When Ken first wrote the ending to Princess Sally’s Crusade, it’s doubtful that he thought beyond that simple page of a happy ending. A moment where Sonic and Sally were able to find peace, years after their battle with the evil Dr. Robotnik had come to a close. Back when the Saturday morning cartoon still reigned supreme, before Sonic Adventure and the Japanese continuity became commonplace, even before most Americans realized there was another comic book being published in the U.K. that tried to be closer to the games, albeit the Kintobor storyline that no longer is considered canon by anyone who works in the halls of SEGA. It was a just a moment where Ken thought he’d be clever, coming up with an interesting spin on the origins of NICOLE, something the TV show never got the chance to cover.
By the time Sonic the Hedgehog #131 hit newsstands, no longer was the comic book storyline the simple tales of good versus evil. The main story had taken on numerous twists and turns, incorporating elements from other shows, other games, a hodgepodge of Sonic the Hedgehog that didn’t always gel correctly. If Ken were to make a comprehensive future of every single character, of every single possibility, he may have gone mad. Indeed, sometimes it felt like his own mental state was in danger, with all the rumblings of internal strife happening in the halls of Archie Comics. Sometimes, it was a miracle the book was published at all, regardless of the quality.
As stated before, when Ken’s final installment of Mobius: 25 Years Later saw print in Sonic #144, that was never the intended ending. Ken had not gone through all that effort to leave the future as a perpetual cliffhanger. There were plans for more, though they never saw fruition. The happy endings for Sonic, Sally, Knuckles, Lara-Su and the rest instead remained only in Ken’s mind, until Ian ushered his own interpretation of the future.
Sonic #141, aside from having Rotor and Cobar talk to Sonic and Knuckles about not much, was also the final issue writer Karl Bollers primarily worked on. The conclusion to his four-part “Return to Angel Island” that furthered the state of affairs on Mobius after Sonic’s missing year, it was also the story that introduced Knuckles’ younger brother, Kneecaps the Echidna. Having a story starring Knuckles that wasn’t written by Ken was already odd, one of the compromises made in the wake of Ken being allowed to use Sonic and the Kingdom of Acorn in his future tale. But with editors changing and directions shifting, Karl found himself no longer part of Archie’s work-for-hire team, a brief filler story in #145 being his last published work for the company. #142 and #143 were clearly filler issues, and #144 made Mobius: 25 Years Later the primary focus. Without a lead writer, Mike Pellerito turned to a very familiar face to take over writing duties starting with Sonic #145: Ken Penders.
When I resumed writing SONIC as a main feature with issue #145, I made it clear I was aiming to correct the fiasco Karl foisted upon fandom with the infamous slap. Both Mike and I were determined to correct what mainly perceived at the time as the worst moment in the book’s history. However, neither of us saw that getting corrected over the course of an issue or two or three. Rather, it was decided that Sonic would play the field for awhile, allowing him to discover exactly why Sally was always the girl for him.
One of the things that made it difficult during my resumption of being the head writer was that in some ways it was accidental. Initially, I was going to submit whatever stories struck my fancy and spend the rest of my time working on other projects. So I wrote the stories published in SONIC #150 and 151 first, then was asked to begin writing what eventually became “THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UNKNOWN” Part 1. Karl and I were supposed to alternate each successive chapter, but that plan went out the window when he and Mike couldn’t work things out. Somewhere during the writing of issues #146 through #149, Mike decided he wanted stories to lead into the saga, which then resulted in me writing what eventually became SONIC #145. After finishing “THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UNKNOWN”, I recall then writing “LINE OF SUCCESSION” Parts 1 & 2, upon which I was then asked to write what eventually saw print in SONIC #152. 
With the comic being restructured, Mobius: 25 Years Later was just one of those unfortunate casualties. If Ken was working to undo Karl’s more misguided plot points, the future had to be put aside. Reintroducing Shadow in the main book in the late #140′s, Sonic #150 and #151 sought to fix Antoine and Bunnie‘s relationship, while also sowing the seeds to lead to Sonic and Sally’s own reconciliation. Remember, it had been quite a while since Penders just dealt with the cast of Sonic and the Freedom Fighters at this point, but with sales rising and him having fun going along, the opportunity to return to Mobius: 25 Years Later returned. Issues #160 and #161, though they eventually became Ian Flynn’s first foray into the comic, were originally meant to be the two-part conclusion to Ken’s dream of the future. From Ken’s original outlines of #160 to #175:
SONIC: ALL MY TOMORROWS… (SONIC #160 & #161) – King Sonic discovers he’s returned to the scene of one of his greatest battles and possibly the cause of his problems in the future. The problem is that no one can see or hear him, and any attempt to take action results in someone suspecting a supernatural cause. When he returns to the future, he discovers a changed world on top of having failed to change events in the past. As a last resort, Rotor sends Nicole into the past after having created her. 
If this was going to be eleven or sixteen pages each, its not made clear. What is known is that, unlike the other ideas Ken had for the future, “All My Tomorrows” was scripted. Fate, just like in Ken’s storytelling, can be a funny thing sometimes. In the lead-up to #160, it was announced that Ken Penders would no longer be working for Archie Comics.
For the longest time, I believed I was living on borrowed time working in the comics industry. In an era where there is so much competition for a person’s attention and money, comics have been a niche market, considered at best the research and development stage for a character and/or concept before it goes on to another medium, be it film, TV, or video game. Furthermore, I was an anomaly in the industry. The number of creators who can probably match my longevity with a book these days most likely all work for Archie. I can’t think of a single writer or artist at Marvel or DC who has been associated with a particular book or character on a regular basis the past twelve years. Creators I can recall associated with a book as long as I are Roy Thomas on Conan and Chris Claremont on X-Men. Even Stan Lee and Jack Kirby didn’t collaborate on THE FANTASTIC FOUR as long as I’ve been on SONIC; and they wrote and illustrated the first 102 issues without a break!
I’ve been working in the comics industry for almost twenty years, going back to my first assignment for DC Comics. Back in 1986 I worked for their WHO’S WHO IN STAR TREK mini-series; and, I can state from first-hand experience and the testimony of others that as hard as it is to break in, it’s even harder to make a career of it — unless you’re adaptable. You can go from assignment to assignment and then, one morning, wake up wondering why there’s no work.
That’s partly why I became a writer, in response to having to wait for other writers’ scripts that I was assigned to illustrate. I figured if I got into the game at the initial stage of creation, I could generate my own assignments. In the case of SONIC, it also offered me a chance to jump onto a book that was looking for one thing (writers) instead of the other (artists). You do what you have to, y’know?
Finally, this past October, editor Mike Pellerito told me he wanted to make a change. The MOBIUS: 25 YEARS LATER 2-parter I had recently turned in would be the last story I would write for Archie Sonic in the foreseeable future. He did, however, allow me the chance to continue working on the book in an artistic capacity. I accepted those assignments at first. Then, while working on an assignment, I discovered that there were more pressing family matters as well as other opportunities elsewhere that I couldn’t afford to turn down any longer.
So, the current Sonic-Shadow story line seeing print in issues #157 through #159 will be my last regular Sonic story in the series. The upcoming M:25YL 2-parter is my swan song from the book altogether. It’s now up to new scribe Ian Flynn and others to carry the ball from here on out. 
For one reason or another, the ending to Mobius: 25 Years Later as scripted by Ken Penders never saw the light of day. It’s been said that Mike’s desire to have King Shadow in the story was first pitched to Ken, so its possible that any refusal on Ken’s part to change the script to include something out of left field resulted in the story being canned, at least in the state it held at that point. As can be expected, the script has never been released online, though kenpenders.com administrator BobR did go on to further explain some of the plot elements that were meant to be in that final chapter, specifically regarding NICOLE and Lara:
Nicole was created in the Mobian year 3261 (The year M:25YL takes place.) She was programmed with all the information Sally would need in the fight against Robotnik. But, she was also programmed to record and track any anomaly that affected Mobius and the zones. She was then sent back to Sally in the year 3228 (Robotnik took over in 3225) with indications that Nicole came from her father, the king. That was to keep Sally from asking too many questions about where Nicole really came from. As a young girl, getting something from her father whom she had not seen in several years, she glommed onto Nicole right away, accepting everything she was told. Would an older Sally have accepted that statement? Probably not.
So Sally grows with Nicole as a constant companion and confidante, moving into the adventures as we see them in SatAM and later the comic. All the while, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, Nicole is constantly scanning for these zonal anomalies. Nicole eventually reaches the year 3261 again, right after the point the “just built” Nicole was sent back. The lock on the memory of our now 33-year old Nicole releases, and all that data she accumulated during the past 33 years comes flooding back to help King Sonic, Guardian Knuckles, Royal Engineer Rotor, and Legion Scientist Cobar figure out a way to fix the problem. And something else, too, for Guardian Knuckles discovers he had a daughter whose existence was wiped out when Sonic went back in the time machine the first time to try to fix the problem…if you remember, Lara-Su vanished at the end of that story by Ken. So for Knuckles, the stakes were even greater than the survival of the planet Mobius. 
So in the original concept, Sonic goes back in time, is unable to do anything productive in a ghostly state reminiscent of the Superman comics from the Silver Age, then returns to his present yet somehow causes Lara-Su to disappear from existence, NICOLE being the only proof she ever was alive, even though NICOLE was only sent in the past after Sonic did his ineffectual thing. Assumingly things would end on a happy note, but there are still so many questions left unanswered, questions that I fear would not have been covered at all if the story had seen print. The biggest one, which was glossed over back in Sonic: In Your Face! as it wasn’t important, is just how did the Freedom Fighters realize that NICOLE was from the future in the first place? It was hinted that Sally realized NICOLE was meant for her once time travel was discovered, yet only now in the story has Rotor found a way for it to be possible. That overused scene of Rotor sitting in Castle Acorn tinkering away while Sonic and Sally watch can not be recreated, seeing as Sally no longer has a role in the story. And when would Rotor even have time, once he realized he was the creator of NICOLE, to build the entire machine with sophisticated A.I. that would be able to become sentient and send it off right after Sonic decided to time travel for no real reason?
This doesn’t even begin to touch on some of the more dramatic moments in the narrative that went nowhere. Knuckles declaration of a plan-B that would involve everyone getting off the planet? Not followed up once. The ongoing electrical storms meant to be a precursor to the end of the universe? Never made any more dramatic. Julie-Su‘s role was also completely diminished. When teasing the original Knuckles: 20 Years Later, Ken kept on going on about how, even though she was older, Julie-Su was still a capable warrior. Her original concept art of her being in the future included her having futuristic handguns on her person, ready to fight on a moments notice. In this story, Julie takes a backseat, being nothing more than a feisty domestic who hasn’t yet evolved into Abby the Koala. And what of the future Locke saw his son in all those years before? With his hat-adorned offspring fighting against the giant Robotnik-looking robot that was built by the numerous Robotnik’s way back in Sonic Live? Was Ken planning on making that a sequel, further delaying the story everyone actually wanted to see? Or was it going to somehow be shoved in at the very end, quickly glossed over so that we could have had page after page of Julie-Su in various forms of dress?
At the end of the day, Mobius: 25 Years Later became a wasted opportunity. A story that should have been grand and sweeping, yet ended up being a Sonic version of a family sitcom. Sonic’s disappearance would have been the perfect moment for some version of Robotnik to come out of hiding, saying he was aware of what was happening to the space-time continuum and took advantage of it, knowing Sonic would be the only one capable of stopping him. Sending him back in time would leave the door open for Robotnik to begin his assault, maybe even revealing he caused all these problems on purpose in the first place. He would play the role of Anti-Monitor, and Knuckles the role of hero, at least until Sonic could return so the pair could team up and finish things together. It would not be a victory for one, but for both, in the process Knuckles able to rescue his daughter. Or even have her appear in a state of flux doing something dramatic to allow her father to strike a fatal blow. Throw in Jani-Ca for a second in some confusion! Anything that would make the story more engaging than a bunch of talking heads going to a machine, Sonic doing something to screw it up, and Rotor/Knuckles fixing it in the end anyway.
I almost feel like I shouldn’t mention it, but there’s also the fact Mobius: 25 Years Later had such a narrow focus on who they were showing. With all the time spent on letting us know the fate of Harry the Taxi Driving Dingo, why not clue the readers in about what happened to the more prominent cast members of the comic? Not one word is reserved for Antoine and Bunnie. Ken’s favorite pest Geoffrey St. John is curiously missing. We don’t even get a line about Uncle Chuck. I know, it would be impossible to cover it all, but a simple reference saying if Bunnie was ever deroboticized could have been nice.
Ian Flynn did revisit the future again in the pages of Sonic Universe, its second arc being Mobius: 30 Years Later. I might review it at some point, but its not the purpose of these columns, it instead being an addendum to material no longer in Ken’s control. The story did expand on the world Ian built, showing how Shadow gained power in the first place, explaining that Castle Acorn was on Angel Island and giving Sonic a happy ending, him and Sally reuniting and having two kids with the same names as the ones he lost. I can only guess how that must feel, for even if they act and look similar, they can’t be exactly the same. Even for Lara-Su it has to be surreal, no longer best friends with Sonia but instead her babysitter. Even Lien-Da and Shadow showed back up in the arc, the dark king losing his mind even more, destroying the bracelet that Cobar had made to keep the Dark Legion’s Grandmaster safe from any time displacements. The story focused around King Shadow trying to use a merged Tikal/Chaos to disrupt Mobius, but being stopped by Sonic, Lara-Su and a brand new team of Freedom Fighters. The arc never showed what happened to Shadow, leaving the door open for what else may come, if its ever revisited.
Ian also used Sonic Universe to expand upon one of the bigger plot points that slipped through Ken’s fingers while working on the book – the story of Jani-Ca. Sonic Universe #25-#28 told the story of her universe, of how her father had become Enerjak and took over the world, her small group being the only force against him until the unexpected arrival of Silver the Hedgehog from another place and time. It wasn’t a story many asked for, I’m sure, and if I do review it, it’ll probably be in the same breath as Mobius: 30 Years Later, but for now I’ll let it be, just saying that in the end Jani-Ca was able to defeat her father, though the comic left it ambiguous as to whether or not it would become a happy ending.
If you’ve read this far, you’re also probably acutely aware of the legal issues that have surrounded Ken Penders and his work on the Archie comic, him having placed copyrights on all his work, then being sued by Archie for such an act. At the time of this writing, the case has supposedly been settled, though nothing has been finalized just yet. As for the terms of that settlement, that knowledge is still unknown. Does Archie still have the rights to use all of Ken’s numerous Echidnas? Did Ken somehow find a way to secure the rights to all of them, leaving Archie in the middle of a huge blunder? Or was a middle ground met where both parties can use them in new material, or perhaps neither is allowed to touch them? It’s possible we may never know exactly what the terms are, but I will stand by the fact that, regardless of how you feel about Ken’s work, he always should have been able to receive royalties for anything republished. The rest, I’d rather not get into.
What I will say about his proposed seven-volume series called The Lara-Su Chronicles, I can only wonder how much of that is actually material intended for the Archie series back when he was working on it, and how much is content that he came up with afterwards. Seven graphic novels is a lot, especially when you consider it’s all based on a story that was meant to be in a single 48-page special. Ken’s obsession with world building and his loss of pacing must be fueling those plans, and if for some reason they were ever to see the light of day, I sincerely doubt they would be all that great. With no accountability, Ken would become buried by his own work, with details rushed and the ending leaving much to be desired. We might get the climatic battle between a fake Knuckles and Dr. Droid, but it would not resemble at all what Knuckles: 20 Years Later was supposed to be.
Even if it did reach some form of publication? Though Ken came up with all these characters and situations that are not relevant to the games, the core of the story is still Knuckles the Echidna. The supporting cast of Echidnapolis and the Dark Legion only work in the context of Knuckles’ story of being Guardian of Angel Island. You remove Knuckles, you remove the floating island and the Chaos Emeralds, and what do you have left? A story that doesn’t need to rely on the Echidna designs that have flooded these pages. Writing a story that shares some elements of the fiction Ken created for the comic but is still wholly original seems like it would be a lot easier to sell than writing a half-continuation of the Echidna saga that can’t use its central figure. People read these stories to see Sonic and Knuckles in action. Being proud of coming up with so much material that has nothing to do with the games? If you were hired to work on a licensed property, you should try your hardest to stay within those confines. Come up with original characters and situations, sure. Completely rework the source material so that it barely resembles what its from? That is going way beyond the job description. Being proud of the fact you strayed so far shows that your heart wasn’t really in writing a comic about Sonic and Knuckles. You wanted to write something else entirely, and used them as the only forum available.
Looking over everything, its hard to say that Mobius: 25 Years Later is a good story. Even with Ian’s contributions to the saga, there is still something missing. All the elements should have been there, and with so much hype and foreshadowing, it could have been something truly great. The crown jewel to overshadow Endgame. But instead, it was a meandering, overblown, ill-planned mess that didn’t resemble anything the comic had built up to.
Ken, I know you’ve said before that a lot of the criticism on your work after leaving has been based around the fact that they weren’t true to the games. I knew going in that this would not be anything like the games, and to be fair, it doesn’t have to be, as long as its a solid story. Instead, you gave the challenge for someone to actually review your work on its merit alone. I know that there were moments when I compared what you wrote to the source material, but I would like to think that much of this was dissecting the content, looking at it from numerous angles, exploring the reasoning and history behind some of the more baffling decisions. This is not the worst thing ever written. I wouldn’t even go on to say the saga is the worst thing ever published in the comic. It’s far from being the worst thing. But perhaps you could say that it is one of the most disappointing things ever published for it.
And clocking in at 51,445 words, I can definitely say, without a shadow of a doubt, that this review is probably way longer than it should have been.
Then again, so was Mobius: 25 Years Later.
There we go! The last installment in our little journey of a storyline you might not care about in the slightest. Be sure, if for some reason this is your first time and are completely lost, to read everything else that’s come before:
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
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 13 – When Is A Finale Not A Finale?
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 14 – All Hail King Shadow
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 15 – The All-New Adventures of Lara-Su and Old Rotor
I would also like to thank the staff chat and #comics over on badnik.net for putting up with me going on and on about Ken Penders as I’ve written this. Without them, I probably would have gone mad.