I look forward to seeing The Mega Man Network link to a preview of the Mega Man comic book done up by some website or another, because it always means that said issue is in the mail... and due in my mailbox in a day or two. That was certainly true this week. The link to the preview went up on the 9th, and issue #21 hit my mailbox on January 10th. I do so love the Post Office, they're so damn punctual in my town.
Just the premise of the 21st issue set my heart to fluttering, and not just because 21 is such a good number for me (the 21st "Lightning Strike" Unit was headed up by my OC Bastion in some stories you might recall reading years ago). We were expecting the triumphal and most likely violent return of Xander Payne and his two surviving henchmen, the last vestiges of the Emerald Spears terrorist organization. Considering how much I fan-gasmed over the "Spiritus Ex Machina" story arc when it happened for its thought-provoking and probing look into humanity, robots, and our co-dependent relationship in a changing world, you can imagine how tantalized I was. I was like the Cookie Monster before he went vegetarian and decided that cookies "were a sometimes food." I wanted it. Needed it.
And Flynn, Jamps, and Spazzie didn't disappoint me. Ehh... correction. It seems Spaziante isn't listed in the production credits for this issue. Kudos to Gary Martin instead! So now let's dive into the Rockin' New Years' Eve fireworks and see what's up.
Thanks in no small part to being an uber-awesome, kid-friendly superhero that has saved the world two and a half times over (and putting the kibosh on a massive terrorist plot to boot), Mega Man has been officially invited to participate as a guest host at the New Years' celebrations in whatever big city he operates out of. Robotropolis, New York, Tokyo, whatever. The fact is, Dick Clark isn't around and whoever they got to replace him isn't doing this one, either. But they still have that big damn glowy drop ball.
Naturally, few things are ever peachy-keen when Mega Man gets involved. Our favorite young cop/old crusty cop combo is back in action, and Agent Stern is as chatty as ever. Yeah, you drink that coffee, mister. Try and be Agent Gibbs. Oh, wait. Nobody can be as awesome as Agent Gibbs! Well, we still like him anyhow. Stern and Krantz are on the premises because they believe that the three Emerald Spears peeps who got away might decide to try something here, what with Mega Man being around and all. As they've discovered after interrogating Harvey Greenleaf and the rest of the captured Emerald Spears, their deposed hippie leader may have started the group, but he was more of the heart behind the organization than the brains. He left the planning, the day-to-day operations, the training... well, basically everything that wasn't speechifying up to his right-hand man, Xander Payne.
As I've mentioned before, it should have been a rule for Evil Overlords: Never make anyone your second-in command who's more cunning, capable, and ambitious than you are. And Xander beat out Harvey in every category.
Oooh, dramatic reveal! The guy flunkie of Xander Payne's is actually his younger sibling! Well, now we know why he stuck around. It's an unnumbered rule: "Do what you have to for family." Xander's big plan, unsurprisingly, involves explosions. Well, he may not be original, but he sure is determined. His plan this time isn't to take out the leading authorities in robotics-- he lost that chance-- so this time he's gonna frag Mega Man and every deluded human being who's around to party with him. I gotta respect a fella who's that committed. Doesn't mean I like him, doesn't mean I don't think he's wrong, but he believes in something. From here, he splits up: Baby brother and the lady Spear will make to disable the robotic sentries, and Xander Payne will get the ball rolling on the rest of the plan.
We flash over to Mega and Agent Stern, and Mr. Grump himself has a nice little moment with Mega Man talking about his gut feelings and his instincts. Yeah, Peppy Hare's the right model for advice here. "Trust your instincts! Do a burrel rawl!" Thankfully, Mega Man is smarter than the average robot, so while he may not have a gut instinct, he is able to make some good deductive reasoning. If Xander Payne is around, how would one go about drawing him out so they could stop him before whatever he has planned goes off?
Simple. You make yourself a target.
Meantimes, Xander's little brother Theo and the lady Spear continue to mess up one Federal Blader sentry after another with their laser shooty blasters, and have their own precious little moment. She asks him why he stuck around, he tells her that Xander needs him. And then this happens.
We have our first in-comic kiss, ladies and gents, and it's a pair of bad guys who do it! I like seeing bad guys getting their mojo on with each other. After all, it's not like they spend all their time deciding how to kick puppies and play with unlicensed nuclear accelerators. What are their hobbies? Do they put ships in bottles? Do they set up playgrounds in their spare time? Are they convention folks who wear costumes and speak Klingon? Come on. Even bad guys have lives. It's nice to know they're getting their groove on between missions. Such acts lead to that most awesome of tag teams... Battle Couples.
But enough about them, let's get back to Mega Man and his plan. Sure enough, as soon as he starts Rush Jetting over the crowd and popping off fireworks, Xander Payne whips out his big ol' energy discharge sniper rifle and takes aim. And this is the kind of rifle that fires beams of energy that curve around to always hit their target... damn, we're years from the Stardroids and we have a human who already has access to the Spark Chaser?
Mega takes the hit right in the head, but he's made of sterner stuff than Payne reckoned on: Short of shoving a wall of death spikes at the Blue Bomber or squashing him under a hydraulic press, you're not gonna take him out in a single hit. And now that he's fired, Mega Man has his location. The chase is on.
But let's spend one last bit of time on our new favorite Battle Couple, shall we? Agent Krantz, following the trail of destroyed robots, meets up with Theo Payne and his gal... who we find out is named Simone Miller. Oh, and apparently, she and Agent Krantz have a history.
Like Master Oogway says, "there are no coincidences." It seems that, like Wily, our dear flaming-haired Simone is someone who had the skills, but lost the chance to make it big for one "small" reason or another. The Archie folks have left a huge door open for later exposition and hijinks. We can't rest until we know what happened at the Academy, and more importantly, if it involved pillow fights and boyfriends! Naturally, Agent Rosie Krantz proves that she's got more gumption than the reject, taking both Theo and Simone out and then placing them under arrest. Heh, don't go asking this agent to frisk you.
Meanwhile, Agent Stern follows up on Mega's report and corners Xander Payne on the rooftop. Payne starts spouting off his doctrine, and in a surprise move, Stern agrees with the problem... but not the solution.
Like Payne, Stern believes that humanity's become too reliant on robots, that their proliferation has caused many of our skills, talents, and abilities to atrophy. He's just not about to start setting off bombs to prove the point, and in that regard, he draws the line in the sand. He fails to stop Payne, and after making sure he won't go tumbling of the roof, it's left to Mega Man to finish the job.
In his best big damn hero moment yet, Mega Man faces off with Xander Payne and his own code of ethics. He takes a blaster shot at point blank range which does little more than scuff his armor, he crushes Xander's gun, and he uses Rush to fly Xander's bomb up into the sky. After a little lobbing goodness, Mega takes aim, fires, and sets off one last superhuge firework.
Good Guys get another notch in their belt. Xander Payne loses the fight. In his creepy followup, though, it becomes clear that we haven't seen the last of Xander Payne. Mega Man refuses to end him, referring him to the proper authorities. That whole "don't hurt humans" thing of the First Law rears its head, but Mega's okay with it. To him, that compassion isn't a weakness. To Xander Payne, that refusal of Mega Man to "do what must be done" means that the battle is lost... but the war's still worth fighting.
Mega Man ends the party with a speech about what he's learned from humans: He's seen a lot of bad attitudes and misguided ambition in his short life so far. But he's also seen humans worth emulating: Dr. Light, Agent Krantz, and even that gruff sonofagun Agent Stern. So long as there are folks like them around worth fighting for, folks like that to look up to, then maybe there's hope for the world yet. Doomsday is still not set in stone. It's the start of a new year. It's 20XX at last, by the in-comic calendar.
Say hello to the Brave New World.
I was rather harsh in the review of the last issue, so I'm super happy that I get to turn around now and praise this one to the skies. The only problem is, the things I loved about this issue are things I've already covered in reviewing issues 13-16, or the "Spiritus Ex Machina" arc, which I picked up in graphic novel format over the holidays. So naturally, it's tough finding new things to praise... but we'll try.
I've said before I love Xander Payne. He makes a terrific villain because of his fanatical devotion to the cause, his utter disregard for human lives in the quest for his cause, and the fact that as an ex-military trooper, he's automatically a more dangerous man than Wily. The one thing that made me chuckle in this issue, and perhaps shake my head a little, was him wearing a long yellow scarf. If any bastard was magnificent enough to mimic Proto Man's awesomeness, I suppose Xander Payne could get away with it. Now we discover that his brand of megalomania is more of a family affair, and even if he fails, he's got Simone and his little brother Theo to keep up the good fight. After all, Mega Man ruined their dinner...
It's clear that giving Theo and Simone their own names converts them from nameless redshirt NPC mook to something more dangerous: A known entity. You give someone a name, you automatically double or triple their character shield... that thing that says no matter how many Storm Troopers fire at Han Solo, they'll all miss him by a mile.
Even worse, by living up to his status as a Paladin who lives by the Laws of Robotics as he has to, Mega Man has exposed his one critical weakness to Xander Payne. The only thing that allowed him to acts during the A.R.T.S. Convention was a modification on the First Law comparable to Asimov's "Zeroth Law" of robotics. A man as capable, as scheming as Xander Payne won't stay in prison for long. And while he's in there, he's not going to be wasting time. He'll be thinking. Planning. Preparing himself for the next battle. The common theme across multiple genres is that "Villains Act, Heroes React." I've mentioned this principle with Wily before, but I know that Xander Payne is going to stretch it to the limits.
What drove me batty in the last issue was the frantic and unfocused presentation. Yes, it was a time travel arc. Yes, time travel is always a pain in the neck. The fact is, at the end of the day, regardless of what theme or cultural relevance I can correlate to this comic book, there's one thing that drives my reviews: Was it fun to read? Was it worth reading?
By a wide margin, issue 21 blew the door off of issue 20. I mean, look at all the things happening! Mega Man and Agent Stern talking about trusting your instincts, an honest to God romantic interlude during battle, a morality play and an argument about the human condition, and at the end of the day, Mega Man even has time to do a John Dorian Scrubs speech to finish out the episode? This was my meat, potatoes, and even the strawberry rhubarb pie at the end. In one resounding explosive chord, the Archie Comics team shouted one thing high and loud.
This comic is far from over, and the world is getting bigger all the time. I savor the last sip of my Pinot Noir, smile, and tuck this issue on my shelf in a place of honor. Here's to the new year, everyone. Archie is, in the words of Steel Massimo, giving it everything.
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.