The Blue Ink: Archie’s Mega Man #20 – Dropping Acid on the Circuits of Time

"I wish I had never invented that infernal time machine... it's brought nothing but trouble." -Dr. Emmett Brown, Back to the Future Part III -----------------------------

Aw, dammit. I just finished up writing the review for issue #19, and what should hit my doorstep but December's issue?! I thought I'd have a chance to rest on my laurels for a bit, maybe finish copying over the new material for the Legacy of Metal co-authored project "Maverick Hunters," but I suppose that'll have to wait. So will hitting the gym.

Oh well. I made it twice this week, that's something, right? Duty calls, and I will answer the trumpet for my heroes' duty. And yes, I watch where I step in a game called "Hero's Duty." Additionally, a shout-out to Ryan Jampole, who commented on issue 19's review. For those who don't know him, he does the pencils for the comic. I have mad respect for a guy who can do good pencil work, especially considering my own skills in the art department are... somewhat lacking:


Heroes by ~Ericosuperbard on deviantART

The cover tells us that it's Mega Man's 25th birthday. Well... in about a week, at least, it will be. They also give us the countdown to the crossover. Gar, I still hafta find somewhere closer to home I can get my hands on the Sonic issues. At least I've got until March to figure it out.

But enough of that. We have another comic to review! Like the last issue, and the "Who Else But Guts Man" segments, this is another filler issue. Unlike the "Grrrl Power" issue of last month, this one is a lot tougher to wrap your head around. Why? It's not just because it doesn't expand on the world in a meaningful way, but because it involves time travel. Get your flux capacitors fluxing, everybody, because it's time we were most excellent to each other!

(wavy lines)

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Sometime in the not so distant future...

Dr. Wily and a host of robots including the Mega Man Killers and the Wily Wars three have invaded and captured the Chronos Institute. In the process, they also deactivated Time Man with a vengeance. Well, isn't that terrific? While Wily sends out a skirmishing force to slow his enemy down, he hops into the Time Skimmer and decides it's time to go "back to the future." Yes, I know that phrase is trademarked, but this issue is about time travel, and as ridiculous as it all is, I intend on using every last gag in my repertoire.

You might notice that the Chronos Institute and the Time Skimmer are both MacGuffins taken from the almost universally panned game Mega Man II for the Game Boy; even Inafune and the other staffers dismiss it as the black sheep of the series in the Complete Works artbook. Sometimes, outsourcing your game icons to other third party studios, like Retro Studios, can result in super-awesome glory. Other times, outsourcing your game icons and turning the reins over to someone else is a surefire solution to make sure nobody wants to buy your game. Thanks, Metroid: Other M. You destroyed two decades of Samus's awesomeness in one fell swoop, and dragged the gender gap back twice as far.

Now, any time you start messing with the time-space continuum, bad things start to happen. You can create nightmarish alternate realities, you can cause yourself to become confined to a wheelchair, hell, you could even destroy humanity itself by breathing on a flower wrong. In the case of Dr. Wily taking the Time Skimmer for a joyride, he ends up creating a quantum temporal feedback pulse which grabs hold of Mega Man like the fist of an angry god and shakes him like a James Bond martini. What results from this is our Mega Man... from the future... being sent... further into the future...and passing through one game after another with no clue of what in the Hell is going on, or what in the Hell to do about it.

He finds himself in the Lanfront Ruins, confronted by Ra Moon. Before he can do anything, he takes another quantum leap and ends up facing Gamma from Mega Man 3. And before he can do anything there, bwoo-wip, he's off and facing Quint in one of Dr. Wily's multitudinous space stations. Seriously, I would love to know where this broke-ass mad scientist does his shopping for supplies. The discounts must be obscene.

Quint, who we know is actually a rebuilt Mega Man brought back by Dr. Wily to face his current incarnation (an event which should cause world-ending paradox, by one theory of temporal mechanics), mutters a few things about the inevitability of fate, then hops on his jackhammer Sakugarne and tries to... jackhammer him. Yeah. I did mention that Mega Man II was an absolutely horrible game, didn't I? Hell, I own it, and I still won't play it. At least the utter failure of Mega Man II forced Capcom to take the reins back and make some decent titles to make up for the suckage.

We time hop some more, and find ourselves in the midst of Mega Man V's prologue, where Terra beats the stuffin's out of Mega Man just to spite him. And just like before, we have little time to contemplate this series of mysterious events before we jump the shark and hit up Mega Man 4, then Mega Man 6, and finally Mega Man 7 with Mega Man facing a strange black and golden/orange robot with helmet fins. Ah, now we are in business. Their conflict leads to Mega Man and Bass (yes, we all know he's called Bass, and more importantly, that he isn't a fish) making physical contact moments before the next time jump... which brings Bass along for the ride.

Joyous occasions, everyone! It's Mega Man 8, when our Blue Bomber was castrated and given a super high squeaky girly voice, Dr. Light sounded like Elmer Fudd, and they didn't bother syncing up the audio properly! For reference, I offer this comparison: "Oh, no! Godzilla!" Bass is, of course, a grumbly bumbly and Mega Man takes it in stride.

We then time jump to Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10, where Mega Man finally decides after being kicked around the time-space continuum for way too damn long that maybe it's time to do something about it. And when you're faced with a giant glowing ball of cosmic energy that continues to grow every time you jump, you have to make like Captain Picard in The Next Generation's series finale and shoot it.

Of course you're willing to take that chance, Bass. You have what amateur psychologists would refer to as Jan Brady Syndrome: "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!" At least in this case, this robot that Mega Man hasn't met yet does what's necessary. You can always count on Bass to do something that's in his best interest: In that regard, he's callously Chaotic Neutral. Thankfully, ginormous temporal anomalies seem vulnerable to small arms plasmafire, and the thing blows up, supposedly fixing the cosmos and setting everything back to rights. And now, for the kick in the ass.

Hahahaha! Oh, you didn't. You really didn't. Just... give me a two by four so I can beat my own brains out here. What, it was all a dream? You had to use that particular trope? Come on. We revert back to the present day, and current Mega Man's short term memory blows in response to the wave of temporal colon cleansing that just happened. End result: He knows nothing. We know everything. Nothing changes... and it never happened.

And I sit back and scratch my head.

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I like time travel. It's one of my favorite gimmicks to use, one of my favorites to study. I recently was perusing some of Orson Scott Card's older works and stumbled across a fantasy gem of his called "Enchantment", and I highly suggest that you give it a looky-loo if you're up for a day and a half's worth of casual reading. I'm not immune to romantic comedies involving time travel, either, although my tastes gravitate to the older films in cinema and not the new Nicholas Sparks generation of spinoffs. I dream of owning a Delorean that plays the theme song to the movies when I start up the engine. I whimsically laugh at Mark Twain's novel where the hero goes back to King Arthur's court.

Time travel done well is a pure source of joy for me: It is a way to explore the ultimate what-if, because rest assured, without a serious jump in power production or some game-changing developments in quantum mechanics, it'll remain a dream. Perhaps it should stay one, too. Stories involving time travel always carry a cautionary note inside of them: That perhaps being able to change something isn't the same thing as having the right to change it. That maybe we'd best leave the time-space continuum alone.

When I pulled this issue out of my enormous, Amazon package-capable mailbox, my first reaction was a grimace at the title of the issue. "Rock of Ages"? Mmm. Well, I know I have little room to speak, given my own penchant for trying to create witty titles for every chapter in every story I do, and in every Blue Ink review I've written so far, but the joke just seemed to fall flat on me. Or maybe I'm just a little biased towards the rock song with that name... and the movie it spawned more recently. I had no idea what it would be about. I walked in with no expectations, a blank mind, and one single thought pervading my heart: "Oh boy, it's a Mega Man!"

Then I started reading through it during my pre-work constitutional, and I started blinking. I pulled it away from my face, wondering what the devil was going on. I was as confused as Mega Man was: What was the point of this issue? It all seemed so... well, slapped together. There was no grand theme here, no running story, just a series of haphazard events. This was not time travel done well: This was plywood and fiberboard time travel.

I turned it around, and tried to read it backward. Nope, didn't change. I set it off to the side and went about my life, letting my brain spend a couple of days to process it. Maybe it would grow on me. It's my habit to give every Mega Man thing its fair shake: Too many people pooh-pooh our Blue Bomber already, it wouldn't be fair for me to do the same. My pal Andy jokingly calls me the forgotten son of Keiji Inafune in his more cheerful moments, going so far as to say every time I die while playing one of the games, he feels a pain run through his chest on the other side of the world and knows that I have failed him again.

Well. I got this issue Wednesday, and I'm writing this Blue Ink on a Friday. I gave this issue consideration and time. I tried to reason with it. I tried to figure out what was going around the table of the development team, and what was running through their heads when they came up with this issue's plot.

In the end, I surmised they wanted to come up with some sort of end of the year "giant preview" story for us. Perhaps this issue was a way to hint at (if hinting meant picking up a crowbar and beating somebody while yelling at them) what other stories and characters we might be introduced to in the future. Maybe this was some kind of giant shotgun blast of possibilities with the choke pushed all the way out for maximum shot spread. Or perhaps the Archie team is really just so focused on the upcoming crossover arc that they're reaching for the ideas and stories that can be told as quickly as possible with the least amount of work and thought.

So here's my verdict, and you can read the following five words and skip the rest: I didn't like this issue.

Issue #19, where Kalinka, Roll, and Quake Woman got to be big damn heroes? I enjoyed that. Perhaps it wasn't filler, as my initial assessment labeled it as. It expanded the world and showed us new possibilities, new opportunities. It let some of the lesser characters have their moment in the sun. It was innovative. It was a wonderful read, a real feel-good piece that you'll pull down off the shelf time and time again, because like all good stories, like all the good movies I stick into the DVD player when I'm making sushi, it generates a positive aura that makes my food and my work even tastier.

This issue wasn't any of those things. I imagine they had a motive for doing this. I imagine that the motive is one I suggested two paragraphs above: They wanted to give us a taste of things to come. Now, I'm all for an appetizer assortment when I go out with some friends. Who doesn't enjoy dippin' chicken strips or a little shrimp scampi or stuffed mushrooms? But in this case, they have faltered: They gave me a sampler platter when I wanted a blue cheese cheeseburger with fried onion strips. Four paragraphs up, I said I walked into this issue with no expectations. Perhaps I need to amend that: I had one expectation when I opened this issue and gave it a read.

I expected to see some care and attention put into the plot. It doesn't matter how pretty a car looks if the engine, the thing that drives it, is made of junk. I hope this is one lesson that I don't have to suffer under again. I hope that the writers aim for more wholesome, more organic stories that don't rely on snapshot moments, but rather a flowing and continuous presentation. I really hope that they never ever pull out the "it was all a dream" trope again, because I swear to God, I almost felt a blood vessel pop inside my head when I got to the end of this.

At least the next issue seems to be a piece that will act as an apology for this abomination. We'll see the return of Xander Payne and Mega Man will have his hands full. It'll be the start of a new year. Hopefully, it will be a new year with less of this brainless filler and more good storytelling.

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.