Hedging Your Bets #7: Endangered Species
With almost 300 issues in the core series, Archie's Sonic The Hedgehog stands as the longest-running uninterrupted American monthly comic book that's currently being published. In Hedging Your Bets, I attempt to get up to speed on Sonic the Hedgehog, challenging the odds to hopefully make it all the way to the finish line.
This week, Poochie returns to his home planet.
Sonic the Hedgehog #243-247: "Endangered Species"
This is the one I've been warned about.
Ever since I started reading Sonic, long-time readers have warned me that when I got to the "Endangered Species" arc, things were going to just stop making sense. Of course, this implies that things were already supposed to be making sense when the book was about mutant wizard kings and occasional side-trips to parallel universes, but the weirdness behind this story, I was told, was a little different. See, "Endangered Species" is a story that goes off the rails because of things that happened off the page.
If you're curious to find out all the details for yourself, there's actually been quite a bit written about the series in the (mind-bogglingly extensive) online Sonic fan community, but here's the short version as I understand it. Before Ian Flynn took over, Sonic the Hedgehog's main writer was a fellow named Ken Penders, who created a whole bunch of new characters --- particularly echidnas --- in his time on the series. It seems that Penders' departure from Archie Comics wasn't exactly amicable, and after he tried to assert ownership, there was a lawsuit.
The major result of all of this --- for my purposes anyway --- was that "Endangerd Species" went through some radical changes and ended up with most of the Penders characters being shuffled off into another dimension, never to return. This would, in turn, lead to Flynn doing a pretty thorough reboot that streamlined the comic's cast --- albeit without renumbering, relaunching, or otherwise interrupting the book's regular publication schedule --- which we'll get to eventually, and which, to be honest, I probably should've just started with anyway.
But that said, those last-minute changes are still pretty evident on the page. Even without the full context of knowing what had to be adjusted for the published issue, you can tell that they're in there just from looking at the dialogue. Sonic is, after all, lettered by one of the all-time greats, John Workman. His lettering is as distinctive as they come, and when dialogue has to be replaced at the last minute by someone working in-house who isn't John Workman, the effects are really obvious. Here, courtesy of the very strange Lost Media Archive, is a side-by-side comparison from #243:
As you can tell, the spirit remains the same, but the specific references to other characters have been cut out. The original ending to the story, too, was a whole lot less defeatist than what we got.
But here's the thing: As a relatively new reader who knows zero things about the echidna society floating above distant future Australia, the story didn't actually seem that strange. It's disjointed, it's weirdly paced, and I certainly wasn't expecting for Knuckles' unseen girlfriend (wife?) to wind up trapped in another dimension forever as revenge for an echidna-based eugenics program (this actually happens!), but considering that this is the same series that just dipped right out of its ongoing storyline to show us Sonic competing at the Olympics for 20 pages, it's not all that unthinkable that things might get a little weird in there somewhere.
Honestly? If I didn't know going in that there was a ton of off-the-page drama going on, the only thing that would've tipped me off is the lettering. Maybe that's just me being uncharitable, but c'mon. It's not like this makes that much less sense than, say, "Genesis."
So here's the plot: As part of his plan to keep Team Fighters from rescuing the roboticized Princess Sally, Eggman [sigh] has launched yet another hit-and-run attack on the floating island home of the Echidnas. The thing is, as much as nobody wants to be turned into a mindless cyborg and/or robot soldier, he's not actually the real threat.
The real threat is this guy:
His name is Thrash, although it's worth noting that he's not named in the script for something like two issues into a five-issue arc, so for my initial reading, he was just Purple Knuckles, and sometimes Big Boi of the Purple Knuckles All Stars.
I have to make my fun where I can.
His actual role in the story is told in a pretty interesting way that helps to minimize the disjointed nature of a plot that has to take a hard left turn in the middle of things. Knuckles just shows up in a homeland that's mysteriously empty, and the story of what happened is pieced together through one-panel flashbacks. It seems he's been using one of the rings to teleport the entire population of Albion to another dimension, under the guise of helping them escape Eggman's attack.
Which, from my limited experience with the video games, means that they are now in an awkward 3D dimension trying not to hit pinball bumpers. Truly, a fate worse than death.
As for his motives, well, just in case you thought I was kidding about the echidnas' breeding program, I can assure you I was not.
This book is weird, y'all. This book is weird as heck.
While Team Fighters deals with a monster called the Krudzu --- a plant that can also take over mechanical objects that ends up inhabiting the shell of Eggman's Metal Knuckles robot --- Knuckles and Thrash break out into a fight that's actually the best part of the storyline. They just throw down on each other while Thrash uses the ring to escape from one place to the next until he finally gets away, leaving Knuckles alone to mourn the apparent death of literally all of his friends, family, and love interests.
As for what else happens here, Silver the Hedgehog and Metal Sonic (both members of the Secret Freedom Fighters) show up, with Silver claiming that he finally knows who the traitor is: It's Sally! This is information that probably would've been better information before she was turned into a killer robot a year ago, but in his defense, he was looking for someone who betrayed the team of their own volition rather than being forced to by dint of being roboticized.
Oh, and the Krudzu/Metal Knuckles hybrid? It's defeated when Tails sends a bunch of dogs --- dogs which do not appear to have the same big-eyed sentience that the rest of the cast does --- to maul it to death.
You know. For the kids.
At the end of the day, though, none of this actually matters. With Sonic closing in, Eggman has no choice but to throw the switch on the Genesis Wave one more time --- and this time, he's teaming up with an interdimensional ally in Mega Man's own Dr. Albert Wily to scrap this universe and start fresh with a whole new crossover.
Will all this information I have learned about Uncle Chuck go to waste?!
This Week's Odds:
- Chris finishes the entire project: 50 to 1
- Chris, having been freed of his obligation to learn more about echidnas, instead tries to figure out if Amy Rose is a cat or a hedgehog or what: 8 to 1
- Chris gets a primer on Thrash that reveals yet another quirk of the pre-reboot Sonic universe that he finds completely unbelievable, on the level of Mobius being a post-Thunderdome Earth: 4 to 1
- Chris uses the upcoming Worlds Collide crossover to just casually switch over to reading Mega Man every week and hopes that no one notices: 2 to 1