Sonic Super Special #4 Review by Dan Drazen
"Return Of The King"
"Endgame - Epilogue: Down And Out In Downunda"

Karl Bollers And Mike Gallagher(W)
Sam Maxwell And Nelson Ortega(A)
Spaz/Harvo cover: Sonic standing like Luke Skywalker in the old "Star Wars" posters, holding aloft the Sword of Acorns. In the background are Uncle Chuck and King Acorn.

Spaz/Harvo frontispiece: in the words of the Firesign Theater's Peter Bergman: "Now I'm going to repeat that again for those of you on drugs": Sonic standing like Luke Skywalker in the old "Star Wars" posters, holding aloft the Sword of Acorns. In the background are Uncle Chuck and King Acorn. Actually, there's a little more to THIS version, but not much, and it's mostly around the edges and in the background. But why use a modified enlargement of the frontispiece art for the cover? "Deadline pressures" is the best explanation I can come up with; certainly, it's the most charitable.

"Pippin looked out from the shelter of Gandalf's cloak." Oops; right title, wrong story....

"Dusk." Not a bad opening, really. "Mobotropolis' anthropomorphic citizenry" watch as "the Royal Skyship" (which looks a little like it's on loan from Bruce Wayne) lands under the watchful eye of King Acorn. "And what does this all mean?" For one thing, it means that the Knothole crowd changed planes somewhere between Sonic #56 and this installment; they were last seen getting on what looked like a Boeing 757 at the end of "Immortality is Forever and I Am He and You Are Me and We Are All Together." True Fact: I recently received an e-mail from Art Mawhinney (I'm not worthy!!!) who said that it's tough doing art for a story after you haven't worked on a few installments -- the continuity is miles ahead of you. So we'll let that pass. I'm feeling so generous I won't even beat up on Sam Maxwell for BLOWING a plot point on Page 3. I won't beat up on him YET, anyway.

Kingie greets the troops, saying that he's "fully recovered." Gee, that green, faceted complexion could've fooled me. But he makes it clear that he's talking about his attitude, because he then announces that he's called off the dismantling that he ordered during "Rise of the Robians" (Sonic #55). This prompts question marks to start floating above the heads of the characters, who suddenly start playing hardball devil's advocate and accusing the roboticized Mobians of planning a surprise attack....

OK, at this point, I had question marks floating above MY head! This struck me as such a break of character I actually started reading the story over again. And it only got worse as Sonic bad-mouths Uncle Chuck AND his parents! This apparently is enough to push the Mad Monarch over the brink into total crystallization and a complete reversal of his reversal as he issues the dismantling order yet again! Looks like the cover art isn't the only example of deja vu on display here.

We then cut to "several hours later" as what reminds me of Thunderbird #2 is coming in for a landing carrying...the Knothole gang? This is turning out to be a bumpy ride, for them AND thereader.

Our heroes appear to have landed (quite roughly) in the middle of a police action, with the "guards" (several Mobians of undetermined species) so intent on what they're doing they ignore Sally and the others. Sonic gets the attention of one guard, who informs them that the dismantling is going on but the roboticized Mobians (sorry, I don't like the term "Robians") aren't going along with it. And Antoine asks the same question I had: how could the Knothole crowd be in two places at once? The explosion of their airship (which has been burning merrily away in the background all this time) puts a stop to that line of questioning as everyone takes cover in that most basic of plot devices, an abandonedbuilding.

OK, so it's NOT abandoned: Uncle Chuck and some other armed roboticized Mobians are inside. The overwhelming sentiment is to ventilate the furries, but Sonic does an admirable two-step: first he disarms the unfriendlies, then he pleads with Uncle Chuck (to the extent that he's allowed to emote) to believe him: "I've never lied to you and I'm not gonna start now! Lies were what kept us apart...." This concept seems to have eluded the Floating Island's Guardians, for whom secrecy and covert operation appear to be abiding principles. Just as Sonic and Uncle Chuck appear to be on the verge of turning to the same page of the hymnal, Uncle Chuck takes a direct hit from a blaster.

I'd like to report that there's not a dry eye in the house as Sonic's uncle meets his maker, but this IS a Sonic comic we're talking about so there isn't an eye in the house that ISN'T dry. Not that Sam Maxwell doesn't try for some emotional impact in the second and third panels on Page 15 (I THINK it's Page 15 -- they're unnumbered for whatever reason) where Sonic COULD be crying if you used your imagination. Anyway, the guard who did the nasty trips over the duffle bag containing the Sword of Acorns which Sonic is about to use to skewer the guy when who shows up to try to talk Sonic down but...his parents. Sonic relents, the Sword goes FWAASH (great, a sword with a speech impediment!), and it's migraines all around. Not only is everyone momentarily blinded, but Uncle Chuck is resurrected. It appears that the Sword does a lot more than leach energy from Chaos Emeralds, especially When Used for Good Instead of Evil. The guard then tells Sally he doesn't know what's going on. Show of hands: who can relate? He claims he's suffered a blackout since their arrival at the Castle...yeah, but WHICH arrival? I counted two! When in doubt blame it on magic, and thanks to Sam Maxwell's broad hint back on Page 3 panel 2, the number of suspects is conveniently narrowed down to one.

We next see Sonic back at the palace calling out Naugus, who has taken up residence in the King's corpus. It appears that Sonic is about to be ambushed by palace guards (I say "appears" because the layout is a little confusing) but once more the Sword neutralizes the spell the guards were under. Sonic then pursues the King to the roof where the mineralized monarch threatens to jump. Sonic calls Naugus' bluff, the King goes bungee jumping without a cord, Sonic dives after him with sword in hand, there's another FWAASH, and we see both of them on the ground apparently shaken but otherwise unharmed. The King credits the deus ex machina (Sword) with having saved them, but goes on to say that though he isn't possessed by Naugus anymore, he's stuck with being crystallized. Sally responds with a heartfelt: "Oh, Dad! I don't care! I love you crystallized or not!" Which would have made a great moment if it hadn't been shrunk to the size of a postage stamp and tucked into the corner of another panel where we see several Mobians do their best to give themselves hernias while trying to dislodge the Sword from a stone in which it has embedded itself. Yeah, the old King Arthur bit. The King steps up to the plate, extracts the Sword, it gives off yet another FWAASH and...

We are now on the last page of the story, and the captions on this page deserve to be quoted in their entirety: And when the light given off from the magical relic fades, the ruler stands restored, a creature of flesh and blood. On his head rests the real Crown of Acorns...restored from the "Hall of Limbo!" A place that was never too far from the King--for the "Hall of Limbo" was in his own mind all along! The End.

Rating: 1/2 Rings

I've seen abrupt endings, I've seen ambiguous endings, I've seen trick endings, but my immediate reaction was that this was a STUPID ending! Maybe not on a par with the ending of "Altered States" but still pretty stupid! As a way of pulling together the story from its origin back in Sonic #42, it works. But by blithely stating that the "Hall of Limbo" was all in the King's head Karl Bollers drains the whole "Knuckles' Quest" arc of any real significance. Not that I was ever able to take its dimestore mumbo-jumbo and patently phoney characters all that seriously, but to dismiss it so freely is a little disconcerting. It reminded me of several things, neither of them complimentary to Karl Bollers as a writer: I was reminded of the ending of "Through The Looking Glass" where Alice wonders aloud whether the foregoing was her dream or her kitten's. It also reminded me of the handcuff bit from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?": "You mean to tell me you could have gotten out of those cuffs at any time!?" "No, not ANY time; only when it was funny!"

OK, maybe the King also needed the Royal Toad Sticker to make the transformation work, and the solution WAS, I'll admit, something of a surprise, but the narrative rhythm (already undercut by the beginning interlude which must have taken place within the King's subjective reality) came to a screeching halt at the end. There was no sense of resolution, except in the last panel of the last page. The ending felt like: "Let's wrap this thing up and get out of here!" Karl Bollers is a good writer, though his talent comes through here only in small moments such as when Sonic bends over his fallen Uncle Chuck. The narrative should have been a LOT more satisfying than this, and might have been with a less-abruptending.

Sam Maxwell's art is becoming more solid, and this script gives him a chance to work with a wider emotional range (the dictates of Sega notwithstanding). It half-worked: Sonic's face showed more variety but Sally wore the same exact expression half the time. Maxwell's use of character silhouettes is becoming something of a stylistic trademark. Sometimes it works; in the last panel, actually showing the character's faces as they react to the King's restoration might have made the sequence too melodramatic. Sometimes it doesn't, as in the infamous panel on page 3 where he throws in Naugus's shadow as a tease. And he shouldn't be afraid of using actual animal species for his models-- I had no idea what kind of animal several of the supporting players were supposed to be, especially the guard who blasted the (temporary) hole in Uncle Chuck. The story is a turning-point in the Sonic continuity, but it feels like they took the corner toosharply.

And while we're busy cleaning out the Sonic closet...

Backup Story: By now, we all know that this "anticipated narrative" was originally left on the cutting-room floor. In fact, this probably ISN'T the dregs of "Endgame" that never saw the light of day. For one thing, Archie apparently learned its lesson and assigned ONE artist and ONE writer to handle what, in the original, was probably divided up among several writers and artists. For another, this particular installment, with padding at the front and the back, goes for 16 pages and wouldn't account for ALL the pages that were cut from Ken Penders' anticipated 40-page version of "The Big Goodbye." Finally, there were so many OTHER plot holes in "The Big Goodbye" that this story doesn't really explain much BESIDES the Downunda subplot. Antoine seems to have gotten over the case of testosterone poisoning he suffered in "The Map" (Battle Royal special), and he and Bunnie are once again an item as the coosome twosome begin the flashback. Let's look at the original set-up: Bunnie and Antoine have been chained to the wall of a cell by Crocbot. Bunnie's been hot-wired to blow Antoine's head off should she move her robotic limbs. Walt Wallaby and Barby Koala happen to share the cell. Unlike the bad continuity shown by Sam Maxwell in "Escape From The Floating Island" (Sonic #49), Barby looks beaten up throughout. I haven't made up my mind whether or not that's a good thing. Bunnie slips her one non-bionic limb free but a fat lot of good THAT does because she can't undo the lock on Antoine's collar. Barby comes to the rescue with a set of Knuckles-like claws she had installed at the Deus Ex Machina Plastic Surgery Clinic. I mean, c'mon! THAT one's from so far out in left field it's ridiculous! Moments later there's an explosion, and the Com-Bot standing guard outside their cell assumes that Antoine's collar got too tight all of a sudden. Entering the cell expecting to find some crispy critters, he's jumped by the four prisoners who then beat up on some more Combots and release the other Downunda Freedom Fighters. Meanwhile at the loading dock Crocbot demonstrates the ongoing lack of honor among villains by instructing a Com-Bot to install a "miniature thermo-nuclear timebomb" in Robotnik's war room. What IS this with Gallagher and nuclear weaponry? (c.f. "Mecha Madness"). Just then, the Downundas jump the Com-bots while Crocbot gets the call from Robotnik that established the one solid link between this story and the Endgame arc.

Bunnie and Antoine, meanwhile, have slipped aboard the transport and find themselves "in the communication nerve center" where they JUST HAPPEN to access Robotnik blabbing his head off about the Ultimate Annihilator without his specifying exactly HOW it's supposed to wipe Knothole out of existence. Bunnie does some channel-surfing and also JUST HAPPENS to discover that one of the Combots is carrying a nuclear device. They get the device, Antoine announces their plan to install it in the war room, they jump ship; that's about it, really.

Rating: Rings

I counted THREE separate explanations of what happened to Robotnik and his mad scheme in the climax of "The Big Goodbye":

1. There was a bomb in the War Room and it went off, destroying the Ultimate Annihilator (page 18, panel 2);

2. The wires on the Ultimate Annihilator got crossed and it blew up (page 19, panel 5);

3. The Ultimate Annihilator worked as advertised, but only annihilated Robotnik because Snively reprogrammed it (page 24,panel 4).

THIS story alters NONE of the confusion left over from Sonic #50 while throwing its weight behind Theory #1, but despite that it still proves to be a pretty standard Escape from the Heavily-armed Fortress story. I sort of like Nelson Ortega's almond-eyed Bunnie, but everything else was routine. And of course this story begs the question of why Archie didn't run this story (or what had been planned for it) SIX MONTHS AGO when "Endgame" wrapped up. Still, this is probably as close to "Endgame: The Director's Cut" as we're going to get. It serves as a reminder of how coherent the story arc COULD have been.

Overall Rating: 1/2 Rings