The Blue Ink Reviews Mega Man #43 – Narrow Programming

I'm seeing double here-- 12 Robot Masters!

Rush into battle!

"The three chief virtues of a programmer are laziness, impatience, and hubris." --Larry Wall

"There's small choice in rotten apples." --William Shakespeare, The Taming of The Shrew

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When last we left off, Mega Man was attempting to use words and robotic morality to convince Gemini Man to stand down and choose a different path for himself. Of course, it ended with Gemini Man using the time to manage a sneak attack that could have spelled doom for the Blue Bomber had he not managed a very lucky Reflex Save.

Ssssssmokin'!

Naturally, everyone's pleased with the outcome aside from Dr. Wily, who nervously fidgets and wonders to himself, "How in the hell does this little blue idiot keep killing off my best robots?!" Oh, Dr. Wily, you never fail to amuse me. Unfortunately for him, Auto may use a lot of bolts, but he doesn't have any loose screws. While Wily continues to manage the good guy front alongside coordinating the battle, Auto decides to trail the rather erratic scientist. More on that later.

Magnet Man is the next stop, and all his thinking, complaining, and planning on what he'll do amounts for nothing when Mega Man barges in and catches him off guard. In a maneuver eerily similar of what Gravity Man will probably be doing in a few years, Magnet Man turns the world upside down all over the place while popping off one homing Magnet Missile after another. After taking a few lumps, Mega Man gets smart and decides to try confusion and deception. After all, he has the Rush Jet even though he hasn't taken down Needle Man yet, so why not use it?

Magnets... how do they something something.

While Magnet Man's trying to get his bearings straight, Mega launches a couple of Shadow Blades to literally disarm his foe. Left with nothing but a suicide magnetic pulse, he's ready to leave Mega Man stuck there with him until Mega Man tries the same ploy that he used on Gemini Man. This time, it takes. I always did figure Magnet Man had more smarts than Gemini Man. Or at least he wasn't as bipol... oh, wait. Magnets, two poles. Never mind, that joke doesn't work.

Magnet Man shuts off his final attack, allows Mega Man to collect his IC Chip and the energy element, and tells him where to find the last three Robot Masters: Spark Man, Hard Man, and Needle Man are the ones we haven't seen yet.

We take a brief break from the action to check in on Xander Payne, who has steadily been losing his marbles while somehow managing to get one handcrafted shiv after another to carve graffiti into the wall.

"It's dignity! Gah! Don't you even know dignity when you see it?"

...aw, I was just getting used to the idea of there not being any more crossovers. Jumping to 21XX? Hell, I'll ride that bandwagon all day just to see Zero and his moobs, but dealing with Sonic again... never mind. Back to Mega Man.

Mega Man's next stop is Needle Man's domain, a rusted-out ship which finally explains some of the strange decor in that level. As Needle Man swings above Mega Man dodging the ship defenses, we get a nice little moment where Needle Man reveals himself to be one of the smartest, most introspective Robot Masters we've ever met in the comic series so far. When Mega Man walks into the boss room, there he is knitting a sweater. With Wily's face on it. And the words, "World's Worst Boss" emblazoned underneath it.

Uh, Mega Man, that's what's known as a big fat hint. Gee, maybe Wily isn't playing nice! (In fairness, Mega Man could have mistaken it for the backlash of a bitter ex-employee. --Ed.)

They fight, of course, and the outcome's predictable since Mega Man has the Gemini Laser. But what's interesting is the dialogue between them as they scrap. Mega Man tries the same argument he used on Magnet Man, that Needle Man has a choice. That he doesn't have to fight.

Ah, but there's there rub, Needle Man angrily points out. They don't have a choice. It's hardwired into their programming to fight and destroy Mega Man. No leeway, no wiggle room, no space for re-interpretation in the Supreme Court. With Rush tugging on his Needle Head's wire, Needle Man's left immobile as Mega Man administers a mortal wound. And then comes a very sad moment.

"That's why I say 'Hey man, nice shot'."

We've seen Mega Man destroy Heat Man in a very disturbing moment of cold-blooded murder (admittedly, he was under the influence of a fragmented control virus at the time), but this is a new level of creepy for the comic, and something that I'm not sure I ever broached in anything I wrote. He finishes the job with only a sad stare and a moment's hesitation.
And all this robot destruction is messing with his mind something awful. You'd feel awful too if you were asked to pull a Kevorkian not once, but twice in a single issue. Dr. Light and Roll try their best to cheer him up, but the fact is that Mega Man still has two Robot Masters to hunt down in Hard Man and Spark Man.

Oh, and then there's that whole Wily not actually being a good guy thing...

Crunch time is always a killer.

A note for Dr. Light when he does a rebuild on Auto... that front hatch? It needs a lock.

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The closest I ever came to the level of angsty "We're dead anyways" motives used by Needle Man in this issue was probably Overdrive Ostrich's fate in my Mega Man X2 novelization, and please, don't go out and read it expecting it to be good. It's old and... ugh. Old.

What are robots made for? Robots have to follow their programming. Rock's programming was made to be flexible. Because of that, he can interpret it. It's how he went from a tool-using lab robot to a super fighting robot. He's still helping people, per his programming. Needle Man and the others have no such room for growth or change. Wily didn't design them to be more than what they were. To him, the Robot Masters are simply tools, things to be used in his plans. Needle Man has it all completely right, and that's the heartbreaking thing. To be a slave and not know it is bad enough...

But to know you have no freedom at all, to be aware of how narrow, how empty your life is and to have no ability to change it? That's depressing stuff right there.

The showdown with Break Man will, if I'm guessing right, happen in Hard Man's stage. Will Break Man shift allegiances when he learns of the fate of his robotic kin, and how Wily really felt about all of them? Will Mega Man even think to try for the approach of talking it out?
Ah, who am I kidding. Of course he will, he's Mega Man.

We've dealt with the morality of Mega Man doing what he does before, but the opposite side of the coin has never really been explored until now. How do the Wilybots feel about doing what they do? Do they care? Some don't. Some apparently do. Needle Man could have had a wonderful career as a 20XX Martha Stewart designer if this mess hadn't come around. While he was designed to be a mining robot, his love of arts and crafts clearly indicated that, given the choice, he'd have done something different with himself.

And these are just robots wondering why they can't break free of the restrictions, the molds, the destiny laid out for them in their programming. 100 years later, reploids don't need a Maverick Virus to fly off the funny farm. They just need to have a bad day in a dead end job they hate. Needle Man makes it abundantly clear that that day is coming for the mechanized population of Mega Man's world.

And that day is forever looming in our world also. We may not have a mechanized worker class, but we do have a worker class nonetheless.

I'm just waiting for the Spark (Man).

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.