knuckles’ chaos-powered adventures for being the cause of the universe collapsing in on itself, putting all the responsibility on fixing it squarely on the Guardian’s shoulders. If he transformed once to kick it off, then transforming again should give Knuckles the power to fix it. The Echidna doesn’t even know if he could transform again, quickly giving Sonic just as much blame, still resenting the fact that Sonic felt the need to stop him way back when. Hold up, why isn’t anyone tackling that? If Knuckles still feels weird about being stopped trying to recreate all of Mobius in his image, then he could be a loose canon just waiting to go off. One wrong word, one wrong push, and boom. He’s back trying to kill things. And his job is guarding a gem made up of the exact same energy that pushed him over the edge! No one is at all concerned with this?!
Oh right, same civilization that doesn’t care Dimitri is still alive in a floating ball with no one paying attention to him aside from his villainous great-great-great-whatever-daughter. Even Sonic backs down once Knuckles confronts him about how all he seems to care about is assigning blame. I know Knuckles has been portrayed as a good guy aside from this odd sidebar, but wouldn’t that make anyone uneasy about just following him along? At least its a better reason for Sonic to not like Knuckles instead of…I don’t know, not liking the potato salad he ate last year. The way Sonic buckles down makes it feel like he doesn’t really have any concern about Knuckles’ mental state, and is just throwing it out there because of his own insecurities. Especially since the reader already knows Rotor and Cobar have placed the blame on Sonic! It’s no doubt who Ken wants us to root for.
With Sonic still asking Knuckles for ideas, the Echidna mentions how he doesn’t sound like the hedgehog he used to know, Sonic even wondering what’s happened to himself over the years. With a quick glimpse of the lighting we’re supposed to be worried about, the chapter ends on a bleak note. Not because of the weather, but because we have to deal with a Sonic in a precarious emotional state.
With these two character pieces filed away, I can’t help but think back to Dan Drazen’s original review on the material:
I’d have opened “Dinner” in the same way, at poolside, only have Manik get soaked by a huge splash in front of him. Manik would be halfway through congratulating his dad on a killer serve when he stops and notices that Sonic has yet to serve the ball. A hush falls over the party as attention is drawn to what looks like a giant floating iceball. Just then Knuckles yells for everyone to get inside “NOW!!” as the mother of all hailstorms breaks wide open. Windows are smashed and walls are cracked as everyone heads for the basement. Abby supplies the comic relief, as is her destiny […] Both families ride it out in the basement until the storm passes over. Surveying the mansion afterward, everything is a wreck; the roof is pretty much gone and the beds are smashed. Knuckles then gets to deliver the curtain line as he says to Sonic: “I suppose you’re wondering why I asked you here.”
The “Slumber Party” is canceled and the replacement story finds everyone (except Knuckles) dining on meager rations by candlelight because the power is still out. Julie-Su has just brought the Mobian Royals up to speed, thus saving some tedious recapping of the plot. As they’re absorbing the news, Knuckles comes home after keeping a straight face while assuring the Powers That Be that he’s on top of things. Sonic and Knuckles then start verbally sparring, in a foretaste of what will come in “Difference of Opinion” but then one of the kids, either Lara-Su or Sonia, breaks down and tells the two dads to “SHUT UP!” […] That’s when Sonic and Knuckles take it outside and set up “Difference of Opinion.” 
I’m not saying this is exactly how it should have played out, but its hard to deny that something along these lines would have made a lot more sense to the overall story we’re supposed to have being told here. The characters could still have been explored, but in a way that would also allow the plot to progress. In the writing that ended up being published, Ken seems unable to merge the two concepts together, and struggles with just one. Plot and characterization should go hand in hand to make a story not just worth telling, but worth reading. Having awkward characterization that goes nowhere and is completely irrelevant to the plot? At that point, you’re only reading to see just how bad the rest is going to go.
Can you believe we only have four more chapters written by Ken Penders? Don’t worry, it’ll feel way longer than that. Stay tuned.
Wonder if the links to the previous installments will get even longer than the body of the review? Guess you’ll have to read and find out:
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
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 4 – The Mobius Girls Can’t Help It
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 5 – A Brief History Of The Future
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 6 – A Brief History, Continued
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 7 – The Mental State of Sonic the Hedgehog
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 8 – A Dinner Party At The End of the World