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.
It 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.
Instead 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?!”
Even 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.