With the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1994), gamers were introduced to Knuckles the Echidna. This mischievous, dreadlocked antagonist was created by Takashi Yuda and his debut was made all the more impressive by virtue of the fact that Sonic 3 was too big to fit on one cartridge, which meant that Knuckles was the first of Sonic’s supporting characters to co-star in a main series videogame when Sonic & Knuckles (ibid) was released on this very day in 1994.
Story Title: Rites of Passage
Published: July 1995
Writers: Mike Kanterovich and Ken Penders
Artist: Art Mawhinney, Harvo, Mindy Eisman, et al
When Sonic the Hedgehog blasted onto the videogame scene in 1991, he was an immediate hit thanks to his debut title being bundled with the Mega Drive and SEGA’s aggressive marketing campaign. His popularity exploded with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), however, and Sonic merchandise was suddenly everywhere: not only did he feature in the Macy’s Day Parade and in cartoons but he also starred in a number of comic books. Following the initial four-part miniseries which mashed together narrative elements of Sonic’s cartoon adventures, Archie Comics began regular publication of what would become the longest-running videogame comic book ever. In time, to capitalise on Sonic’s continued popularity, a number of spin-off comics were produced, with one of the most prominent being the Knuckles the Echidna sister series. What began as a simple enough three issue miniseries soon expanded into a convoluted lore that eventually became the subject of a bitter lawsuit between Archie and writer/artist Ken Penders that forever changed the way subsequent Sonic comic books were handled.
Sonic’s Friendly Nemesis: Knuckles begins by first promoting the “mystery of Archimedes” and then giving a very brief rundown on Archie’s take on Knuckles, the downfall of the Echidna society, and his floating home. In these early appearances, Angel Island was known by the Western name of Floating Island and, in Archie Comics especially, was held aloft through the power of just the one Chaos Emerald (and not even the Master Emerald at this point) and incredibly advanced technology. With the Echidna’s long gone, nature has reclaimed much of the island, leaving it in disarray and causing long-forgotten secrets to be buried.
Knuckles pays a visit to Mount Fate in search of his missing friends, Mighty the Armadillo, Vector the Crocodile, Espio the Chameleon, and Charmy Bee (collectively known as the Chaotix), who he strongly suspects are being held captive there by the mysterious Archimedes. Archimedes has been making Knuckles’ life a bit of a misery in recent issues and stories, taunting him with riddles about his past, and led Knux to discover that, generations ago, the Echidna brothers Edmund and Dimitri tried to use the Chaos Emerald to return Floating Island to Mobius and, in the process, Dimitri became the evil entity later identified as Enerjak, the “Harbinger of Chaos”. The entire experience caused the Echidnas to renounce technology in all its forms and bury their secrets away beneath Mount Fate and, when Knux arrives, he finds that the chamber is well guarded by a number of electronic lasers, booby traps, and other obstacles specifically designed to keep out (or kill) any intruders.
As Knuckles explores his surroundings, he arms himself with a concussive blaster (because that’s what I always think when I think of Knuckles: guns!) and forces his way into the grand observatory at the heart of the temple…only to find that his friends are being treated to a glorious spread as guests of Archimedes, who is revealed to be a weird-looking anthropomorphic fire-ant (yeah…I don’t know, either). Considering all of the games, subterfuge, and questionable behaviour shown by Archimedes, Knuckles is understandably enraged and demands answers but any hostilities between the two are interrupted by the arrival of Enerjak, who broke free from his prison when Knuckles triggered Mount Fate’s traps. Although Knuckles dismisses the Pharaoh-esque madman as a fraud, Enerjak boasts the incredible, unmatched power of eleven Chaos Emeralds (Archie Comics had an almost incalculable number of the gems at the time) and proves his power (and to be more than a match for the combined might of Knuckles, Chaotix, and Archimedes) by overpowering them all, taking Chaotix captive, and blasting Knuckles and Archimedes to the blazing hot desert of the Sandopolis Zone. As the two begin the bleak, day-long journey across the outback, they are attacked by a giant sandcrawler. However, the beast is easily defeated and turned into late-night kebabs for the two when Archimedes uses himself as bait (and his ability to teleport) to trick it into colliding head-first with a stack of rocks.
Afterwards, Archimedes regales Knuckles (and bores the shit out of me…) with the story of how his people watched as the Echidnas harnessed the power of many Chaos Emeralds to move the entire city of Echidnapolis out of the path of an incoming comet (why they didn’t just evacuate is beyond me) thanks to the fire-ants performing the “ground-breaking ceremony” to effectively birth Floating Island. Archimedes then recounts, in a little bit more detail, how Dimitri later fashioned the “Chaos Siphon” to absorb the power of eleven Chaos Emeralds and ended up burying himself in the process. Since then, generation after generation of Echidnas were named Guardian of the Chaos Emerald and the fire-ants watched over them, testing them with a rite of passage to ensure that they would be read to combat threats such as Enerjak. While Knux and Archimedes resolve to work together to face Enerjak, they still need to cross the boiling desert; in his desperate hunger, Knux amusingly tries to eat Archimedes and ends up getting his mouth burned as a result. Later, while succumbing to the heat, Knuckles has a vision of his long-dead father, Locke, who does his best Mufasa (James Earl Jones) impersonation and gives him not only the resolve to continue onwards but also a cryptic clue as to how to defeat Enerjak: “The key to your present peril is in our past!”
After reinvigorating himself at a mysterious oasis, Knuckles and Archimedes forge onwards towards Nekronopolis, a mighty city erected by Enerjak’s vast Chaos powers. The city, which Enerjak has built as a dark and corrupt reflection of Echidnaopolis, is home to an army of disposable mechanical minions (known as “Mecha-Nauts”) and Enerjak’s imposing citadel. Knuckles decides that the best approach is to tackle the Mecha-Nauts head on, which earns him Archimedes’ disapproval until he reveals that it was part of a plan to lure the machines to a gate so that he could crush them all (or, at least, a lot of them) in one move. However, while they manage to get into the citadel with a minimum of fuss, inside he is confronted by the Chaotix, who have been brainwashed by Enerjak’s magic and attack the two on his command. The fight (which includes a timely reference to The Mask (Russell, 1994) and even, surprisingly, The Shadow (Mulcahy, 1994), two films that both released in the year prior to this issue) goes poorly for the Chaotix; despite them having the numbers advantage, Knuckles and Archimedes are able to hold them off, forcing Enerjak to intervene and render them both unconscious using his powers (kind of making controlling the Chaotix a waste of time…)
With Knuckles and Archimedes helpless against Enerjak’s powers, the would-be tyrant recaps his origins again just in case we didn’t realise how he came to be what he is. Despite acknowledging that the Guardian and his newfound fire-ant companion are the only two who could possibly oppose him, Enerjak prefers to boast and monologue rather than destroy them while he has the perfect opportunity. Indeed, Knux goads him into releasing them from his energy field, which gives Archimedes the opportunity to contact his fellow fire-ants. While Knuckles creates a distraction by taunting Enerjak and absorbing the brunt of his anger, Archimedes is able to teleport them out of danger so that Knux can (literally) get the drop on him and, though stunned to learn that he is Knuckles’ great-uncle, Enerjak attacks with a ferocity that is only matched by his augmented strength.
Still, the two are relatively evenly matched, potentially because Knuckles has successfully goaded Enerjak into a straight-up fist fight and continues to chastise his great-uncle for his selfish ways and lack of honour. Their fight is cut short when Enerjak’s citadel suddenly transforms into a rocket and blasts into space; Knuckles and Archimedes escape thanks to the efforts of the fire-ants and Chaotix are freed from their pointless mind control. In the aftermath, despite Knuckles not really learning anything from him or really acting in a way that’s that impressive, Archimedes gives Knux his respect. Although Enerjak escaped to live to fight another day, the group is victorious and decide not to worry too much about the mysterious happenings that they experienced along the way (such as the oasis disappearing and the aforementioned rocket) but the story concludes with the revelation (to us) that Locke is actually alive and actively monitoring and assisting Knuckles from a hidden, high-tech bunker.
Jesus, what a slog. I’ll be the first to admit that Knuckles is my absolute favourite Sonic the Hedgehog character and I remember being so excited when he debuted in Sonic the Comic (1993 to 2002) and to learn that he was a prominent feature in the Archie comics, which were seen as kind of a continuation/parallel to Sonic the Hedgehog/SatAM (1993 to 1994). Knuckles the Echidna was one of the longest-running spin-off of the Archie Sonic comics, which is a testament to the character’s appeal and popularity, but every time I read his solo run I can’t help but be astounded at how boring and preposterous it is.
I don’t usually lark to harp on about this sort of thing but my God is the art terrible in these issues! The covers, drawn by the always amazing Patrick “Spaz” Spaziante, are the best part of the artwork in this miniseries as, while Knuckles generally looks kind of okay, a lot of the characters just look really weird and disproportionate. I can kind of understand it as the majority of the Chaotix are really weird character designs already but Archimedes and the rest of the fire-ants just look ugly, man. Environments are very bland and nonsensical as well and all three issues suffer from the same artistic inconsistency that plagued the Archie Sonic comics for about fifty issues or so.
There are, however, some impressive moments in the issues, though. In the rare instances where Knuckles is gliding or in action, he looks suitably bold and striking and, while Enerjak’s design is a bit “busy”, he looks pretty distinct and intimidating and I love how he has all this Egyptian-inspired apparel on his armour. Thanks to having absorbed the powers of eleven Chaos Emeralds, he can fly, wields Chaos energy, and is able to render targets under his control or unconscious and seems to have enhanced durability and strength, and can even erect a fully-functional city and robot minions in just a few panels. Yet, the exact limits of his powers remains a mystery; he is regarded as a bogeyman-type figure by Archimedes and, as we learn, the reason why the Echidnas eventually renounced technology and he’s certainly a maniacal force but the story ends before we really get to delve into exactly what he wants.
And that’s interesting because Sonic’s Friendly Nemesis: Knuckles is about 75% dialogue and exposition. Look, I get it; you can’t assume that people who read issue two or three will have read issue one but every issue starts with a bit of swirling text recapping the previous issue’s events so I really don’t think it was necessary to recap the (literal) rise and fall of Echidna society or Enerjak’s origin three Goddamn times! Sure, have Archimedes explain the fire-ant perspective on it all and introduce the idea of Dimitri there and yeah, Enerjak could share his perspective as well, but they’re largely the same and it just felt like needless filler. Add to that the fact that neither Knuckles nor Archimedes ever shuts up and constantly narrates his every thought and action and you have a story that is more a chore than a thrill to get through, which is a shame as I find Enerjak to be a compelling villain and his slug-fest with Knuckles was gearing up to be something good. It doesn’t help that Archie constantly shoe-horned the Chaotix into Knuckles’ stories, bloating the cast to kind of make it like an alternative to Sonic and the Knothole Freedom Fighters and, considering how useless the Chaotix were in this miniseries, it might’ve been better to omit them entirely and focus solely on Knuckles (and Archimedes, I guess, even though I am not a fan of the character) and his efforts to prove himself a worthy Guardian and oppose Enerjak’s ambitions.
Could Be Better
Have you ever read Sonic’s Friendly Nemesis: Knuckles? Did you pick the issues up when they were first released and, if so, what did you think about Knuckles’ first spin-off? What did you think to Archie’s introduction and characterisation of Knuckles and the increasingly-complex depiction of the Echidna society? Were you a fan of Archimedes and Enerjak? Did you like the Chaotix being Knuckles’ running buddies? Which of Archie’s Knuckles stories and/or characters was your favourite and why? Are you celebrating Knuckles’ big day today? Whatever you think about Archie’s Sonic comics, and especially Knuckles, leave a comment down below and let me know.