Sonic Super Special #2 Review by Dan Drazen
"Brave New World"
Ken Penders(W)
Ken Penders(A)
Ken's cover: an actual painting rather than something computer-generated. Something about the thumbnail cover made me think that Sally expression would be more bittersweet than it is here. In the background, Geoffrey poses for a statue while Dulcy flies to a clinic to have someone examine her varicose wings.

Frontispiece: I suppose the word here is "radiant." Either that or "Photoshop."

Sam Maxwell splash page: Sonic, Antoine, Bunnie and Dulcy raise SOMETHING meant to resemble a flag while Sally looks on and Tails happily falls off a cliff. He's getting better at it. Maxwell's drawing, not Tails' falling. I've made this suggestion separately but it bears repeating: since Ken or Manny Galan or someone went to the trouble of designing a corporate logo for the Dingo Empire or whatever, is anyone out there up to designing aflag of Mobius?

And THIS TIME I bothered to read the text; now I know why I skipped it up until now. Frankly, it's overwritten, awkward, and quite simply inaccurate in spots. Consider the last sentence in the first paragraph: "He had sought to enslave them through his nefarious schemes, with ultimate domination over all he surveyed his final goal." This looks like two sentences jammed together with at least one clause missing. At the very least, the words "he surveyed" could have been dropped back into the inkwell without anyone noticing. Since I know that Ken was inking some of these pages during the Motor City Comic Con, I'll be charitable and blame it on his being distracted by gawkers likeme.

Two pages of back story: nice artwork. We get to see some of the early players including Antoine's dad, Sonic's folks, (presumably) a young Geoffrey and his dad, a VERY young Sally (too cute), and...hmmm, Sonic must've been home with the sitter. And some Great War footage, which highlights the fact that the Overlanders and the hedgehogs apparently went to the same barber. Maybe the War could have been avoided and history changed if the King had abdicated and let the barber settle differences between the two parties; have you ever known a barber who DIDN'T have the answer to everything? Kinda nice portrait of the Knothole gang, except that Tails looks apprehensive. One look at page 3 and you'll understand why. Time for a Reality Check, people: hedgehogs aren't blue, ground squirrels don't wear vests, foxes only have one tail...oops, wrong Reality. The reality here is that the old saying needs to be changed to: "To the victor belongs the spoiled." The double-page spread on 4 and 5 is a great picture, but it ain't a pretty one.

Sally puts up a brave front as she and the gang begin scouting Robotnik's old HQ/her old home. The group is suddenly attacked by a Dynamac left over from "A Robot Rides The Rails." Extra credit to Ken for knowing that crossbows shoot "bolts" instead of arrows. While Sonic and Geoff learn that the direct approach doesn't work on a Dynamac, it decides to take Antoine, Bunnie, Tails, and Hershey for a spin. Once again, Ken tries to sell us on the "multiple imaging" bit, and includes an editorial box that suggests that the readers "Shake your hand real fast and see how many images you can make." I knew kids back in my high school who used to do this; of course, they'd do it just after taking LSD. Rotor manages to notice a pair of boots that happen to be occupied by Snively, who's controlling the Dynamac. While Geoffrey stops the Sniveler by doing his Peter Parker impression, Sonic sees to it that the Dynamac is distracted long enough for Bunnie to electrocute the brute. Glad Bunnie thought to check her insulation. When Sally expresses doubts as to whether the Snivster will be cooperative he replies "You got THAT right,. Sister!" A little late to be auditioning for "The DiscoveryZone," isn't it?

One quick anecdote: in my undergraduate days, I took part in a College Bowl-type event. During one round, the moderator read the following: "Name the beetle with the large snout....", at which point one of my teammates rang in. Had the moderator finished the question ("...that is a pest to cotton plants"), things might have been different. Instead my teammate blurted out: "RINGO STARR!" The game was stopped for a minute while everyone busted a gut laughing. I suppose that's what Ken was going for with the "Ringo" crack on page 12. The answer, BTW,was "boll weevil."

Remember Sally's performance on page 6, putting up a brave front talking about the mission? It lasts until page 13 when she looks around one of the rooms of what had been the palace; from the trashed teddy at her feet in one panel, we're meant to think it was her old room. She then allows herself one of the luxuries she couldn't afford as Leader and All-Around Pillar Of Strength for the Knothole crowd: the chance to have a good cry. Sonic's response is typical for most males when confronted with a weepy female: he leaves. Back downstairs the testosterone is flowing freely as Rotor begins tinkering with something mechanical and Sonic and Geoffrey engage in "guytalk." This is a variant of the language where a lot of things are left unsaid. This CAN make for misunderstandings: the unstated phrase in the last panel of the page could have been "in the bathroom" and it wouldn't have made a difference. That Sally could have used a shoulder to cry on seems not to have occurred to these two. The fight with Robotnik may be over; the Battle of the Sexes never ends.

And now: THE COUNTRIES OF MOBIUS! And if you think I'm gonna set this to music and sing it like Yakko Warner, forget it! We're obviously dealing with an Earth where the Eastern Hemisphere has been scrunched together, Mexico got lost when California fell into the sea (OK, you can stop applauding), and someone pulled the plug on the oceans because a LOT less of the surface is covered by water. So after a careful analysis that took a few minutes, combined with an atlas and some guesswork, here's a Layman's Guide to What's Where:

1. Walrus Island: scene of the "Tundra Road" story arc. Looks like it might have broken away from Canada. Or am Ithinking of Quebec?
2. Frozen North Sea. Yeah, I'll bet it is.
3. Floating Island. See also #31. Since it was supposed to have been on a direct course for Knothole back in "Panic in the Sky" (Sonic & Knuckles special), it would appear Knuckles managed to alter its course before getting his own series.
4. "Area where Mobie was found": referring to "Blast From The Past" (Sonic #32). This puts Mobie well up in the Great White North, which means that either the so-called "Mobian cave bear" was the ancestor of the Mobian polar bear (to which he bears NO resemblance), or else he was really a holdover from the Canadian Football League. To quote Mobie: "Arrrgh, grfmf, eh?"
5. Veg-O-Fortress: I got into Sonic comics a little late and so never saw the VOF, as the "fortress" goes back to Sonic #6. But it would appear that it's located in or near Seattle. A stone's throw from a Starbuck's, no doubt.
6. West Robotropolis: Since it appears as if California took a good chunk of Oregon with it when it fell into the sea (hey, I SAID you could stop applauding!), West Robotropolis appears to be comprised of what's left of the Cascade Range.
7. Railroad Line To West Coast: Runs between what appears to have been Portland, OR and Mobotropolis (#13).
8. Devil's Gulag. My first guess was Alcatraz Island, but it's too close to the shore considering what happened to California (OK, OK, applaud already! Sheesh!). Has to be somewhere else. Somewhere isolated, dark and foreboding. Somewhere that is a natural prison, where the very environment can suck the life out of you. I'm thinking Bakersfield.
9. Casino Night Zone. Too far northeast to be Las Vegas. Looks like casino gambling was approved in Denver, Colorado. Either that or the Plains Indians managed to get a major piece of the casino action.
10. Canyons: Featured in SonicQuest #1, where Sonic was looking for Carl Condor while Tails was back watching the sex show in the Grotto. Obviously pegged to the Grand Canyon.
11. Mobian Desert. AKA the American southwest.
12. Flickie Island. Looks like Maui swallowed up a coupleother islands.
13. Mobotropolis. Considering how much of Texas got lost along with Mexico (that's what we get for putting Ross Perot in the White House), Mobotropolis seems to be located in the Houston-San Antonio area.
14. Knothole: Victim of a misplaced arrow. Either that or 14 and 15 need to be switched. Assuming that the river is the Mississippi (a few meanderings notwithstanding), that would put Knothole in the Ozarks.
15. The Great Forest: Either Arkansas or north Louisiana. Bunnie didn't have too far to travel.
16: Mobian Badlands: You ever been to Southern Illinois?
17: Robo-Hobo Jungle (Sonic #40): right around Atlanta. Does Ted Turner know?
18: Bottom of the Barrel Bar 'N' Grill: according to the legend, the bar is over 100 miles (at least) from the Robo-Hobo Jungle. Talk about your zoning laws!
19: Overlander Territory: The Rust Belt and the Northeast.
20: Megacentral. Too far inland to be New York City; looks like Harrisburg or Baltimore.
21: Mobian Jungle (Sonic #45): Looks like it's theEverglades.
22: Marshlands: the Louisiana Bayous.
23: "Island Where Tails Met Fiona": refers to the ill-fated "Growing Pains" arc. Can't see it distinctly. Could be one of the Florida Keys or one of the other Caribbean islands. Of course, off the Florida Keys there's a place called Kokomo....
24: Skoal Island (Sonic #17): Probably all that remains of Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula.
25: Mysterious Cat Country: Brazil.
26: Kingdom of Mercia: You have to use your imagination, but I picture it as Ireland after having been linked up with otherland masses.
27: Emerald Sea: The Irish Sea, of course.
28: Lethal Radioactive Zone: if not Chernobyl, then there's a doozy of an accident waiting to happen in China.
29: Land Of A Million Lights: South Africa.
30: Downunda: the part of Australia that didn't break away and drift toward South America.
31: Flight Path of the Floating Island: self-explanatory.
32: Former Site of the Floating Island: ditto.
33: Tails' Trail to Downunda: ditto.

Also noteworthy: the body of water southwest of the Emerald Sea appears to be what's left of the Mediterranean, the Amazon River appears to have bisected South America, and the Japanese archipelago looks like it's being swallowed up between Africa andChina.

That's the end of the geography lesson, now back to our story. The following morning Sally starts delegating authority. After sending Sonic and Tails out on reconnaissance, she discovers that Geoffrey is AWOL. As it turns out, he's gone behind her back. He and his security minions have secured the "armory" and are reporting this development to...King Acorn who appears to be in isolation back in Knothole and who begins a rant about "the enemy within", specifically Sonic's Uncle Chuck. Methinks the monarch is starting to grow crystals in his cranium.

And what ABOUT Uncle Chuck, who seems to have made himself scarce? He's making his way underground where he relays news of Robotnik's defeat to...

OK, here's another memory from the Motor City Comic Con. At one point, Ken handed me a page that he was inking. There's been some rearrangement of the page elements since then, but I recognize the third panel from page 19 as being on that page; it was also only half-inked, and not all the dialogue balloons were in place. I wasn't sure of the significance of it all as I handed it back to Ken who said: "Congratulations. You're the first one to get a look at Sonic's parents." Try sitting on THAT piece of news for six months! Come to think of it, that's about how long it's been since the angle of "What happened to Sonic's Dad?" was quickly raised in #46 and dropped just as quickly. Anyway, Uncle Chuck then brings in the second half of the good news-bad news routine: it doesn't look like it will be possible to deroboticize anybody. And considering the way that the deroboticizing angle has been so badly mishandled in the past in stories such as "Steel-Belted Sally" (#29), "The Day Robotropolis Fell" (#27) and "Mecha Madness", perhaps it's just as well.

Meanwhile. Sonic and Tails have come across some SWATbots who appear to be on auto-pilot. While checking things out, Tails make reference to a story element from "The Return" (#22)...a story set in a future Mobius where Sonic and Sally are married with children and which has since been sort of renounced as being only one future scenario among many. But it's still a scenario that Tails could have no way of knowing anything about. In any event, we don't linger on this major continuity gap as the SWATbot angle itself disappears down the loose continuity hole while Sonic and Tails respond to a call for help. Seems as if Arlo Aardvark has managed to get trapped under some debris. He's in such a bad way that he gives an inappropriate response to Sonic's feeding him a straight line; the routine is supposed to go: "Does it hurt?" "Only when I laugh." Penelope Platypus is no help -- she's too busy trying out that hand-waving thing Freddy suggested thirteen pages back. Sonic can't cut through the concrete by spin-dashing it, so it's time for...a Deus Ex Machina! In this case, his name is Rudyard and he's a roboticized Mobian who frees Arlo.

Quick break for the Fan Art page: Carrol Scheeweiss submits an anime-style Tails, Danielle Hardy sends in more anime-inspired art, Erin Middendorrf submits a fan art envelope showing Knuckles and Sally beneath the midnight sun, but the clear winner in the uniqueness category is Jeff Streets' Lego(tm) Sonic.

Back to the action: turns out Rudyard is the vanguard of a group of roboticized Mobians being led by Uncle Chuck, including Sonic's parents. Sonic does NOT take this news well; honked off at Uncle Chuck for not telling him, he does what he does best and runs away. Tails follows after. This reaction turns out to be a foretaste of what's to come; while Sally is ready to welcome Uncle Chuck and the others with open arms, at least one other member of the B Team has doubts. It's pretty hard to find anything like a Kodak moment here.

Outside the city limits, Tails listens as Sonic vents. Tails then tries talking to Sonic in dialogue that...well, there's something seriously OFF about it. It makes sense but begs for a rewrite. And left unspoken is the account of HOW Sonic's folks got that way. Uncle Chuck or Sonic's 'rents themselves will have to fill in that blank one of these issues. "Later that evening" (it says here), Sally is thinking seriously of abandoning the site and making a fresh start somewhere else. Nicole hints at "unexplored options" but further discussion of urban renewal also slips down the loose continuity hole as we take about 4 pages to have a go at the Sonic-Sally- Geoffrey jealousy bit. Geoffrey tells Sally if she's looking for a friend, "I'm just your MATE!" Uh, are you using "mate" as a noun or a verb, Geoff? Sally replies with the old "let's just be friends" line, indicating that she knows how she feels about Sonic but wants to know where the blue bachelor stands. Sonic arrives and decks Geoffrey, which starts a full-scale fight. The male bonding gets so intense that Sally has to get Bunnie and Antoine to literally hose them down. Unlike "The Quiet Man" where John Wayne and this other guy punch each other out all over this quaint backlot Irish village and at the end of it all become best buds, the fight settles nothing between Geoffrey and Sonic who exchange insincerities.

The pup tents on page 14 have grown up and turned into wall tents on page 35--must've installed an upgrade during the day. Using Nicole as a communicator, Sally chats with her father and reveals that she's been acting on his orders. That's OK, since he's still the legitimate ruler; the fact that he wants this kept secret from everyone else disturbs Sally and leaves a bad taste in MY mouth, too. There's a saying in 12-step groups that "You're only as sick as your secrets." Considering all the levels of secrecy at work (Geoffrey, Sally, the King, Uncle Chuck), cleaning up after Robotnik may be the LEAST of their problems. When Sally asks Nicole for an independent analysis she's basically told: "Deal with it." So she's come home to find the city a shambles, the populace divided, her love life nonexistent, and her father acting irrationally. Sort of like Scarlett O'Hara having returned to Tara from Atlanta in "Gone With The Wind" except that Sally lacks Scarlett's terminal bitchiness. I don't blame her for crying herself to sleep. If you don't want to crawl into that bottom panel and give that girl a hug, check your pulse!

And just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for Sally, she wakes up to discover that the roboticized Mobians have decided to separate themselves and start their own colony because they feel they no longer belong. Sally's plea that they remain united because "You're our fathers and mothers, our family and friends" falls on deaf ears...or deactivated sensors, as the case may be. Bunnie, symbolically enough, finds herself standing between the robotic and biological factions; she may have a future in the diplomatic service as an ombudsbunny. So here's where things stand: Sonic is upset at his Uncle Chuck, doesn't appear to be able to relate to his parents, and has a continuing grudge against Geoffrey, while Sally is having to cope with more problems than she ever had to face as a high school revolutionary. The roboticized Mobians feel alienated, and the King is manipulating both Geoffrey and his own daughter. Seems like the only Mobian who's having a good time at this point is Rotor, who's just got the airport computer back online so we can watch a transport ship leave the city for its weekly run to the Devil's Gulag. Great: the entire city is a dump and the infrastructure is a shambles but the prison system is still functioning--that's what you get for voting Republican. Don't ask me what that space-filling doodle is in the last panel on page 37; it looks like something from a Franz Kline abstract expressionist painting. Either that or Robotnik began roboticizing Mobians only after having tried crucifixion. There follows a one-page soliloquy by Snively, but does anyone in the reading audience really give a rat's rump about HIM?

Rating: Rings

Now THIS is the level of emotional involvement that Endgame should have tried for and that somehow got lost in the "pursuit of Sonic" plotline. The story works and you get the feeling that these characters (or at least some of them) have something like a complex emotional life and that they're not just reading lines and going through the motions. These vistas have always been waiting to be opened up by the Archie staff. Unfortunately, due to circumstances quite beyond their control in some respects, Archie continues to hedge its bets and sabotage its best efforts.

Perhaps the most egregious example can be seen on page 29 in the bottom panel. As reported by Alessandro Sanasi in his review, Sonic that panel because on orders from Sega (which thought that the Sonic drawn by Ken Penders looked "too depressed"), Pat Spaziante redrew Sonic so that IMHO he simply looks tired. A short art history lesson: Michelangelo not only painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but did a fresco on the wall behind the altar depicting "The Last Judgment." Many years after its completion, Pope Paul V (in the name of "reforming Roman morals," according to one writer) had the nude figures in the fresco "draped" by having other artists come in and paint over the genitalia of the figures. Once again, Sega has played Pope Paul V to Ken Penders' Michelangelo. It appears that the Sonic characters can only show as much emotion as Sega's Vice President In Charge Of Making Sure That Sonic Acts Cool will allow.

And he has to show the RIGHT emotion. That means that Sally gets to have a good cry but Sonic can't. Whether it's being confronted with Sally's body or discovering that his real father is still alive and that his surrogate father (Uncle Chuck) has been lying to him for years, there are always going to be at least two dry eyes in the house. Sexist? Of course, it is! "Big boys don't cry" must be the in-house motto at Archie, where the likes of Archie, Reggie, Betty, and Veronica haven't exactly been positioned as icons of male sensitivity or feminism. Archie Comics may, by its very editorial nature, be incapable of dealing with emotions beyond the level on display here, and frankly we'd better just get used to that fact. You want anything more honest, I can recommend a lot of decent fanfic out there.

What Archie CAN do is throw fight scenes at us. While the business with the Dynamac was good if a little long, the latest Sonic-Geoffrey scrap demonstrates that this angle is not only tired but has gotten to be unintentionally funny. Geoffrey's overuse of the word "mate" fails to approximate an Aussie accent and begins to underscore its double meaning for a furry. But in THIS story Ken has pushed the accidental humor into new territory. Not only do you have the overuse of "mate" and Sonic's sarcastic use of "luv" in addressing Geoffrey, we also have Geoff yelling "Let's have a go...!" while Hershey describes the two of them as "going at it like crazed pumas." This reminds me of the phrase "going at it like crazed voles" as used in the "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" episode titled something like "Looking For Parmah In All The Wrong Places". When Antoine and Bunnie finally have to "hose them down", it would appear that the next plot twist Ken plans to spring on us is that Sonic and Geoffrey will admit that they're really gay lovers.

Ken has admitted online that thinking up names for the characters is one of the hardest parts of the job. That is the only explanation that will allow me to forgive him for the names foisted on Sonic's parents, "Jules" and "Bernie." Not only is this too close to "Jules" and "Verne" (the names of Doc Brown's two sons in "Back To The Future 3"), but I've NEVER heard "Bernie" used as a short form for "Berneice" (which I presume was the full name for Sonic's mom). And having seen them in sketch form at Motown, I have to say that they looked more impressive in pencil. Barry Grossman's coloring of the roboticized Mobians is too jarring. Maybe I'm just too used to the more muted spectrum used in the cartoon where roboticized Mobians were gray or silver or slate or gun metal blue.

For all that, however, I'm just about ready to take back many of my reservations about a post-Knothole Sonic. This is the strongest level of narrative I've seen in a while, and Ken's work here begins to approach the level of his recent Knuckles work. I'm still not reconciled to the idea of "loose continuity" where a plot line or a story element is raised and then goes unaddressed for months on end, as opposed to a touch of foreshadowing of something that will happen in the next issue. But so long as the other writers on the Sonic team don't drop the ball, we may actually have something decent to look forward to.