Mega Man, for those of you who don’t know, is a robot who, with the help of his creator, Dr. Light, and various robotic assistants, has saved the world multiple times from the clutches of the mad scientist, Dr. Wily, and his evil robotic creations. Mega Man made his debut in a self-titled action/platforming videogame released by Capcom for the NES in 1987, has since spawned numerous sequels, spin-offs, fan games, manga, cartoons, and more. In 2011, what would have been two new Mega Man games were notoriously cancelled, much to the chagrin (more like cha-anger) of many Mega-fans, not long after series co-creator, Keiji Inafune, left Capcom. However, in between the cancellation of those games, the comic book publisher, Archie, began releasing an ongoing “Mega Man” comic book.
When I first heard about it in early 2011, I was cautiously optimistic. Optimistic because I’ve absolutely loved Mega Man since the age of 5, but cautious due to some truly subpar representations over the years. Mega Man appeared in the Captain N cartoon in the late 80s/early 90s, where he was a little too cutesy and given a grating and annoying voice (Mega WOW it was annoying). Also, the redesigns given to some of his enemies, known as robot masters, were ridiculous and awful (absolute junk, man). The 90s Mega Man cartoon tried to take itself seriously and was instead laughably bad. I suppose it was easy to get Mega Man wrong because the classic series of games had a pretty simple formula that they followed with little in the way of a detailed story. This left much to the imagination of bad writers responsible for the above-mentioned cartoons. In the games, you pick a robot master, jump and shoot your way to the baddie, defeat it, and repeat, until you get to Dr. Wily….because it was ALWAYS Dr. Wily as the final boss. When I was in grade school and new Mega Man games were released, all I wanted to know was who the new robot masters were, not who was behind the evil deeds – I already knew it was going to be Wily (we all knew the drill, man). So while each Mega Man game did have its own story, the plot was severely eclipsed by the awesome and challenging gameplay, music, and creative mechanics throughout (and let’s not forget the occasional rage-quit). Since story was such a small part of what made Mega Man fun, what could be included in a comic book? Was this “Mega Man” series truly for the Mega-fan, or did it crash and bomb? Beware of SPOILERS as you read on and find out!
The writer of Archie’s “Mega Man,” Ian Flynn, managed to, for the most part, stick to the formula that made a great, classic Mega Man game and greatly expound upon it. However, the comic didn’t simply cover the simplistic plots of Mega Man 1 through 10 sequentially. If that were the case, the typically 4-issue-story-arc book would’ve ended at issue 40 instead of reaching issue 55. Instead, Flynn added numerous threats and plenty of drama to shake up the series from too much predictability (giving it a little spark, man). Though Dr. Wily was essentially the primary antagonist (surprise!), there was a villain created specifically for the series, Xander Payne, whose villainy lasted throughout much of the comic’s run. This baddie was an anti-robotics terrorist, which fit perfectly into the world of Mega Man – a world where robots coexisted with humans. There was a story arc that saw the alien robot, Ra Moon, as the villain, who was from a Mega Man game never released outside of Japan. And there were cameos galore from plenty of other relatively obscure Mega Man villains.
So while there weren’t too many serious plot twists, Flynn managed to keep the stories interesting by modifying points from the source material, changing details, and greatly elaborating character development. Obviously, the main characters were given personalities in the comic, and though done well, were expected. Rock, also known as Mega Man, was given a “strong sense of justice” to protect humanity (and he was truly the star, man). Dr. Light was a cuddly, overly-trusting father-figure. Roll and Auto were cute, sometimes-goofy-but-always-loveable assistants in the fight for good. One of my favorite characters in Mega Man history, Proto Man, known briefly as Break Man in the games and in much of this comic, was given a wonderful role throughout the book and it was a joy to watch him in action. Characterizing him with corny dialogue could have been an easy thing to accomplish (see the 90s Mega Man cartoon for reference), but his feelings, anger and actions were made easily understandable by Flynn’s grasp of the character’s nature. But what about the perpetual co-stars of classic Mega Man games, the robot masters?
I could certainly complain about the lack of in-depth characterization of every single robot master in this series. That would be ridiculous, however, as there are over 80 robot masters in total, nearly 30 of which made more than just guest appearances in the comic. This is really splitting hairs more than a matter of contention (but I felt it pertinent to bring up my unreasonably high expectations of an all-ages book at the ripe old age of 31). However, many robot masters thankfully got a special spotlight and welcomed individualization throughout this book. Ice Man had a cute crush on Mega Man’s sister, Roll, and always tried his best to impress her. Guts Man and Concrete Man had the personalities of stereotypical gruff construction workers. Quick Man was overly confident and very outspoken regarding his desire to personally defeat Mega Man. Cut Man had the ability to make “cut” puns at every opportunity (he’s such a clown, man). Though I read an interview where Keiji Inafune discussed his desire to include robot master’s personalities in games, such a thing was very difficult to do while developing early Mega Man titles, so it was an amazing thing to witness various robot masters given their own unique character, whether as allies or aggressors. The villains in this series, however, weren’t limited to just Wily and his robot masters, as there were two crossovers with the “Sonic the Hedgehog” line of comics, also published by Archie.
I never cared much for Sonic the Hedgehog as a child (wait, don’t leave!), but I was pleasantly surprised with how “Worlds Collide” and “Worlds Unite” were handled and how well the two hero’s universes were enmeshed. “Worlds Collide” saw an accident grant Dr. Wily and Dr. Robotnik (I’m not calling him Eggman…but maybe Egg Man would work) access to each other’s worlds where they teamed up in an attempt to destroy both Sonic and Mega Man. After a rocky introduction, the two heroes went on to fight tons of robots, robot masters, and save their friends from the two mad scientists’ control. Worlds Unite was made possible primarily with the inclusion of Mega Man X backup stories in a few issues of “Mega Man.” Those backups served as a nice introduction to the universe of the X characters, and the crossover was a great finale to stories of Mega Man X. “Worlds Unite” really gave a welcomed spotlight to the primary antagonists of the X series, Sigma and his mavericks, and it was a treat to see the heroes of the Mega Man X series in action. However, “Worlds Unite” didn’t just unite the worlds of Mega Man, X, and Sonic. The story made use of many Capcom and Sega video game properties, including Street Fighter 2, Breath of Fire 3, and many others. Fans of older Capcom and Sega games would truly love this crossover.
Though the book didn’t introduce too many original characters, the few that were created were refreshing additions. Roslyn Krantz and Gil Stern were two federal agents that made occasional appearances, which was a nice inclusion, because it always seemed to hinge solely on Mega Man to save the world in the classic games without the help or even mention of any police force. Dr. Noele Lalinde was created to be a colleague and possible love-interest of Dr. Light’s, though her views on robotics differed with his. Noele’s first original robot master, Quake Woman, was introduced as a robot void of emotions (very cold, man). Her frigid personality didn’t last for the entire duration of the comics, however, and she was always an interesting character. Another original creation of Lalinde’s, though much later in the series, Vesper Woman, was created for botanical cataloguing, and acted as a sister to Quake Woman. The dialogue between the two was cute, funny, and both characters felt like a natural addition to this “Mega Man” Universe (like a breath of fresh air, man). I appreciated how Flynn wrote them both as female robot masters, because out of the dozens of official robot masters, only one is a woman (though she certainly did make a splash).
I don’t believe that the tone of this all-ages book would have worked so well were it not for the artwork. While there were a handful of different artists that rotated throughout the series, all of them used a similar style, and their cartoonish characterizations helped legitimize and affirm the lighthearted writing. To contrast, the “Mega Man Mega Mix” manga that I own, while certainly enjoyable, had a more serious tone, and some robot masters appeared strikingly human rather than the playful art style found in Archie’s series. Even when Archie’s book ventured into grave situations and palpable action, the artists’ use of minimalist (but not underwhelming) designs and funny expressions, and the overall upbeat feel reminded the reader to enjoy the book and have a good time.
The creative team behind this “Mega Man” series even went the extra mile to include references directly to the games. In the videogames, Proto Man had his own theme song, and in the comic, it appeared as notation within the panels with the correct musical notes when he whistled it. In the comic, Wily gave Mega Man a code to shut down one of his own destructive robots, and that code is actually a password usable in Mega Man 7. During a crossover, when the heroes were hacking a computer to gain access into the villains’ fortress, only colored dots could be entered into the computer system, a nod to the NES Mega Man password system.
Outside of video games, I believe Mega Man works best as a lighthearted story of a robot trying to save the world. If I wanted to see a serious, action-packed blockbuster with robots, I could watch a Transformers movie complete with Michael Bay-splosions. Archie’s “Mega Man” comic book worked (it totally rocked!) where other versions of the franchise failed, and it was the perfect balance of serious, silly, cute, and downright fun. The biggest sin is that this comic ended too soon. The final issue was essentially a quick tribute to every story the creative team wasn’t able to cover before it was put on hiatus, which was a decision apparently made by Archie, not by Capcom. However, Mega-fans will be treated to a new animated series in 2017 (aptly decided, as it will be the blue-bomber’s 30th anniversary), and who knows what will accompany this cartoon? New video games, a movie, and/or more comic books? Hopefully more will be revealed throughout the year (in time, man….in time). This comic book was absolute magic, man, and I recommend Archie’s Mega Man series to anyone looking to have a good time reading a comic book, and definitely any Mega Man fan.
I honestly didn’t set out to write a review of this series, I just wanted to write about my thoughts when I found out that this comic book was ending. As it turns out, I got to reflect on what I believe to have been a great inclusion to the Mega Man Universe. Maybe some of my positive feelings about this comic are rooted in sheer nostalgia, but I don’t really have anything negative to say about this series. I’m curious to find out what others thought about this comic. Was Archie’s Mega Man masterful magic or a mindless mess? If anyone is out there, let me know what you think!