Warning: There be spoilers.
Circumstances forced me to be more selective of which comic books I buy since moving to Calgary last November. My most important prerequisite for a title is that it cannot be cynical in any way. I view comic books as a diversion from an increasingly pessimistic world wracked with strife, hence my appreciation for the Silver Age of Comics. Out all the titles I have read in the past few years, Mega Man is one of the few comic books that captures the optimism of the jet/space age and balances it with character depth and even delves into philosophical issues regarding artificial intelligence. While the latter is noticeably absent from Mega Man #45, the emotional impact of the issue is some of Ian Flynn’s finest writing to date.
Those familiar with the Mega Man series should know the basic plot of Mega Man 3: Dr. Wily seemingly “reformed” after the events of the previous game and works with Dr. Light on the peacekeeping robot, Gamma. Eight robot masters went berserk and stole the eight energy elements used to power Gamma and the Doctors dispatch Mega Man to retrieve them. Once Mega Man retrieves the elements, Dr. Wily betrays Dr. Light and steal Gamma for yet another world domination scheme (of course!) As such, Wily’s betrayal was always going to be inevitable in the comic adaptation of the game.
While the march to Mega Man 3 was a long one with the Worlds Collide and a de facto Super Adventure Rockman adaptation, Mr. Flynn did not scrimp on characterization. Forgiveness was the prevailing theme for the past year of the title, particularly how Dr. Light and Mega Man unconditionally forgave Dr. Wily for his past crimes. Being and idealist, Dr. Light was willing to give Wily the benefit of the doubt and defend him when Dr. Cossack expressed his (rightful) suspicions over Wily’s “reformation.” Wily’s second thoughts about his plan in Mega Man #36 demonstrated some surprising depth to his character. That despite being an egomaniac, Wily still had some capacity for sympathy, which gave his personal crossing of the Rubicon an element of tragedy. Though Wily could have redeemed himself, subsequent installments in the video game series ordained that he would not. Factor in a slow burn over nine issues and the impact of Wily’s betrayal hits harder than any weapon could use against the Blue Bomber.
Dr. Light’s breakdown is especially heart wrenching and is one of the few instances where a comic moved me on such a visceral level. The only other time a comic did that was Aunt May’s death in Amazing Spider-Man #400 (which Marvel undid a few years later) and I commend Mr. Flynn for the delivery of a calculated tug at the heart strings. One of life’s harsh lessons is that even if you treat others the way you want to be treated, there is no guarantee the other party will reciprocate that sentiment. Ultimately, Wily’s ego and jealousy stood in the way of any chance for redemption, which made the central conflict personal. In previous story arcs, “stop Wily’s nefarious scheme of the week” was the thrust of each conflict now there is an emotional stake in Mega Man’s next confrontation with the madman, which gives me a vested interest in the story’s conclusion.
If there were one flaw with the issue, it would be Ryan Odagawa’s pencils. While passable for most part, it deviates from the art styles of previous artists enough to appear jarring. I have some issues with Gamma’s proportions but the layouts are solid. Evan Stanley’s moodier colors are also a departure from Matt Herms’ more vibrant hues, but it appropriate considering the overall atmosphere of the issue.
That said, I consider Mega Man #45 the penultimate issue of the series so far. While it definitely darker than previous issues, it illustrates an important aspect of the superhero genre: tragedy is a common motivator for the hero’s actions. Bruce Wayne would not become Batman without the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Peter Parker would not be fighting crime without the death of Uncle Ben. Wily’s betrayal shows Mega Man that he has no moral scruples and that Mega Man must stop him to prevent Wily from hurting others as he did Dr. Light. It will be interesting to see if the events of this issue will set the tone for the rest of the series. If you are not reading Mega Man then you are missing one of the most underappreciated titles in the industry.