Spiritus Ex Machina Part One (Written by Ian Flynn, Drawn by Jonathan Hill, Published by Archie)
After going through a series of titles that consisted of shootings, stabbings, and other forms of grievous bodily harm, it’s a nice change of pace to be able to sit down to an all-ages comic. So, naturally, it’s an issue of Mega Man where the Blue Bomber deals with terrorists putting a convention center on lockdown so they can blow up a bunch of machines whose A.I. have developed to the point of having distinct personalities, with maybe a few people as collateral damage. Totally different thing.
What surprised me most about this series has been the earnestness it brings to the story. The previous arc, The Return of Dr. Wily, was at its heart an adaptation of Mega Man 2, but rather than just being about Mega Man fighting the Robot Masters and Wily, Ian Flynn threw in a subplot about a computer virus corrupting the hero to raise the stakes, and artist Ben Bates put in a lot of little touches to accentuate that, such as heavy shading over glaring eyes when Mega Man blasts a defeated opponent in the face. Flynn and Bates take the attitude that just because Mega Man was meant for kids doesn’t mean the audience consists of idiots: this issue sees Mega Man’s creator Dr. Light get into a debate over advanced A.I., and the debate doesn’t shy away from the question of why, to quote Light’s counterpoint, “should we strive to make the calculator think about the meaning of its numbers?” More importantly, Flynn doesn’t shrug off the philosophical and ethical ideas behind making computers behave more like people; in fact, Light comes across a little demented in referring to Mega Man and Roll as his “children,” or at the very least overly sentimental, though, even that presents an interesting argument that giving machines a “soul” can help restore our own humanity when he talks about how he had “the same fears and joys of any parent, no nameless, lifeless tool can do that!”
This arc doesn’t appear to be a direct recreation of any of the games, though Mega Man 4‘s Pharoah Man pops in and Rush made his debut last issue, as there’s none of the screenshot recreations or various platformer elements that Bates had charmingly woven into previous issues, as if doing a more commercial version of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novels. Not a bad thing, mind you, since the previous issue also ignored that device because it no longer fit into the story, and I’d rather that creators be free to break from formula rather than try to emulate it (which might have hampered Chris Samnee’s work in Daredevil #12). Jonathan Hill adequately steps in for Bates, and even shows an inspired touch when it comes to setting up Light’s debate opponent/possible love interest Dr. Lalinde: when she first appears, the background consists of hearts (the only other hint at romance between the two is another colleague stating she had been “looking for [him] since the doors opened”), but when it’s revealed she will be debating against him it becomes a gray field with white dots.
That the creators allow the readers to piece together details like this, when so many comics are all about being as explicit as possible, gives me more and more reason to be impressed with this comic. The biggest trend among mainstream comics these days is to feign “maturity” by having their brightly-colored characters scowl and brutalise each other with every emotion bluntly stated (see also: Geoff Johns), but hilariously enough it’s an “all ages” comic that comes across as more mature.