The Blue Ink - Archie's Mega Man #11: Last Man Standing

"Pleasure and action make the hours seem short." -William Shakespeare, Othello ---------------------------------------

Wood Man, Bubble Man, Heat Man and Crash Man have all fallen to the rampaging one-life run of Mega Man... no bathroom breaks between levels. The Blue Bomber has taken his share of dings, cuts, scrapes, and scouring, but he continues on like a man possessed, ignoring every plea from his creator to return. And we know why he's acting like this now... the virus warnings, the red eyes? He is possessed.

He just doesn't know it, because the corruption is still too subliminal. Dr. Light knows better, though... and he's got the antivirus ready for upload. The problem is, Mega Man's refusing to come home. Kind of makes it hard to do any repairs if your machine won't listen to a recall command.

Next up in the hit parade is everybody's favorite Mega Man 2 Robot Master, made famous in internet memes and music, Air Man.

Oh, I see what you did there, Air Man, referring to your own internet meme. Of course, he's got a right to be cocky; his Air Shooter blitzkrieg is unavoidable. You can beat Air Man, you just have to walk into the room knowing you're going to get hit. A lot. Like "a lot" a lot. Even when you have the slide in Mega Man 3 and you're fighting the Doc Man copy of Air Man, you're going to get hit.

The trick to Air Man is to not panic, and to keep shooting like a madman. Depending on how he spaces his tornadoes, you can fire a few lemons through the maelstrom and wreck his jive. In the case of our mind-drugged hero here, after a failed attempt at Atomic Fireballing and a quick lesson in combustion (a strong enough blast of wind can extinguish fires!), Mega Man musters up his last shot of Leaf Shield for a close-up whackadoodle. And what do you know, it works.

I'm sure that when Keiji Inafune and the rest of the Mega Man 2 dev team were making the boss weaknesses, they probably didn't have the image of a mighty leaf mulcher being clogged by wet fall leaves, but that's the image I entertain. Of course, it's fall here, and I hate raking leaves. I hate de-clogging my leaf mulcher/blower/sucker even more.

So Air Man goes down, and an exhausted Mega Man picks up the Air Shooter and guts the fallen Robot Master for a big life capsule. Ooh, a life capsule in the comic book! Nice. Dr. Light again asks Mega Man to come home for a full recharge and repairs, but our stubborn Blue Bomber refuses the offer. See, Dr. Light, you need to give Mega Man an offer he can't refuse. But I suppose you just don't have any Vito Corleone in you, which is fine by me. There's a time for shooting guns through towels, and there's a time for being Dr. Light.

The next area is Metal Man's domain. I've mentioned before he'd be the one I'd start with, but no need to get into that again. Metal Man is quick on the draw, and not one to waste time on niceties. He's better than Cut Man, or so he says... and in a sense, he's right: He can fire off six shots for every unit of weapons energy. That's a mind-boggling amount of Metal Blades for your buck.

He manages to give Mega Man quite a few dings in his chassis before our hero finally gets ticked enough for a little Crash Bombing surprise attack. One Crash Bomb in the back sends Metal Man flying, but not before Mega Man can yank his shoulder back to make sure the explosive hits hard. And what happens when Mega Man reaches out and touches someone? Robot herpes!

Kidding. We're treated to the ultimate cheap shot in this game. Metal Blade ownz. And it especially ownz the Metal Man. On Easy Mode, one whack'll do ya. Hard/Japanese normal mode, two hits and he's sailing the River Styx without any P-chips to pay Charon.

I wasn't hoping, or expecting to see Metal Man metaphorically falling on his own sword, but it's a terrific gag, and probably the one instance in this story arc where a one-hit-kill is totally justified. Punch your own face, Metal Man. It's so damn funny when you do. Just like in that picture Cybermoon Studios drew of you on deviantART.

With Metal Man down and the Metal Blades safely in his possession (finally), Mega Man again is given the retreat and rest lecture by Dr. Light. But this time, Mega Man finally has had enough of his crap. So what does he do?

He punches the side of his helmet to futz up his transceiver. That's hardcore stuff right there. And look at his red eyes! He's in full bore pissy mode right now.

Light realizes after this he's going to have to change tactics. The safe play of a recall is thrown out the door now that Rock's neutralized his commlink and teleport signal. To get the antivirus update to his boy, Light's gonna have to do something really difficult: Remotely access Mega Man. Gee, I was sure there was an app for that.

And that brings us to the next area, Flash Man's domain. On his last legs, Mega Man actually does a little bit of critical mission analysis and decides perhaps it would be best if he avoided taking on the entire world. So, hopping from high point to high point above the waiting Sniper Joes and Sniper Armors below, he makes his way to Flash Man's boss room without firing a single shot or alerting a single sentry. Now that's some good thinking, Mega Man!

Unfortunately, there's no getting around the loud click-click-click-click of those boss door shutters. Flash Man is suitably surprised that Mega Man's on his front door, but he gets down to business, putting his Time Stopper to work and freaking Mega Man out. Damn, he's fast! No, Rock, he's not fast. He just makes things seem that way. Any time you're dealing with a "slowing" weapon, like with Time Man or Flash Man here, or with Bright Man from Cossack's octet later on in Mega Man 4, there's always the wiggling doubt in my mind as to how their powers function.

With Time Man, it was easy: He hyper-accelerates the molecules in his body through an applied EM field to a higher energy state, giving him the surreal advantage of moving through a normally advancing world at vast increments of improvement. With Bright Man, his glowing light bulb overloads enemy robots' processors via short-circuiting their optic relays. But with Flash Man, the original Robot Master to mess with time (because Time Man was an add-on for Powered Up, remember), there's more room for individual interpretation. Is he simply advancing himself through the world at a faster framerate, or does the entire world stop around him? Laws of physics applying in a wildly mutated sense, I think I'll stick with Flash Man altering his own self instead of the world at large.

Of course, we don't have much of a chance to dwell on the awesomeness of a Metal Blade thrashing here, because somebody else has a better idea:

Aw, shhhh... shoot. It's that guy, Mr. Quick Man. In a rare and undoubtedly Vegeta-like moment of mercy, Quick Man steps in, axes Flash Man in the back to end the fight, and then juices up Mega Man with a Senzu Be... err, I mean E-Tank. "Drink up, Mega Man. You'll need your strength." Ah, how true. And I'm sure that the Blue Bomber appreciates your misguided sense of mercy. Just remember, Quick Man, this is your third meeting with little blue, and what I said about threes...

With the gauntlet thrown down, and his honor demanding satisfaction, Mega Man is forced to pursue Quick Man through the exit out of Flash Man's domain and down through a long-dropping deathtrap full of instant kill death beams (NSFW) that would mean certain death if one hit. Not to mention, they're loud and annoying as a car horn left screaming after a car crash.

But, thanks to the intercession of Quick Man, our hero has the one thing that will give him the edge to both Quick Man's stage and the Robot Master himself. Quite generous. Stupidly generous of Quick Man, really.

Oh, and look at that. Dr. Light's remote access to Mega Man seems to be working, but these long-distance non-4G AT&T data speeds are just... ridiculous! Will the anti-virus upload finish in time? Hint: NO.

With an obvious use of the Time Stopper and a full on charge shot to the face and upper torso, Quick Man is down for the count, and our hero gets the last Robot Master weapon.

And the last piece of the malware code. Guess what it does to him?

Yup, he's single-minded, doggedly determined to hold onto old grudges, and in Light's words, doesn't have an original bone in his whole body... but nobody can learn from his mistakes and the mistakes of his enemies like Dr. Wily. Knowing that the Mega Man persona takes over the more that Rock was forced to fight, Wily adapted his coding to match it, and now he has Mega Man at his beck and call. The anti-virus upload? A few percentage points short.

Things certainly seem dark and dismal. We've been expecting something like this since the first issue of the story arc, but we have to applaud Wily's efforts nonetheless.

(silence)

Yeah, you're right. Enough of cheering for the bad guys. We've gotten our third issue kludge out of the way and we need something positive to end on. Something to give us a bit of hope that everything will, as we know it must, work out in the end. But with Mega Man ownz'd, who could possibly leap to his rescue?

Aaah, Elec Man, you never fail me. And this time, it's not just Elec Man and the Sunshine Five... it's Elec Man and the Sunshine Seven! I think these cowboys need a new theme song to match their upped numbers.

There. Magnificent.

However, I question the logic of putting Fire Man between the two Robot Masters he can incinerate. Didn't somebody once do a cartoon about that problem... coulda sworn Andrew Dickman...

Oh yeah, he did.

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There are some things I expect to see in the Mega Man comic, such as boss weaknesses being applied in the Robot Master fights, and then there are other things that are just cheese gravy on my french fries. So what qualifies as the poutine in this story arc so far? Remember back when I got all nostalgic because we were treated to a 2-D "game-o-verse" view of Bubble Man's stage through Dr. Light's monitor? That's the icing on the cake, a little tie-in that perhaps might go unnoticed by the noobs to Mega Man and to the "kiddie" generation that it's targeted at, but which is like all those adult jokes that get tossed into an animated movie so the parents aren't left wondering why they didn't sneak a flask of bourbon whiskey in.

There were a few separate poutine-worthy moments to be had in this issue, if you were looking for them. The first was Mega Man taking the high road above Flash Man's stage to avoid combat and detection. So what if he didn't find an E-Tank at the end of it? Who cares? Quick Man gave him one anyhow.

The second moment was when Mega Man was outrunning the quick beam death rays with some judicious and full-on Time Stopping. But remember what Oliver (Mr. X) Xanthos says in GRL: "Good things come in threes."

So what was the third gravy moment in Issue 11? I'll give you a hint: Mega Man Vs. Quick Man. Ring any bells? No?

How about now?

That's right. Five years ago, a fella going by the handle El-Cid put together a very ripping Flash cartoon showing the fight between the Blue Bomber and our resident speedster, which culminated, just as the fight here in the cartoon did, with Quick Man making all kinds of faces and taunting Mega Man, then getting iced after being shut down with Time Stop. I'm not sure if the artists and the writers had the chance to watch that video, but it's strikingly similar to how things go down in the cartoon.

Well, no Crash Bomb, buuut the same general idea. Perhaps they didn't see it, weren't aware of it, and perhaps the laws of quantum physics are quirked so flashes of insight are really the result of cosmic information from somewhere else crashing into our brains and triggering fated synaptic responses, glimpses of other worlds and other realities treated as myth and fiction in our own.

Feh, who am I kidding. They saw it, and they loved it.

In the last two story arcs, I made a point of discussing the "Third of Four" rule, which I used to explain why Issue 3 and Issue 7 just seemed lackluster in comparison to the rest of their respective comics. According to the Third of Four rule, the bulk of any third issue in a four-set is going to be primarily filler leading up to a dramatic reveal or problem that must be overcome. Setup, in other words, for the climax of the action in Issue 4. I've been expecting this to come, but the question is, does Issue 11 fall under the same pattern? Is it nothing more than setup for Issue 12?

Well, like any good topic worth discussing over the lunch table, such as which Power Ranger is the most awesome and capable (hint: the original Green Ranger) this one can be seen from both sides. On the surface, there's plenty of expected action: The Robot Masters are defeated, Dr. Wily's plan is revealed, and there's trouble in River City. In Issue 7, Mega Man was left with the problem of facing all eight of Dr. Light's Robot Masters at the same time. In other words, setup for the awesomeness of Issue 8.

In Issue 3, Mega Man defeated the last of the original six Robot Masters and had a stopover at home before the final push into Wily's Fortress. Setup for the final showdown in Issue 4. In one view, you could say that Issue 11 is just the setup for the final showdown in Skull Castle 2 in Issue 12.

But, there are key differences here that make this story arc finally break the Third of Four rule. And it's not because they altered the lead-in: Stuff still happens which will force the climax to occur in the fourth issue. Mega Man is captured, and this is a problem that must be fixed. Dr. Wily's malware plan, which has been brewing for three issues, comes to its loggerhead.

The difference is in the solution: Recall Elec Man and the Sunshine Five. After being defeated and rebuilt, Mega Man brought them home so they could be re-programmed back to their original state; in other words, they were being given a second chance, a time to shine later on. Kind of like a secret weapon you pull out every now and then, just as they were in the "Time Keeps Slipping" arc that was more than a passing reference to the music of the Steve Miller Band. In turn, Time Man and Oil Man were similarly captured and reprogrammed, instead of just destroyed. Why is this important?

Because Dr. Light was banking his Robot Masters for a rainy day. Call it foresight, or call it just his gentle nature, but no matter how you turn this Rubik's Cube, the fact is when Mega Man goes missing, Light already has his plan in motion. And he has a crew of eight guys willing to dive into the fireworks to save one of their own.

Now before, I've made noise over some pretty blatant examples of hand-waving a solution and expecting us to buy it. Mega Man's having trouble with the Copy Robot in Skull Fortress 1? Just have the six Robot Masters bust through a wall and blow him to Hell. Yeah, sure; quick, efficient, and completely a letdown.

Mega Man's up against all eight original Robot Masters in Issue 8? Have it so that Light made sure they couldn't be hacked again, so Elec Man and the Sunshine Five can help Mega Man wreck stuff. Just another off-screen, deus ex machina solution. Nod and smile, kiddies, nod and smile. Nothing to see here, people, move along...

The appearance of Elec Man and the (now) Sunshine Seven is not a deus ex machina maneuver. We know that they've been reprogrammed, and that they've been going about their biz. This isn't some off-the-cuff spackled on solution we're expected to swallow, it's something that has been grounded in the events of past issues: The Robot Masters can help. They have helped. And they'll help again.

So for the first time, the Archie Comics team breaks the "Third of Four" rule because even though there is trouble and a final showdown coming, there has been a clear stream of behind-the-scenes movement on the part of Dr. Light and his helpers, movement which gives us the solution to this problem in a way we can sink our teeth into. They have the anti-virus. They have eight Robot Masters. They know where Mega Man is, and because of that, they know where Dr. Wily is.

Wily thinks he has won, and that's his failing. After playing the long game for six months, his capture of Mega Man is seen not as another step in the progression of his goals, but the denouement. If he knew his partner better, he'd know the fight is far from over.

Throughout this story arc, the themes of Mega Man Vs. Rock, the warrior robot vs. the persona that listens to logic and reason, have been at play. They have given us some nice nightmare fodder to glance over, especially when it came to the deaths of Heat Man and Crash Man. What is Mega Man capable of when somebody pushes him to the edge? Now we know.

I have to say, I've been impressed with this arc. Very impressed. The team at Archie is getting more comfortable in their shoes; they're learning from the past two runs what worked and what didn't. I look forward to the conclusion of "The Return of Dr. Wily" with great interest. Knowing that Elec Man and the Sunshine Seven are on the case only makes me giddier still.

For the Blue Ink.

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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.