While it has been mentioned before in these reviews, one of the biggest problems Ken seems to deal with is pacing his work for a mass audience. Filled to the brim with ideas, it isn’t hard for someone to get buried under them and lose sight of what you’re trying to accomplish. Normally, a good editor should be there to hold you under the reigns, but if there’s one thing Ken Penders didn’t get through most of his time at Archie, it was a good editor. Justin Gabrie may have started with good intentions, but it became clear that at some point, he didn’t understand the material he was working with. He let a lot of mind-boggling plot points, awkward writing, and terrible art make it to the printing press without fear. He also seemed perfectly ok with the knowledge that Karl Bollers and Ken Penders were writing stories that sometimes contradicted each other, his desire for consistency being overshadowed by just wanting the comic to be released on schedule, quality be damned.
That doesn’t excuse Ken completely. I’ve also mentioned how most people point to Sonic the Hedgehog #36-#50 as some of Ken’s best writing in the series. Part of why that period may have been so strong is because of the self-imposed deadline. No one knew if the series would survive a few months beyond the cancellation of the Saturday morning cartoon, let alone make it to Issue #50. A lot of ideas and interesting concepts were thrown at the reader all at once, supported by mini-series and specials that built up to Endgame. There was a limit, and Ken was forced to work with it, leaving room for the other freelance authors to do their own thing as well.
When cancellation was no longer a fear, the self-imposed pacing was gone. With the arrival of the full-time Knuckles series, Ken’s breathing room was exponentially expanded. Not only did he have a full 22 pages each month for everyone’s favorite Echidna, he still had a steady stream of back-up tales in the pages of Sonic, not to mention his own foray into the Sonic Super Specials being published. Plotlines could be introduced that could meander for years. Endings didn’t need to be rushed. For the first time, nothing had to be accomplished.
When those spin-off books were canceled and Ken was only given the room to play with Knuckles in the short six-page backups, he was unable to reel himself back in. He was still attempting a sweeping epic, covering every little facet and cramming it all in. He didn’t want to compromise, but unfortunately he had to. That internal conflict made his work suffer, which is part of the reason the writing he produced after the Knuckles’ comic ended is so largely forgettable.
When it came time to write Mobius: 25 Years Later? You would think Ken wouldn’t have to worry about pacing. The story was originally going to be in a single 48-page special, most likely sharing space with one or two other back-up stories. It was going to be a one-off thing, maybe leaving room for a sequel but still self-contained. When the format changed, Ken was given what he had lost with the Knuckles transition: a higher page count. Not every part had to be in six pages. Some could be eight, some could be ten. And as far as it could be determined, there was no scheduled ending date.
Yet here we are, 95 pages into the story, and so little has actually happened. While “Father’s Day” was 13 pages long, the final installment as written by Ken Penders is only nine more pages. And with the story only now having something happen? It is clear pacing is not Ken’s strong suit. The natural story beats are stretched out or missing entirely, with the action all crammed into the end. A similar fate that befell Endgame, but not nearly as bad. At least with Endgame, you can say a lot happened in parts one and four, supported by the intense amount of buildup it received previous. Parts two and three may have slipped around a little, but they were never outright boring. Mobius: 25 Years Later…how many installments have we gone through where nothing happens? Where we have character pieces that are meant to give insight, but instead only repeat information we already know of? This saga of future-Knuckles should have been tightened, reeled in, and not focus on so many little details that were unneeded. Instead, it was allowed to sit and go nowhere.
By the time “The Die is Cast” saw print in Sonic the Hedgehog #144, Justin Gabrie was no longer the editor in charge. He had been replaced only a few issues beforehand by Mike Pellerito. Though Issue #137 was his first official credit as editor in chief, he didn’t have much control over his first few issues, simply because most of the work had already been done by Justin. At this point, however, it was all Pellerito. Which could explain the ending we’re about to witness.
Just like part one, this installment of Mobius: 25 Years Later returns to the cover, not only receiving top billing but being the first story in the issue as well. Future Mobius sure has come a long way, hasn’t it? With a quick summarizing of the previous few issues, we once again see Knuckles the Echidna at home. Sure has been a long two hours. Fixing his hat in a mirror we can only assume exists, Lara-Su enters the room, asking why her dad wanted to see her. He tells her about his personal revelation from last chapter, and that she will become the next Guardian. She excitedly embraces her dad, talking a million miles a minute about when she’ll begin her training. Even Archimedes‘ name is dropped, her asking if he’ll be the one to train her or if it’ll be Knuckles. Is it possible the fireant was the “old friend” Lara-Su mentioned back in part twelve? Beats me.
One fact that I haven’t really addressed is the reasoning behind Lara’s desire to be Guardian in the first place. Even though she hasn’t been as present a character in the story as first promised way back in “Prologue,” most of Lara-Su’s scenes have been fueled by one idea – her wanting to follow in her dad’s footsteps. The big question is, why does she want to be one? Is it a burning desire to please her father, wanting to live up to expectations she’s felt all her life? Is it because she has glamorized the post in her head, especially as she’s lived in peaceful times and never had to deal with Eggman or the Dark Legion in a hostile state? Or is it just so she can look cool to her friends and hold something over Rutan‘s head? Even now, once she’s finally been given the chance to train and be a Guardian, we’re not given any insight into the one fact we know about her. For something so focused on characterization, the ball was dropped.
The elder Guardian tells Lara that nothing is going to start until after the upcoming mission is over, and in the event he doesn’t return, Julie-Su will know who to contact to begin the training. With Knuckles talking like he might not come home, his daughter demands she join him. The former member of the Dark Legion is the one who nixes her daughter’s request, giving her husband an earful as well, asking why he didn’t mention anything about the possibility of him not coming back. He talks around it, saying that he loves her and Lara and wants nothing more than to see them again, Julie-Su buying it hook, line, and sinker. With a kiss, she completely forgets about all of it. Shouldn’t she want to…I don’t know…join her husband if this mission is so dangerous?
What I’m more confused about is when this suddenly became a life-or-death mission. Yes, Rotor talked about how someone would have to go back in time, but they haven’t even gone to the Tachyon Chamber Robotnik built. They have no idea if it can become operational, and also have no idea if it’ll do what they want it to. And if they have a year to figure things out? It’s not like someone would have to go bouncing through time the second they turn it on. It’s hard for me to feel like time is running out when no one in the main cast has acted that way since this very moment, even though nothing has changed since we last saw Rotor and Cobar.
Waiting outside to take Knuckles to the shuttle port is – surprise surprise – Harry the Dingo. How did this guy get more screen time than Miles “Tails” Prower, again? Before he gets into the cab, Queen Sally shows up out of nowhere, asking Knuckles to make sure nothing happens to Sonic, either. Hey Sally, remember when you were the field leader of the Freedom Fighters? How you went toe to toe with Robotnik how many times? Why aren’t you joining Sonic on what sounds like an extremely routine mission? Why are you just as freaked out that they could all die even though all you’re doing is turning a machine back on?
Knuckles jokes about how he’ll make sure Sonic is safe even if its against his better judgment, the panel being the first time I’m reminded that Sally and Knuckles are supposed to be childhood friends. Yes, back when Ken Penders was constructing the backstory to Knuckles, he slipped in the fact that King Acorn knew of the existence of the Floating Island, and would go there from time to time to discuss political matters with Locke. While the adults were off doing whatever, Sally and Knuckles would do childhood things, even though Knuckles wasn’t allowed to. This friendship is part of the reason Sally’s mother ended up in a stasis tube on the island for years when everyone else thought she was dead…yeah, I know, another slightly confusing plotline, but at least that was eventually resolved. Alicia popped out of that tube and became Queen again.
Knuckles looks for his daughter, but she’s disappeared, him confused as to why she wouldn’t say goodbye. Instead of anyone looking for her, the Guardian jumps into the flying cab, sharing a few quick words with Harry. Before long, Knuckles joins Sonic, Rotor and Cobar on a shuttle, flying away from Angel Island. They comment on the storm, even though the art makes it look like every other lighting storm that’s been bothering them through the entire arc. Cobar goes on to explain that they can’t predict the future in specifics, only generalities, which contradicts what they’ve said up to this point. I thought the only thing they couldn’t figure out was how to stop this unnatural phenomenon, not how it would progress. Especially as the progression is all they’ve talked about so far! Sonic points to the window commenting on the strange colors, Knuckles deciding its the best time to freak out once he realizes where they’re going. Destination: the badlands, a desolate toxic dump that no one would dare to tread, the best place to hide illegal technology. Why couldn’t anyone have told Knuckles where they were going beforehand? I didn’t need to see deranged Echidna drool.
Taking advantage of an underground bunker Eggman had built as a last-ditch hideaway in case he was ever defeated, the Tachyon Chamber sits peacefully, Rotor beginning the process to fire it up. Sonic asks if it’ll work, which Rotor replies that it should, based on his preliminary calculations before arriving there. Once again, glad to know Rotor can do all these things without anyone helping him or even having the technology in front of his face. Must be part of his undefined Jedi powers. Without thinking, Sonic offers to take the journey back in time, asking what he needs to do. Lord Rotor interrupts him, saying that while it should work in theory, it has never been tested. They might not be able to bring Sonic back to their present, or worse. I’ll just assume that “worse” bit is “hey Sonic you might not even go back in time you might just disintegrate because Robotnik had a tendency to screw everyone over even after he was dead.”
Even with the risk, Sonic doesn’t hesitate, saying that things could be a whole lot worse if he doesn’t try. That may be true, but I have one question for you, Rotor. If you didn’t want Sonic to go back in time, what were you expecting? Were you not going to tell Knuckles if he was the one who volunteered first? Or were you going to shove Cobar in the chamber? I mean, he is practically dead anyway, no one would notice if his atoms were torn apart and scattered through time and space. Remember, in the setting of Mobius: 25 Years Later, Sonic is not just some guy looking for adventure. He is one of the heads of state. Normally, the King is not the first to run into trouble. There is a reason kingdoms have highly trained combatants. Be it the armed forces or just an extremely capable spy, these people pledge their loyalty to go on missions that the head of state wouldn’t normally do. If a member of the House of Acorn’s royal guard decided to jump back in time, they would also have the benefit on not being noticed by anyone. Even though he is 25 years older, Sonic is still Sonic. Someone is bound to notice him. And what exactly is Sonic supposed to do, anyway? Stop his younger self from saving everyone? No one is going to be trusting of that. With knowledge of the Cosmic Interstate, not to mention Eggman’s tendency to create evil duplicates of everyone, how quick would the Freedom Fighters accept future-Sonic’s claims that he really is from the future, and has to save all of time and space?
Meanwhile, back in the shuttle – surprise surprise – Lara-Su decided to stowaway on the mission. Don’t know how she got from the taxi to the shuttle, or even where she hid in the taxi, but hey. Guess Harry doesn’t mind teenage girls jumping into his trunk. Crawling out of a storage unit, Lara looks about her surroundings, wondering where everyone went. One look outside makes her realize she isn’t in a very safe place. She knows that they can’t just be wandering around outside, making her even more confused. Would have helped if she peaked out of her box sooner and saw everyone go underground, now she’s just a confused teenaged girl who can’t add anything to the story. Before she can further comprehend her predicament, the daughter of the Guardian looks down and notices that she’s disappearing. Oh, just like in Back to the Future! Except not really.
Back underground, everyone is freaking out as they realize things aren’t going to plan. Wow, really? The circuits are reacting before they should, with Cobar doing nothing at all useful. Shouting at everyone to shut down the machine won’t stop it, Cobes. Knuckles has a fist clenched, but I would be expecting too much if he were to punch the machine Sonic is trapped in. Instead, he just stands there shouting as well, everyone turning to Rotor who is frozen in front of the computer terminal. Really, what were these people thinking? If you leave a car in a garage and don’t turn it on for six months, you better pray that the engine will even turn over, let alone take you anywhere in a five mile radius. Yet this highly sensitive electronic equipment, left to rot for a couple decades deep underground in a toxic wasteland, was assumed by everyone involved that it would work just like new the second they stepped in? I know, Sonic is supposed to be quick to act, but this is ridiculous. In a green flash, we’re told Sonic is gone. Oh man, something exciting just happened! Lara-Su vanished, Sonic has gone to who knows where, and…and…
…oh. Wait. The next two panels are back in the present day. One has Sonic and “Tails” skipping stones. The other has Knuckles, Julie-Su and the Chaotix exploring the jungle for no reason. Each of them dismissing the future, I guess to be ironic since the whole story has been about the future. Then there’s a fake quote from a fake Echidna philosopher, saying “Though our destinies are etched in stone, various are the means used in the carving.” Thanks for that one, Paracles.
That’s it. That’s the end of the story. Good night everyone!
…ok, ok, you got me. That’s not the end of the story. Even though the cover to this issue proudly proclaims it to be the end of the epic, it isn’t. This was never intended to be the end, the story postponed for reasons I’ll get into soon enough. Before I do so, we still need to go forward, so next time strap yourselves in when we see Chapter 15 written not by Ken Penders, but by Ian Flynn.
To wet your appetite before then, here are a couple of letters published in Sonic the Hedgehog during the time Mobius: 25 Years Later was being serialized. Think of it as the return of the “Sonic-Grams” columns I used to do back in 2011, but without the “witty” commentary.
This might be the final word Penders had in the printed page about the future, but you can relive every jaw-dropping moment by checking out the previous installments:
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
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 9 – The Myth of the Mobius Sleepover
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 10 – It Goes Full Circle, If Only Halfway
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 11 – The Secret World of Jani-Ca
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 12 – The Completely Expected Death Of Locke