Category Archives: GIMMGP

Mega Man, the Junior High School Student

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With all of the hullaballoo around Mighty No. 9 and its Kickstarter project flooding the Internet, I have been itching to play Mega Man 3 again.  So I cracked out the Anniversary Collection and fought my way to Wily’s Castle for the umpteenth time.  As I was playing, my mind was filled with all of the different incarnations of the Blue Bomber that have popped up over the years.  Just within my own collection there are three different comic book lines, two rock operas, two television series, and a tribute art book packed full of fan interpretations.  I have seen Mega Man has been a gruff-voiced green dwarf, a goofball hero who spits out corny one-liners, and a solemn savior for all of mankind.  This week, I want to take a look at an obscure comic book series, where the plucky robot faces his greatest challenge yet: junior high.

MegaMan-2It was back in 2003 when Dreamwave Productions took a crack at the Mega Man mythos.  Founded in 1996 as an imprint under Image Comics, the Canadian studio made their name publishing multiple Transformers comics series.  After splitting off from Image in 2002, Dreamwave earned several licensing agreements from Capcom, which included hot properties like Darkstalkers, Devil May Cry, and Rival Schools.  Unfortunately, most of these comic lines burned out after a single issue, if they were ever printed at all.  Losing several writers to pay disputes in 2004, Dreamwave Productions closed their doors in January of 2005, which left Mega Man with only four issues on store shelves.

MegaMan-4Instead of focusing on the usual story of a robot hero designed by Dr. Light to fight against Wily’s robot hordes, Dreamwave put more emphasis on the blurry lines between cold automatons and free-willed machines.  Dr. Light has perfected his independent determination chip and implanted it into his robotic son, Rocky.  The good doctor hopes that with this chip, robots will evolve beyond mere appliances and move on to be dignified members of society.  While all of this philosophizing seems quite grand, the core plot of this comic boils down to the bland trope of a young  hero trying to protect a city while managing a social life within a secret identity.  One issue even features the tired old tale of, “how will our hero save the junior high students and attend the student council dance at the same time?!”

MegaMan-3Even more odd is the severe lack of classic Wily robots within the series.  Outside of a brief appearance from Heat Man, all of Mega Man’s battles are against original designs from Dreamwave like Express Man and Barrage Man.  These robots are nothing more than battle fodder for the Blue Bomber, and take up just enough time to cause brief mayhem before being rapidly blown to bits.  This sort of this would be fine in a creative vacuum, but since so much of the other Mega Man media has created detailed and interesting back stories for the Wily robots, readers actually know what they are missing in this comic.

On a plus side, the artwork really shines in this series.  The character designs are clean and quite emotive, taking a cue from Inafune’s original work without being too derivative.  Action scenes are well-drawn, with plenty of interesting panel layouts and motion blurs to flesh out every scene.  The entire look of the comics is reminiscent of anime that would be suited for younger children, which matches the story perfectly.

When creating a comic based on an established IP, there is great difficulty in determining how to proceed.  A writer can stick to the script provided by the parent company, and make a series that is nothing more than dialogue placed over in-game actions.  Some writers prefer to deviate from the source material, and try to make something that can be appreciated as its own work.  It seems to me that Dreamwave Productions was attempting to produce something in the latter category: a Mega Man comic that does not rely on rabid fans’ knowledge of the established series.  Unfortunately for them, the core reading audience would prefer a video game comic that takes an existing story and gracefully builds upon it.  Dreamwave discovered then just as Capcom is learning now, sometimes it pays to give the fans what they want.

When Video Games and Comics Collide!

For many people, the mention of video game and comic cross-overs conjures up images of character select screens and tag-based fighting.  While companies like Capcom certainly have a long history of producing games based on popular comic series, these two media forms have plenty of interaction outside of beat ’em ups and fighting games.  There is a wealth of comic books and graphic novels that take place in the fascinating worlds within video games.  Some of these comics are nothing more than a cheap way to make a buck from merchandising, while others expand upon the gaming universe in clever and complex ways.

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As an avid game player and comic reader, I have collected piles of these things over the years.  Most of them have languished in long boxes and on bookshelves, untouched by human hands for some time.  But here at Geek Force Network, I have the opportunity to exhume and explore these interesting cross-overs once more!  Every week, I will cover a comic book/series and the history behind it.  I will take a look at the stories contained within the pages, and see if they serve as an expansion to the universe, a loving tribute, or a blatant cash-grab to my favorite hobby.  So let’s get things started with the Nintendo Comics System from Valiant Comics!

MarioBros1Founded in 1989 by former Marvel writers/editors Jim Shooter and Bob Layton, Valiant Comics was an independent publishing company formed after an unsuccessful bidding war for Marvel Entertainment.  During its prime, Valiant produced several successful titles, such as X-O Manowar and Harbinger, thanks to the efforts many talented writers and artists.  In 1990, Valiant scored a licensing deal with Nintendo and went on to create the Nintendo Comics System.  The line of comics was based mostly on popular franchises like Super Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda, but issues based on Captain N: The Game Master and Game Boy spin-off stories were also produced.  While I never had a subscription to these comics (yup, you could get these delivered to your door), I collected a handful of issues as a kid, which included the first of the Super Mario Bros. comics.

MarioBros2Since the Nintendo Comics System was being published in 1990, it would make sense to see Mario in his raccoon form winging across the cover.  Super Mario Bros. 3 had just released that year, along with Happy Meal Toys and a Saturday morning cartoon show.  The stories featured in each comic are of a similar tone to the cartoons: mostly light-hearted spin-off tales that take place within the Mushroom Kingdom, presumably outside of the main plot of the video games.  Two longer tales make up this issue: “Piranha-Round Sue,” in which Mario must change the Mushroom King from a chameleon back into a human and thwart a misguided piranha plant revolution at the same time, and “Cloud Nine,” where the evil Wart disguises himself as a mattress salesman and tricks the Mushroom King onto an actual cloud mattress.  As per usual, it’s up to the Mario Brothers to save the king and keep him from floating away while “raining” over his loyal subjects.

MarioBros3Outside of the main stories, there are one-page fillers which include a Q-and-A column with Princess Toadstool, and a riff on Ripley’s with “Koopa’s Believe It or Else!”  Much of the art is drawn without many lines, but the simple nature of each drawing is complemented with plenty of detail and color on every page.  The character faces also feature a wide array of expressions, which contributes to the cartoony nature of the stories.  On a whole, these comics do very little to expand on the main storyline of the video games, but they are fun interpretations of the Mushroom Kingdom.  Side characters such as Toad now have a chance to speak their minds and evolve beyond window-dressing, and it is great to see Princess Toadstool as more than just a sort of prize to be won.

At the back of the book, Valiant includes an address for readers to send their comments and suggestions, which seems like a great opportunity for players.  By polling their readers, Valiant had a direct line into what gamers wanted to see in the comics.  Since the Mario Brothers are little more than a handful of jumping sprites in the video games, I always wondered what the plumbers did in their spare time and what other sorts of adventures they had in the Mushroom Kingdom.  This entry from the Nintendo Comics System may not have depicted the perils Mario and Luigi faced on their way to Bowser’s Castle, but it gave a peak into the daily lives of the characters and the colorful world they inhabit, which seems like a perfect plot for comics to explore.