When the team at Archie began their long line of 48-page Sonic specials, the original intent was to make each one, well, special. Something so big, that it couldn’t be held in the main series. A bone-fide event, not to mention a way to increase sales. Sonic: In Your Face! was the first, focusing on Princess Sally and completing a story begun in the main line. Others followed, such as Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic Triple Trouble, and Sonic & Knuckles: Mecha Madness. Each one tried to up the ante, adapting games or doing storylines that the readership just had to get, not wanting to miss out on something that could be awesome.
When the 48-page specials were turned into their own quarterly series, there was an attempt to continue making each issue some big extravaganza. The oft-mentioned Brave New World. Return of the King, where the crystallized King Acorn was finally restored to his former glory. Even the Sonic Kids specials tried to examine facets of the mythology that the writers otherwise couldn’t. Sure, not every issue delivered, but those that did delivered in spades. That’s why there was so much hype about Knuckles: 20 Years Later. With how passionate Ken Penders sounded while talking about it to fans, the readers felt they were in for a treat. That’s why there was so much disappointment when it was postponed indefinitely after the cancellation of the Super Specials.
Before the announcement of Mobius: 25 Years Later, however, there was a brief tease of that future in Ken’s strip: the first appearance of Lara-Su, Knuckles’ daughter of the future. Thrown across time and space, the fans were finally able to see the character in action, to tide them over in anticipation of a storyline they still hoped for. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “Reunification.”
Now, to set the stage. I’ve mentioned before the whole “green Knuckles” storyline. Kicked off in Sonic Super Special #14, the Dark Legion fired something called the “quantum beam” (there sure are a lot of quantum devices in this comic) which caused every Echidna in Echidnapolis to disappear. Knuckles just happened to be off-island, and in the aftermath ventures to the ancient Echidna homeland of Albion to gain some insight as to how he could save his race. While first having people helping him, eventually Knuckles starts going crazy, turning green from stress and gaining a new set of powers linked to the Chaos Force that also powers the Chaos Emeralds. Pushing everyone away, he tracks down the Dark Legion’s whereabouts. Instead of just letting his fists fly, Dimitri (leader of the Dark Legion and floating head in Mobius: 25 Years Later) agrees to restore everyone if Knuckles joins up with them. Though the Quantum Canon is destroyed by some unrelated shenanigans, Knuckles forms a shaky alliance with them. The hope? That the feud between the technophile Dark Legion and the rest of Echidna society can end, the two able to live side-by-side.
With his great-great-whatever-uncle guiding him, Knuckles tries to use his powers to return them. His first thought is one that should be familiar to anyone reading this – time travel. Yep. Trying to change the course of history in three separate occasions, they are met with disastrous results. Frustrated, Dimitri offers him some helpful words that while the past is set in stone, the future is still open.
“Reunification: Part One” opens immediately after these events, appearing in Sonic the Hedgehog #106. While the Echidna population had been transported to some pocket outside the universe, the city of Echidnapolis remained, bleak and deserted. Why haven’t the Dark Legion moved in yet? I have no idea. The silence is broken by the appearance of a glowing orb, a silhouette of an Echidna inside. In a flash, we have the identity of who it is: none other than Lara-Su. Now, I know it’s Lara, and so do you, but for people just picking up the comic when it first came out, no one knew who she was. Well, unless you paid attention to Ken’s teasing online. Or the fact Sonic #102 teased the next Knuckles strip as “My Enemy, My Daughter.” Though that could also be applied to Dimitri and Lien-Da, even if they’re not father/daughter.
One look at Lara also shows that her design was tweaked between her appearance here and her final look in Sonic #131. I’m not going to lie, I like the way she looks here better. In Mobius: 25 Years Later, there are times Lara-Su looks like “Knuckles with boobs.” Here, at least she’s sharing some of her mother’s genetic traits, the purple-colored hair adding something to her otherwise red look. She’s also sporting a vest, which is a holdover from her original sketches. Back in the year 2000 when Knuckles: 20 Years Later was still on the table, an internet user named Chainspike met Ken at the San-Diego Comic Con that year, and requested a drawing of Lara-Su. Sure enough, he got that sketch, and…well, you can definitely tell Ken drew it. The drawing was scanned for the Internet, and was the only proof that Lara-Su had a design until she appeared in this story. Artist Dawn Best’s rendition certainly makes Lara look more female. And…hey, wait a minute. Lara’s hands…she has knuckles on her just like her father!
Now, there is a reason for this. Back when Ken teased Knuckles: 20 Years Later, he did mention that Lara-Su was supposed to have “retractable knuckles.” She could look like every other Echidna while wandering about, but if need be she could whip out her father’s namesake in Wolverine fashion. The only problem is that the comic never states she has this ability. For the rest of “Reunification,” those pointy accessories disappear, something which could easily be chalked up to artist error for the first page. So while she still possess this power, she never gets to show it off in any meaningful way.
Lara thinks to herself about how she can only hope she’s arrived in time, going off to investigate Echidnapolis in the hopes of finding…something. Well, it is only the second page, she’s allowed to be vague. Seems she isn’t the only one in the city, though. Not too far off, a pair of Dark Legionaries are investigating the perimeter, reporting back to base that nothing seems out of the ordinary. Back at headquarters, Dimitri tells the team to continue guarding the area, right before Lien-Da enters his room. She tells her ancestor that Knuckles has left the base and returned to Angel Island, which infuriates the Grandmaster. He wonders aloud if it was Knuckles the sensors had picked up earlier about someone being in Echidnapolis, and just what he could be up to. Then it hits him – Knuckles must be trying to restore everyone on his own. Why is he mad if this is the case? The Echidnas missing are Dimitri’s ace in the hole. It’s alright if they come back with his help, but if Knuckles can just do it on his own, then his leverage is gone.
Sure enough, Knuckles is doing just that: standing in the middle of the empty city, screaming in true Dragonball Z style. Not that far away, Lara takes notice of the crazy winds that are picking up, grabbing a nearby streetlight to just remain stationary. The wind gets to be too much, and she is blown away, crashing face first into the ground. A familiar voice brings her to her senses and lo and behold, we find that Knuckles has succeeded in his mission. The entire Echidna race has shown back up, standing about Echidnapolis like nothing has happened. Among them is Constable Remington, one of the more prominent secondary characters in Ken Penders prose. Lara-Su recognizes him as the man who killed Knuckles, her inner monologue carefully avoiding calling him her father. Yes, I know its for suspense as the reader isn’t supposed to find out her true identity just yet, but it reads awkwardly looking back. And the one-word “ohmygosh” is uncomfortable no matter where you see it. Teenage girls might say it, but if you’re a time-traveling teen girl who is looking for the man who murdered your father, you really shouldn’t be thinking it.
Sonic #107 continues with part two, and although Dawn Best is still on artistic duties, there is definitely a different look to it. Could it just be the change in colorist, or it could it be Ken inking Dawn’s work in a more…Penders-esque fashion? Whatever the case, the art doesn’t look nearly as nice as part one. The scene opens with Lien-Da going crazy, shouting as the Echidnapolis citizens have been restored. Dimitri is distressed not only because of this turn of events, but also the fact Knuckles pulled it off, him doing something far more impressive than anything the leader of the Dark Legion was able to pull off while in his Enerjak persona. His heir says they need to find some way to kill Knuckles if this is the case, but Dimitri warns against her saying things aloud, saying its possible Knuckles could hear every word that she mutters.
Back on the island, Remington asks the young Echidna girl what her name is, Lara calling herself Jani-Ca while looking very nervous. She thinks to herself that if she used her real name it would cause alarm, which could be the case. I don’t know how common the surname Su is in Echidna society. Maybe Ca is their equivalent of Smith, so she can play things safe. Before she has to say anything else, Knuckles’ mom conveniently shows up, yelling for the constable’s attention. At seeing her grandmother, Jani-Ca exclaims to herself “jillekenesi.” I looked it up, and no, it’s not a word. What’s also strange is that this one thought bubble has a different font than the rest of the book, so maybe she originally thought something else, it being changed by the editor for some obscure reason.
With Jani just coming to terms about how weird it is for her to see her grandmother as a younger woman, we get to jump to some other familiar character’s return to the world. The Chaotix seem to be the only people aware of the fact they disappeared from reality, wondering what happened to Knuckles. The Brotherhood of Guardians are also aware that something happened, but are only confused as the last thing they remember is fighting members of the Dark Legion, then showing up in the ruined remains of Haven, far from where they began. Five generations of Guardians stand in a room, Spectre saying that three of their brethren have died since all this began, him not aware of the third. Locke (Knuckles’ Dad, remember?) asks if it was his son, but before he can answer, Knuckles is somehow able to telepathically tell his father that he’s alive. It freaks him out a bit, him beginning to regret all the strange experiments he forced his son through as a young child.
Knuckles shows up to see his mother, the two embracing while his future daughter stands in shock. Once again, in true Penders fashion, we find out a stunning revelation pushed aside in a small corner panel. Jani-Ca calls Knuckles “dad” in her inner monologue, like any normal teenage girl would. No build-up, no grand revel, just a detail dropped that could have easily been established at the end of the first part of this story. Remington picks up on Jani’s uneasiness, asking if she’s ever met the Guardian before, which she replies no. She also thinks about how she’s never seen a green Echidna before…which Remington responds to. Even though he shouldn’t be able to answer her thought bubbles. Someone wasn’t editing this very well, were they Mr. Gabrie?
With everyone getting their bearings, Dimitri shows up, and while the good constable is ready to go medieval, Knuckles stops him, Dimitri talking about how the Dark Legion wants to reintegrate into Echidna society, hence the name of the story. Issue #108 continues on, Lara-Le (Knuckles’ Mom, remember?) shouting at her son about who he’s been allying himself with. They share some political strife, in the middle Lara dropping the fact that she is pregnant. You remember Kneecaps, right? Well, here’s his grand foreshadowing. After his conversation with his mother, Knuckles wanders outside, being watched by his future daughter. Wondering why he was taking so long in there, she thinks about how she doesn’t know a whole lot about what happened in the past, the details obscured over time and people just not telling her. She doubts herself, thinking that if Knuckles couldn’t even think of a solution, what chance does she have?
Once her dad comes out, she stays in the background, watching him approach Lien-Da, the ultimate non-antagonist. They share some words that Lara can’t hear, thinking to herself about how that is the one person her mother refuses to talk about. The pair enter the high council’s building, where Dimitri is already inside, pleading his case. While some agree that reunifying Echida society would end the centuries of war, they also question whether or not such a thing would even be possible, especially in a short time frame. Even though Echidnas are supposedly the most advanced species on the planet, even they seem to have a hard time accepting change. The head priest points to Dimitri’s appearance, a mess of hidden flesh behind electronics. He makes the counterargument that if Echidnas were giving the ability to reason and think, then why not use those abilities for the greater good?
Now, back when the Dark Legion were first introduced as adversaries in the series, it was established that the division between the two sides was the moment Echidna society decided they no longer needed technological advancements to exist. Even technology used for entertainment was shown to be confiscated, which resulted in the Dark Legion being born. The members were marked by their cybernetics and cloaks, but really, can they be blamed for being angry in the first place? For many of their appearances, they were portrayed as the enemy, seeking power, trying to kill people, and just being a general nuisance to Knuckles and the rest of the heroes. There was also a huge hypocrisy involved, for while Knuckles day-to-day life on Angel Island was originally that of living in the wilderness with very basic needs, the moment Echidnapolis came into the picture, modern Echidna society was shown living it up. They were in a nearly utopian society, full of electronics designed to better their lives. Even the Brotherhood of Guardians used technology to spy on everyone and everything. The division between the two made less and less sense as the storyline evolved. Maybe if they hadn’t called themselves the “Dark” Legion they would have been taken seriously on a political level? They were just setting themselves up for that one.
Another aside, as to how all of this political hoopla has evolved by the time Mobius: 25 Years Later takes place. We still never really get a feeling as to what society thinks of the Dark Legion, aside from the fact they are able to live side by side with everyone else. Does anyone fear them? Do the Echidnas still get weirded out by cybernetics? If they do, why doesn’t anyone ever comment on future Knuckles’ eye? I would think that would be a big source of contention. If a highly respected member of society suddenly becomes buddy-buddy with a group that has terrorized everyone for generations, do they get over it in 25 years? Slavery has been abolished for almost a century and a half, Jim Crow laws deemed unconstitutional for decades, and yet there are still plenty of people who are racist. I know, it might be too much to cover in the space Ken was given, but when you consider what has been a priority in the storytelling, one can’t help but question all of this.
Green Knuckles goes in front of the council, vouching for Dimitri. Meanwhile, Jani-Ca decides she can’t just hang outside and breaks into the building. A guard tries to stop her but she knocks him out doing…something. Does she shrink him and slam him into the ceiling? I don’t know. What I do know is that Lara bursts in just as Remington holds his pistol, firing at someone, Lara thinking to herself about how she’s too late.
The final part of “Reunification” in Sonic #109 reveals that it wasn’t Knuckles who Remington was firing at, but someone in the council, attempting to fire at Dimitri. With Lara knocking the pistol out of Remington’s hand, it takes a second for her to realize what is actually happening, Knuckles taking the shot intended for the Dark Legion’s leader. Remington tells Jani-Ca that he’ll deal with her later, running off to do his job. Wait, wouldn’t part of his job be taking Jani into custody as she interfered in police business and her dialogue making it painfully clear she knows more than she’s letting on? Dimitri and the leader of the Echidna council realize that while something has to be done, extremism on either side will not accomplish anything. They sure are calm about the apparent death of Knuckles, all things considered. Especially as he just lies there while more political debate rages on.
Jani-Ca-Su cries over her father, wondering what actually happened in the past and what her mother didn’t tell her. On cue, the present-day Julie-Su runs by, and while Lara’s first instinct is to find comfort in her mother, she resists as Julie is not yet her mother. Which brings up a very good point, one that I don’t think Lara-Su has bothered to consider: if she doesn’t ever remember her father being green, then why would she think this is how he died? Her mentioning his color would imply that she has some vague recollection of her dad, which means she would have to be born before his assassination. It wouldn’t be that hard for her to check out and see if that’s happened. Even if it was a case where Knuckles died during Julie’s pregnancy, it wouldn’t be to hard to figure out when that would have happened. Go up to your mother in the past, Jani, and ask her how old she is. If it’s still a few years before you’re scheduled to pop out of her, then you’re in the wrong time period.
In her contemplation, Jani-Ca notices Lien-Da talking on a headset, and stops a sniper on a roof. While his original target was the planted assassin, Lien-Da figured it’d be as a good a time as any to take out Julie-Su. Jani stops him from shooting her mom, wondering if maybe this was the reason she was meant to go back in time. Knowing she has some questions, she is unable to stop herself from jumping back to her own time and place. Because of this, she completely misses the expected revelation: that Knuckles didn’t really die, and played possum to see if he could really believe Dimitri’s intentions.
Once back in the future, Lara-Su runs up to her mom, telling her everything that’s happened. Julie is confused, telling her daughter that she must have gone to an alternate reality because her father isn’t dead. Instead, Knuckles became evil because of the Chaos Energy that took him over, assuming control of the Dark Legion and began a campaign to take over Mobius. Revealing all this, Julie-Su grabs a gun and asks her daughter, now that she is older, to join her in fighting off her father who is once again attacking the island. A helpful info box tells the reader that even though the conclusion is stunning, this story will be continued later, instead we’ll rejoin present-day Knuckles next time.
With the greatest tease in the world, we are left with a story that has so much wasted opportunity. A lot does happen in these 24 pages, I won’t lie. Echidna society is restored, Dimitri tries to rectify hundreds of years of animosity, and Lien-Da actually does something slightly antagonistic. But the use of Lara-Su – or should I say Jani-Ca – leaves much to be desired. Transported to a past that seems off to her, she doesn’t bother to do any research aside from staring at her father from afar and stand next to Remington without asking him anything. When it comes to time travel stories that involve people who are related to each other, such as a child seeing their parent as a teenager, the payoff comes from the interaction between those characters. Lara-Su doesn’t say one word to either of her parents. While she met Knuckles in the quickest fashion, no words are exchanged, and Julie just runs by without even looking at her. I’m not saying there should have been a scene where Lara reveals her true identity to either of them. But even one conversation between her and her parents would have gone a long, long way. Especially in order to understand her as a person. We don’t get anything of that sort. She barely does anything, except apparently save her mother at the end. It’s possible that Julie-Su would have been fine even without that intervention, if the sniper had gone for the would-be assassin first.
What’s even worse, the tease as to what the future is like is far more interesting a premise than what Mobius: 25 Years Later has been. Ken certainly has toyed with the idea that Knuckles is going to go crazy at some point, but its all been teases and hype. Through the rest of the “green Knuckles” saga, Knuckles never seems out of control, or on the edge of becoming some grand villain. His role in the defeat of Eggman in the future is also a “would-be” scenario, where he’s stopped easily by Sonic through that deus-ex machina. Having the future of the main comic be one where Knuckles is a villain? Bleak, yes. But also interesting. If anything, have the established 25 Years Later somehow interact with this dystopian version. Through Ken’s remaining tenure on the comic, he never revisited this bleak future of Jani-Ca, although it would have made perfect sense while writing a story about the future where time and space is crumbling around them. Maybe the original plan was to have it appear in some form? I have no idea, but of all the bits and pieces of the “true” ending that Ken’s mentioned, not once has he talked about Jani-Ca. He’s certainly never mentioned her over the last few years.
Ignoring that there’s no explanation as to how she is able to even travel through time (Julie-Su is definitely unphased by her daughter’s story), there is just this feeling that the story was meant to have a lot more content in it, but just didn’t. I know, this was written after the cancellation of the Knuckles‘ series, but by this point it had been a couple years. Ken should have been used to the more condensed format he was forced to write in. He couldn’t have had the scripts written out years in advance, could he? If he really did, then this comic needed a better editor. Otherwise, it just feels like a case where Ken didn’t want to admit that he didn’t have the breathing room he did back during the first twenty-five issues of Knuckles the Echidna.
Next time, we go back to Mobius: 25 Years Later, and look back at Ken’s most personal chapter to date.
Feel like jumping from the past to the future? Then check out the previous installments of this never-ending review:
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 1 – What’s Future Is Prologue
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 2 – Of Frightened and Dancing Crocs
Mobius: 25 Years Later, The Review: Part 3 – The Adventures of Lara-Su and Old Rotor
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 4 – The Mobius Girls Can’t Help It
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 5 – A Brief History Of The Future
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 6 – A Brief History, Continued
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 7 – The Mental State of Sonic the Hedgehog
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 8 – A Dinner Party At The End of the World
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 9 – The Myth of the Mobius Sleepover
Mobius: 25 Years Later: The Review, Part 10 – It Goes Full Circle, If Only Halfway