Looking Back On ‘Mega Man’ With Ian Flynn [Interview]
When it debuted in 2011, it didn't take long for Mega Man to become one of my favorite comics. The all-ages action of one of my favorite video game franchises was blended with storytelling that took the games' simple premise of a good robot battling against an evil scientist and used it to explore complicated questions of morality, forgiveness, and the nature of war. It never stopped being a fun, high action adventure, but it also never talked down to its audience, and that was a combination that made it great.
Now, after almost five years, the series is coming to an end this week with Mega Man #55. To mark the occasion, ComicsAlliance spoke to writer Ian Flynn about how his version of Mega Man came to be, and the influences he drew on to create those stories.
ComicsAlliance: One of the most interesting things about Mega Man to me has always been the pacing, and the idea that you would spend time developing the story between the games as much as the story of the games themselves. How did you come to that decision?
Ian Flynn: The games provide nice mile markers when plotting out the series, and their simple nature opens themselves up to a lot of questions. After defeating Dr. Wily the first time, he comes back in the sequel with a new castle and better Robot Masters. How did he get all those? Where was he in between games? After all the shenanigans of the first two games, why would Dr. Light be willing to trust him in Mega Man 3? By investigating these questions and fleshing out the time between the game plots, we made it feel like more of an evolving world and not just an overview of the story beats. It gave Mega Man’s world a sense of life.
CA: How did you go about developing the characters? The games tend to be pretty simple, so what did you look at to inform, say, Dr. Light and his ideas about creating life? Did it all come naturally?
IF: A lot of it stemmed from taking all the little nuances in the game manuals or the obscure Japanese-exclusive trivia and spinning out from that. Dr. Light is an idealist who ultimately creates the first living robot. What does that mean for him personally? What drives him to make those decisions, and how does that mindset affect his day-to-day choices? I used that same kind of deconstruction on the whole game cast. And when it came to the comic exclusive characters, I wanted to make sure they felt like natural additions to the Mega Man universe. They were meant to explore areas and themes of his world we didn’t really get to see in the games and make them feel fuller.
CA: You mentioned obscure Japanese-only trivia that helped inform your take on Mega Man. Are there any particular examples that come to mind?
IF: Small things like Guts Man enjoying karaoke, or Spark Man being depressed when left alone. So I used that to show Guts Man singing and having a good time after hours, and it’s how I approached Spark Man’s reaction to the rest of his line being defeated. Stuff like that.
CA: I've written before about how Mega Man takes this very simple setup and uses it to explore complicated questions about morality. Was that always part of the plan from the beginning?
IF: I don’t think I set out to intentionally grapple bigger topics, but Mega Man’s simplicity opens itself up for deeper exploration. Mega Man himself is such an earnest, pure character that pitting him against anything negative leads to an interesting conflict. I tried to approach the material in a way that takes itself seriously. Sure, it’s brightly colored cartoon robot-people, but to them, that is their world. I think the bigger concepts naturally appeared by having the cast interact with their world in a way that was realistic to them.
CA: Was there any resistance to that? Did anyone say, "Hey, maybe this is a little heavy for a kids' comic?"
IF: I never wanted to go too dark with the series since Mega Man is known for being the most light-hearted series of the franchise. We certainly touched upon some grim ideas --- the sequence where Ra Moon knocks out the world’s power is pretty chilling --- but I don’t think we ever went too dark. That and I believe kids can handle mature storylines, and that dumbing down or sugarcoating everything is an insult to their intelligence. Treat your audience with respect and maturity, whether it’s an “adult” book or an all-ages one.
CA: Was there a particular moment where that really came through? I remember being really disturbed by Rock shutting down his emotions and talking about how he's Mega Man now, and Mega Man kills robots.
IF: Just about any moment with Blues will have you reaching for the tissue box. He struggles with a lot of the same doubts Rock has, but without the comfort of the family. I like to think the subtler moments of Dr. Wily second-guessing himself before turning on Dr. Light came through nicely. I’m really happy folks took to Tempo and her personal arc. Mega Man dealing with his fear of Ra Moon, and grappling with the morality of being happy the monster was dead… I could go on forever!
CA: A lot of those ideas came through in Quake Woman, too. What was the process like of creating Tempo for the comics?
IF: I collaborated a lot with Aleah Baker in the design and the thinking behind her. I really wanted to add a female Robot Master to the cast since, aside from Splash Woman, it’s an all-guy cast and it never hurts to diversify a bit. But I also really wanted to avoid her being “Girl Mega Man.” Her loss of humanity, her relationship with Dr. LaLinde, but supposed to mirror Mega Man and Dr. Light’s relationship and --- by contrast --- help explore the dynamic between the Blue Bomber and his creator. And by helping Tempo regain her personality, Mega Man would further explore what it meant for him to have an identity as an individual.
CA: In terms of creating original characters, you also introduced Roslyn Krantz and Gil Stern. Aside from the obvious reference, how did they come about? Was it intended from the start that they'd be a sounding board for the debate about robots and humanity when they crashed Dr. Light's date?
IF: Gil was definitely meant to be the voice of the older generation; one wary of going too boldly into unknown territory. I find it fascinating that we have people alive today who saw the evolution of the rotary phone to the home phone to our modern cell phones. They’ve seen the invention of commercial airlines and people landing on the moon. What must it be like for them to see so much advancement in their lifetime? And while I’m a bit of a technophile myself, I find myself a little unsettled at the prospects of some of the innovations on the horizon. So when Gil and Dr. Light are debating, it’s something of me arguing with myself.
Roslyn, like Tempo and Dr. LaLinde, was an effort to inject a female presence into the series. She was also meant to be the counterpoint to Gil: the younger, optimistic view of what the future holds. Together they showed the human side of Mega Man’s world, which we barely ever see, and offer two contrasting viewpoints. And all of this was to further investigate and broaden Mega Man’s world.
CA: You also mentioned Ra Moon. I always thought that he was another another character who was created for the comics, and while that's not actually the case, he ends up embodying a lot of what the book was about --- big action that has some really strong emotional consequences and explaining Wily's "reformation" after the events of the first two games. Was there anything you considered using before going with the idea of this all-powerful robot overlord from space to tie all of that together?
IF: Ra Moon (and by extension, Ra Devil and Ra Thor) comes from the Japanese-exclusive PlayStation game Super Adventure Rockman. It wasn’t like your standard Mega Man game. It played more like Dragon’s Lair with first-person-shooter boss battles. It wasn’t really considered part of the main canon, but since it featured both the Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 Robot Masters and placed Dr. Wily at a disadvantage, I thought it was a great way to bridge the gap between the games and give Dr. Wily an alibi --- or at least some plausible deniability. It was another case of taking the obscure and using it to flesh out what was already there.
CA: Is there a moment you look at in the series that embodies everything you feel like you accomplished with it? A high point where it all worked?
IF: I think Blue’s origin story, "Proto-Type," in volume five, really came together solidly. I think the "Curse of Ra Moon" saga and its immediate fallout hit on all the right notes. And I really enjoyed how "Legends of the Blue Bomber" came together.
CA: I'm obviously a pretty big fan, but I'm a guy in his 30s who grew up with Mega Man going back to the NES days. I know that the book seemed to have a big fan following from kids --- there was a lot of great art on the letters page, for instance --- but what was their reaction like for you?
IF: I love it. I’m very happy when I can make the veteran fans of the series satisfied since this is something they’ve held dear for so long. But when the next generation gets excited and passionate about Mega Man, I feel like I’ve helped preserve the Blue Bomber for the future. Those kids will be in their 30s one day, and my stories will be their "classic Mega Man." It’s thrilling to get them involved and to have a small place in a media icon’s legacy.
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