Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review: Mega Man #24

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been haring off in other directions for the last few months, particularly updating my art blog (shameless plug) and pursuing other things for a little while. That said, I think this blog deserves a little bit of love too! I had intended to write reviews for the recently completed “Endangered Species” storyline (Sonic the Hedgehog #243-246) and a few other things, but those are being temporarily put off while I jump in directly to Archie Comics’ big crossover event “Worlds Collide!”

So let’s get right into it, shall we?

“Worlds Collide” is Archie's big mash-up between the worlds of Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man. Written by head writer Ian Flynn with the blessing of SEGA and Capcom (in fact, it was their idea!), the twelve-part crossover event will span Archie's three series: Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Universe and Mega Man.

To help readers keep track of what books are coming out during the crossover, Archie has released a handy checklist that has been featured in various comic ads and promotional materials. You can check it below:

Click to enlarge.
The action starts off in Mega Man #24, so let’s begin! 

Warning, spoilers ahead.

The story opens in the Green Hill Zone in Sonic’s world. Sonic is battling a new foe, dressed in blue and sporting a cannon on his arm—it’s the super fighting robot, Mega Man! But wait… aren’t they both the heroes? Just what is going on here?

High in the sky, a robot that suspiciously resembles Tails, Sonic’s sidekick and best friend, is monitoring the action and transmitting the footage directly to none other than Dr. Eggman and Dr. Wily. The two doctors are busy congratulating one another for the oh-so-brilliant plan of pitting Sonic and Mega Man against each other, cheering for their hated nemeses’ mutual destruction. The two doctors look over to another monitor that is keeping track of the seven Chaos Emeralds, five of which have already been collected. The two reminisce on how their partnership began…

The rest of the issue is a flashback/setup for the storyline, with one of Dr. Wily’s robot servants bringing him a strange blue gemstone (which turns out to be the Chaos Emerald that went missing from the Death Egg Mk. II in Sonic #230), which suddenly puts him into contact with Dr. Eggman.

After some arguing the two realize they have much in common, particularly their advanced knowledge of robotics and being plagued by “young upstarts” that always seem to get in their ways. Eggman proposes the two meet, and they subsequently create an alternate dimension by manipulating the power of the Chaos Emerald Wily obtained. They then proceed to build a new base of operations and Death Egg model and reset their worlds via the Genesis Wave (last used by Eggman in Sonic #225, kicking off the “Genesis” arc in #226-229), priming their respective worlds for conquest.

It’s sort of weird going into “Worlds Collide” when Archie, for whatever reason, decided to give away bits and pieces of the story through their early solicitations (particularly the covers). To be fair, even though people who have seen most of the solicitations might be going in with some vague knowledge, the covers hardly tell the whole story. Part one helps to put some of those upcoming covers into context. Here, we see how the two doctors meet and the development of their fast friendship (played for laughs on the “Evil Friends For Life” variant covers that will be scattered throughout the crossover).

A cover for an upcoming issue (Sonic Universe #52, part 5) features Mega Man-styled robots based on Tails, Knuckles, Shadow and Amy, and this issue explains their creation: a fusion of Dr. Eggman’s roboticization techniques and Dr. Wily’s own brand of robotic technology.

I confess I don’t have much knowledge of Mega Man or his universe; I’ve played a few games scattered throughout the franchise, and I’m aware of the main players, but the specifics are totally lost to me. I think the crossover might be what turns me around and actually gets me into something Mega Man related (i.e. Archie’s comic series).

I think that’s sort of the beauty of this sort of thing: the cross-pollination of fans of the respective franchises discovering the other, and, hopefully, becoming fans in the process. Of course, crossovers like this are also a great marketing scheme to move lots of books all at once, and now with Archie getting into the variant cover scheme (though without the weird shipment ratios of common and rare covers and expensive retailer incentives/exclusives other publishers are currently doing—take a look at IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for an idea of what I mean), the completionist collectors will likely be ALL OVER this crossover.

If I have one nitpick about the whole idea of the crossover is that it’s essentially interrupting the on-going narratives of both universes: Sonic #247 ended on a cliffhanger with Sonic and crew confronting Mecha-Sally just before the Genesis wave hits, and I’ve heard Mega Man #23 has a similar cliffhanger ending. I can appreciate however, that Archie hasn’t totally rushed the stories of those series simply to make way for the crossover, choosing instead to merely “pause” them. I can also appreciate the ease of access into both worlds. Again, I think it’s that “cross-pollination” Archie is aiming for.

I’ve mentioned before (long ago) that Archie’s Sonic comic in particular has never been the easiest book to pick up. It’s always been a “miss an issue, miss most of the story” sort of thing. Archie has definitely made some grand efforts to really make things more accessible in the last few years, but the twenty year history of the on-going narrative, which has passed through many writers in that span, will always be a hurdle; it’s certainly lower than it’s ever been, but it’s still there. 

Doing things like adding recap pages and making past issues readily available either through digital services, back-issue collections, and the rare trade paperback collection (rare as far as Archie's Sonic is concerned, anyway) certainly helps readers catch up. “Worlds Collide” seems to do away with the comic-specific universes of Sonic and Mega Man in favor of staying in the more familiar realms of the video games, increasing accessibility to potential readers who would probably not pick up these books otherwise.

The big question is how much of this crossover will eventually affect the main storylines of each world? Archie's Sonic is not actually a stranger to crossovers.

In Sonic Super Special #7, Sonic and the Freedom Fighters ended up in the Image Comics world, and they teamed up with Spawn, Savage Dragon, and some forgettable original characters from Ken Penders's failed series The Lost Ones.

Another time, Sonic was transported to Sabrina the Teenaged Witch's world, brainwashed into attacking the titular character, but then eventually stopped by a team up of Sabrina and Sally Acorn (Sabrina the Teenaged Witch #28 and Sonic Super Special #10).

Neither of these crossovers are considered (to my knowledge) canon, and have not had any lasting effect on the Archie Sonic universe (the only people who don't forget about these misadventures are the readers, really). However, it seems that "Worlds Collide" might be set up to have some lingering effects on both worlds, due in part to the reappearance of the Genesis Wave, which itself has had some side effects post-Genesis on Sonic's world, such as the re-implementation of roboticization (Sonic #230) and the awakening of Ixis Naugus's past forms, which are haunting him in his mind (chronicled throughout Sonic #230-241 and Sonic Universe #41-44).

Ian Flynn shows that he understands these characters on a deep level. The interactions between Eggman and Wily are hilarious, and it’s fun watching how well they get along, and the disagreements they do have (such as the naming of the Skull Egg Zone or the Wily Egg) are quickly fixed by compromises and games of rock-paper-scissors. These two don’t have time to butt heads, they’ve got worlds to conquer and blue ones to destroy you know (heh, that was lame)!

Flynn shows both worlds the respect they deserve by never really having a character from one universe necessarily outshine the other. The collaboration between Eggman and Wily really hit this home by their combining robotics techniques from both worlds to create the “Roboticized Masters.” Even the fight between Sonic and Mega Man shows both heroes getting an equal amount of hits in with neither giving in (and don’t worry, we’ll see how they ended up fighting each other next issue!).

I imagine Flynn's biggest challenge was making the crossover look intentional; it was actually Capcom and SEGA that approached Archie about the possibility of a crossover and Flynn had to find a way to make it all work.

For example, I wonder where the blue Chaos Emerald would have ended up post-Genesis if the crossover wasn't on the table at the time (it disappeared in Sonic #230, after Sonic reset the Prime Zone). Would it have ended back up in the Special Zone or even another dimension? There's no telling exactly when plans for the crossover began and what sort of adjustments had to be made to both stories to make it work. Never mind that the Sonic book has been going through some changes already thanks in part to the current legal issues with Ken Penders... but this isn't the place for that.

Jamal Peppers handles penciling duties for what I presume will make up the first “act” of “Worlds Collide.” Ian Flynn had said in an interview recently that the twelve-part crossover would be broken up into three acts, which will be reflected in the upcoming trade paperback collections (which will collect the issues in the correct order). If I had to guess each act will have a different set of artists working on the story (Ben Bates is confirmed to be handling some penciling duties).

Peppers’s pencils are strong as usual, and he draws both universes’ characters well in their respective styles; they still have their personal nuances that mark them as either a “Sonic” character or a “Mega Man” character, but they never really clash on the page.  His character poses are dynamic and his layouts are easy to follow. Peppers’s pencils are complemented by Jim Amash’s inking, which use more bold varied lines compared to how Terry Austin usually inks his work. While I’m usually complimentary about Austin’s inking, I think I’m finding I prefer how Amash handles things a bit better as his inking various artists seems generally more consistent. But I’ll get to that in another review when the time comes.

Matt Herms is handling coloring duties, and his work, as expected, is bright, colorful and perfectly matched for this book. I especially like the little bit of shading that add just a little bit more depth to the artwork, breathing a little bit of extra life into it. I recall some of his work having sort of a “washed out” look on the “Endangered Species” storyline, but whether that’s just how the colors actually print or he was aiming for something a little less saturated to match the mood… I’m not sure. 

I should note that I read this comic on my computer via comiXology, so it’s entirely possible the colors don’t print quite as brightly as they appear on screen.

All in all, Mega Man #24 kicks things off smoothly, and works to quickly get readers up to speed on what was going down in the respective universes pre-crossover before getting things into gear. The flashback isn’t quite over and will continue in Sonic Universe #51.

If you've been keeping up with Archie's on-going Sonic series, "Worlds Collide" might actually be a nice breather. Post-Genesis, the storyline has been fairly heavy, and also after how "Endangered Species" turned out due to some behind the scenes issues, it might actually be a good thing to step away from the "Prime" universe for a few months. On the flip-side, we're really, really close to a resolution with Mecha-Sally, and it's a shame we've got to wait a little bit longer because of the crossover.

While I have some mixed feelings, I appreciate Archie simply hitting the "pause" button instead of rushing things through. It shows a level of care that would've been unprecedented from the same company 13 years ago, and as someone who has grown up with this series and seen it through its many ups and downs, it's a breath of fresh air, and I'll be happy to stick around and enjoy the ride.

Check back soon for the review of part 2 of "Worlds Collide" in Sonic Universe #51!

Mega Man #24 was originally released on April 10, 2013. A free digital preview is available on comiXology.

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