I’m sure you’ve seen gender counterparts before. After Mickey Mouse became a household icon, they made Minnie Mouse as a love interest. When DC decided that Superman needed a counterpart to peer his ability, they eventually settled on Supergirl. When Mattel wanted to claw more of the market share through their Polly Pocket toys, out came Mighty Max. On paper, creating a gender counterpart for an established character isn’t in itself a bad thing; sure, your basic premise is “let’s take this person, but flip their gender”, but it’s a foundation so simple that it can be span into many creative, interesting and fun directions to suit whatever purpose the story and series needs it to.
And what happens when the most basic idea for a character concept goes wrong? You get me writing about you.
Unfortunately, the idea seems particularly vulnerable to mishandling and producing some really one dimensional or otherwise pretty bad characters, and the Archie Sonic comics are no stranger to this, especially when it’s had such a bloated cast in days gone by. Here, I’ll be listing my top five worst gender counterparts, and explaining why I don’t hold them in such high regard.
#5 – Liza the Chameleon
You know how people often describe unnecessary characters as doing nothing? Liza the Chameleon pretty much takes that very literally by contributing nothing. She first appeared in a single three story arc, between Knuckles #30-32. In these issues, Espio comes across Liza, and she leads him to a now-roboticised Valdez. She reveals that she did it because Espio, being Valdez’s best friend might be able to get through to him, but then Valdez has none of it, and she tells him that she always found Espio the better friend than him before she’s roboticised herself. Espio is sickened that Valdez could so happily roboticise someone and…that’s it. No really, she has no significance in the rest of the story; it’s all about Espio having to kill a former friend instead.
After this, she was never in a speaking role in a comic story again. Penders (her own creator) completely ignored her in the rest of his tenure, even the infamous Mobius: 25 Years Later, and she got two cameos during Ian’s run, both in Sonic Universe #16 (one to show how Espio went from the Dragon Kingdom to Rainbow Valley from the story mentioned in the first paragraph and one as part of the clan shot to show that she was with the Shinobi now). It was explained in a blog post (that now can’t be accessed. It was framed like her diary excerpt and she spoke with a valley girl tone, that much I remember) that Espio had directed Liza to the Shinobi clan after she was deroboticised by the Bem and rejected by the residents of Rainbow Valley, and an early concept for Chaotix Quest that was more focused on Mighty and Ray had her redesigned and on a first mission to tail the duo, but ultimately the story of Liza in the Shinobi clan never made the official pages aside from one frame. As such, she stands as a counterpart who had absolutely no role to fill.
#4 – Saffron Bee
What’s worse than having a superfluous character? Having a less superfluous character that’s dull as dishwater. Saffron had a long history in the Archie comic, but not an eventful one. She was always betroved to Charmy, but Charmy hated that and ran away from the hive and abandoned his royal role. After his best friend died of a drug overdose and he nearly died of the same, he finally decided to accept his role and left the Chaotix to be a prince and be with Saffron (…that actually sounds really messed up when you put it that way).
Since then, Saffron has appeared whenever Charmy has. They were together when they met up with Chaos Knuckles (after Saffron was talking about her plan for having six kids), tried to free him and inadvertently created Dr Finitevus. They were together when they finally reunited with the Chaotix after a five-year hiatus to report their colony having been taken over. They stuck together when they rejoined the Chaotix for good, Charmy got Egg Graped and Saffron essentially became his carer due to brain damage (that’s messed up period). But through all of this, did Saffron get a personality to call her own? Nothing beyond generic nice. She’s the plainest example of a character created for the sake of being a love interest, and she even got some typical girl power lines out in some stories to further enforce her role as the girl character. She did get her own niche once the Egg Grapes entered in the equation since she really was the best candidate to look after Charmy due to her history, but she still didn’t get a chance to really interact with the other members, so that role didn’t help her growth or uniqueness any.
To top it all off, the artists could never decide on a consistent look for Saffron. Between her debut story, the Chaos Knuckles story, “Return to Angel Island”, the post Knuckles-Enerjak fallout, the Egg Phoenix fight and the end of Iron Dominion, she had four different designs with one of them getting three variations. On top of that, “Endangered Species” was set to debut a fifth brand new design! This story was also planned to be her first outing without Charmy, so it might have been the opportunity to earn her wings, so to speak. But, just like Liza’s planned story, this all became scrap material due to circumstances (this one because of the lawsuit), so unfortunately she’s stuck as being remembered as girl Charmy and nothing more.
#3 – Fiona Fox
Out of all of the characters on this list, Fiona Fox had the most interesting groundwork to go off. Initially, she was set up as Tails’ gender counterpart, and her automaton clone even got Tails infatuated with her before she went and became seafloor decoration. But in a genuinely nice twist, the actual Fiona Fox was very different, having bad blood between Sonic, Mighty and Ray (yes, she was shown in her real form in the Segasonic the Hedgehog adaptation first), and eventually being shown as much older than Tails anyway. This sounds pretty neat, right?
Now, here’s where the wheels begin to come off. After the space arc where Sonic was gone for a whole year, Fiona joined the Brain Trust, which was a group of the Freedom Fighters and others who worked on all the smart stuff. This had other characters including Tails, Tommy Turtle and Snively (…it’s a long story). While part of the Brain Trust, Tails still harboured his crush on her, but she acknowledged that it wasn’t healthy for him so in no way tried to reciprocate it. Unfortunately, it seems her only purpose as part of the Brain Trust was to perpetuate the on-going love drama that was happening with every other character at time, especially when she ended up dating Sonic and he justified it under the guise that it was for Tails’ benefit (that’s nonsense and you know it), building up friction between him and Tails as well as Sally. It doesn’t help that she got little to nothing to do while part of the Brain Trust, and she wasn’t really shown interacting with her fellow trustees or the Freedom Fighters, nor really doing anything regarding her shady history outside doing what any hero would. In effect, she was made into a one dimensional character throughout that tenure.
But all that said, she did reach a turning point in development. Sonic’s sacrifice at the Quantum Dial had made her realise how his dedication saving everyone was genuine, and decided not to hold the prison thing against him. This is explicitly stated in #153, where she establishes this piece of history after she mistakenly thought that Sonic had been messing about with her in #150 (it was actually Anti-Sonic. It’s a long story…but keep that in mind), and she’d before laid out her values as trust and honesty and other such good values. And she and Sonic even started properly dating! But then, after Ian came on as a writer, Bean and Bark’s previous connections to her straight away threw the team into doubt with her, and eventually it came to light that she was creeping behind Sonic’s back and betrayed the Freedom Fighters. So, I’m guessing that her sordid history kept her isolated from the rest of the team, and while she had found a mutual understanding of Sonic her frigid dynamic with the rest of the team made her too uneasy to keep working and she splintered off as a result while still being respectful of Sonic, right?
Okay, she may have been bland before, but you’re supposed to spice them up by taking them in interesting directions with the development they have, not chuck it out a window, regress their character and then call that an improvement. This seriously does not gel with her established character traits; she may have had her treasure hunting history, but she was working to better herself, she stated that she was looking for honesty, trust and respect, and repelled Anti-Sonic’s advance because he was a sleaze ball, and you’re trying to tell me that she’d just suddenly go full bad just because she supposedly prefers bad boys now? I’m not buying it. It doesn’t help that I think it was just as problematic for her as the Brain Trust Direction. She tells the heroes that you can’t trust anyone, but then she blindly follows Scourge (they do try to call her out on this, but nothing comes of it). This split contributed to the reasons Sonic and Tails fought in House of Cards, which was generally a terrible story (granted, there were other reasons, but Sonic and Tails fighting over girl trouble is just a bit…why). And throughout her tenure as Scourge’s evil girlfriend, all she ever did was obsess over Scourge by following whatever plan he had and going so far as to locate him and break him out of prison, without really having a contribution outside of that. The gut punch Sally gives to her in Sonic Universe #15 is supposed to be a triumphant moment of her getting what she deserves (and a counter to her trying to manipulate Tails’ previous feelings…which she previously recognised as creepy, so she’s being a massive creep there), but it rings hollow to me when that came with such a mess going up to that moment.
Just like the others, Ian apparently had plans for her that would delve into her loyalty to Scourge, but I can only judge by what we got, and what we got was a mess, on top of what happened before her evil turn. Despite this very long dissection though, she’s hardly one I outright hate. To her credit, she was the gender counterpart who had the best concept behind them, and the one who had the most potential for interesting stories throughout. They just got badly executed in the end. At the very least, she’s not a character I’d say was toxic to the narrative and would have been better off not existing. That’s reserved for the next two.
#2 – Zan the Dragon
Zan was a very minor character. He only appeared in the two-part arc “Crouching Hedgehog, Hidden Dragon” (Sonic #106-107) and was killed by the end of it on top of that. He acted as a counterpart to Dulcy, with even his type of dragon (Eastern) contrasting with Dulcy being a Western dragon. But if he was so minor in the long run even compared to the likes of Liza, how could he rank so high? In a nutshell, given that Sonic is aimed at young kids and the franchise prefers to avoid romance altogether…
Domestic abuse should never have been a thing in Sonic the Hedgehog.
Zan’s story starts out simple enough with him terrorising Station Square (which is more SA2 influenced because they’d just adapted that) because he’s a big meanie, it’s all goes down south when the Freedom Fighters find Dulcy and she reveals that she and Zan and are mates for…no reason. He goes into full stereotype territory, being controlling, having a superiority complex and being generically evil, culminating in tail slapping Dulcy, her being in denial by insisting that he loves her, and still being remorseful about him when he dies. She even has flashbacks to the time he was abusing her in her last story (“The Price of Flame”). This is all compounded by the fact that she was still a young teen by the time the story came out (and likely was by the time the reboot happened), while he seems like at least adult age which makes it go into very creepy territory. And with Ian only opting to have her cameo in Bunnie and Antoine’s marriage (and the subsequent disaster) and in Prelate form in “Fractured Mirror”, time hasn’t allowed the memory of this awful, unsuitable character to be relegated to ancient history. Hopefully when she fires up the scene in #281, Dulcy can finally be rid of her ridiculous baggage.
#1 – Julie-Su
Let’s be honest; if you knew even a little about the Archie Sonic comic, you’d probably be able to guess that Julie-Su would be here. I don’t have any particular agenda to be unpredictable, and with her racking up the history she has, there’s no reason for me to go against the grain. And boy, there’s a lot to talk about with her.
First, let’s go over something that’s been a blight on the comic since her very debut; the Soultouch. In her very first appearance (Knuckles #4), she’s working as a Dark Legionnaire, but the moment she catches sight of Knuckles, she drops everything to follow him, because she felt a weird sensation which came to be known as the Soultouch. Soultouch, in this comic, is an Echidna-exclusive sense that brings soulmates together forever, regardless of how little interaction they’ve had before. In Julie-Su’s case, it’s a plot device to get her to be paired with Knuckles as soon as possible without having to write in ‘boring’ stuff like development or conquering the obstacle that is their alignment divide, since that only became an issue very briefly when she rejoined the Dark Legion for about three issues. Knuckles #16 actually manages to present this as a very creepy concept when Lara-Le asks Jenna-Lu about her relationship with Saber (a guardian, and her ex-husband’s father), and it ends with the mother just blankly stating that she’d be lost without him. In fact, Lara-Le was the only character who ever got to explore Soultouch as she managed to divorce her soultouched husband and re-marry. Ken Penders was going to make her hook back up with Locke, but thankfully that didn’t pan out. Julie-Su herself never questions it, just like the many wives of guardians before, in spite of the fact she’s supposed to be the rebellious and feisty one.
Then there’s the fact she spent a good while dominating the narrative and the team because they wanted to show how much better she was than the others (bar Knuckles). She has that very cliché and 90s “girl power” thing and it’s played off here very poorly. Everyone bends over backwards to accommodate her or agree with her point of view/plan (the one time she rejoined the Legion and was arrested after? Immediately resolved by Archimedes convincing the EPD to release her, and making her part of the Chaotix to boot!). This means that she’ll often become the primary focus at the expense of the rest of the Chaotix or other characters (two primary examples being her avoiding being poisoned in the Lemon Sundrop Dandelion plot because was written as being above that, and the Chaotix being reduced to a cameo in Knuckles #16 as Julie-Su insists that she’s the only one who can talk to Knuckles). The only characters who won’t pander to her are the Dark Legion and Vector, who ends up ostracised for not trusting her even though that’s perfectly sensible after she’d defected just days ago on the supposed basis that she felt she had to be with Knuckles. Even in the later stories with her, she was always attached to Knuckles save for maybe an inconsequential story or two.
And yet, while she dominated the limelight, she didn’t get any interesting stories for the benefit of her development. The whole Dark Legion defection thing? Glossed over in three issues as mentioned above. The fact that she had her mind wiped by her half-siblings twice? She never cared about it. She wasn’t involved in the Dark Legion/Brotherhood conflict even though, like Knuckles, she should have been near the forefront of that, nor was her relation with her own family really explored beyond some scant remarks here and there. She didn’t get much interaction with her own team outside of Knuckles and arguing with Vector, isolating her further. She didn’t even really contribute much to the fighting, with her being side-lined in many of the conflicts early on and after that usually only contributing her blaster occasionally, and other abilities very seldomly. Instead, she was often a paperweight whose main function was to pander to Knuckles. While the romance talk and pointless drivel didn’t apply as much to later stories, she still didn’t get much action out of things, with conflicts she was involved in resolving around her, not so much from her actions. The most I recall for her that was different was becoming a personal trainer for Amy for a story, and that only stemmed from Amy trying to get with Sonic by seeing Julie-Su sparring with Knuckles, and it finished with her right back with him. It appears that Ian was going to do something with her and Amy again in Endangered Species but, like everyone else, that was a story that never played out.
Forget the fact she was a gendered counterpart, I’d call her the worst character period…in the entirety of the franchise. Potential quashed right out the gate, having the most contrived means of being a love interest ever, contributing nothing while hurting the narrative potential for Knuckles interacting with others, having nothing defining her in nearly 20 years in the comic, she’s always been a bad character and I doubt she could have been salvaged after so long in that rut. And it seems I’m not alone on that thought; on a recent podcast (the BumbleKast, episode #9), Ian elaborated on what characters he would bring back if he could. He got excited over several fan-favourites such as Shard, Elias, Lien-Da and Dr Finitevus, but when Kyle brought up Julie-Su, it was met with a resounding “Eh”. When the guy who loves to take old concepts and breathe new life into them can only muster apathy for your existence, you have truly got a failure on your hands.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the gendered counter-parts that have been in the comic or the franchise at large, but these are the ones I feel needed particularly calling out for their dubious quality over the years. In the new continuity, I don’t think there’s been a character that could be called an Archie-created gendered counterpart yet because the philosophy and goal is to bring in as many unique and unusual species as possible. Wendy Naugus is one, but she was in Tails Skypatrol (and called Witchcart) first so wouldn’t even count. Time will tell if they do decide to bring any more in, and whether their quality is up to par or worthy of a list like this.