In the Reverse Universe, Ken Penders Writes YOU

So. It’s time.

After 10 issues (not including a four-issue miniseries) largely dominated by the incessant punniness of Mike Gallagher, we have reached a turning point in the series. The comic has a few issues where, looking back, it changes irrevocably, and though Issue 11 might seem a bit inauspicious to be one, there is one indisputable fact here.

This is the first issue Ken Penders writes.

Ken Penders is the second of four head writers the comic has had over the years. Over time, he would come to shape the direction and tone of the comic to an enormous degree; he was pretty much entirely responsible for the Knuckles spinoff series that lasted 32 issues, creating a vast and expansive mythology for such a bare-bones character. He had big ideas – he was the brains behind Endgame and the chief engineer of many of the comic’s most notable moments.

Today, he is mostly known for his lawsuits against Archie Comics and Sega, and his incredulous attempts at reviving aspects of the Knuckles franchise for his own profit. This has soured many people on Ken’s older work, perhaps deservedly so, perhaps not. He’s become a very divisive figure in the Sonic community, to the degree where fans seem forced into the dichotomy of “defending him” or “making fun of him.”

I don’t really intend to bring up the lawsuit, its implications, or Ken’s attitude about the whole thing. There are a million places on the internet you can read and discuss that sort of thing. I will try to keep any criticisms I have of Ken Penders to his writing, since that’s what this blog is all about.

And I’m warning you guys upfront: I will have a lot of criticisms of Ken Penders’s writing. But we’ll get to them in due time. For now, at least, let’s talk about this milestone issue, and meet a character who, years later, would become something completely different.

“Then again, why pass up one uppity hedgehog for another?” -Dr. Eggman

“The Good, the Bad, and the Hedgehog!”
Writers: Mike Kanterovich and Ken Penders
Penciler: Dave Manak
Inker:
Art Mawhinney
Letterer:
Bill Yoshida
Colorist and Production:
Barry Grossman

Of note: Ken had a cowriter, Mike Kanterovich, during his early issues. I don’t really know how the writing duties were divided up between them so I won’t pretend to guess, but this issue does have some Ken Penders hallmarks all the same.

So Robotnik is polluting some river with a giant factory. The team (minus Sonic and, of course, Bunnie – I’m just gonna start calling them the Failure Four, since all they do is blunder around, get captured, and wait for Sonic) is just kinda watching as the “toxic slop” drenches the water. If only there were a competent Freedom Fighter here! Fortunately, Sally has her “super secret Sonic signal watch” in true Jimmy Olsen style. Sonic, after beating up Scratch and Grounder (!!), gets the memo and decides to take a shortcut through the Cosmic Interstate, a pathway to all zones. In the past, zones had been mainly used to refer to different places on Mobius, as in the games. Here, however, Ken and Mike seem to be using the term to mean dimensions or parallel universes. This unfortunate double meaning continues even today. What a proud tradition. Sonic also quotes the Beatles on the way in. This will not be the last time this happens in this story.

The hedgehog misses the last turn onto Mobius and, in a panel with no fewer than four Beatles references (this is almost definitely a Ken Penders thing, since they keep cropping up in his later solo stories), Sonic doubles back and finally ends up on Mobius.

…OR DOES HE

Sonic passes by what appears to be Robotropolis (covered in shadow once again), but something seems different. He runs by the Knothole tree stump and ends up at a giant building towering over the forest that’s labeled as a veterinary clinic. And this is what he sees upon entering:

A version of Robotnik that actually has a real doctorate? GADZOOKS

Robotnik(?) orders his waiting room of cute and cuddly animals to basically maim Sonic, but he dashes out of a top-story window and somehow runs along the edge of the building to the ground. He also has a wonderful line of dialogue: “That window… could possibly… have been placed… for a timely escape!” WHAT. That’s another Ken Penders staple: really bad, stilted, nobody-would-ever-talk-like-this dialogue. And as Sonic runs away, he runs face first into probably the biggest Base Breaker in the franchise.

…no, not Sally!

The ancient Greeks once said “know thyself,” but I bet they were never on the Cosmic Interstate!

So Sonic and Sco… er, Evil Sonic, run circles around each other trying to get to the bottom of the situation. Evil Sonic gets wise to the sitch and draws Sonic a useless diagram on a page of filler before explaining that Sonic’s wound up in the “reverse universe,” where the Freedom Fighters are the oppressors and “kindly ol’ Doc Robotnik is left picking up the pieces.” So wait, does Evil Sonic know about Mobius Prime? Why would it be called the reverse universe if he didn’t? Weird.

I see the Suppression Squad has not yet been fleshed out beyond biker gang/leather fetishists, except for Evil Tails, who apparently thinks he’s a knight. GET THIS FLEETWAY OUT OF MY ARCHIE

Evil Sonic has a great (and by great I mean hilariously terrible) villain monologue about Robotnik: “Oooh, how I dislike him! And when Sonic the Hedgehog dislikes someone, he stays disliked! One of these days, me and the boys are gonna topple his tower of healing once and for all!” I hope you weren’t expecting Evil Sonic to actually become a credible threat for the next 150 issues. Sonic tries to skedaddle out of this joint, but Evil Sonic has other ideas…

…no, fangirls, not those ideas!

As the Freedom Fighters just… sit there and watch the river overflow (and Rotor actually tries to eat the sludge ewwww guy really), the Sonics embark on a race across Mobius, which isn’t so much a race as it is Evil Sonic being enamored with the fact that somebody can finally keep up with him. He also makes another Beatles reference, so that’s… six? In ten pages? Sonic gets the bright idea to head back to the ol’ tower of healing where the cuddly animals punk the crap out of Evil Sonic. Man this guy is a chump.

Man, even reverse-Robotnik isn’t capable of smiling in a way that isn’t a horrible evil grimace. How does this guy stay in business?

After a few clever lines and signs (“To: Phantom Zone” “All phantoms must pay toll”), the only competent Freedom Fighter in the vicinity arrives with a hybrid Beatles/Rolling Stones reference (pushing the envelope here) and a “super scooper” of reverse-Robotnik’s that sucks up the sludge and saves the day. Sally calls him one of a kind and Sonic’s like YOU AIN’T EVEN KNOW BOUT MY MULTIPLE SELVES LADY

And that’s that. Evil Sonic will show up periodically, and each time he will be treated as the joke he rightfully is. Until, of course, Ian Flynn takes over. But that’s a long time from now.

“Beat the Clock!”
The perpetrators of this story remain at large, but I’m guessing it’s still Mike and Ken at least.

And now we have a… Coconuts-centered story?!? Well I never. This pleases me greatly.

Coconuts has kidnapped the Failure Four and has delusions of taking Sonic down himself, independently of Robotnik! That’s why we love Coconuts – bot’s got ambition. Sally puts on her incredulous face, which greatly resembles a carp (thank you, A Moment of Archie Sonic – check out this great “bad Archie Sonic art” blog if you haven’t already: http://amomentofarchiesonic.tumblr.com/). Turns out Coconuts is really just doing it to move up on Robotnik’s “hit parade,” where the badniks are ranked by how long they’ve lasted in fights against Sonic.

I always figured Cluck was just Robotnik’s pet chicken thing. And even he’s done better than Coconuts!

The current champion is Bat Brain, who somehow lasted 37 seconds, more than double the second-place record (held by Grounder). Sally calls him “nuts,” but he reminds her with a manic grin that, no, his name is “Coconuts.” See, Evil Sonic – this is how a two-bit villain does a good crazy monologue. Just needs more YOU SILLY GIRL and we’ll be gold.

Sonic himself has to deal with Coconuts’s master plan – a NEVER-ENDING MAZE that naturally the readers can attempt to navigate Sonic through. This is around the point where Sally stops talking smack and starts realizing this badnik might actually make a monkey out of her. I don’t really get why Coconuts is holding the Failure Four hostage with bombs if all he wants to do is outlast Sonic, but hey, guess you always need a contingency plan. Rotor then poses a really awkward question to Sally that fuels the shipping I’ve been subtly watching for a few issues: where does everybody rank on her top ten list? TAILS GET THAT LOOK OFF YOUR FACE, YOU ARE LIKE FIVE YEARS OLD. But Sally cops out and says that Sonic takes up the entire list like the glory (hedge)hog he is.

Speaking of which, Sonic arrives in the nick of time (I guess the kids were able to navigate through the deadly maze filled with quicksand and Caterkillers), saves everybody, and leaves Coconuts to get his explosive ending. The “Secret HQ” (that’s the sign outside the building they were in – don’t ask me) barely has a dent in it though, and the Swatbot standing next to Coconuts isn’t even fazed! I guess Coconuts got some cheap knockoff dynamite. He then ends the story with like three puns in one panel as Mike and Ken try really hard to make up for lost time.

Some notable Sonic-Grams:

  • More Bunnie fanmail! Plus some fanart from earlier. I’m sure they’ll get the hint eventually… right?
  • A reader really enjoyed the Christmas Carol adaptation and says it was based on his favorite movie, Scrooged! Mercifully, the editor corrects him.
  • Somebody asks if there’s gonna be a Sonic 4. Well, sure there is HOPE YOU CAN WAIT TWENTY YEARS
  • The unending deluge of Spinball fanmail continues for some ungodly reason.
  • And the best one of the day, a letter that needs to be reposted in its entirety:

“Dear Sonic,

‘What is your favorite sport? Do you have a hobby? How old are you? Please make Robotnik’s head fall off. Please tell him he has a big butt. Do you like to rock & roll? I have about 3 dollars. How much money do you have?”

I can’t make fun of this. It’s too adorable.

“Food for Thought – or – You Are What You Eat!”
Writers: Mike Kanterovich and Ken Penders
Penciler and Inker: Art Mawhinney

Yes, that’s right – a triple feature! Also what, are we Rocky and Bullwinkle now with the double titles?

It’s Sonic’s birthday! The first of like twelve in the comic. And yet you don’t look a day over 15, Sonic. He makes himself a special birthday gift – a giant stack of chili dogs that promptly gives him indigestion. Hey, it beats getting another tie.

Sonic then has a dream sequence in which…

…y’know, I can’t even do this story justice in words, so I’ll just post some pictures.

Okay that’s enough of that. So Sonic wakes up and basically resolves never to eat anything again as Sally and Tails FREAK HIM THE HELL OUT by wishing him a happy birthday.

Seriously look at this. This is not the face of a man who enjoys his birthday.

So naturally they get him a plate of chili dogs, and naturally he reneges on his newfound no-food diet and eats them all. Maaaaaaybe we should stick to two stories an issue, guys. >_>

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