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Archie Sonic Online review: Endangered Species pt. 1


Lorekitten

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In many ways, the Archie Sonic series "Endangered Species" was the end of an era, or at least the beginning of the end. I won't go into all the details of the Ken Penders drama or try to determine which side was 'right' (or at the very least, less wrong than the other), but suffice to say that due to Penders suing for the rights to 'his' characters, the arc was completely gutted of its original plan and most of its cast, leading up to the imminent reboot of the series to cut out any characters from previous writers that could prove problematic in the future.

Archie Sonic Online's Endangered Species rewrite, consisting of the last three issues of the four-issue series (the first issue remains canon), is likewise the end of an era, but also a new beginning. It wraps up basically every dangling plot thread from Ian Flynn's run of the echidnaverse (aside from the fate of the Brotherhood, but they have to leave some plot hooks if they want to keep making issues) and potentially opens the gates to a new age of echidna-dom that Ken Penders never would have given us. While it has its flaws and I will not be shy about pointing them out, writing-wise, it is still quite possibly the best conclusion we could've reasonably gotten to the long-running, contentious echidnaverse blood feud drama, even if we never got it officially.

And on that note, it's only fair to warn y'all: Archie Sonic Online spoilers ahead! I will be going into very specific detail in this review, page by page, so if you haven't read the issues, I recommend you read the issues before reading the review. I know, I know -- if you're reading the review in hopes of knowing whether you should read the comic or not, it's kind of not super great to have the review spoil the entire storyline... but honestly, I think you should read the comic first. It's a great comic, it's absolutely free, and it's what we should've had in a better timeline.

This series will be split into three articles, one for each issue.

Spoiler

So while the first issue of the officially licensed Endangered Species arc remains canon, ASO has still labeled their 'second' issue of Endangered Species as "Endangered Species #1," which is a bit confusing if you think too hard about it. In all honesty, I didn't even realize this one existed until I'd already read the other two, leading to some degree of confusion... but given that it's been ages since I read the Archie comics anyway, I just chalked that up to my not remembering what came before it and left it at that.

The issue opens up with the Freedom Fighters battling the Dark Egg Legion and Metal Knuckles to try to rescue Lara-Le, Knuckles' mother and the matriarch of Albion. Albion, in case any of you are a bit rusty on echidna lore, is the ancestral home of echidna-kind and currently home to the last remaining echidna civilization on the planet aside from the Dark Egg Legion, which is working for Dr. Eggman because Lien-Da is absolutely horrible at picking 'allies.' This issue opens with a bang in a snappy first panel of Metal Knuckles throwing Sonic several feet, which I appreciate (sorry Sonic). Metal Knuckles and Lien-Da have a short conversation to deliver some necessary exposition: Enerjak 'stole' the Dark Legion's cybernetics (honestly, 'destroyed' would've been a more accurate term), the Dark Legion went to Dr. Eggman to get them back, and as far as Metal Knuckles cares, the DEL shouldn't "forget [their] place" as Eggman's new flunkies.

Remington calls for the Albion army to retreat, but stays behind because he's a major enough character that he's got enough protagonist syndrome to stand a chance of surviving this story arc. (I may be reading my meta knowledge into this.) Lien-Da taunts Remington's perceived cowardice, comparing him to the Brotherhood of Guardians. Remington states that he's not running away, attempts to freaking shoot Lien-Da then and there (a perk of not being officially licensed is that ASO can entirely get away with this), and Lien-Da simply dodges, grabs Remington's arm, and COMPLETELY ELECTRIFIES HERSELF and Remington with her.

Yep. Those are some 'upgrades' Eggman fixed her up with after the Iron Queen blew her up.

(On that note, and this has nothing to do with the rewrite itself, but my brother had a headcanon that Lien-Da post Iron Dominion wasn't actually Lien-Da, but an Auto-Automaton that believed that it was Lien-Da, because that made a lot more sense than Lien-Da violating the Chunky Salsa Rule, a TTRPG rule in which if your character's head is reduced to the consistency of chunky salsa, they cannot be revived by any means whatsoever. While I absolutely agree with this, there's no evidence that the ASO team feels the same way, so we can reasonably assume that in their rewrite, Lien-Da is still Lien-Da, just with a lot of parts replaced.)

But seriously, Lien-Da's new power is freaking awesome. I'm not sure how either she or her cyborg implants survive the whole electric overdrive thing, but given that just Lien-Da still being alive is already stretching the suspension of disbelief even for a comic book about cartoon animal people with superpowers, I'm willing to accept it as Rule of Cool.

Sonic, Tails, and Amy get knocked out immediately afterwards, leading to the title drop of "Endangered Species part two: In Captivity," which further confuses the heck out of me because you can't have an issue be both issue #1 and issue #2 at the same time and expect people to understand that right off the bat. This is admittedly a minor quibble, but it's a quibble that led to my initially missing this entire issue's existence until I'd already read both issues after it, so for me it's not really as minor a quibble as you might think.

"A few hours later," a hooded Legionnaire named Syntar reports to 'Command' that they've finished rounding up the citizens of Albion. One of the echidnas (a female in a blue robe who's got a complex enough character design that she probably has a name but I didn't know it when first writing this and the issue hasn't revealed it yet at this point) tells off the Legionnaires, stating that the Avatar (aka Knuckles' prophetic title as alleged messiah of the echidnas as seen in Return to Angel Island) is going to save them all. When the Legionnaires state that Knuckles is probably too busy sitting on a certain pretty green rock, she snaps back that "The Avatar works in mysterious ways," after which a warp ring opens up and someone on the other side of it cracks a joke that I won't spoil if you haven't actually read the thing... but seriously, read the thing.

Knuckles, Julie-Su, and Saffron Bee appear from the portal, with some unidentified NPC stating "It's the Chaotix!" ...even though technically it's only three of the Chaotix. Julie-Su starts blasting, Saffron starts stinging, and Knuckles... throws what looks like his warp ring at a Legionnaire, knocking them senseless. This is somehow enough cavalry to turn the tide of the battle to where the abductors become the abductees and vice-versa (don't ask why), and then Knuckles asks for some necessary exposition.

The blue-robed echidna explains that Eggman sent the DEL to attack Albion, and while the Albionians had initially been able to fend them off, the DEL did manage to kidnap the matriarch and much of New Albion's population. Remington and a bunch of background echidnas went off to rescue them with the help of "Team Fighters" (the Freedom Fighter group responsible for field missions, iirc), but they haven't come back.

Meanwhile, Saffron tries to comfort a crying echidna child named Bimmy, stating that they'll rescue everybody. This leads to a poignant flashback where Saffron reflects on the genocide of Golden Hive Colony and her husband Charmy's permanent brain damage from his time in the Egg Grapes, leaving Saffron determined that they cannot leave these people to suffer the way her people have. NGL, that was one of the most impactful moments in not just the issue, but possibly the entire run of ASO thus far.

It's clear why the writers chose Saffron Bee as the one Chaotix member to accompany Knuckles and Julie-Su to Albion, even if strategically it makes no sense to leave half the Chaotix behind on a matter of preventing the de facto genocide of Knuckle's entire race. The real reason most likely being that this arc has enough characters to deal with as it is and neither the story nor the panel space had room for the whole crew, which I suppose is a reasonable meta explanation. It just doesn't feel like a decision the characters would've actually made under the circumstances, especially with the backstory of two Chaotix members already suffering from their entire civilization's destruction.

And while we're on the subject of hopefully constructive criticism, the artwork on some of these panels leave a lot to be desired. Saffron's face in the last panel on this page is hard to read emotionally, and the stiff pose and an emotionless expression on Julie-Su when she shoots at the Legionnaires on the previous page just doesn't do her character justice. There are a few other panels throughout the issue where one character or another should've been entirely redrawn, but this story is good enough that I'm not going to pause the action to point them out for the sake of criticism.

Getting back to the story, another visually complex and clearly named echidna woman whose name I don't know (she wears a purple robe and golden bands around her dreadlocks) states that the prisoners are likely at the capitol building awaiting legionization. Knuckles orders everyone who can fight to "follow me and Komi-Ko," who in context may be the blue-robed echidna or may be the golden-banded echidna. Honestly, both their names should've been revealed earlier in the issue and in a clearer fashion because while this arc's main audience is people who are actually familiar with the inner workings of the echidnaverse, I am not one of them, and quite frankly given who was initially writing the echidnaverse, I see no reason to go through the trouble of subjecting myself to anything that came before Tossed in Space's soft reboot of the series. But that's besides the point.

Knuckles, of course, is not thrilled about being called the Avatar, quietly brooding on how he 'ruined everything' -- an obvious reference to his time as Enerjak and its aftermath. Saffron asks Knuckles not to get upset, pointing out that the Chaotix are Albion's only hope, and Knuckles admits that they need to put on a brave face for these citizens, also calling out Julie-Su as the one who made the joke that I will not spoil because you should really read this arc for yourself. The Chaotix discuss how they shouldn't go to Lien-Da without a plan, wondering if that's what Sonic and his friends did, which serves as a good segue into Sonic and his friends regaining consciousness in furry jail.

Remington has survived (of course), and he apologizes to Lara-Le for failing to rescue her. Lara-Le remains confident that Knuckles will come to save them because of course he will, but Lien-Da doesn't share that sentiment, bragging that not only will she legionize the entirety of the remaining echidna race, but she'll also get to gloat over bringing the one and only Sonic the Hedgehog to heel. Sonic snarks off that technically it was Metal Knuckles that knocked him out, so it's not even her victory, to which Lien-Da expresses surprise that Sonic's kept his defiance even under the circumstances, but states that once he's legionized that won't be an issue anymore.

Remington points out that half of the Dark Legion had already joined the other echidnas to rebuild their homeland and 'start anew,' asking why Lien-Da and her remaining loyalists didn't do the same. Lien-Da points out Remington's history as the leader of the Frost Legion, a plot point that was mentioned once in a side story and then was forcibly resolved in the New Enerjak arc before anything could really come of it; personally I wish Flynn had actually done something with this concept instead of starting it with a line of exposition and ending it with a line of exposition with nothing whatsoever in between, but that's hardly a criticism of the ASO team -- honestly, I'm pretty darn happy they're showing that long-forgotten plot point actually had an effect on Remington's character arc.

Lien-Da claims that without Remington's whole Frost Legion nonsense, she could've accomplished her goals to take Angel Island, put an end to Dr. Finitevus's evil plots, and "saved us with the Master Emerald myself." This last line makes me wonder: what exactly does she mean by this? Did she have plans to become the next Enerjak? Would she have acted on them, and would she have fallen to the same sort of mind control hex that Finitevus used for Knuckles? And would literally anyone have bothered to sacrifice themselves to break the hex? I suppose if the purpose had been to stop the super-powered mad demigod of chaos energy, that would've been easily enough for any of the heroes... but now I can't help but wonder who, in this hypothetical scenario, would've been the one to end it all (in more ways than one). Although honestly, I don't think I'd be against just using Locke's anti-Enerjak superweapon to stab her in the heart and be done with it. She would not be missed.

Remington admits that his time in the Egg Grapes left him "[not] of sound mind and body" when Finitevus manipulated him into joining the Dark Legion and starting the civil war between the Flame and Frost legions. But that period in his life did give him more empathy and understanding for the Dark Legion's perspective, and he states that "both sides just want the fighting to end," asking why Lien-Da doesn't realize this. Lien-Da writes this off as naivety, stating that the DEL can't leave Eggman's service, to which Tails innocently asks if it's because of the bombs in their cybernetics.

Just as a reminder, only Lien-Da and Dimitri out of the entire DEL were aware of the bombs in the DEL's cybernetics, and Lien-Da assumed that Dimitri must be dead by now. The only example the DEL have previously seen of a Legionnaire with an explosive in their cybernetics was when the Iron Queen made Lien-Da violate the Chunky Salsa Rule, and even then they could've just assumed that she'd hidden the bomb inside her cybernetics herself and intended to bring it out later as a grenade. So naturally this sudden revelation does not go over well with the Legionnaires who just found out they're essentially de facto suicide bombers. And anyone who knows what happened to Antoine with Metal Sonic (which I still feel sad about ngl) is fully aware that Robotnik won't hesitate to pull the trigger as soon as it serves his purposes.

"Meanwhile, in the streets of Albion..." we see a Legionnaire get captured by a hulking figure who pulls out one of the Legionnaire's quills (or hairs) and reveals himself to be... Thrash the Tasmanian Devil, who HAS been worked into the ASO version of Endangered Species despite not having originally been a part of what Ian Flynn planned before the whole Ken Penders drama happened. You can probably see where this is going, but it might not end the way the canon version did... right?

Meanwhile, back with the Chaotix (all three of them), we see Golden Bands trying to teach Blue Robes how to handle a blaster without shooting herself in the foot (which she doesn't actually do, but solely because she has no idea where the trigger is; she's a gun accident waiting to happen). Julie-Su decides that while Saffron and 'Komi-Ko's' group takes out the Legionnaire guards, she'll disguise herself as a Legionnaire and sneak in to free everyone. Knuckles's job is to take out Metal Knuckles, which leads to another humorous exchange that I won't spoil.

The fight itself isn't really much to write home about. We learn that Golden Bands is apparently Komi-Ko, with Blue Robes being Crystal-La, which is hard to figure out because she's colored inconsistently within the span of literally two pages; to be fair, character recolor debacles are not unheard of in the Archie comics (most infamously with Sally in the early issues), but I do think they could've done some more thorough proof-reading before releasing this. Metal Knuckles tells Knuckles that he's outclassed "in every way" and that he should run while he still can, to which Knuckles retorts that he's through running. Then Saffron blasts Metal Knuckles' head off with a mounted cannon, which admittedly is a bit anticlimatic but it comes with a really cool explosion scene. That's pink. For some reason. But it's hot pink, so it still looks awesome.

To be perfectly honest, I'm kind of miffed that Metal Knuckles was built up over the course of this issue as an actual threat, even throwing Sonic into the dirt in the very first panel of the issue because it's just that dangerous, then it gets taken out in a Big Kaboom before Knuckles really gets to properly fight it for more than two pages. But given everything the writers were leading up to in this storyline, I get why the Knuckles/Metal Knuckles fight sequence had to be resolved as quickly as it did. Admittedly out of all the aspects of this particular story arc that could've hit the cutting room floor, there were clearly several more important subjects to give attention to... but this is still an action comic, and I would've liked just a bit more action with Metal Knuckles if at all possible.

Going back to Sonic and company, Lien-Da has to face a room full of panicking Legionnaires who have just learned that Dr. Eggman has primed their heads to explode. Lien-Da of course denies it, in a dynamic panel that makes it clear she's threatening to hit and/or electrocute the poor shaking Legionnaire who's questioned her, and with that out of the way, the DEL is ready to start cyborgizing some poor innocent meatbags. Remington snaps that it's not enough that Lien-Da has allied with Eggman, but she's signing her entire species' "death warrants" by going through with their legionization. This leads to a stand-off where Remington rightly reprimands his crazy aunt for selling out their entire race to a megalomaniac who would happily exterminate them all on a whim, asking any echidna who hasn't lost one of their 'dearest' loved ones in this war to close their eyes.

No one does. Lien-Da is cornered by the truth.

It's a powerful moment, perhaps even more so than Saffron's flashback, and it's a big part of why this arc works so well. It's never too dark, but it's not afraid to address the grimmer aspects of the Archie saga and remind us all that these aren't just talking cartoon animals, they're talking cartoon animals with lives, with hopes and dreams and families to care for, and that they're all in mortal danger and some of them could really die out here.

And that's when Julie-Su shows up, gun blazing, and blows up something big and important in the center of the room that seems to be responsible for powering all the prisoners' restraints.

Seriously, the DEL should know better than to rely on something like that. It's kind of a trope that all of the most important technology lies behind a single potential point of failure, especially if its failure would lead to serious and immediate consequences. And right now, those consequences are entirely in the heroes' favor, since now that Sonic is free he wastes no time in beating the crap out of the DEL guards at the only speed he knows -- high speed.

The speed of light, of course, is faster than the speed of sound, so Lien-Da is fully capable of hitting Sonic with her electroshock attacks. We get more color confusion when a character that I initially honestly didn't know whether she was supposed to be Julie-Su, Crystal-La, or someone else entirely starts fighting Lien-Da, and her color scheme isn't even consistent on the same page. (I assume it's Julie-Su because of the cybernetic dreadlock.) I don't know if it's supposed to be the lighting or what, but this is definitely confusing; it doesn't help that Ken Penders originated the Planet of Clones thing where all the echidnas were for some reason supposed to look the same. But in this case I can't blame Ken Penders because nobody in their right mind would ask Ken Penders to work on an Archie Sonic continuation of the very arc he absolutely destroyed. But that's beside the point.

There's a fight sequence that, while still short and somewhat confusing due to the inconsistent coloring, is significantly better than the lack of payoff we got with Metal Knuckles. Lien-Da is taken down, the heroes have won, and just as they're discussing their escape route... the Chaotix's warp ring fails to activate.

Sonic, being Sonic, rushes out to find Knuckles without much of a plan in mind, despite the fact that rushing out without a plan is what got him captured in the first place. (To be fair, this is Sonic we're talking about. It's kind of his thing.) Knuckles asks if Sonic's rescued Sally yet, to which Sonic says it was save her, or save Albion, with the implication being that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. (Fair enough.) Sonic then tells Knuckles that his warp ring doesn't work and they need to get everyone to the docks as quickly as possible. Knuckles knocks out all the surrounding DEL with a ground-pound shockwave, but then...

...then is when Thrash and his Devil Dogs arrive, and Thrash announces the impending end of echidna civilization. Cliffhanger!

Overall, while this issue definitely has its rough spots, and I still wish Metal Knuckles had been given a more satisfying send-off, this first (or second) issue remains a solid continuation of the echidnaverse that isn't afraid to remind us that an entire civilization is at stake -- quite fitting for an arc called Endangered Species. And those stakes are only going to get higher in the next part...

(And also there's an Off-Panel about the Krudzu Hybrid Hydra, which apparently is something of a running gag in ASO's Off-Panels. At least, I remember it showing up more than once.)

Also, here's a preview of the article that was GOING to be this week's article before Knuckles Week happened, but has been shifted to next week (God willing):

Spoiler

So now that there's a weird trope going around of Game Freak making their most powerful legendaries somehow even more powerful so they can sell more merch of them and limit their use in VGC matches, let's go way back to an idea I had circa Gen 7 and give life stag and death birb their long-awaited final forms.

And by 'final forms,' I mean 'Venom symbiotes.'

NO WAIT REALLY I CAN EXPLAIN

Yes, I went there. Yes, I have an explanation. Yes, that explanation works narratively if I do say so myself, and yes, I can absolutely explain. Feel free to speculate.

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