The annual transition of spring into summer brings warmer weather and sour beers back into my life. I find that the citrus bite of a sour ale is an ideal match for the balmy days of May. But the warmer weather also brings volatile storms, and the unsettling calm before the first bolt of lightning. For such foreboding moments, something darker is required.
Midnight Due is a dark sour aged in Retribution Imperial Stout barrels from DuClaw Brewing Company. Unlike its brighter sour brethren, Midnight Due is a dark cola brown color with tawny hues and a fizzy beige head. The typical sour ale nose of freshly cut lemon is mixed with strong notes of smoky oak and vanilla bean. The first sip is the familiar tart citrus start of sour beer. But this comfortable flavor bubbles into a dry, malty body of toasted soda bread with hints of caramel. Midnight Due finishes clean, with lingering notes of wood and bourbon.
As it happens, I was able to enjoy Midnight Due and revisit a particularly dark comic twist on Mega Man just as a storm was brewing over my once-peaceful balcony. This deliciously devious take on sour ales was an ideal match for the grim battles and cosmic threats contained in Mega Man: Gigamix.
There is a common problem that pops up in long-running series across all forms of media. After so many issues/episodes/games of good battling evil to maintain the status quo, the antagonist of a series can seem less like a threat and more like a lovable ne’er-do-well who gets into goofy shenanigans. This trope is especially apparent in prolonged battle shows and comics, where the stakes can only be raised so high by a single villain (see: Dragon Ball Z, Transformers, Power Rangers, countless others).
Like most recurring problems in media, there is a regular solution to which many writers will resort to keep a story fresh and the action intense. If your series bad guy simply isn’t bad enough, just introduce an even more heinous villain into the mix. With dark enough intentions and a scheme that threatens the world on a massive scale, the previous antagonist may even step up to help the hero save the day. This just happens to be the case in the Mega Man: Gigamix comics.
A continuation of Hitoshi Ariga’s Megamix series, Gigamix was brought over from Japan by Udon Comics in May 2011. Instead of focusing on the main entries from the beloved video game series, Gigamix draws most of its inspiration from a single game, Mega Man V on the Game Boy. Unlike the other games where Dr. Wily has constructed the major boss robots to take over the world, these maniacal mechanicals have come from outer space to destroy all life on Earth.
These raised stakes directly translate to the comic book plot, where the aptly named Stardroids are released from their cosmic prison and immediately declare war against the inhabitants of Earth, robot and human alike. Not content to merely subjugate the population like Dr. Wily would, the Stardroids use their advanced technology to summon an ancient cataclysmic weapon called the Dark Moon. Using the fear and negative emotions caused by their wanton destruction, the Stardroids hope to resurrect their master robot Sunstar to wipe out human civilization.
Of course, Mega Man and his family stand against the Stardroids, but they are not the only ones battling for Earth’s well-being. All of the previous robot masters faced by Mega Man join the Blue Bomber in trying to defeat the cosmic destroyers. Even Dr. Wily lends a helping hand in the fight for survival, bringing the trope full circle as the series’ villain teams up with the series’ protagonist to stop an even greater threat.
Ariga’s artwork remains excellent throughout Gigamix, although the battle scenes are a bit more violent. Since the Stardroids fight without abandon or mercy, the robots fighting against them get truly wrecked. Favorite robots like Cut Man and Shadow Man are torn to pieces while fighting, having their limbs sliced and shot off by the Stardroids. Even Mega Man and Roll are not safe from the massive destruction in these panels. The entire comic features much stronger contrasts and shadows to reflect the darker subject matter. However, this only makes the art for the happy and hopeful moments even brighter by comparison.
When I was in college, I had a discussion with one of my close friends about the Mega Man series and the comfort of recurring gameplay and characters. He criticized the predictability of Dr. Wily being the mastermind behind every eight-membered robot attack, declaring that the series could stand to mix things up. As a die-hard Mega Man fan, this seemed like blasphemy at the time, but after reading the Gigamix comics, I can see what he was trying to prove. It’s easy for a series to become stagnant after so many games of cat-and-mouse between a regular hero and villain. Raising the stakes with a new threat can certainly infuse new perspective and stories in a long-running series. The key is to make each struggle seem worthwhile within the fictional world, otherwise how is the new threat any more dangerous than the old one?