Publisher: Archie Comics
Script: Ian Flynn
Pencils: Jonathan Hill
Inks: Gary Martin
Colors: Matt Herms
Recommended Audiences: People who like the Young Justice cartoon and wish it looked more like Astro Boy.
While the first year of Mega Man stories was enjoyable in its own way, it always felt that it was as good as is could be, with “as good as it could be” being “not great”. While the writing was good, the source material and the book’s approach to it meant that there wasn’t a whole lot of time for proper world building, which meant that the actual stories ended feeling thinner than I’d like. Still, there was the sense that this was purely an issue of growing pains, and that once the series had room to slow down and stretch a bit, the pieces would fall into place.
Now, with the series’ fourth arc, “Spiritus Ex Machina”, I think its safe to say that that time has arrived. Gosh, this is a great story.
Recap: Dr. Light and his family are all at Robot Con to have fun, talk shop with friends, and help make the case for the Robot Masters, when the whole expo is attacked by the Emerald Spears, a terrorist group intent in stopping the evolution of A.I., and who pose a challenge not because they’re strong, but because as humans they cannot be harmed by the three-laws compliant Mega Man.
Ian Flynn has gotten a lot of recognition for his ability to create kid-friendly works that manages to hit all the right notes while not speaking down to them, but this is possibly a high point. The first issue features a moderated debate between Dr. Light, who believes that giving personalities to robots is the natural next step in their development, and fellow Robot Master developer Dr. LaLinde, who believes that doing so is senseless when those robots are designed to be sent to perform dangerous tasks they might not return from–in her words, why create robots that can break their creator’s hearts? While the story is rather naturally biased towards one particular side, LaLinde’s argument is presented as cogent, well-thought out one (and one I personally found more convincing)–no strawmen here. Given our current political environment, it feels stunningly adult.
Light and LaLinde aren’t the only people seeking to persuade via debate. The Emerald Spears’ leader Harvey Greenleaf also hopes to bring people over to his side via words, oblivious to the fact that a) he can’t debate, and b) no matter what his lofty intentions are, he’s still attempting to kill robots who are as people’s children. It’s this fact that makes his eventual, inevitable betrayal by more extremist factions within his group more interesting than it may have otherwise been, since it doesn’t feel as if the villains are shooting themselves on the foot by doing so. And this schism can even be felt downstream. There’s a surprising amount of variation within the group, even when most of its members are essentially mooks.
I’d mentioned before that one of the obstacles the book would face was a source material that heavily favored male characters over female ones. With this arc, things are considerably improved, partly because of its less bloated cast–and because of the prominence of three new female characters introduced here, which include comics exclusive characters like the aforementioned Dr. LaLinde and Tempo, a.k.a. Quake Woman, LaLinde’s Robot Master. They both make great additions to the established ‘verse, and I hope to see more of them in the future. On a similar note, it’s nice that the Emerald Spears isn’t an exclusively-male group, and that the Advanced Robotics Trade Show (nice acronym!) can be seen attended by people of genders: given that people who think like Tony Harris are still unshockingly common, it’s appreciated to see creators affirm that yes, women are human (unless they’re robots) and are perfectly capable of enjoying technology.
Also introduced in this arc are Dr. Cossack, his daughter Kalinka, and the Doctor’s Robot Master Pharaoh Man, who will be familiar to people acquainted with Mega Man 4. While their roles here isn’t exactly essential–they’re here mostly to get introduced and allow readers to familiarize themselves with them–Flynn does a good job of sketching them out, and they do a good job of further developing the world. In fact, that’s one of the best things about this arc. There’s still a bunch of characters, but they all feel essential and distinct and they all allow us to approach the story from different angles.
The Mega Man book has so far taken the approach of bringing in different artists for each arc, and this time it’s Jonathan Hill’s turn at the wheel, and he, like the artists before him, does a great job of maintaining the stylistic consistency of the the established world while adapting it to his art style. I especially like that even people in uniforms all look different. He’s probably tied with Ben Bates as my favorite artist so far, and my top candidate for regular penciller, if the book ever decides to have one.
After a slow first arc, I had decided that Mega Man would be one of the books I would collect exclusively in trades. If the subsequent arcs manage to be as good as this one, I may be forced to reconsider. This is an awesome product, and June–when the next volume comes out–cannot come fast enough.