How Archie Comics Lost the Rights to Sonic the Hedgehog Characters

Sonic the Hedgehog is known mostly for his games, but there’s another medium that he quickly conquered, as well: comic books. Back in the 1990s, the Blue Blur made the jump from the Genesis to the magazine rack, receiving a monthly comic book from Archie Comics. The series was beloved by fans, introducing tons of characters and concepts from outside the games. Unfortunately, some of these characters may never be seen again.

The beginning of the end for Sonic over at Archie began after a horrendous lawsuit, the legal ramifications of which involved the culling of over 200 original characters! Estos “Sonic” characters are now owned by a man who’s become loathed by the series’ fandom, though he has his own plans with them that don’t involve Sega or Archie. Here’s how Sonic lost several of his friends to a threat far greater than Robotnik.

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What Was Ken Penders’ Impact on Sonic the Hedgehog Comics?

Sonic And Metal Sonic

When the series first began in 1993, the Archie Comics sonic the hedgehog series was a fairly simplistic and silly book, not unlike the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon of the time. That would begin to change, however, once Kenneth Penders, Jr. started his run on the title, starting with issue #11. From there, he introduced numerous elements and characters into the stories that were fairly removed from the sonic the hedgehog video games, namely because Penders hadn’t really played them. He would also write the entirety of the spin-off Knuckles the Echidna comic book, which is where he would really make an impact on the books’ continuity.

Instead of having Knuckles be the sole surviving echidna, Penders introduced an entire mythology behind his actually surviving people, which was very obviously based off of DC Comics’ Superman and other Kryptonians. Knuckles was reimagined as a chosen one whose greatness had been told to his father from him years before in a dream, causing Knuckles’ dad Locke to irradiate Knuckles’ egg and give him superpowers of sorts. The role of the echidnas, namely Knuckles’ dad and girlfriend/wife Julie-Su, was of far more importance to Ken Penders than anything actually involving Sonic. Sonic’s smart-mouthed characterization back in the day was likely a reason behind this, which is why so many otherwise questionable adults are written as being wise and deserving of reverence compared to the impetuous speedster.

Several controversial storylines would be employed, including Knuckles’ arguably abusive origin story, the seeming death of Sally Acorn, as well as the actual death of the original Dr. Robotnik/Eggman. Backstory was given explaining that a gene bomb was what caused the rise of anthropomorphic animals on the planet Mobius, which was typically seen as a future version of Earth. All of these concepts contradicted the games, especially as Sega went into the 3D sonic adventure it was. Penders’ interest in only what he could use the franchise as a vehicle would soon come to a head, but Archie Comics wouldn’t come out of it unscathed.

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Lara-Su-Chronicles (1)

Penders left the main book with sonic the hedgehog #159, though he felt particular ways about how his characters should be used. Of course, many of these rules were ignored, and the vitriol that this caused is likely what made him sue Archie and Sega for the rights to the Sonic characters that I created for the former. Another reason was that characters in the spin-off video games Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood were seemingly reminiscent of the Dark Legion echidnas that Penders created, drawing his legal ire. Archie intended to quickly win the court battle by showing Ken’s original work-for-hire contract, but they were unable to produce it beyond a supposedly “doctored” copy. Thus, Ken Penders now legally owned 227 characters once tied to the sonic the hedgehog franchise, despite the fact that many, such as Locke and Julie-Su, were heavily tied to characters that Sega legally owned.

Sega and Archie could legally use the characters afterward, but only in a capacity approved by Penders, one in which he would also be paid royalties. Instead of going for this option, Archie Comics instead took a page from the same DC Comics that Penders ripped off, enacting a line-wide continuity reboot. This erased any and all references or history involving Penders’ characters, who were never used again for the remaining duration of Archie’s possession of the Sonic comic book license.

Ken Penders’ current plans with his “Sonic” characters include a rather questionable-looking original graphic novel series called The Lara-Su Chronicles. This would star the daughter of Sega-owned Knuckles the Echidna, though their species is now the alien Echyd’nya. So far, nothing has come of the book, though Penders’ owning his stable of character certainly put a damper on Archie’s otherwise popular Sonic comic. The comic rights to the property are now owned by IDW, with strict mandates given by Sega to prevent another Ken Penders situation from ever happening again.

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