When it comes to anger and fury, there are plenty of things to keep in mind: Let the Wookie win. Don't tug on Superman's cape. Do not call Buford Tannen "Mad Dog." Do not mention Mufasa's name in Scar's presence. Above all else, do not look at C.B's nose, no matter how large and hypnotic it is. This issue of Mega Man was rife with plenty of new examples for us to draw on.
Let us review, shall we? In the last issue, Rock was just about to hang up his helmet and his trusty Weapons Copy-equipped Mega Buster for good, but Dr. Wily had to come in with a little Quick Man surprise and just ruin the party. I guess somebody was mad he didn't get the invitation, but in spite of his love of the long game, he's not about to wait 18 years for his total revenge. We can't all be Maleficent, after all.
Instead, Mega Man was given an ultimatum: Square off with Wily's eight new Robot Masters or watch the city burn. Try to warn the authorities, and it burns anyway. Rock reluctantly suited up once more and headed out into battle, squaring off against Wood Man and Bubble Man, taking plenty of dings in the process. Something that was off about the fights' results was that every time he copied a new special weapon, a virus warning kicked on in his processors. His eyes started to go red, and worse, his aggression seemed to be picking up as well.
And then Quick Man showed up and made Mega Man eat dirt.
Issue 10 picks up with Quick Man beating the stuffing out of Mega at a tauntingly slow pace. There's no rhyme or reason for the move, Quick Man is clearly just toying with him. Softening him up, as it were. Trying to prove to himself that he is the better robot, and that there's nothing special at all about Mega Man. This move might bite him in the butt later: His sneak attack makes it the second time Mega Man has seen him in action, and above all else, Mega Man can be analytical.
Quick Man dumps him off in the next Robot Master domain and departs, laughing his fool head off. Go ahead and laugh, Quick Man. Next time you and Mega Man meet, it will be strike three... and as I'm fond of having my scheming people say in a novel, "good things come in threes."
Battle-damaged, thoroughly irritated, and in a mood for mechanical mayhem, Rock finds himself in Heat Man's domain, which is as risky a proposition as ever if you're not packing Item-2. By the time he clears the Floating Telly horde and makes it to the living Zippo lighter himself, his temper's gone from simmer to full boil.
Heat Man is much the opposite; he's so laid-back and steamed out because of a malfunctioning internal regulator that he starts chatting to Mega Man without much of a care in the world. Oh, and then he attacks. Mega Man tries out his Leaf Shield, and quickly discovers that plants burn. Okay, that's your first bad idea so far. He then tries out the Bubble Lead: Much more effective. The dousing spray puts out Heat Man's fire and acts as a much-needed Alka-Seltzer for the poor twit's chronic acid reflux, but then something... unsettling happens.
Oh God, Mega Man. Don't smile, it just makes it worse! And those red eyes make a reappearance again. Clearly, things are going from bad to worse. I'll be honest. When I hit this section of the issue, I felt a little shiver run up my spine. That's cold stuff, shooting a Robot Master in the head point blank when he's down. The Mega Man I know wouldn't do that. As Martha Kent said in Superman: Doomsday, "that's not the son I raised."
And Dr. Light and the others back at the lab know it, too. Something's happened to their little boy blue, and they have to fix it. Luckily, this is Dr. Light we're talking about... the smartest man in the world, even smarter than Wily. But can he pull out a miracle?
For now, let's assume he can. He's like Hannibal Smith from The A-Team: Give him a minute, he's good. Give him an hour, he's great. And he clearly understands what kind of nonsense Wily is planning. Well, we'll find out what the plan is later.
Back in the action, Mega Man climbs out of Heat Man's domain up into the "Command Center" and has his face to face to with Crash Man. The cover lies slightly; their fight is a marvelously explosive one, but Mega Man doesn't get into fisticuffs with the guy. Instead, we learn that Crash Man has two settings: Joshing around and BUUURN! BURN IT TO THE GROUND! I know we all like to pretend Mega Man X7 didn't happen, but you have to give it up to Flame Hyenard's VA for constantly screaming that all the time.
Now we get into the theme of this issue: Anger Management. And I mean the practice in psychiatry, not the movie or the show. Crash Man has a problem, and the first step in confronting it is admitting he has a problem. And that problem is... he has no hands? Really? Unintentionally, confused by his unique personality, Mega Man blindly stumbles into the one thing you should never say to the drill-arm, bomb-equipped Crash Man: You have no hands.
Well, like my pal Jake every time I start singing that 80's pop classic "Jitterbug" in his presence, that remark lights the fuse inside of Crash Man, and the Robot Master starts flinging bombs in every direction. With a mad gleam in his eye, he litters his stronghold in Crash Bombs, planning to eliminate Mega Man in a grand, stage-enveloping holocaust of high explosives. With nowhere to run, a terrified Mega Man gears up with Leaf Shield (I'm amazed he still has Leaf Shield energy at this point) and hopes that its defensive capabilities will protect him from certain death. Everything goes boomy.
When the smoke clears, Crash Man's domain is a heap of steel ruins on top of a twiggy support beam, and the Robot Master himself is wounded and trapped underneath debris. Mega Man copies his power, and Crash Man remarks that it looks good on him. It should be the end of the road here. After all, he did Heat Man in with a headshot, and Crash Man has nowhere to run.
Oh, that's just cold, Mega Man. Lay down the thing that'll kill him and just walk away. It's a move reminiscent of Wolverine lighting the trail of gasoline to the downed helicopter in his X-Men Origins movie, and more unsettling, really. I expect Wolverine to do all sorts of nasty things. To see Mega Man doing this? Well, something's kerflutzed.
He's clear of the mess when the bombs go off, and we discover that along with the cold-blooded kill, Mega Man also set us up the bomb to manage a controlled collapse of the ruins so they wouldn't hurt anybody else. Hmm, all right. But you've still got that red-eye thing going on, bubsy.
Dr. Light tells Mega Man he needs to report back in to base for repairs and upgrades. By upgrades, he means whatever antiviral software he's got on a disc in his waiting hands. Mega Man will have none of it, and even rails into Light. Don't call me Rock. I'm Mega Man.
His sense of justice is becoming warped, Mega Man is turning into a fanatical warrior. And the last thing this world needs are more fanatics, especially when they're toting a high-energy plasma discharge weapon on their arm. With Crash Man down for the count in a strange act of seppuku, the Blue Bomber turns towards Air Man's domain in a weather observation platform.
And things will only get uglier from here.
I've always enjoyed stories where the bad guys decide to see just how long their hero rival can hold out with their sense of morality. With Batman, it was his "I don't kill mantra" which got put to the test in The Dark Knight. With Superman, there was The Elite, and the storyline in Justice League where alternate-universe Superman heat-visioned President Lex Luthor's head clean off his shoulders to avert nuclear war. Come to think of it, thematically, the "I don't kill" mantra is one of the most popular for superheroes to adopt. It's considered a mark of distinction, and a clear delineation between full-on vigilantes and those who work to support law enforcement.
For Mega Man, there are two battles raging in his subconscious: Doing just enough damage to stop Robot Masters without destroying them, and figuring out which personality is dominant; Rock or his fighting alter-ego, Mega Man. The second, psychological battle, is one that is commonly pursued in the fandom. It's also been previously used in the first story arc of this comic. The battle between Rock and Mega Man is starting to play itself out, and Mega Man is winning. Why doesn't he stop and go home for repairs and upgrades like Light wanted him to? Why is he so obsessed with taking out all eight Robot Masters in a single life with no recharges between? Not saying it can't be done, but it's not the safe play. And Mega Man's not supposed to be the fella who ignores the safe play; that's Proto Man's territory, and the next century after, Zero's.
Something I've noticed so far: When Mega Man gets angry, or he's in combat, his eyes go red. When he's not, they're his natural blue color. So clearly, whatever malicious code Wily's hitting him with through the Weapons Copy downloads, it's geared to affect the parts of his CPU tied in with aggression and combat... and it's getting worse. Perhaps there's more to Quick Man's hit and run tactics than we thought... maybe, unlike The Hulk, Wily wants to see him get angry. The angrier he gets, the further down the rabbit hole he goes, the less he listens to Dr. Light, to Roll, to common sense, and the more he is driven by the thundering drumbeat inside of himself.
The comic's writers are dialed in to the idea that "Mega Man", Rock's super-fighting robot persona, is a side personality he's developed to insulate himself from the psychological trauma that combat does to him. We can safely assume that Wily is aware of it; he kept tabs on the six originals during his first bid for world domination, after all. He would have undoubtedly left some cameras around to record Rock's fall from grace. Now, he's accounted for it.
We haven't seen Wily at all in the first two issues of this arc: In that regard, the writers are treating him as a true scheming supervillain. He doesn't need airtime for us to know what he's doing. He's watching with great interest, observing as his plans unfold. Somehow, whatever sort of virus the Robot Master weapons are hitting Mega Man with, they're affecting the Blue Bomber's psychological profile, putting him on a solid, robotic 'roid rage. "Come at me then!" Wily's plans annoyingly taunt our hero. "If you think you can stop me."
But what's the end-game here? What is this all building towards? Will the "Three of Four" rule I discussed in Issue 8's review rear its ugly head again in Issue 11? One thing's for sure, this arc is about two direct conflicts:
1) Mega Man Vs. the Robot Masters 2) Dr. Wily's six months of planning vs. Dr. Light's six minutes of insight
Mega Man is winning the physical battle, but Wily has too much of a headstart on the thinking game. Light has a solution, but can he implement it in time to save Rock from whatever dark, hidden scheme Wily is playing at? I would guess no.
That's something about these four-issue arcs that does tend to limit the storytelling of the writers at Archie: By the end of the fourth issue, whatever cliffhanger they left us with in the third issue of the arc will be resolved. The good guys will win, the bad guys will lose, and everything will more or less reset in true cartoony fashion.
Or another example of this concept at play: Batman and Robin will narrowly avoid certain doom in whatever deathtrap The Riddler, Catwoman, Penguin, The Joker, etc. has planned by some last-minute, completely deus ex machina rescue. Like a porpoise throwing itself in the way of a torpedo, their downed Batcopter landing on a pile of unshaped foam rubber, or the rescue itself will take place off-screen and then be given a handwave explanation we're expected to just go along with. And all of those happened in just one movie alone.
Story arcs are good for a few reasons: They allow the writers to get a firm grasp of a particular plotline and make sure it doesn't spiral out of control. Story arcs make for concise graphic novels in republishing, since you can fit four issues into one book and have it look nice and neat. Story Arcs allow them to bounce from one idea to the next relatively quickly, so if one arc doesn't appeal to the readers, they can hopefully enjoy the next one.
This is the third story arc, and the second of the so-called "novelizations" they're attempting. Like the first story arc, there are parts of this that lead towards tedium. This time around, they're really turning the heat up on the psych war, which helps: As little time as they get to spend sketching out the combat sequences, they need something with a little more meat on its bones. Watching Mega Man go from reluctant warrior to murdering psychopath gives us that taste sensation we can sink our teeth into.
Am I a fan of story arcs? Well, not particularly. But I can understand why they use them. I'm not saying it wouldn't be nice to have a story arc go longer than four issues. They'd get to spend a little more time fleshing things out, perhaps have some more meaningful combat sequences, some more in-depth character dialogue. Or perhaps I'm expecting too much. This is a comic book, after all; they have only so many pages to do everything they need to.
Just remember, when Disney decides to break the 90 minute animated movie formula for something closer to 2 hours, the end result is a lot prettier to look at. Food for thought.
For the Blue Ink.
When he isn't writing "The Blue Ink" reviews for The Mega Man Network, Erico (The Super Bard) spends his days keeping track of the "Legacy of Metal" fanon, dabbling in cooking and tea-brewing, and exploring the human condition from his Iowa stomping grounds.
The views expressed here reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Mega Man Network.