The Blue Ink - Archie's Mega Man #14: Bombs, Cons, and Megalomaniacs

"I will classify my lieutenants in three categories: Untrusted, trusted, and completely trusted. The third will be awarded posthumously." -Rule #147 Of Being an Evil Overlord (Appendix A) ----------------------------------------

You ever have one of those days where either due to lack of sleep, illness, or a blow to the head the day before, you have sudden clarity of the world around you? Or perhaps it just feels that way. Colors are brighter, music is louder, and you just can't shake the feeling that something bad is going to happen that will make Mega Man's situation go from bad to worse. Perhaps it's experience talking in the only way it knows how: Slamming your forehead repeatedly against the brick wall of exposition and plot development.

Bloodied nose aside, we venture into Issue 14 with our Danger Senses on high alert. Oh, sure, we've had Robot Rebellions in the past, and Dr. Wily blah blah blah blah BLAH... who gives a ding-dong? The guy's a nutter, he'll always be a nutter, and he'll always be compensating for something. Issue 13, the start of the "Spirit Ex Machina" story arc dropped a whole new kind of game onto the board. I felt rejuvenated at the prospect! It was like going from the Yu-Gi-Oh card game to that weird-ass dice thing they tied into it, only this time it doesn't SUCK! Wait, that's not a good analogy, Yu-Gi-Oh sucked too. Man, all these weird and comical Magic: The Gathering clones, where do they come from? Fog deck for life, yo.

The introduction of the Emerald Spears is a potent alternative threat for our protagonist and his friends to go up against. Reminiscent of the Human Supremacy League from Maelgrim's magnum opus, and sharing many traits with the Luddite Movement of the 19th century, this group of anti-robot terrorists came loaded for robot bear, and they've successfully taken over the entire convention. Their leader, Harvey Greenleaf, is keen on causing advanced robotics to grind to a halt. His lieutenant, a one-eyed man with a permanent scowl called Xander Payne, is less sure about his methods. And what are his methods?

That's right, debate. Of course, this gives Mega Man and the gang time to get busy. After all, the Emerald Spears have already declared they mined the entire place with explosives, and they're escorting all the humans out. Well, minus Drs. Light, Cossack, and Lalinde, that is. So go ahead, Mr. Greenleaf. Debate with Doctor Light about why robots are a problem. Try it. You've just walked into the oldest trick in the book. The second most well-known is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: Never get in a debate with Dr. Light, when robots are on the line! Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha!...

Naturally, his militant lieutenant Xander Payne is less than pleased with this turn of events.

Wow, and he even used the word "sheeple." This guy's farther off the deep end than I thought. Displeased with how things are going, and clearly upset that Mr. Greenleaf is going to talk the leading roboticists to death rather than just shoot them, he meets up with his own trusted sub-lieutenants and prepares them to mobilize the troops in case of a change in leadership. This is not a good sign, and evidence that the Rules for Being an Evil Overlord were missing an item or three, even in the two appendices. In this case, Harvey Greenleaf violated a basic precept: Never employ anyone who has more power than you do. You could also replace power with ambition in that line, but then poor Megatron would have had to shoot Starscream after his first week on the job, and then where would all the slash shippers be?

So, in review so far: The head of the Emerald Spears is debating with Dr. Light and his old chums, Xander Payne wants to shoot something, and Kalinka and Roll are still hunkered down trying to keep clear of the mess. You know, this seems like a perfectly good time to check in on Dr. Wily!

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...

It seems that the strange thing that Dr. Wily found in the last issue has some remarkable powers. Namely, like Cartman's Trapper Keeper, it is able to integrate alien components into itself, albeit with less world-ending consequences. Sucking in Wily's laptop, it downloads all the information inside and begins to reproduce his first set of original Robot Masters, starting with Quick Man whose first cognizant thought is, "I lost to Mega Man? INCONCEIVABLE!" With this new power in tow, it becomes clear that Wily will once again be causing mischief for us, and sooner, rather than later. Later on, it starts popping out the Robot Masters from Mega Man 3, starting with Magnet Man. The first words out of Magnet Man's mouth are a message from Ra Moon, the device responsible for this new madness. Wily's new army will be ready soon.

Oh, boy. I can hardly wait.

Mega Man and Quake Woman meet up with their two companions, Pharaoh Man and Elec Man, and come up with a plan of sorts. They need to accomplish two things: Decrease the Emerald Spears presence and remove the bombs. While bomb disposal would be easy enough for Quake Woman, she could hardly do it if there were bad men with guns shooting at her all the time. So Mega Man has the brilliant plan that he'll run interference so the other three can focus on taking out the devices which could drop the entire convention hall down on top of their heads. That's actually a pretty decent plan, considering that the First Law of Robotics is so mismatched with the threat that they're up against that they couldn't even counterattack the Emerald Spears to defend themselves in the process of trying to save humans, because they'd be harming humans and

INTERLAW CONFLICT

Yeah, enough of that. If I felt like weighing and measuring the cost-analysis of the Three Laws in a positronic brain, I'd reread The Caves of Steel. Suffice to say that Mega Man is uniquely suited to the job of neutralizing enemy agents without resorting to his boomershooter.

"Help, help, robot dog attack!" Sure, those poor suckers fall for it every time. Armor recall is one of the nicest abilities you could ever hope for. It was a costly add-on for the players in my short-lived Mega Man X role-playing game, but worth it. There's just no getting around those big robot boots. Ah, I can hear my friend Andy the artist now complaining at me. "You've gotta stop making their feet so big!" Well, their feet ARE that big. Look at the size of those honkers Mega Man has. It puts Shaq to shame! By impersonating a human, he lures the Emerald Spears militants into an enclosed space and locks them inside. "And now I'm hiding in the closet..."

Let's bounce back to Dr. Light and the gang to see how they're doing, shall we?

I could do without the constant plugs, but damn, look at this long bit of conversation going on here. This, this here, this is a treasure. They may only be able to spend a page on the back and forth between Light and Greenleaf, but this stuff is pure gold to me. We'll talk more about this later. Suffice to say that Light manages to turn every argument Harvey uses back against him, neutralizing every push. And Harvey complains as much to Xander when the one-eyed thug comes tromping back in to the security office.

Xander insists that they should move forward with their plan to blow everything up. Harvey disagrees, after all, he thinks these guys are starting to crack! And then Xander promptly shows his colors, gives El President of the Emerald Spears a nice boot to the head, and assumes command.

Like I said before... never employ anyone who has more power than you do. Harvey learns this lesson the hard way, and now Dr. Light, Mega Man, and all their friends and family have to pay the tuition for a semester in the school of hard knocks.

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Now last issue, I focused all of my attention on humans and robots and how they're portrayed together in cinema, television, books, and other sources. This time, I want to focus on what appealed to me the most, and what is the greatest break from the comic layout and style we've had so far in this run of comics. We've had the long rectangular panels, we've had full page panels, we've had pages divided in half longwise and shortwise and diagonally, we've had people overlap panels for dramatic effect...

But through it all, save perhaps for the beginning when Dr. Light was doing his press conference announcing the six Light Labs Robot Masters, they've never had an entire page where there were more speech bubbles than artistry. We like to say we "read" comic books, but this is one occasion where I actually felt like I was, instead of bouncing from one picture to another. And what a topic to spend on a dialogue heavy page. When Dr. Light and Harvey Greenleaf are arguing about the nature of humanity, what makes us human, why we should or shouldn't put that into robots, the flow of it is so natural, so easy to follow, that even eight-year olds could get the gist of why this is important. This qualifies as a big question! It's an important question. What makes us human? What is worth preserving?

Remember this issue, not for Xander Payne's "Welcome to the Xander Xone" moment, but for the discussion, the dialogue, between these two. It's not standing up on a soapbox and preaching from the bully pulpit. It's not forced philosophy. Instead, the back and forth debate highlights a similarity. Both Dr. Light and Harvey Greenleaf want the best for society, they only differ in the route to it. Light believes robots can make us better, and Harvey believes they weaken us. To be honest, they're both partly right. Automation in the workplace saves companies money, lowers the cost of production, and increases speed, safety, and efficiency. By the same token, you can see Harvey's view: that all these robots are doing are making humanity a hollow shell of itself. This comic is a terrific starting point for a conversation between engaged parents who happen to be Mega Man fans and their younglings. We live in a world of amazing gadgets, where information is instantly available at our fingertips. And yet, we are increasingly unhappy with the world and with ourselves.

When you ask people knowledgeable about comics which ones they remember, which ones really strike them, you'll hear plenty about Batman: Year One and The Watchmen and the Superman arc where he went up against The Elite. Not surprisingly, all of these got turned into some pretty decent movies. What they all have in common, aside from fantastic storytelling and art, is that they were all comics which stirred things up. A comic book can do more than entertain: It can make us ask questions about ourselves and about our society which we might otherwise not. In this regard, Mega Man has finally come into its own, not just as a comic to be enjoyed by the fanbase, but one which is worth reading by anyone.

I understand where Harvey is coming from, and I know why he founded the Emerald Spears. It's a strange new world full of robots, and the times, they are a'changing. Harvey feels like the world is slipping out of control, not out of his control, but out of humanity's control. He looks down the path of more and better and smarter and stronger robots and foresees a grim future that is anathema to what Dr. Light foresees. To counteract this, he believes, mankind must shed itself of robots completely, that they must put these new toys away and return to a simpler time. A more... human time. The only problem is, as much as Harvey Greenleaf dreams of a brighter tomorrow, he is only looking whimsically backwards. You can remember the past, but you can't return to it.

Maybe he doesn't care; maybe he's that one defiant soul who wants to stand in front of the wall of progress and scream at it until his throat goes raw. Perhaps all he could do, even on his best day, would be to slow things down. But Harvey Greenleaf won't get that chance now. His own right-hand man, Xander Payne, has dethroned him, usurped his control of the Emerald Spears, and gone into full-blown militant terrorist mode. So this strange, wondrous story arc goes on, filling our heads with questions and doubts about the rightness or the wrongness of robot proliferation in the world. And surely we can draw parallels. Cell phones in every hand, the internet at every cafe and restaurant, a world of humans who spend more time facing a tiny LCD screen than each other. Is the world better for it, or worse? And if it can't be stopped, can it at least be managed, or has the course, as Harvey believes, spun out of our control?

These are all good questions to fathom. And we should fathom them. Above all else, man has the capacity for rational thought, a gift given by Nature or Divinity depending on your take. But never doubt it is a gift, so spend a moment to ponder the larger questions in life every now and then. Stop, and listen to what the world is trying to tell you. Ask the questions and look for solutions, even if you will never find the answer. The journey is the reward, after all.

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.