Ladies and gentlemen. My name is Nadia Oxford. And I'm here to make your Wednesday a little brighter with a new weekly column called [glances at headline] "Midboss Musings."
Well, I'm going to try and make your Wednesday a little brighter. It's a big job. Wednesdays suck.
Midboss Musings is meant to nestle nicely between Starting Screen and Ending Credits. I'm going to use this space to ramble about whatever game-related junk is on my mind. Er, if that's OK with you, of course. Oh, and if you jump on me three times, my fortress will crumble and the locked door on the world map will disappear.
(That tip's a freebie, but you need to call in for the next one. $1.50 a minute. Get your parents' permission before calling. State their credit card number clearly and slowly. Don't forget the security code.)
Let's kick off the festivities with some gab about a topic that's near and dear to me: Mega Man, and fan-produced media connected to Mega Man.
Adi Shankar, the gentleman behind the R-rated Power/Rangers parody and the upcoming Castlevania Netflix series (which, we've been promised, will be similarly violent and bloody), wishes to apply the same coat of Vantablack paint to the Mega Man franchise.
Shankar shared his dream in an excusive interview earlier this week with the game site WWG, where he assured interviewer Robert Workman his re-imaginings of children's properties come from a place of deep respect. "I'm not trying to rape and pillage culture for profit," he said. "I'm trying to take the things I loved as a kid and bring them to life in an interesting way."
When Workman asked Shankar which property he'd like to alter next, he said "I'd love to do a hard-R Mega Man."
As someone who's loved Mega Man since girlhood and helped write the Robot Master Field Guide (cough), I have two responses to the notion of an R-rated Mega Man. One's short. The other's a bit longer.
First, the short response:
Now, the longer response. Us long-time fans of Mega Man learned ages ago that we can write our own fanfiction wherein Mega Man paints the wall with Dr Wily's brains while screaming the F-word over and over. Then we grew out of it and started writing more thoughtful stories. I've said it before, but apparently, it bears repeating: Making something R-rated is not a foolproof means of a kids' property to life in an "interesting way."
Oh, it can be done. It has been done. But while it's perfectly acceptable to bite into a piece of forbidden fruit for your own amusement and for the amusement of a specific audience (there is a lot of Lazytown Sportacus / Robbie Rotten slash-fiction on Archive of Our Own, and some of it is hilariously good), you shouldn't spread your arms out and wait for people to touch you in awe because you thought to yourself, "What if I take the Mega Man games … and make Roll teen pregnant?"
All right, all right. I doubt Shankar would go that far even if he somehow managed to get Capcom to consent to an R-rated Mega Man production. But if you permit me to get a little saltier ("Oh no Nadia, don't do that!"), I need to say it's a little arrogant for Shankar to assume Mega Man is a stranger to darker, grittier themes in an official capacity. While he doesn't say as much outright, Shankar's statement to Workman about how he's trying to bring the properties he loved as a kid to life in "an interesting way" tells me he's not aware of the supplemental works already out there. Said works are already interesting and thoughtful, even if they're not R-rated.
For starters, there's Archie's Mega Man comic. It does right by Mega Man, Mega Man X, and the series' myriad villains and bit-players: Even though the actual games don't have a lot in the way of character development, everyone plays their roles very satisfactorily. The comic also manages to tackle some significant themes about the validity of artificial life, the nature of family, and prejudice. Astoundingly, the narrative manages all that without veering into content unsuitable for anyone under 18. In fact, at its darkest, the Mega Man comic never says or does anything that might earn it a heavier rating than PG.
But the R-rated Mega Man that Shankar envisions is probably closer to the drama penned by The Protomen – and they locked down that universe quite adequately in 2003. Using the magnificent power of rock opera, the Protomen narrate the partnership between Dr Wily and Dr Light, their subsequent falling-out, the rise of Wily's tyranny, Protoman's failed attempt to stop him, and Mega Man's failed attempt to stop him.
Themes and imagery from George Orwell's "1984" abound in The Protomen's work – the first album's tagline is "We Are the Dead" – but even though every song has layers of grime and dried blood in its cervices, the albums and supplementary media never sound or feel ridiculous. Everyone's motivations are laid bare. We learn why Mega Man becomes disenchanted with the idea of saving humanity, and why Protoman became disenchanted before him. We have a very clear idea of why Dr Wily went bananas, why Dr Light opposes him, and how and why everything went to hell.
Maybe I'm not being fair to Shankar. Maybe he can pull off an R-rated Mega Man. I'm not about to stop him from trying; I'm not the Pope of MegaLand. I'm just here to remind him people have already disassembled Mega Man in "interesting ways," and they've surfaced with commentary about everything from oppressive governments to human nature to PTSD.
Shankar is more than welcome to join the fun, but if he wants to impress fans, he'll need to go beyond having Mega Man scream obscenities while splashing robot brains across the screen.