There’s nothing quite as fascinating as early Sonic the Hedgehog lore. Throughout the nearly 30 year run of the famous hedgehog’s career, fans across generations have dug into every nook and cranny possible to isolate anything from merchandise to early prototypes of classic games.
One such treasure is a “continuity bible,” a document that is given to anyone responsible for creating official media based off a particular intellectual property. Today, we’ve unearthed what might be a goldmine.
When I was a kid, I had a special appreciation for media that didn’t talk down to me and tried to tell a good story with interesting lore and backstory. Knuckles the Echidna, a 32 issue monthly comic series from Archie Comics, did just that. Given Knuckles’ 25th anniversary, I thought it would be nice to revisit the comics in some way. I haven’t read them in some time (due in large part to their lack of easy digital availability) so I will be recounting my memories of the comic’s tone and themes somewhat vaguely and broadly. Hopefully, I will be able to do a deep dive into the comics in the future.
I had been reading Archie’s Sonic comics for a couple of years when the Knuckles the Echidna series got going. Knuckles was a character that got my attention before I was even exposed to his first game thanks to his cool design, his weird abilities, and most importantly his place in the story. Knuckles was that cool guest star character who only popped up occasionally, making his appearances feel special. He could not only could go toe to toe with Sonic himself, but often would, making him Sonic’s “rival,” at a time when that concept was still fresh to my young mind.
To me, Knuckles was the coolest Sonic character. I must’ve not been the only kid who thought that because Knuckles became pretty popular in the comics. His occasional appearances turned into regular back story appearances, which lead to a mini series, which finally led to a monthly ongoing…which was weird as all heck, but also very neat.
As I said before, the Knuckles series didn’t talk down to kids and tackled some subjects that most kids media didn’t put much focus on back then. The world had politics, including three distinct factions: the fanatical technophilic Dark Legion, the fascistic (and later racial minority) dingoes, and of course the citizens of Echidnapolis (who were predominantly echidnas, of course). The series even featured an entire arc devoted to the world’s politics and the tension building up between the factions. The comic also wasn’t afraid to deal with death and romance, going so far as to devote an entire three-issue story arc to Knuckles and Julie-Su’s budding love-life.
The comic also had a lot of backstory and lore. The tension between the Dark Legion and the citizens of Echidnapolis went back hundreds of years, to events involving Knuckles’ ancestors feuding over how technology should be used in echidna society. Before that, there was Enerjak, a power-mad entity created when one of Knuckles’ ancestors absorbed eleven of the island’s twelve chaos emeralds (yes, twelve) in an attempt to return Angel Island (called simply the Floating Island in the comics) to the planet. The series would often dive into this history to give the current day plot line a greater, more epic context, since the conflicts the comic covered often had roots going back centuries.
The comic also had loads of weird, often sci-fi concepts. The Dark Legion, who served as the comic’s primary villain faction, often sported loads of cybernetics to display their devotion to technology. These cybernetics could look kind of gruesome to me as a kid. Then there was the Brotherhood, a clandestine organization made up of Knuckles’ living ancestors, who as it turns out were inexplicably long lived, with the oldest being hundreds of years old at the start of the series (I’m not sure an explanation was ever given for that). The comic opened with the Dark Legion escaping from an alternate dimension known as the Twilight Zone, while the second arc focused on two dimensions holding the separate cities belonging to the echidnas and dingoes collapsing in on each other. Then there was Knuckles himself, who was genetically modified when his father, Locke, irradiated his egg with chaos energy to give him special powers.
So yeah, the comic was cool…and weird. Putting my childhood nostalgia aside, it was also flawed. The writing could feel stiff, and many characters often sounded like they were speaking with the same voice. The comic didn’t always make use of what should have been interesting plot revelations, such as when one member of the Brotherhood turned out to be a former leader of the Dark Legion.
This reveal did not have the emotional pay off one would expect: his son, who held a special hatred for the Legion, turned on him immediately, while the rest of the Brotherhood did not seem to express much emotional grief over their son/grandfather/great-grandfather/etc turning out to be a villain the whole time. We were also denied the satisfaction of a reunion between the Brotherhood and the man the Legionnaire replaced.
As I said before, its been a long time since I last read these comics. I don’t remember how pervasive the issues I mentioned above were, but they are there. As much as I enjoyed them as a kid, I couldn’t help but feel a bit…underwhelmed upon revisiting them.
That said, there’s still plenty about the comic that did age well. The interior art was mostly done by Manny Galan, one of the best artists Sonic comics have ever seen. He nails the look of a the comic’s characters and world perfectly, and his work is still a joy to look at. The comic also employed an interesting concept with its covers: each cover of the comic’s three issue story arcs could be combined together into a single image. These covers were mostly done by Sonic comic legend Patrick Spaziente, often depicting epic scenery and action.
It’s kind of unfortunate these comics are so inaccessible in an age when nearly any comic can be bought online. This does, unfortunately, bring us to one of the reasons why I have difficulties going back to these books even when I do have access to my old copies: the Ken Penders lawsuit.
This is something I’d rather not get into right here, so I will keep it brief: I think every artist should be compensated for reprints of their work, and I wish Archie had worked something out with Penders to make that happen. I hope IDW does what they couldn’t. I also think that, by copywriting the characters he created, Penders effectively destroyed this comic’s legacy. Its characters will never be able to grace any Sonic comic continuity again. They have already faded into complete obscurity and they will never again be able to interact with the game characters they were created to flesh out. I think this is very unfortunate.
Though, in a sense, the Knuckles series being inaccessible does feel right to me. Back when the Knuckles comics were being made, I had difficulties getting ahold of them. My local book store didn’t carry them and the comic book stores that did kept going out of business. So to get them, I’d have to go to a Books-A-Million in Potomac, Virginia, which was an hourlong drive. I didn’t get to go often, but whenever I did and I got to see that Knuckles comic on the rack, it was always special. That reflects my feelings on the comic as a whole: special, memorable, and a series that will always evoke my childhood to me. I do hope inaccessibility does not become this series’ fate. So far as I’m concerned, it at least deserves more than this.
Near his friend Elliot S! Maggin’s booth in the artist alley at the San Diego Comic Con sits a man who is currently criticized, respected and envied. Criticized by some Sonic comic fans who feel that his recent copyright case with Archie Comics is taking away many of their favorite characters from the Sonic book. Respected because in his tenure on the Sonic comics, he created such a legacy of characters that the comic suffers a bit with them gone. And lastly, envied by other comic creators who would give their drawing arm to have the chance of owning their creations back. To them, Penders is living out a dream come true.
With his famous mustache gone, replaced with long hair and a ponytail, also sits a man who some feel may be a bit too confident in his abilities than he realizes. His video and movie projects “The Republic” and “The Lost Ones” have still been unreleased for over five years and are still in production. Could the Lara-Su Chronicles (an upcoming series of graphic novels based on Knuckles daughter and relations set in an alternate future) suffer from the same fate? And what of his art? Many people have been very critical about his latest promotional pieces. How does he feel about that?
At NYCC, Archie Comics Editor in Chief Mike Pellerito said that the Penders legal challenge was ended with one phone call with Archie’s legal department. Today, Penders has released a statement on his website that “it’s not over”.
This will be short and sweet.
Contrary to claims made recently at the NYC Comic Con by Archie’s Mike Pellerito, I continue to maintain copyright ownership of characters I created and this issue has not been resolved.
My claim has merit and I continue to use every legal means at my disposal to protect and preserve my rights. It’s bizarre that Archie would make a public statement that indicates otherwise.
More later at the appropriate time.
Despite these claims, it should be noted that, according to research done by TSSZ, Penders has only been granted copyright ownership of one of his characters, Hershey the Cat. It should also be noted that many of the character’s he’s named in the past as falling under his copyright, he has not actually filed a copyright claim for. Archie has continued to release stories penned by Penders through it’s Archives series, most recently his most well known work “End Game Saga”, and will be featuring several Penders made characters it next month’s issue of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Any long running comic series is going to have some duds. I’m not talking about weird changes in the canon, or rushed pace, or anything like that. I’m talking about issues so mind bogglingly bad, that it’s amazing they went all the way from concept to publication. Sonic has regrettably had quite a few of these comics, one of the most infamous of which being none other then Sonic Live!, by Ken Penders. Sonic Live!
Every writer has his or her problems and bad tendencies, and Penders from far from an exception. Though he wrote some of my favorite stories in the comic back in the day, these problems would even permeate some of these stories. They are all on display, and at their worst, in this comic, which has now been gloriously torn apart by Linkara on his show “Atop the Fourth Wall”. Atop the Fourth Wall is a comic review show on That Guy With the Glasses, a wonderful collection of reviewers. The website’s namesake, the Nostalgia Critic, actually reviewed both Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and SatAM a year ago. Regrettably, blip.tv embedding code doesn’t work on TSS at the moment, so I’ve had to embed the videos in lower quality via Youtube. To see the video in it’s original quality and to leave comments in a place where Linkara will see them, go here.
At the San Diego Comic Con in aisle 3900, across from Konami’s booth, lies Floating Island Productions. There, the head of the production company and former writer of the Archie Sonic series, Ken Penders, sits. He is drawing a commissioned art piece of Captain America for a fan, the occasional ping-pong ball flying in from the booth next door. To the left of his booth, a preview is shown for his upcoming internet show, “The Republic.” The rest of his booth shows his past history with the blue hedgehog. Boxes of Sonic comics can be seen, while piles of original cover art lie at the front center of his table.
What you won’t find is the promotional poster for the upcoming Echidna book, a book involving Locke, Julie-Su and other characters related to Knuckles. “With what’s going on at the moment, I decided it would be best to leave them behind.” Chalk one up to common sense.
Ken Penders is a hard man to peg. When you meet him in person, he’s always friendly and outgoing. Though I’m not too happy with some of the things he has said and done this year, I have a hard time being mad at him. I still see the man who greatly helped develop what Sonic and Knuckles’ world has become today. The man who signed at my store, who loved the job he lost and is very optimistic about his future endeavors. The man who recently lost someone near and dear to him.
There is another side to Penders, however. A side that seems self-absorbed. A man who doesn’t seem to want to share, like a child playing in his own corner of the sandbox. He himself says he never read any of Ian’s work and only read the other writers’ works when it might affect one of his stories. Penders only seems to care about Penders’ world.
Although he does not want to bring up the current copyright case, he did have this to say:
“I just want to let you and everyone know, these copyrights are official. I own these stories and characters. The U.S. Government recognizes it as such… Whatever some of the fans have been saying on the forums, they don’t know everything. They are misinformed on some things. That goes for what Ian posted as well.”
I decided to push the subject a bit and asked if he had signed a “Work for Hire” contract while at Archie. “No comment” was his reply.
Here is the 3-part interview. Sorry for the poor audio. It’s actually much better than what we had for the Aaron Webber interview (which was so horrible that it ended up as a transcript), but the background noise is still pretty bad.
Although I gave Penders ample time to talk about his future projects, I was surprised at just how much he wanted to focus the conversation on Sonic and Knuckles. You can tell he truly loved that world with a passion and was hurt to be taken from it. It even shows in the title of his production company. No one can read “Floating Island Productions” and not think of Knuckles’ home.
Off camera, Penders had this to say
“I hope that in the end, we can come to an agreement that will be beneficial for both myself, Archie Comics and Sonic fans.”
Let’s hope so.
(P.S. I honestly do like Ron Lim’s work on Silver Surfer and X-Men 2099. I just think his art on Sonic is horrible.)
Ken Penders, as most die-hard Archie readers will know, is one of the more prolific writer/artists to have contributed to the Sonic the Hedgehog Archie comic universe over the years. However it has come to light today that Penders, in a statement on his website, will be pursuing copyright claims to the stories and characters he has been responsible for creating in the past. For those who don’t follow Archie comics – this is a substantial amount of material, not only including popular characters such as Julie-Su and Geoffrey St. John, but a large amount of the Sonic & Knuckles story arcs. Penders also claims that plotlines used in the Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood title were adapted from his works.
To quote the statement on Penders’ Web page:
As for how it affects the SONIC THE HEDGEHOG titles published by Archie Comics, while it does not prevent them from publishing the SONIC series, they are not allowed to use any of my characters, concepts or stories without further discussion with my representatives. For now, they cannot reprint any of my stories in any media whatsoever, nor can they use any of my characters. Julie-Su, Geoffrey St. John, Hershey, Rob O’ the Hedge, Lien-Da, the Dark Legion along with the rest of the characters and concepts I created – including the alternative universes and future timeline – cannot appear in the series.
This could potentially affect a large number of factors in the future of the comic’s publishing, as many editions of the Archie Archives books as well as current and future story arcs, currently being written by Ian Flynn include works Penders claims property of. Penders also states he is seeking intellectual property advice from an LA-based attorney, and also warns of cease and desist letters being issued to anyone using these characters and concepts without permission.
Again, I would like to request that comments keep in mind that both Ken, Ian and other writers and artists actively use and read the internet; out-an-out flaming and insults will be removed. Cheers! -T
Silver Bullet Comic Books (SBC) recently had a interview with Ken Penders, Steven Butler, and Patrick “Spaz” Spaziante. The interview consisted of talk on the upcoming Sonic Issue #150, and the crews past history.
The latest community chat with Archie Comics artist Ken Penders has just wrapped up, and as usual it did not disappoint with the juicy teasers and details. For a start, Penders discusses more about the death of one key character in the mainline comic story (and why he wanted to go in this direction). He also hints at changes happening to the Knuckles series starting in issue #106. Read on for more (warning: potential spoilers ahead). Continue reading Ken Penders: Knuckles’ Story Will See Major Developments in Sonic #106
It’s that time again! Archie Comics writer/artist Ken Penders has announced that he is setting some time aside this month for another community reach-out session. If you want to learn more about the future plans for the Sonic comic series, or just want some background on stuff that’s already happened, better prepare some questions now. Continue reading Ken Penders Schedules Next Archie Online Chat Session
Archie writer Ken Penders has formally announced one of two new artists for the official Sonic the Hedgehog comic book series, after solicitations for Issue #104 were released earlier than expected. It looks like Dawn Best, aka Chordsy in the fan community, has won the Archie team over as her art features in upcoming story ‘Freedom Fighters of the Galaxy’. Solicitation and comment from Penders after the jump. Continue reading Solicitation for Sonic #104 Outs Dawn Best as New Artist
Sonic Comics are selling better then 90% of all comics, according to Archie artist and writer Ken Penders. “If you’re going by sales figures provided by Diamond Distributors, they’re misleading, as they only reflect sales through the comics shops,” he said. “Sonic is sold through a variety of outlets that Diamond doesn’t handle, thus the sales are much higher than anyone usually thinks. Does that mean it’s easier for Sonic? Hardly, as magazine sales overall are in a slump due to a variety of factors.”
Archie Sonic comic artist and writer Ken Penders will be going to San Diego Comic Con this year. And the Sonic #100 cover will be available for sale for the first time, as will the cover of Sonic #98 and the unused cover for Sonic #99. So if you fancy collecting some art and getting some stuff signed, come on down! Continue reading Ask Ken Penders What He Should Bring to San Diego Comic Con
Ken Penders has had another one of his interesting little chatroom sessions, and Sonic Archie comics fans got a fair amount of new info on what he’s up to and where the story arcs are going. The headlines? Sonic #100 and #101 are done, and Knuckles will be returning in Sonic #105. Read on for the full details. Continue reading Ken Penders: Sonic #100 and #101 Are Complete
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