Sonic The Hedgehog #58 Review by Dan Drazen
"Friendly Rogues And Foul Villians"
"The Living Crown"

Ken Penders(W)
Art Mawhinney And Manny Galán(A)
It seems Ken Penders has moved from author to "auteur" in the cinematic sense. He did the inking and coloring and (to an undetermined extent) the script for this story. I had said all along that the comic needed a unified artistic voice to avoid the incoherency of "The Big Goodbye" but turning the comic into a virtual one-man production (Ken also did the writing and coloring chores on the 6-pack in this issue) is sort of taking things literally. But hey, it never hurts to be able to do a little of everything.

We go back to Yanar waking up in the same cell as Sonic and Tails. Instead of the duo's being awake and coherent (as at the end of "Covenant," Knuckles #11), Tails and Yanar seem to have just dropped in from Amnesia Land, where the first question everyone asks is "Where am I?" Sonic tells Tails that they're in jail but before they can discover Yanar's identity or comment on the detailed ink work of the brick walls, a couple roboticized guards take Tails away to see the High Sheriff. Sonic makes a lunge at them, but since he's still manacled to the aforementioned walls, the end result is something like trying to go from zero to sixty with the parking brake still on. Like any good toon, he starts seeing stars and chirping birds; to further demonstrate his addled state of mind he also misquotes the lyrics of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds." I asked Ken about this, and he said there were no copyright considerations behind it: his memory simply failed him when trying to recall the words. Failure of memory, for one reason or another, is a common occurrence amongst us children of the Sixties.

Knuckles, meanwhile, is set upon by the archer who HAD been drawing a bead on him back in "Covenant." He looks like Sonic except that he's sort of an aqua color, has these really spooky green eyes with no outlining (I couldn't make up my mind whether those eyes were unfinished or just creepy-looking), and is wearing an anachronistic combination of a medieval hooded jacket and a pair of decidedly NON-medieval Doc Martens. He identifies himself as "Rob o' the Hedge," "King of Deerwood Forest," and immediately challenges Knuckles to a confrontation. One swift move by Knuckles later and Rob lands tail-first in a nearby creek. Rob may not be as swift as Sonic (I recommend lighter footwear, for starters) but he immediately asks Knuckles to join him so you know he's not a sore loser.

Back in the dungeon, Sonic brings Yanar and the readers up to speed. Sonic and Tails had tried taking off into a storm: apparently the control tower they radioed wasn't picking up the Day of Fury on their Doppler radar. Then, after their plane gets its tail singed, they were arrested by the aforementioned bots when they landed. Yanar gives a quick summary of the "Forgotten Tribe" developments before the guards come for Sonic whom they still think is Rob. Yanar creates a diversion to get himself taken to the High Sheriff instead, and manages to boost the keys to the chains from the guard and slip them to Sonic before being taken away.

Back in Deerwood Forest, Ron tells Yanar that "All [his] brave band" has been kidnaped and roboticized by Robotnik's local sub- boss. In an earlier draft, Ken had toyed with the idea of designating these would-be "merry men" as "Colorful Critters" but he decided not to go through with it. You may now take a moment to thank the Deity of your choice for Ken's decision. In order to get a better view of what's happening, Rob climbs a rope and hacks his way through the thick growth of names in tiny type. Once up a tree, he and Knuckles spot the echidna tribe engaged in a deforestation project under the direction of the High Sheriff's bots. Whatever Knuckles may have felt about issues of responsibility back during Athair's spiel in Knuckles #11, he decides that it's up to him to rescue the tribe since Yanar is nowhere to be seen.

Back at the castle, Sonic gets his chance to psych the guard and put them out of commission. He gets off a few words of Spanish but before you can say "Yo quiero Taco Bell" he happens upon the chamber where Tails is being tortured by...

Enter, guest villain, and sign in please: "General D'Coolette"! You remember him? I'm not surprised; he was mentioned briefly during Antoine's declamation back in "Countdown to Armageddon" (Sonic #46) and his name hasn't really come up since then. That's about par for the course in these comics: to wait a year between the tease and the payoff. And since we know from the blurbs in the back of the comic that issues #59 and 60 will involve the return of Horizont-Al and Vertic-Al as well as the Monkey King, it looks like Sonic and Tails will take their sweet time getting word of this development back to Mobitropolis. Wonder how Sonic will break the news to Antoine:

Sonic: Yo, Ant! I got good news and bad news.
Antoine: What is the meaning of this fuelishness?
S: The good news is, you're getting your own story arc.
A: Zut allors! My Papa would be so proud of me!
S: Yeah, well, that's the bad news....

I want to go on record at this point as saying that I owe Ken Penders an apology. When he first told me about the use of the place name "Snottingham" and that it was the original name for Nottingham according to one of his correspondents, I was inclined to think it was a case of someone pulling Ken's leg as well as a chance to indulge in the kind of humor that would resonate with preadolescent boys. But according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the place really WAS named "Snotingham" (literally, "the village of Snot's people") when the place was first settled by Anglo-Saxons sometime between the 6th and 8th Centuries. Sorry I doubted you, Ken.

The General interrogates Tails, displaying a mastery of the language that seems to have escaped his own flesh and blood. Tails, for his part, is being tortured by...getting his feet tickled. Hey, this IS an Archie comic, and they got STANDARDS. Either that or D'Coolette learned his torture techniques from the "Spanish Inquisition" sketch on "Monty Python's Flying Circus." Sonic decides to make his move before Tails gets poked with the Soft Cushions and is made to sit in the Comfy Chair. After another brief bid to convince Archie to revise its policy and honor subscription requests from Mexico, Sonic tries reasoning with the General, but gets nowhere. He does, however, manage to lure the General beneath a wagon wheel chandelier so Tails can finish the rest of the old bit. With The General decommissioned temporarily, Sonic and Tails make themselves scarce.

Back in Deerwood Forest, Rob and Knuckles are presumably on their way to fight those bots holding the Tribe prisoner. But this being a Robin Hood story, we now come to the "battling the stranger with the quarter staff who won't let you cross the stream" bit. Rob orders the stranger to "Stand and deliver"; that's Olde English for "Let's check out the Fan Art." Heather Davis gives Sonic a clothes make over; Tim Fewell does a dynamite Freedom Fighter recruiting poster (notice who's leading the charge); and if Archie hasn't changed their fan art policies lately and is still accepting only black-and-white submissions, how did they know Chris Washington had drawn Super Sonic?

The stranger proceeds to make short work of Rob, who's now 0 for 2 in the combat department. Knuckles realizes that the hooded figure is actually Mari-An. As she pulls Rob's soggy butt out of the river, their eyes meet and...yes, we have a Meet Cute! Knuckles, who's been there and done that back in Knuckles #4, discovers Sonic and Tails's plane. Rob then notices that the pair's trail leads to the High Sheriff's castle. He leads Knuckles and Mari-An along the trail, forgetting about the enslaved members of the Tribe entirely. So not only is Rob a lousy fighter, he apparently also has a short attention span. This is a hero?

Quick cut back to the Castle where Sonic and Tails are trying to find their way out, without much success. As for Rob, Knuckles and Mari-An, they enter a nondescript-looking "sanctuary" and Rob pushes aside the pulpit to reveal a trap door while uttering probably the coolest line in the story: "Divine intervention and animal ingenuity." Or, at least, it WOULD have been cool had they not misspelled "divine." Still, it sounds like something I want to get translated into Latin one of these days. It's make a great motto.

Within the secret tunnel beneath the pulpit, Rob and Sonic finally meet, and we learn that Rob is a distant cousin of Amy Rose, which comes as a major surprise to Sonic. Considering that Knothole is half a world away from Mercia, I'd say that they were VERY distant cousins. The group heads for daylight, only to find they've got an excellent balcony view to watch The General hosting an open air soiree where Yanar has a date to dance with the ropemaker's daughter.

Rating: Rings

When Ken first announced this Robin Hood bit, I was afraid that the story would go in one of two disastrous directions: either we'd get treated to a self-serious Sonic Prince of Thieves, or else Ken would camp it up and we'd get "Hedgehogs in Tights." Mercifully, Ken went back to basics and modeled the story (however roughly) on the definitive 1938 "Adventures of Robin Hood" starring Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone. THOSE were the good old days, back before "action film" wasn't synonymous with "body count." The pacing and dialogue are first rate, and even though Rob and Mari- An's Meet Cute was unavoidable, working Antoine's dad into the saga helps fill the considerable void left by Robotnik's continued absence. I don't know how Ken and Clayton Emery split the writing chores, but the collaboration works well here. Too bad Ken will be leaving the cover stories in other hands while he concentrates on the Knuckles books and the back stories. Speaking of which:

Backup Story: Having survived the "Return of the King" special, King Acorn decides he'd better get a physical to be on the safe side. Our old friend Horatio Quack, M.D., demonstrates his medical expertise on page 2 as he uses the words "turn" and "cough" in the same balloon. In the course of the check-up, the King starts talking politics--I seem to remember the topic of why Mobius is a monarchy once touched off a small-scale brawl on one of the mail lists. But just when we think we've seen the last of the Sword and Crown and Limbo mumbo-jumbo with the end of the "Return..." special, it comes back at us even weirder than before:

We start with a glimpse of the King in his younger (and cuter) days; we also find out that his name is "Maximillian. At the tender age of 10 his father conducted him to a secret chamber deep within the lower recesses of the palace. There they come across what's supposed to be a pool filled with what resembles molten silver and gold. Obeying his father's instructions, we watch Max skinny-dipping (or should that be "furry-dipping"?) in the pool; when he emerges he looks like a hood ornament. The sludge that coated him was then collected and used to create both the Sword and Crown of Acorns.

Believe it or not, all this folderol had a higher purpose: "I had bonded with the Source of All." Max then goes on at length about how "we all began life as a speck of cosmic matter that flows from the Source of All." Sounds like your drugs are beginning to kick in, Max. He then goes on to state that only the select few who get in touch with the Source become leaders and get to order everybody else around. This load of cosmic horse pucky reminded me of the words of Dennis, the anarchist peasant in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail": "Supreme political power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony." Anyway, King Max revealed that "the Source devined [sic] that the odds were overwhelming" and that Robotnik would take over. Gee, maybe if the Source had DIVINED such knowledge instead, things would have come out differently. Anyway, the Sword was left with Rosie, who scooted the kids to Knothole before Max got Voided. I don't know HOW the Sword got away from Rosie and eventually into the hands/hooves of Damocles the Elder (Knuckles' Quest #4, Sonic #46), and frankly I don't care. But in any event that's why the Crown reappeared once the King took possession of the Sword, which was the other half of the two-piece set. Now, with his connectors or familiars or whatever you want to call them returned and his connection to the Great Source of established, Max is going to make some changes around here no matter what his daughter or the hardcore Sonic fans have to say about it.

Rating: Rings

I have NO idea where Ken is going with this Source of All business, but it's pretty clear where he was coming from. Show of hands: did anyone else think Ken had been watching too much "Deep Space Nine" when he wrote this? I made no secret during "Knuckles' Quest" that I thought there was no place in the comic for dimestore mysticism and that a compelling story could be written without all the magical trappings. For the record, I also started to lose interest in DS9 about the time they really began working the Great Link angle back on Odo's homeworld. So maybe it's just me.

I had said on another occasion that this was the first Sonic issue under the new post-cartoon reality. Actually, I was wrong; the cover story is, after all, part of the arc that began with Knuckles #10 while the back story simply doesn't showcase any of the characters the fans have come to really CARE about (tough luck, duck). So it looks like the NEXT issue will be the true determination of where the comic will be going.

Overall Rating: Rings