Ah, Valentine's Day. Our only excuse to buy and eat candy between Christmas and Easter. On my old college campus, it was widely respected among my lunch table posse as "Singles Awareness Day," and more often than not was widely ignored. Admittedly, I spent more time looking forward to Groundhog Day this year than Valentine's, if only because it gave me an excuse to watch the famous and critically acclaimed Bill Murray film of the same name. This year, Valentine's falls between the annual Ash Wednesday pancake feed I help my dad out with and a shopping trip where I will be eating copious amounts of sushi. So I can make it, big deal. I still enjoy the stuff the pros make more than my own.
But I digress, you don't come and read these for a narrow glance into the real world workings of this insane writer, you come because I drop humorous one liners and link to relevant YouTube videos! So let's get down to business.
We're two months away from the "Worlds Collide" story arc, and I went ahead and signed up for that mondo year subscription deal across the three relevant comics, so you can plan on getting the whole crossover scoop here at "The Blue Ink." For the time being, we've got other fish to fry.
One thing I love about this comic is how it expands the world of our Blue Bomber. Sure, a game can expand on a world substantially, but there's something to be said about the written word, and the creative mind of a writer. I am forever convinced that to be a really good game, you need tight controls, decent graphics, and most of all, a good soundtrack and a rocking story. In that regard, the Mega Man franchise has never failed me. Well, maybe the story gets confusing the farther along you go, but meh. That's why we fill in the blanks.
From the title, we know we're in for a right good time: "Cold Crush" is the title of this issue, and besides being an allusion to Ice Man's canonical unrequited feelings for Roll, it's also a play on words referring to the theme song of Mega Man X7. Er, sorry... Rockman X7. We didn't get that song in our intro, more's the pity. It was one of the few good things from that game.
Roll and Mega Man are warped to the Arctic Research Center where Ice Man operates, ready to provide some backup. We soon discover that our little Ice Man's used this opportunity to make a play for Roll's affections, and he's enlisted Quake Woman to ice sculpt a massive valentine. Naturally, Roll completely misses the point of the gesture, and his cute pickup line.
However, no sooner does Mega Man start geeking out over Quake Woman's drill usage than Roll has a flash of insight: You know, you've seen this panel in the previews about hooking up... what you didn't see is the shattered windowpane over Ice Man as his world collapses around him when she goes on to talk about hooking up Rock and Tempo. Well, this sets the stage quite well for the events in the north. "He loves her, but she loves him, and he loves somebody else, you just can't win..."
But enough about the robots... and sweet lord, did I really just say that? Enough about the robots, what's wrong with me?! This is why I can't watch the Michael Bay Transformers movies, because they didn't have enough robots in them, and now I'm turning around and begging for something else? It must be something really important for me to ask for a scene change away from Mega Man and friends...
Ah, that'd do it.
We hop over to the police precinct where our favorite "good cop, old cop" pair of Stern and Krantz are celebrating Valentine's Day in their own fashions: She's all ready for a hot date involving oysters, chocolate, and Barry White, and he's just sittin' behind his desk grumping about the world. And then she gets a call from her date cancelling it all. Damn, she shaved for nothing!
Thankfully, Agent Stern lives up to his Gibbs-ish background and decides if her date's not gonna do it, by damn, he'll take her out! Things are going swimmingly for this mismatched but fan-shipped couple until they get to the restaurant and realize they aren't alone... Dr. Light and Dr. Lalinde are there as well. Nothing on their tables yet, but they're hitting the sauce. Light knows the first rule about a good date: Red wine, and don't stop bringing it.
Naturally, Krantz is quite peachy with turning this into a double date, but Stern has to get his grump on and spoil the mood. Of course, maybe we can blame Light for this. He explains that the "kids are all busy," and then offhandedly mentions he's aware of Ice Man's budding obsession for Roll. This gives Stern an excuse to vent some more, and Light is more than willing to turn what should be a pleasant evening of laughs and furtive glances into an opportunity for us to debate on the shrinking world and the relationship between humanity and robots. And you all know I love me some good Dr. Light discussion. Ian Flynn's on point for the writing team here, and he's working his Dr. Light mojo overtime in this issue.
Light believes that humans are living machines, and the only difference between us and our robotic progeny is our complexity and the fact we're made of organic carbon and not refined metals. Perhaps he's not far off from the truth, but let's not get into a debate about souls, since we've already done that one and it still remains a divisive issue.
Of course, Stern doesn't fixate on that angle. It's February, and this all takes place on Valentine's Day, so he has other fish to fry: Namely, why give robots the ability to love?
Light soundly responds that robots as advanced as the ones they have in the world are scarier without an ability to love. And he's right: Love, in whatever form or degree it takes, is a powerful bonding agent. It can unite individuals, groups, and nations. Now we're getting in to some heavy moral questions here, so it's time for a quick refresher...
I swear, Roll, if you don't knock off this matchmaking stuff, it's gonna turn around and whack you upside the head one of these days. Roll has always been the more emotionally accessible of the Light siblings: Her brother is too darn serious for his own good most of the time, when he's not sticking to his state of bemusement. We've seen Roll cry (or, at least, mimic the act of crying), and she can be quite perky.
This pulls the pin out of the grenade for this issue: Having talked to Rock earlier, and now having spoken with Tempo, she's planted a seed of an idea in their heads that neither will be able to completely dismiss. Unfortunately, neither of them will be able to act on it. Rock catches me as the sort who needs to be forced into a kiss, anyhow.
Okay, back to dinner and a debate!
Aah, I too have old people hobbies, Agent Stern. You get the vigorous two thumbs up from me for that exchange! And yet, while you've been sitting here acting all crotchety and jawing it up with Light, the two ladies you clods came with have been hitting the bottle awfully hard. Can't you see the flush in her cheeks, man? The drowsy good humor in her posture? Dude, make a move already!
Of course, just like Mega Man, Agent Stern is too much of a paladin to try and suck his partner's face off. Actually, given his grump status, he might almost qualify as a knight in sour armor. Almost.
One last flashback to the robots and then we'll finish up with the humans. I promise, this is the last flip-back.
We all know that Tempo, or Quake Woman, has a problem with confined spaces. What hasn't been covered so far is what the root cause of her claustrophobia is. After a collapse during their core sample digging leaves the robots stranded underneath the ice, Rock finally learns why Tempo is doing the robotic equivalent of hyperventilating herself into a nervous breakdown: The last time there was a cave-in, the last time she was disabled and left trapped in a confined space, Dr. Lalinde reprogrammed her and removed her emotions. After the Emerald Spears incident at the robot expo, Lalinde gave her robotic progeny all those feelings back, but Tempo never did shake the memories off. She's afraid that Lalinde might reprogram her again, and take away everything she is and everything she holds dear. Funny enough, she isn't the first robot to go aberrant over such fears.
Of course, she didn't run away from home and begin a slow descent into complete shutdown like Blues did. Thankfully, the robots are able to regroup, and using the combined strength of Ice Man, Quake Woman, and a Weapon-Getted Mega Man, they're able to create a high pressure geyser underneath an ice platform that they ride to the surface to escape their cavern misadventure.
By the way, there are apparently limits to teleportation: There was just too much ground above them for their warp generators to get a solid fix. Plus, it'd be less of a story if Mega Man could simply BWOO-WIP everyone out of harm's way. Imagine if Timmy had that much power, Lassie would never get to bark at his parents and futilely communicate he was trapped down in a well!
So the robots are safe, and things go back to normal for them. Well, as normal as things get when Roll remains oblivious to Ice Man's advances, Quake Woman needs to see a therapist, and Mega Man is just... well, along for the ride this time around.
Okay, done with the robots. Back to the humans!
The dinner goes on and finally a waiter brings some bread to the table (but what's this? No pasta? Those plates are still clean!) and Light and Lalinde start telling old war stories from college. And then Stern goes and spoils the mood again by comparing Light to the Emerald Spears, in terms of their danger. That gets him glares from around the entire table, but old Grumpy McGrumperson just chews away at his bread and explains the logic: Sure, Light isn't a terrorist group, but he's sending the world down a path that humankind may not be able to follow.
It's the attack of the pragmatist versus the dreamer, but Light the dreamer is a big enough man to not hate him for it. Stern's entitled to his opinion, as we all are. Whether it's wrong, or right, or like most things, a mixture of rightness and wrongness, that's not for Light to decide. Stern is afraid that if we prop the robots up and make them our equals, they may decide that the world isn't big enough for the two of them. Light insists that by teaching robots to have the same value for life, and friendship, and love, that we possess, it'll never ever come to that.
Well, dream big or go home, right? And go home is exactly what Stern and Krantz do, saying farewell to Light and Lalinde after a Valentine's dinner that was less heart-shaped chocolate and more heart-shaped stale mints. But there's the hint of something more between Krantz and Stern as the good doctors watch them walk off into the night.
"Be careful, old man. Folks might believe you've got a heart," Agent Krantz teases him after nudging her veteran partner in the ribs with an elbow. True to form, Stern hikes up the collar on his green coat, tips his hat down over his eyes and scoffs. Like anyone would believe it, he counters.
But we know better.
Before I get started, one quick note on a small detail I didn't bring attention to: In Agent Stern's office, there's a wanted poster behind his desk on the wall. It's for a Mr. X, and there's no picture. Gee, that might be important.
Stern and Krantz have been around since Issue 5, and aside from the Emerald Spears, they're fast worming their way into my heart of hearts. There's an honesty to these two: They aren't robotic super-geniuses, they aren't complete uneducated clods, they're somewhere in the middle of the human condition. They're individuals shaped by their experience, by their training, and by their duty. To serve and protect, as the old police motto goes: They adhere to the law and worry about the trends.
Stern is the archetype of the wise and wily old coot; though he's lost a spring in his step, his years on the force have sharpened his wits and solidified his positions. He worries about the direction of the world's path, like most older people do who see a trend away from "What used to be", and he tries to rail against it, using logic when possible, and outright grump-ness when it isn't.
At the other end of the spectrum is Agent Krantz, who acts as "The Rookie," partnered with the old man to learn from the best. She tackles the world with a fresh perspective: She isn't as locked in to her beliefs as Stern, and is more willing to keep an open mind. Naturally, the old man worries about the rookie. Naturally, the rookie chafes under the constant badgering of her elder. But there's a mutual respect and trust between them that remains unbroken, in spite of their arguments and disagreements.
At the end of the day, the old man and the rookie look out for each other, and that bond of trust is ironclad. This kind of dynamic is present in every cop show, slightly altered into a straight man and wild guy on occasion, but always present: Starsky and Hutch, CHiPS, and one of my current favorite television outings, Psych.
Through them, Ian Flynn and the rest of the creative team at Archie's Mega Man division are able to give a foil, a sounding board for so many of the arguments and debates that have happened since they got serious in Issue 16. Look carefully: Is there ever a time when Light isn't waxing poetic about the flower power of his human and robot utopia when Stern and Krantz aren't around to either listen in or pick up the pieces afterwards? Like them or not, Stern and Krantz aren't going anywhere, and I prefer to like them. I like them muy, muy, much.
Perhaps I did a disservice to this issue by not spending more time focusing on Mega Man and his robot friends, but in comparison to the awkward double date dinner scene, that was a lot less trouble to follow and sum up. The complexities at play in these human relationships will always intrigue me, and guide my pen. So Roll likes to play matchmaker. So Quake Woman finally revealed the deep dark secret of her claustrophobia. These are important details to note, but at the end of it all, Mega Man saved the day and things went back to normal.
For the humans who occupy Mega Man's world, normal doesn't exist. Their world, their perception of it, and their relationships are always changing. In that respect, this was a very well-timed issue. Valentine's Day may have begun as a bacchanalian orgy because the Romans knew how to party, but in modern times, it's a little harder to peg down. On the surface, it's an opportunity to sell flowers and chocolate and lacy underthings and cards for all your classmates at elementary school... but underneath it is a vein of a deeper emotion. It's about trying to reach out and connect with someone else in the world.
Maybe those connections don't last, maybe they're fleeting, but for a holiday, we spend a little more time thinking about love and how we are around others. And that's something worth hanging on to. Underneath the surface of every holiday is some kind of thought or emotion worth hanging on to, and that's what makes them so powerful. That the crew at Archie would take the time to remind us of this while managing to entertain us with the misadventures of Mega Man and friends is praiseworthy.
Now stop pussyfooting around the issue and just have Stern and Krantz hook up already. 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.