Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so the Spaz/Harvo cover suffers from a single flaw that compromises the whole composition. The flaw, in this case, is Dulcy. I know her gestures and expression are meant to convey extreme effort in trying to spirit Sonic away from his pursuers. Unfortunately, the end result makes it look more like she's suffering from some uncomfortable physical ailment. Between the attitude of her arms and her facial expression she appears to be fighting a losing battle against constipation. In which case she could probably USE some "loose continuity." I'm sorry, but it's hard to take this cover seriously so long as Dulcy looks like she's trying to take a dump. It brings the whole cover down and puts it in the running for Worst Cover Art of 1997.
From there we proceed to the Semi-Obligatory Splash Page. This is Sam Maxwell's second splash page so far. In the one for "Battle Royal" he showed the Mobians as pawns in Mammoth Mogul's chess game; here, Sonic and Sally are marionettes being manipulated by Robotnik. You might want to talk with a psychiatrist about those control issues, Sam. And speaking of psychiatric help, Ivo could use a dose himself. C'mon, a grown man playing with dolls! Unless that's not Sonic's TAIL dangling down between his legs, in which case maybe Robotnik should just forget about therapy and get a girlfriend.
Can't put it off any longer, let's get to the story. Rather than stand around and take a crossbow bolt to the head (making good on the threat Geoffrey's been making since "And One Shall Save Him", #41), Sonic leaps off the cliff. Sonic realizes that he's "mentally and physically exhausted" by the story so far (as Bunnie might say: "Y'all ain't the ONLY one, sugar-hog!") and a lesser hero in his situation might submit to the inevitable and make the wry observation that at least he's going to meet the same fate as his late beloved Sally. But Sonic has one last chance, and it is a masterpiece of bad writing and worse science. Try THIS out on your science teacher, kids: he pulls off one of his sneakers, somehow collects a handful of dirt from the inside, manages to throw said handful of dirt which suddenly increases in volume to form a kind of arc which is strong enough to support his weight as he runs across it to (relative) safety. Well, at least we now know why Ken Penders teamed up with Mike Gallagher for this installment: Ken wanted to rely on the scientific expertise of the same writer who tried convincing us in "Sonic Blast" that if you work fast enough you can pack water into "waterballs", in violation of I don't know how many laws of molecular science. Sorry, Mike, but don't plan on picking up your Nobel Prize for Physics any time soon.
While Sonic catches his breath, Geoffrey (whose physique is starting to look something like Captain America's) knows there's no way he could plausibly duplicate that dirt trick so he and his forces start backtracking down to the ground. Sonic picks himself up and starts making his way back to Knothole. Back at Knothole, Robotnik gives the King one last order: "Say 'Good night,' Gracie!" He then presses a very prominent button (which we haven't been allowed to see before and which apparently missed the notice of EVERYONE ELSE in Knothole!) on the back of the King's head, and he promptly goes to pieces. Yep, the King was a bot. Who'da thunk it? Not me; I thought the "King" was a recruit from the world of the Antisonic myself. Such a plot twist would have avoided the obvious, which everyone else on the list seems to have spotted. Well, it was a nice theory while it lasted. Robotnik then tells the assembled Mobians that he's letting them live until some unspecified "weapon of destruction" is finished. At which point, THEY'LL be finished.
Meanwhile Dr. Quack is submitting the results of his work to...Snively. He gives him Sally's Death Certificate, which lists her name as "ACORN, Sally Elisha." Which was a surprise to me because Sally didn't LOOK Jewish! C'mon! "Elisha" is a guy's name, specifically the name of an Old Testament prophet! At first that seemed like a clue as to Sally's fate, since in II Kings 4 Elisha is credited with resurrecting the son of a Shunamite woman. But I figured that was a little TOO obscure of a Biblical reference. Anyway, after giving Snively the impression that he's delivered his quid, the doc wants to see some quo. In response, Snively presses a button...on the back of his hand! At NO point in the Sonic story has it even been HINTED that Snively was a bot, but that's loose continuity for ya. Dr. Quack does this really weird take; frankly he looks like a duck getting goosed. At once a wall slides out of the way to reveal...one of the hoariest old gimmicks around: the good doctor's family being held hostage. Quack runs to them, viewed from the back at a really weird angle. In "The Dream Zone" (#43) Quack mentioned that he'd studied under Dr. Frankenstein; from the look of the panel on the top of page 9 my guess is he was also a body double for Igor the Hunchbacked Assistant. The doc threatens Snively and is promptly shot by a nearby Combot; however, since Dr. Quack is up and babbling in the next panel it's safe to assume that the Combot's phaser was set on STUN. The doc is then assigned a new patient: the real King Acorn, who is still in the process of turning into a piece of costume jewelry. So either the doc continues to play nice with Snively or else his wife and hatchlings will end up covered in brown sauce and hanging in the window of a Chinese deli.
"And back to Sonic", it says. About time, too. He is nearing Knothole but is fatigued. He wonders out loud, as many of us have wondered in private, "How much longer is this going to drag on?" Now THERE'S a cue! I'll spare you Gallagher's description of Sonic's whistling: it's just as scientifically unsound (no pun intended) as the dirt bit but not nearly as stupid. Anyway, Dulcy makes her appearance in the story, looking much more on-model and much less bloated than she did in "Battle Royal". She gives Sonic what nobody else in Knothole seems to be able to give him: the benefit of the doubt. She then whisks him off just in time for Sonic to avoid capture by Geoffrey yet again! Quick cut to Hershey's place. Gallagher's scientific bulldada has had such a pervasive effect on Knothole that Hershey's mirror begins to defy the laws of optics. Look at the second panel on page 13; between the angle of her head and the placement of her arms, there's NO WAY that her reflection corresponds to her body placement. Drago, however, suffers from no such problem. Must be a sexist mirror. It's certainly a sexist sequence because we get treated to Drago abusing Hershey, physically, verbally, and (if all that garbage about her wearing a patently phony-looking Sonic suit to send Sally to her death in #47 is too much of a strain for you to believe) psychologically. Do they REALLY need to show Hershey being slapped around in order to keep this story moving?
Break for the Fan Art page. Like Sam Maxwell, Michelle Niese's drawing of Dulcy is the only one that's anywhere near on- model. And the "Find Your Name in Print" page -- nice drawing of Sonic but it makes a lousy watermark. Same advice as before, guys: LOSE THE WALLPAPER!
As if following the story up until now was bad enough, it's time to cut to Downunda. Specifically to the site which was once the location of Echidnopolis before it became the Floating Island, and the scene of Tails' encounter with Athair in the Tails miniseries, "Southern Crossover." We are told it now "reeks of suffering, despair, and palpable malevolence." But the Archie staff will have to hold their story conference somewhere else because the spot is needed for the scene where Bunnie and Antoine are thrown in jail. Bunnie has been fitted with a collar wired to her robotic limbs. As it's explained for our benefit: "Any attempt to use your bionic appendages will trigger your collar alarm which in turn will activate the explosive device on [Antoine's] collar." Hmmm, "any attempt to use your bionic appendages" -- you mean like for walking? Unless that collar can sense HOW she uses her limbs she should have taken the top of Antoine's head off by now. Not that it couldn't use a trim; it appears that Bunnie and Antoine have acquired a case of Baby Head Syndrome, the malady which afflicted Tails in "Battle Royal" and made him look horribly off- model. Actually, Sam compensated in Bunnie's case and made the eyes somewhat larger; she looks cute but still infantile. They're not alone, though, for two of the Downunda Freedom Fighters share their cell with them: Walt Wallaby and Barby Koala. The cross that THEY have to bear is that Sam has followed (after a fashion) the modeling for the characters provided by Dave Manak for the miniseries. Walt now looks more like a dog (or some kind of canid) than a wallaby; Barby still looks more like a tricked-up lab rat than an actual koala. Too bad she can't settle on one look: on page 17 she's shown looking "normal"; two panels later, a close-up reveals scratches and bruises that we didn't notices before, and these signs of having been roughed up simply disappear in the following panel. Uh, Sam, there's a SLIGHT difference between "loose continuity" and BAD continuity, and this is BAD continuity!!!
Enter the local villain, CrocBot. Seems when he went over the cliff into the crater in the miniseries he was riding in a tank; he now part-tank. I'll spare you his exposition of rebuilding his army and capturing the DFF. Next on his to-do list: mercilessly torture Antoine and Bunnie, send their "ragged remains" to Tails to motivate him to come to Downunda, and exact revenge for the miniseries. Then he needs to check his oil and rotate his tires.
Sonic and Dulcy approach the Floating Island. Knuckles gives them his traditional greeting: he punches Dulcy's lights out. Wait a minute: Hershey got slapped around by Drago, Barby (in close-up) looked like she was beaten up, and now Knuckles punches out Dulcy (who's a lady dragon but still a lady). I know Archie is trying to pander to the preadolescent boys' market but this is really starting to show questionable taste! But just to show he's an equal opportunity bruiser with a short memory (I mean, what happened to all that camaraderie after Sally knighted him at the end of "Battle Royal"?), he starts wailing on Sonic and they mix it up for one page until, on the last page, Geoffrey crashes the party in an effort to FINALLY draw some blood! Preferably Sonic's.
Sonic pin-up by Nelson Rebury and Harvo. And the aforementioned Sonic-Grams (or Bunnie-Grams in this case). Freddy begins his spiel thus: "NEXT ISSUE IS THE BIG FIVE-O!!! Which is why it's fitting that it should be called "The Big Goodbye"." Actually, it's NOT fitting, unless you hadn't planned to run any issues after #50, but never mind. "This one is everything you expect a fiftieth issue to be." Except that it's SHORTER than I (or even Ken Penders) had expected it to be! But in a concession to the reality of having Ken's page allotment cut from 40 to 24, Fred has backpedaled on Paul Castiglia's hype and declared that the issue will feature "ALMOST every single writer and artist who ever worked on Sonic" (emphasis mine). It will be interesting to see who got left on the cutting-room floor. It would be even MORE interesting if we could see how Ken had WANTED to end the story arc. Maybe when Ken finally gets his own Web page he can post the original 40-page installment he'd planned; call it "Endgame: The Director's Cut". Has a nice ring to it.
So, where do we stand? We're in the home stretch of the story arc and aside from the questions we had quite apart from "Endgame" (f'rinstance, WAS that Sonic's dad being roboticized in the beginning of #46?), the following questions may (or may not) be answered:
Is Sally alive or dead?
Will Robotnik finish his new weapon and destroy any of the Freedom Fighters?
Why is Knuckles pounding on Sonic in light of the ending of "Battle Royal"?
Will the King EVER get returned to normal?
When will the Knothole crowd discover that the Sword they have in their possession is really just a glorified letter opener because Mammoth Mogul has the genuine article?
Will Geoffrey finally nail Sonic in the head?
How did Drago manage that bit with Hershey and the Sonic suit?
Will Snively be having Dr. Quack's family over for dinner? "I ate her with faba beans and a nice Chianti."
Is the change of Sally's middle name a clue, a typo, or just a screw-up? And if she IS Jewish, perhaps it's just as well that (through my sig) I've been symbolically saying Kaddish for her ever since #47 shipped.
What will Crocbot do to Bunnie and Antoine?
Will Hershey appear on Sally Jesse Raphael's next show: "Cartoon Women Who Continue To Stay With The Toons Who Beat Them"?
And how many of these questions will simply be shined off in the name of "loose continuity"?
It's too early to speak of the "Endgame" arc as a whole, but I have to wonder about this "roller coaster ride" that Paul Castiglia spoke of. When I was riding the roller coasters at the late, lamented Riverview amusement park in the Chicago of my youth, they tended to go up and down and you sometimes had a chance to catch your breath before the next plunge. So far, "Endgame" has been a straight shot down to the ground with some lurching from side to side, with a promise that on the LAST TWO PAGES we'll pull out of the dive. Maybe. For right now, though, it feels more like dental surgery: four months of pain that ends NOT with you feeling better, but with you simply not feeling the pain you had going in. Hey, it was Ken who called Sally's death "a kick in the teeth" for the fans, not me! And no, I'm NOT going to let you forget that metaphor if I can help it! And for the record I'm STILL convinced that, between the heavy editing of the story Ken has had to do, the "All-Star Jam" gimmick of relying on so many artists, and the editorial doctrine of "loose continuity", #50 has the potential of being a narrative and artistic train wreck of Biblical proportions!
But enough of the bitterness: let's anticipate #50 as it might have been rendered in the mindless Marvel manner:
Three vile villains have combined their powers to defeat Sonic:
PARSIMONIUS: Able to distort time and space by cutting a writer's page allotment!
GIMMICK KING: He blows the minds of his victims by changing artists every three pages or so!
THE HYPEMEISTER: He exhausts his opponents by keeping their expectations so high for so long they're reduced to helplessness!
These three have combined their powers to form one mighty villainess. Someone who makes Rita Repulsa look like Mother Theresa! Someone who can destroy the Sonicverse as we know it! Join us for issue #50 when it's the titanic struggle of:
SONIC versus AUNTIE CLIMAX!!!