Okay look I was gonna make this Monday Links thing more about Sonic but then Atlus put out this amazing trailer for Persona 5 and oh gosh it looks so good. The style and the graphics and the characters and everything oh gosh. It’s like they took the swag levels of drunk Charlie Tunoku from Persona 4 and multiplied it by like ten or one hundred and then also made him introverted by day and oh gosh the game just looks great.
Long before Sonic the Hedgehog was their mascot, SEGA was known the world over for their fantastic arcade outings. Space Harrier. Hang On. Out Run. Each game compelled whatever young mind was near to slide quarter after quarter into the cabinet, keeping the company relevant even while their home content, featured on the Sega Master System, was overtly eclipsed by the competition. Finally finding success in the console market in 1991 didn’t slow the videogame maker from producing titles for the arcade circuit, but it did raise the question of whether or not SEGA would deliver Sonic outside of the Mega Drive, making those crazy about The Most Famous Hedgehog In The World to venture outside the home and hunch over a static arcade cabinet.
Wanting to exploit the character that was to define them, SEGA was immediately aware of the demand. In 1991, they released a pair of early games exclusive to arcades, Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car and its spiritual successor, SegaSonic Cosmo Fighter Galaxy Patrol, two early attempts that were geared directly at a younger demographic. The first two 16-bit titles would also be retooled for arcade consumption, released on the Mega Play platform where players were given the same levels as the home version but with far shorter time limits.
It wasn’t until 1993 that the first dedicated arcade experience featuring the hedgehog was released, the aptly titled SegaSonic the Hedgehog. One look at the title screen made it clear it wasn’t just a rehash of home content, featuring two brand new characters joining Sonic in an isometric world where players had to use a trackball to get Sonic and his friends out of the never-ending trouble following them. Released at the height of Sonic’s popularity, the game was virtually ignored, in part because it was almost exclusively a Japanese title. Those few that were exported to the west came with Japanese vocals and text intact, and as such was overlooked by the writers of both Sonic comic books being published at the time.
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.
When Ian Flynn took over Sonic the Hedgehog as main writer back in 2006, his first task was to wrap up everything the comic had been doing for years. Strung out plotlines with little resolution had become the norm, and had definitely run its course. Sonic #160 through Sonic #174‘s primary purpose was to bring everything back together and reign it in so #175 could be an easy jumping off point, not just for the reader but for Ian to write his own stories involving the sprawling cast of the comic. Part of that spring cleaning was the initial resolution to Mobius: 25 Years Later, even if it had been two years since the storyline had been an ongoing feature in the book.
Though it is possible that revisiting the future would have been on Ian’s mind eventually, the two-part conclusion was not something he decided to write, but was instead editorially dictated by Mike Pellerito. Wanting to also wrap things up to make things easier for oncoming readers, he instructed Ian to find a way to end Ken’s futuristic epic in 22 pages, spread out across two issues. Not content with just having Ian come up with his own ideas, he demanded the young professional incorporate an element in the narrative that could be seen as coming from out of left field: the arrival of King Shadow.
Sometimes, long-running serials can become stale. If you’ve been hired to write for a comic book month after month for years, you can reach a point where you just can’t be as good as you used to be. Ideas get regurgitated. Fast paced action is slowed down. All the creativity of those first few years can dwindle, even if the property is yours. There’s a reason creatives are always looking for new valleys to explore – focusing on just one idea, one story, can drive someone mad. It can compromise the overall arc. It can feel like the story should have ended years beforehand, instead of half-heatedly lurching forward into the abyss.
American comic book companies are aware of this to a degree, oftentimes changing the creatives on a book in order not just to improve sales, but to prevent the material from becoming flat. The hope being that if new minds are always bringing in fresh ideas, the 70+ years of Batman adventures won’t continue to repeat themselves. Very rarely in the modern industry do you get someone on a title for more than a handful of years. Extremely rare is the tenure that Ken Penders enjoyed, writing on Sonic the Hedgehog and its related series for nearly 13.
When Ken was unceremoniously dropped from the title back in 2006, he was replaced by newcomer Ian Flynn, his first story seeing print in Sonic the Hedgehog #160. Though relatively unknown, there was a faction who was excited to see what he would bring to the table, him having been a fan himself, writing his own fanfiction about Sonic in the years previous. Even if sales of the title had gotten better when Ken took over from Karl Bollers as head writer, there was a certain stagnant feeling to the stories being provided. If you’d had gone on record saying that, in your mind, the battle between Sonic and Eggman was over and you were solely invested in the future tales of Mobius, what else would one expect?
With Ian at the helm, it didn’t take long for the new writer to revisit one of the longest running, incomplete tales that had taken hold of the comic since its early days. Dictated by management to wrap it up once and for all, Ian set off to finally finish Mobius: 25 Years Later.
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.