Publisher: Archie Comics
Script: Ian Flynn
Pencils: Patrick “Spaz” Spaziante
Inks: Gary Martin
Colors: Matt Herms
Covers: Spaz, with variant covers by Chad Thomas (#1), Spaz (#2) Ben Bates (#3), and Jammal Peppers (#4)
Recommended Audiences: Kids, young teenagers, the young at heart, fans of the original game.
Part of the reason why Archie Comics’ Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the best comics on the stand today is because writer Ian Flynn deftly manages to make use of the humongous world at his disposal and present it in an accessible manner. With material from nearly two dozen games, two animated series, and a decade’s worth of comics to draw from (including a fair amount of material that clashes or simply doesn’t fit together) a less ambitious writer would have said “screw it–let’s reboot” long ago; Flynn, on the other hand, has given himself the task of slowly reshaping it in order to make it work, while still acknowledging what came before.
Recently, Archie tasked Flynn with replicating Sonic’s success with another venerable videogame franchise, Mega Man. Given the Blue Bomber’s own storied history—one that spans more than twenty games and several different sub-franchises and additional material—it would have not been illogical to expect Flynn to take the Sonic approach to his new book. Instead, he has done something rather different: for his first act, he has taken it upon himself to adapt the very first Mega Man game in its entirety.
Now, if you’re familiar with the original Mega Man game, it won’t take long to find a potential problem with this approach: released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987 the game had very little in the way of a story; Mega Man just went through six stages, fought six bosses, stormed mad scientist Dr. Wily’s skull-shaped keep, and that’s it. There was a premise, to be sure: Mega Man (a.k.a.“Rock”) is a helper robot–think of him as a humanoid Roomba–who was modified to become a warrior by his creator, Dr. Light, after Light’s former colleague Dr. Wily, as part of a bid to take over the world, stole and reprogrammed the six “Robot Masters” they’d both created—but as a story, it is hugely lacking in specifics: Mega Man is good; Dr. Wily is evil; the Robot Masters have no set personalities aside from what could be assumed from their appearances. And while worked great for the game, a comic book is a completely different beast. You could try creating brand new details for the story, but Flynn isn’t really interested in that, at this point. So how does he do? As well as could be expected, really.
With more than six separate big fights to cover and ten characters to develop, “Let the Games Begin” has a lot of ground to cover: after spending the first issue establishing the main characters and the premise, the story arc adopts a breakneck pace in order to manage it all—imagine if the Scott Pilgrim book had condensed the battles between the seven evil exes into one book, and you’ll get the idea. And yet, he does it—all six stages and Robot Masters are represented here, and Mega Man goes through them in the classic videogame order, obtaining their powers as he goes; Wily’s castle goes as it should, with the Yellow Devil*, Robot Masters redux (with a twist), Mega Man copy, and finally, Willy himself**. Between all the fighting and action set pieces, it’s a wonder he’s able to develop any characters at all, and yet he does: between all the action, Flynn manages to establish Rock as a young boy who, despite his distaste for violence and self-doubt, risks everything—including his beliefs and his morals—in order to do what needs to be done. His path is a hard one, and the fact that he questions it every step of the way is what makes him a hero. Dr. Light also gets the foundation for an interesting character arc, as he is presented as a person who sought to use the Robot Masters to better the world as atonement for perceived past sins, who now sees his life’s work used to do exactly what he wanted to avoid—it’s gripping stuff, for a book nominally aimed at children. Unfortunately, there’s not enough space to do more than lightly sketch the rest of the cast, and a couple of the character beats come in too fast to feel particularly natural, but hopefully future arcs, which according to Flynn will not necessarily be tied down to any one game, will allow the characters a chance to breathe.
One particular thing I’d like to note is that, like its source material, “Let the Games Begin” has a hugely unbalanced gender ratio. When it comes to women, there’s Roll—Rock’s robot “sister”—and that’s it: a 9-to-1 ratio, and one that we can expect to get even worse as the series goes on and new Robot Masters are introduced. While Flynn’s choices to rectify this are limited, I do hope he at least tries to do something to address this–he’s done wonderfully in that respect in Sonic the Hedgehog, and I hope he’ll be able to do something similar here.
While “Let the Games Begin”’s writing is a mixed bag, the same cannot be said of the art, which is only nearly perfect because perfection implies a level of awesomeness that would probably destroy the planet if achieved. While Patrick “Spaz” Spaziante is more commonly associated with the Sonic the Hedgehog book—he’s been providing covers and the occasional bit of interior art for almost as long as the book has been around— his style make the transition to the Mega Man-verse seamlessly. Of particular note are his panel compositions, which have always been a particular strength of his and are the main reason why the various Robot Master fights work. Inker Gary Martin and colorist Matt Herms capably supplement Spaz’s pencils: this is a very pretty book.
The original Mega Man game did not require a story: it did perfectly well without it, and trying to craft one may seem rather misguided, if not a spectacular exercise in missing the point. However, with “Let the Games Begin”, Team Archie has crafted a story that feels like something the player might come up with as he is playing: they get the concept, it’s appeal, and how to make it work as a book: if the creators can improve on the pacing, it could very well be the definitive adaptation of the franchise***. Issues #1-4 of Mega Man can probably be found at your Local Comic Book shop, or can be ordered directly from Archie. A collection of the four issues will also become available on September.
* Although really, was it that hard to have Mega Man defeat the him by using the Thunder Beam, then pausing the game repeatedly to maximize the number of hits? Was that so hard to adapt? 😛
** Ooh and Mets! Or “Taco Bells”, as me and my friends used to call them.
*** Caveat: If the Mega Man 2 adaptation doesn’t consist of Mega Man completely abandoning the Mega Buster in favor of the Metal Cutter because dude, it totally shoots in every direction, it automatically fails.