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4 Elements: Mega Man

April 26th, 2012 by | Tags: , ,

Kids these days with their video games don’t know how good they have it. They have fully-realized stories right off the gate, treated to enough exposition and neat-looking cutscenes to paint a picture of what their game is all about. Guys like me and our Nintendo Entertainment Systems only got two paragraphs in the second page of the instruction manual and an ending. And if you were renting the game? Chances are you had to make a guess at what was going on.

The Mega Man games always had the barest of plots with just enough to make the sequels different in some way to what came before them. It got to the point where it would be, “The villain is this guy Dr. Cossack… oh, wait. It’s just Dr. Wily,” followed by, “The villain is Proto Man… oh, wait. It’s just Dr. Wily,” and so on. Just an excuse to keep giving us more of the same addicting gameplay. The endings were pretty dull until the SNES days with Mega Man X and Mega Man 7. The latter of which had the crazy-ass moment where Mega Man downright threatened to murder Dr. Wily on the spot.

While the later games introduced more story and cutscenes and even alternate futures and realities, the original games remained pretty barren. That is, until they released Mega Man: Powered Up in 2006, a PSP game that recreated the first game with new graphics, included a couple new characters (one of which being pretty racist-looking), gave everything a personality overhaul and allowed you to play through alternate versions of the game where the different boss characters switch places with Mega Man’s role and act as protagonists. While it crapped the bed in terms of sales, the ideas from it would be reused in the current Mega Man series released by Archie with Ian Flynn on words and Ben Bates on art. It’s a great comic and my only wish is that I’d be able to send it back in time to my ten-year-old self.

The series has finished its first year with twelve issues and three story arcs. The first covers the story of Mega Man 1, the second introduces Time Man and Oil Man from Powered Up (they fix the Oil Man controversy by putting a scarf over his mouth) and the third goes through the plot of Mega Man 2. The gist of the origin is that in the future, Dr. Light and his friend Dr. Wily have created a bunch of “Robot Masters” to help perform duties that will help out the human race and make the world a better, safer place. Due to Wily’s checkered past and notoriety in the public eye, Light insists that he stays out of sight for the press conference and the lack of limelight drives Wily over the edge. He rewires the six Robot Masters to do his bidding, has them attack the general public and plans some world domination. The only robots left unaffected are Rock and Roll, two housekeeping robots of Light’s who Wily felt were under his notice. With great reluctance, Rock volunteers to have himself turned into a battle-ready robot so he can bring his brothers back home and prevent Wily’s plot to take over the world.

One of the things I love about this series is how it gives the Robot Masters a chance to shine. In a way, it’s the Robot Masters who kept the game series going. The gameplay was #1, but that barely ever changed from game to game. It was the boss characters and the levels based on them that carried the show. It’s kind of fascinating if you look at it. These guys never had any lines or unique characteristics or anything and their names are the most base, lazy ones you can imagine. Yet their designs have so much spark and personality to them that they’re fondly remembered to this day. For decades, people have been able to insert their own personalities into these unrealized characters, whether it be official, like in the 90’s cartoon, or unofficial, like fan works. The one that comes to mind the most is the Dr. Wily Show: Interview with a Damp Wire, which proceeded to include a bunch of different Robot Masters while giving fitting behaviors and voices for each of them.

In this series, the original Robot Masters borrow from their Powered Up selves. Ice Man is timid, Elec Man is the vain leader, Fire Man has obsessions with justice and so on. While Flynn continues on those traits from previous works, he gets to define the Mega Man 2 Robot Masters, who are comparably darker due to design. The guys from MM1 are helpful robots reprogrammed to do evil while Wily specifically built his newer models from the ground up to destroy. Quick Man is the main antagonist of the bunch, feeling that Mega Man is his prey and that his fellow robots are encroaching on his duty to end him. Wood Man appears to embrace his programming out of a sense of worthlessness, knowing that even if Dr. Light could reprogram him, he brings nothing to the table as a robot made out of wood. Crash Man is a bit unhinged, constantly going into mood shifts. Heat Man is the only one who appears to be a genuinely nice guy, though still unable to stray from his programming. Considering his design flaw (he isn’t immune to his own heat and feels constantly exhausted) and his role in Wily’s plan, it really paints Wily as a disturbed sadist when you look closer into it.

Mega Man does well by deciding that his main supporting cast just isn’t enough and expands it. While Mega Man is a fine cipher of a character, his main loved ones aren’t the most exciting to read about. Dr. Light and Roll can be a little on the dry side and Auto… yeah, I’ve never cared about Auto. Unlike the games, the story does branch out just a little bit into the society of 200X – though not enough to make it tiresome – and leads the way with Agents Krantz and Stern. Krantz is the younger, more optimistic female detective while Stern is an old and grizzled officer who finds all the talking machines to be quite creepy. He’s unable to shake the idea that Dr. Light and Dr. Wily are in cahoots and that the whole Mega Man war is a front.

More importantly, the MM1 Robot Masters are still kept around, making this a borderline team book.

Powered Up did such a good job making them all so likeable and putting them in hero roles that Flynn really had no choice but to capitalize on that. Even in the first story, he does a great service to them as villains, showing signs of reluctance in their duties to serve Dr. Wily. Being robots, they aren’t allowed to break their programming and are compelled to make attempts on Mega Man’s life, but the way they work through that problem is a great, “Hell yeah!” moment. The two other arcs allow them to hang around in either sidekick roles or even bail our hero out at times.

Really, they add more color to the story. Remember that giant Guts Man robot in Mega Man 2 with the tank treads? Having Mega Man fight him would be okay, but you know what would be even better? A pissed off Guts Man going to town on him!

Or that boss battle with the gun turrets that you need the Crash Bombs to destroy? That would be pretty dull in comic form by default, but having Mega Man blowing everything up alongside Bomb Man makes everything all right.

A lot of fun references are tossed in, fueling the nostalgia I’ve been hungering for. The whole thing feels like a celebration of all things Mega Man. I can’t help but smile whenever they hint at the introduction of Proto Man, such as in the first storyline. Mega Man fights against a Sniper Joe (that fodder enemy with the helmet, shield and arm cannon) and before Light can get a good look at him, he gets the wrong idea. Once he figures out who it actually is, he finds himself nervously backtracking and hiding the truth from Roll about her long-lost brother. The subplot of Mega Man being reprogrammed into Wily’s minion causes him to wear the same scarf as his villain form in Powered Up. There’s a scene where Light explains the concept of free will to Mega Man and unknowingly crushes his spirit by telling him that robots are unable to experience free will, but then he muses to himself that one day he hopes to be able to discover that “x-factor” and create a more human-like robot. Eh? Get it?

References are made to all sorts of stuff relating to the franchise. The first issue takes a shot at the infamous Mega Man 1 boxart version of the character. Cut Man keeps his terrible habit of making terrible puns from the cartoon. Auto references the Brentalfloss rendition of the Mega Man 3 theme with lyrics. There’s even a nice wink to the audience when Mega Man realizes how effective the Metal Blades are very late into the story. He smiles and claims that if he went after Metal Man first, the rest of the adventure would have been a million times easier.

Like all modern retellings of old stories, there’s the need by the author to elaborate on stuff that was never explained before. Rather than say that Wily built the second set of robots from scratch, it’s said that they are based on the specs of the original group, only improved upon, driving the point home that Wily is an inferior inventor compared to Light. It’s cool how different robots are identified as improved versions of older models, like how Heat Man is based on Fire Man, Metal Man is based on Cut Man, Crash Man is based on Bomb Man and Guts Man and presumably Flash Man is based on Time Man. Thing is, that idea falls apart under scrutiny. Like, who the hell are Wood Man and Air Man supposed to be based on?

More than anything, the series is really funny with its moments of badass. And really, that’s what I would want out of something like this. There are a couple of angsty moments, but they’re swept under the rug fast enough to give us colorful action and entertaining interactions. Stuff like Agent Stern watching Mega Man and Dr. Light share a tender moment and being confused whether he should find it heartwarming or outright disturbing. Also, each issue includes a quick comic strip that occasionally acts as self-parody, including an amusing bit that shows Agent Stern’s robophobia throughout the years to the point that he didn’t trust that enigmatic device that slightly burned bread and popped it out the top when finished.

The battles against the Robot Masters are all given room to breathe instead of allowing Mega Man to steamroll through it all his enemies in 1-2 panels – something that would have hindered the series pretty badly. In the first and third arcs, Mega Man’s demeanor usually changes between reluctance to fight his own kind and becoming a robotic Frank Castle, though this is explained through different plot devices. Not that I’m complaining at all because it gives us such scenes as Mega Man vs. Metal Man.

Hokey smokes. He just sodomized that dude with a bomb in a comic for little kids!

Mega Man is one of those comics I feel like I’ve always wanted and even if it is a couple decades late, it’s still better than never. At least these days I can get it my own damn self this way instead of having to bug mom and dad. The next arc seems to be taking a break before Mega Man 3, focusing more on introducing Dr. Cossack and his Mega Man 4 robots (namely Pharaoh Man, who is possibly the best Robot Master. He at least has the best theme song). No doubt, there’s plenty of ground yet to cover and maybe one day we’ll get to that origin of Zero and the story that bridges the classic series with the Mega Man X series.

Right now Mega Man 1: Let the Games Begin and Mega Man 2: Time Keeps Slipping are available, with Mega Man 3: Return of Dr. Wily on the way. Capcom may be dumping on the Mega Man fans in various ways, but if this continues to last for a good deal longer, I won’t be complaining.

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19 comments to “4 Elements: Mega Man”

  1. Man, that Oil Man design was. . .eeessh.

    I seem to remember they thought it would look a little less racist if they just changed his colouring to blur rather than black, but it pretty much shows through no matter what.


  2. I started reading this series with the “Return of Dr. Wily” arc, and have loved it! It isn’t groundbreaking or anything, but Bates and Flynn give it so much personality. I’m kind of curious if they plan on following the story line all the way up through the X and Legends series, which would be kind of interesting (and harder, there was more of a story in those).


  3. And this is why I come to 4th letter! Seriously, I have a huge love for Mega Man but couldn’t bring myself to even try the first issue because of what the Comic book shop owner in my area might say. I had this idea that he’d never let me live it down, especially if it was bad.


  4. I think the X Series would be too much of an angsty clusterfuck, but I have an idea of an interpretation I would like to see of X:

    In the manual for the first Mega Man X game, X was found by Dr. Cain, who since made Reploids based on his design. Now, this probably did not happen overnight, and probably took several years or decades to make, not to mention the time it would take for Reploids to be completely integrated into society. This would make X the oldest known Reploid (Aside from Zero), and gives him a unique perspective of being someone who is sitting front row in history.

    Couple this with him trying to pass himself off as just another Reploid (Have a few lost photos fall into the lap of a secondary character of Dr. Cain and a his strange, unaging assistant that looks like X), and that he lives through several more years of unending conflict that slowly errodes at his soul, and we could have something interesting…

    …Except not, because I just realized that this is basically Atomic Robo but with angst added back in. Ugh. I feel dirty. Not to mention Brian Clevinger will probably want my head.

    I love Legends, and it could be adapted, but I do not accept for a minute that it is within the original and X timelines.


  5. Also, I remember when Manuals used to be good…we’d be lucky if we got two paragraphs of backstory.


  6. What amazed me about Flynn’s Mega Man is not only was it good, but he actually remembered stuff from the original games and used them to his advantage instead of spinning it out into cheap fanservice.

    I’m going to be blunt: Marvel comics should hire this guy to take over Avengers post-Bendis. He’s the only person I could see right now picking up the massive creative wreckage Bendis has left that franchise in and making the book entertaining again.


  7. I thought it was all but confirmed that Hickman was handling Avengers after Bendis?


  8. It’s an interesting tension between using 4 for 4thletter branding and your gutsy previous attempt at 7 Elements


  9. @Don Delgado: That’s because Carnage USA was a very special outlier. This is a comic I really enjoy. Carnage USA is a comic that was specifically created for me.


  10. Thanks for reviewing this. I played a few of the iterations casually but I was fascinated by Archie taking on this property: the fact that they’ve published Sonic for 200+ issues and added and expanded so much on a franchise that also seemed pretty limited really intrigues me. Add that to the fact that they have been so selective in taking on licenses and, I dunno, I just was really excited to see what they’d do with this franchise. I’ve just been so pleasantly surprised at how FUN this book is. And that’s even with me MISSING all the various continuity nods and winks.

    Even leaving out all the various stabs at getting press attention with the “controversy” of doing headline grabbing things with the Archie characters, Archie as a publisher is really doing some interesting stuff and, in almost 25 years of comics reading, they’ve NEVER been on my radar before. This creative team is moving over to the Red Circle print launch so I am really excited to see what they do there as well! Nice column David!


  11. Last year in my junior year of college, I brought my Gamecube with me to my sublet, and over the course of 10 weeks, I beat Megaman’s 1-6 on my Megaman Anniversary Collection disc (never got past Wily’s castle n 7, though, but it’s not 8-bit, so I’m giving myself some allowance). Without a doubt, it’s my proudest gaming achievement.

    A few months ago, comiXology had a video games-related sale, and I bought the first two storyarcs of Archie’s Megaman, and it was delightful to see the creators add to a storied franchise. The thing is, literally this weekend, I tried to get my baby cousin (he’s in third grade) to try Megaman, and he said, “I don’t want to. It’s too hard.” Things like these make me sad, but, Megaman has a FCBD issue coming out in 6 days, so, there’s that.


  12. @Luke H.: …David?


  13. @Ryan Johnson: I thought it was all but confirmed Hickman’s leaving Marvel when his contract is up.

    Latest rumor of the Winner of Who’s Going to Clean Up Tom and Brian’s Mess Sweepstakes is Rick Remender.


  14. @Gavok Sorry Gavin! I am new to this blog and thought it was a one person show. I see now it is a trifecta. My apologies!


  15. @Luke H.: Nah, don’t worry about it. :) Glad you enjoyed it.


  16. [...] Bag (Comic Book Resources) Connie on vol. 5 of Itsuwaribito (Slightly Biased Manga) Gavok on Mega Man (4thletter!) Chad Bowes on Popeye #1 (Multiversity Comics) Gavin Lees on Popeye #1 (Graphic Eye) J. [...]


  17. Gavin, are you that versed in Megaman that you picked out all the little franchise winks and nods you talk about above or did you research it? Because I know I’m missing a ton of easter eggs and I’ve looked for a rundown on where they appear but your article is by far the best one I’ve seen. Would you consider writing a review like this when future trades come out analyzing and reviewing? I know I for one would really enjoy it a lot!

    It looks like buzz for this series is growing too — I just read the below article discussing it today. Archie is impressing me more and more and I’m really excited to see what the New Crusaders series is like.

    http://www.comicsalliance.com/2012/05/09/mega-man-best-comic/


  18. @Luke H.: The Brentalfloss reference was pointed out to me, but I was at least aware of what it was referencing. Other than that, there was no research. I just knew the stuff from playing the old games and watching the shows and all that.

    As for annotating, I’ll give it thought, but I don’t think there’s quite enough to make a meaningful article out of.


  19. I see how regular annotating may be a stretch. I wish they’d get the Archie mega Man blog together to feature that kind of thing. I know it adds to MY enjoyment of the series to see those kinds of things covered.