Ever get the feeling that something you once loved just isn't quite what it used to be?
That's exactly how I now feel about Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog series. I remember it like it was yesterday: at long last the four-part Endangered Species was announced, promising new adventures with one of my favorite characters, Knuckles the Echidna, and his friends and allies. Julie-Su, Saffron, Remington, Lien-Da, and other favorites of mine hadn't been seen for, in some cases, many years. It had been a long time since an echidna-related plotline had been visited and I was ecstatic for the final result. Oh, if only I knew.
But before I get there, let me back up a bit and explain how this all started. One of the first issues I read was #199, which featured Julie-Su, Dimitri, Lien-Da, and the Dark Egg Legion. Having been a fan of the games beforehand, I knew the vast majority of the characters in that story, but the echidnas were the unknowns. Why did Knuckles (my second-favorite character at the time) have a girlfriend? Why was a cybernetic army under Eggman's thrall? Who was Grandmaster Lien-Da, and why was she conspiring with Snively? Just who WERE these guys? I distinctly recall doing some research on the Mobius Encyclopedia afterward, trying to learn more about the characters. I read about the history of Angel Island, the ancient echidna conflicts, the past of the Dark Legion, the characters Julie-Su and Lien-Da, and many more. I read about the other locales of Planet Mobius too, of course, but of all the plotlines the one that fascinated me the most was the history of the echidnas. Yep, I didn't realize it at the time, but I was a fan of the creations of Ken Penders.
My next exposure to echidna lore came in the form of the Echoes of the Past arc of Sonic Universe, starring Knuckles and the Chaotix. While the story didn't feature many echidnas aside from Rad Red, all the hints and references to older plotlines were intriguing. The "Brotherhood". Enerjak. Albion. The Dingo/Echidna rivalry. Aurora. Finitevus. There were all these footnotes referring to older issues, and I was eager to jump right in and find out just what the big deal was. Hoo boy, I gotta say, once I finally got the Enerjak: Reborn arc, my love of the echidna-related plotlines was solidified. To me, that arc was the absolute best thing--echidna-related or otherwise--Ian Flynn had written to date. Period. I loved the way he wrote everything from Locke, to Finitevus, to Julie-Su, to the Dark Legion. He had a natural aptitude for writing and developing those characters in a way that Ken Penders never did, as I would discover upon reading the first volumes of the Knuckles Archives.
Now, Penders' stories were ambitious, I'll give him that. They explored the character of Knuckles in ways that had never been done before. He did more for that one character than anyone else in the history of the Sonic Comics. He introduced character after character after character, constantly expanding upon the lore he had build beforehand, adding in more subplots and conflicts and backstories...but in time bit off more than he could chew. There was virtually no room left to focus on the titular character with his own supporting team, the Chaotix, pushed aside so the focus could be placed instead on seventeen old guys sitting around a table. The Brotherhood became the ultimate deux ex machina. And although the stories had always placed emphasis on the past, it became a burden to keep track of all the little subplots and one-note characters who would appear for one story and then vanish before being replaced by five more. Characters started becoming redundant, with multiple ones serving the exact same purpose. Half an issue was always devoted to some drawn-out Brotherhood/Legion flashback. It became too much for one comic to handle, especially once the Knuckles comic was cancelled, and from what I can gather from fan feedback and what's on Mobius Encyclopedia the writing problems only became worse. Honestly, I think the real problem here was that Penders was trying to cram this massive, convoluted epic of his own creation in a comic that was really meant for other things--namely Sonic the Hedgehog and the other Sega licensed characters. The page count simply wasn't enough for what he wanted to do.
Okay, semi-rant's over. So I guess in a way, I can understand why he felt so strongly the need to try to take his characters back from Archie. He had unfinished stories to tell. But he way he went about it left a lot to be desired and ticked off virtually the entire online fanbase in the process, myself included. But let's get back to the point, shall we? (I'll discuss the lawsuit stuff in another entry later, by the way.)
In time, Ian Flynn brought order to the chaos Penders had sowed. He cleaned up the old subplots (Albion, the Brotherhood, Echidnaopolis) and slowly reintroduced the characters in a way that made sense, tied in with previous creatives' work, and made them far more relevant to the comic as a whole than they had been before. For example, Dark Egg Legion, anyone? He succeeded in giving them a new purpose outside of "black-robed technological whackos menacing Angel Island". And even better, he started introducing his own characters and concepts, building on top of the previously-established lore. Enerjak, Dimitri, Spectre, Remington, Lien-Da, and others became ten times as interesting as they had been before, and for once they were being written by someone who knew how to tell a good interconnected story without going completely overboard with backstory.
For whatever reason, echidna-related stuff just kind of died off after that. Ian mentioned after the first Knuckles arc that he had another one planned for the end of 2010 or some time around there, but said plans never materialized, apparently due to Sega's executive meddling. In the end we only got tantalizing little tidbits of echidna-related goodies, such as more Dark Egg Legion stories, some Dimitri backups, and finally a few pages in #232 during which we were teased to a return of the Brotherhood. And then, in the solicits, the news hit like a bombshell: the four-part Endangered Species arc was coming, just a few months after some stupid Olympic Games tie-in. After seeing the initial covers and solicits, I was beyond excited.
Now I had known about the Penders lawsuit before and had worried about it for some time, but I (for the most part) bought Ian's argument that things would be all right. Little did I know that things weren't all right, and in time that would become blindingly obvious. When I got Sonic Universe #46, my heart sank as I immediately picked up on the fact that things weren't right. Rob o' the Hedge was gone despite being teased on #47's original cover. He and his wife Mari-An had been replaced by stand-in characters who had the exact same speech patterns, personalities, and weapons. I knew Ian wasn't the type to introduce redundant characters--he's no Penders. Additionally, the word "Dark Egg Legion" had been replaced, the Legionnaires no longer had their trademark hoods, Lord Hood wasn't called Grandmaster, and there was extremely suspicious lettering and differing fonts around places that looked like they should've mentioned Julie-Su and Saffron. What was I supposed to think? That Ian MEANT for the story to unfold this way? I wasn't fooled for a second. I took to the Bumbleking Forums with scans of Bow Sparrow and Thorn the Lop in tow and spread the news, knowing for a fact that Penders had won his frivolous copyright case.
When I got issue #243, the situation became clearer than ever. "Obvious rewrite" font was everywhere. The issue went out of its way to avoid mentioning any Penders concepts by name with the exceptions of Lien-Da and Remington (done out of story necessity I imagine). The Dark Egg Legion was "Eggman's army", the Brotherhood was "Knuckles' kin", the E.S.T. was "Remington's men", Albion was the "Echidna homeland", et cetera. My enjoyment of the story was already poisoned as I knew in the pit of my heart that the next issue wouldn't be what any of us echidna fans were expecting, and to my great disappointment, I was right again.
Just like that. POOF. All gone. All that buildup and character development for nothing. Every single echidna character aside from Knuckles had been rounded up and tossed into the Twilight Cage/alternate Zone/center of the Sun/wherever, and none of them were seen or mentioned by name for the remainder of the arc. The arc had essentially become bait-and-switch, regardless of whether or not it was intended by the comic creatives. Worse yet, plotlines that were supposed to have finished were left dangling. Fallout from Knuckles being Enerjak? Never happened. Him reuniting his family? Nope. Julie-Su and Saffron getting character development? Nada. The fate of Lien-Da and the Dark Egg Legion? Warp ring'd. All that lore building for naught. I was devastated--my favorite comic had just been destroyed before my very eyes.
I don't think I need to go into a longer description of how I feel about this; you can go search through my posts on Bumbleking if you're so inclined. For the moment, all we know is this:
-The Penders characters, including the echidnas, are gone for the foreseeable future.
-There was a VERY small window left behind for them to return in #246.
-Ian maintains that there will be more changes and that the book can live without the echidnas.
-The settlement between Penders and Archie seems to have failed and the case may be dropped altogether.
-And fans like myself have to watch as our favorite comic is neutered beyond repair.
I'm not reading the comic anymore if these asinine changes continue, of that you can be certain. I extended my subscription after Endangered Species out of hope that things would improve during the crossover, but after this recent garbage, my optimism is gone completely. As I've illustrated throughout this journal entry, the biggest reason why I was reading this comic in the first place was for the echidna plotlines, and now that said plotlines are gone I see no point in continuing to read the book. My excitement is gone and nothing Archie has to offer now can change that.
There is, however, a glimmer of hope. Ken Penders has made it clear that Archie has the choice to continue using his characters if they so choose. It makes sense, doesn't it? He wants royalties for his work, they don't want to pay him and they lost the lawsuit, ergo they removed the characters. Simple enough.
But there IS a way to change things. Archie may listen if we fans make our voices heard and make it abundantly clear to Archie Comics that we aren't putting up with them killing such a large portion of the book's history under any circumstances.[link]
This petition was put up a few days back by my friend
. He came up with the idea and wrote it out in the hopes that somehow, someway, it could have an affect on Archie's ultimate decision regarding the fate of the echidnas and other Penders characters.
(By the way, I suppose I might as well stop hiding it: I helped NiTRO with the petition and wrote the final version myself. No point in being dishonest with you guys. I'm passionate about this comic and don't want to see it ruined for the fans. ArchieSonic is a beloved franchise and deserves for its stories and lore to remain intact regardless of what some former writer wants.)
Now, does fan outcry usually work? Not by a long shot. Is the petition guaranteed to work if enough people sign it? Absolutely not. For all we know it's long past too late. But there's nothing wrong with trying, so if you've got a spare moment then please consider signing and spreading the word. Thanks.
Wow, what a long, rambling journal. It's getting awfully late over here in good ol' Ohio, so having said my piece I'm going to cut this off here before I start boring you guys, if I haven't already.
Thanks so much for reading, everyone, and I'll have a follow-up to this journal up soon. Good night.