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Platypus Musings: Mega Man #45

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.

Platypus Musings: The Wily Wars

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Ah, 1994. As I waxed in a previous post, I consider that year to be one of the most memorable in my thirty-plus years of existed. I traveled to Kauai as part of what one could describe as a grandiose family reunion, toured the American Midwest and Ontario, and most of all, solidified my identity as a Sega enthusiast. Unfortunately, it was also the same year that solidified my interest in the Blue Bomber, Megaman. My cousin and I played Megaman 2 endlessly when were staying at my uncle’s in Mississauga and I even got a taste of Megaman 6 when we visited the Nintendo pod at Ontario Place. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to reconcile my enjoyment of both Sega and Megaman because the latter was Nintendo exclusive. Imagine my excitement when I saw Megaman: The Wily Wars listed as future release in a Consumers Distributing catalogue…

…Only to face disappointment as the game never saw a physical North American release, though it was available on the short-lived Sega Channel.

While ROMs of the Japanese and European versions circulated on the Internet via emulation, I never found myself too immersed in the game when playing on an emulator. I am a proud console/retro gamer and it feels too unnatural to play the game on a keyboard in a tactile sense. Hence why I turned to the Virtual Console re-releases for the Wii/Wii U/3DS for my fix of the original three games. However, I found a reproduction cart of the game at the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo last year and did not hesitate in buying it. So how does the remake compare to the originals?

It is certainly beautiful from a graphical standpoint; the Genesis’ superior palette makes the classic “trilogy” more vibrant than its NES counterparts. Plus, the added power of the Genesis allowed for more detailed backgrounds, tiles, and sprites, which is quite apparent in the original Megaman where the backgrounds were mostly solid colors with a few exceptions. Wily Wars adds a nice rippling “heat wave” effect for Fire Man’s stage or scrolling clouds for Elec Man’s though the graphical enhancements for Megamans 2 & 3 are not as eye-catching. I would say that I prefer the look of Wily Wars to Megaman 7. While the SNES packed more of a punch in the graphics department, Megaman 7 was my least favorite of the classics because the larger sprites made the screen appear more cramped and the cartoony look always seemed more exaggerated whereas Wily Wars seemed more balanced and the colors bold compared to 7’s semi-pastel look. Megaman X still outshines this game though not only in graphics but also music, which bring me to my next point…

Say what you want about the Genesis; it may have lacked the sound chip the SNES possessed, but it could send Nintendo packing in the right hands. Listen to Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack for Streets of Rage, Masato Nakamura on Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel—hell, Tommy Tellarico pumped out some good tunes for Global Gladiators and Disney’s Aladdin, which outshone some the SNES’ best music. None of that is present in Wily Wars, which I would describe as serviceable but generic for the Genesis. I like to believe that each Megaman game had its own character. 2 had an exciting, blood-pumping track that made you believe you kick the gate open when you stormed Skull Castle; but it sounded much more subdued when I played Wily Castle 1 in Wily Wars. While the quality varies, the general feel from the music is something I would expect from a middle-of-the-road Genesis game and not something that is of Capcom’s caliber.

I suppose I can blame of that and the game’s other “quirks” on its troubled development, which Keiji Inafune described the debugging as a nightmare (according to Megaman Complete Works.) Though I can only speculate, I assume that many of the game’s drawbacks are a result of the developer’s unfamiliarity with the Mega Drive’s hardware. The biggest of them is slowdown, which is very prevalent in the game though it is your saving grace against the Yellow Devil without the classic pause/resume trick from the NES original. Oddly enough, the Wily Wars is easier than the originals in some respects. Remember how a game over meant losing your E-Tanks in Megaman 2? That is not a problem because of Wily Wars’ save feature. Otherwise, the Wily Wars difficulty is identical to the originals’, even Megaman 1’s unforgiving difficulty.

Though what makes Wily Wars a must have for me is the inclusion of Wily Tower. Wily Wars draws many comparisons to Super Mario All-Stars and for good reasons (graphical and audio upgrades), thus Wily Tower functions as the Lost Levels in that it offers extra content. However, unlike Lost Levels, you need to unlock Wily Tower by completing the first three games, which separates the diehards from the casual players. It (and a bout of insomnia) motivated me enough to slog through Wily’s domain in the game: a gauntlet of four robot masters fought consecutively with no health refills with one that can clip off a third of your lifebar in one hit if your jumps are not pixel-perfect. It was worth it so I could mix and match weapons and items from the first three games to use against three new bosses and another Wily castle. Though brief, it feels like the game tosses you a bone for playing through the slowdown.

So in the end, was it worth the twenty-year wait to plug it into my Genesis? As a fan of both Sega and Mega Man, I would say yes. More fair weather fans would be better off playing the NES orinals, the devoted can go download the ROMs, and the truly diehard should either import or by a reproduction cart. It is an interesting if not obscure piece of Megaman history that deserves at least one glance.