In Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, Superman's greatest nemesis is painted as a man who desperately wants to rid the planet of a creature that could one day be Earth's greatest threat. In the tenth anniversary episode of The Powerpuff Girls, Mojo Jojo succeeds in becoming ruler of the world and uses his knowledge and authority to end wars, eliminate hunger, and deliver free puppies to everyone. Are these cases of abrupt character transformation, or have these villains' actions been misunderstood from the beginning?
In the world of fiction, particularly children's entertainment and mainstream comics, the line separating right and wrong is often clearly defined. However, readjust the camera lens ever so slightly and suddenly events are cast in a whole new light. Sometimes, being a hero means accepting the people's scorn and hatred.
The war between Dr. Thomas Light and Dr. Albert Wily has long been accepted as a struggle to prevent a jealous sociopath from achieving global conquest. But what if that's not the whole story? What if it was, in fact, Dr. Light who was leading the world to ruin? What if one man saw a future of destruction but was shouted down for daring to prevent the march of "progress"? By what means would he try to save humanity?
Far from being a madman, Dr. Wily was the only one who saw the truth.
Though I'm positing Wily as a righteous man, I'm not saying Light must therefore be evil. Light was every bit as good-natured as the games and expanded media portrayed him. However, it was because of his naïveté that he remained blind to the long-term repercussions of his research.
Wily and Light were former colleagues and professional rivals regarded as the greatest minds in the field of robotics. Thanks to their contributions, advancements in autonomous support units and artificial intelligence occurred at an astronomical pace. Whatever conflict that may have existed between them, their ultimate goal was always the betterment of mankind.
Where the two clearly differed was in their personal doctrines. Wily was strictly utilitarian; he continuously stressed that robots ought not to be anything more than tools with clear, stated purposes. Light, on the other hand, envisioned a future in which man and machine could coexist as peers. Robots had the potential to be more than tools -- they could be friends or even family.
This was Light's greatest mistake.
Light's big breakthrough was a radical new AI that allowed for more variable, independent interpretation of human commands. It wasn't true free will, but it was close enough that the average person couldn't tell the difference. The robots equipped with the new AI were imparted personality quirks to aid in their societal integration -- people would be more inclined to accept these "Robot Masters" if they demonstrated a range of emotions, even if said emotions were programmed.
That's all well and good, but what need does such an innovation even address? For what purpose should a machine emulate human behavior other than for the comfort of actual humans? All it does is welcome a cavalcade of ethical dilemmas that never needed to be introduced in the first place. Would the benefits of advanced AI be any less pronounced if machines lacked a "friendly face"?
These personality-driven machines were the work of a man unable to cope with his own emotional turmoil. At no point have we ever learned of Dr. Light's having a wife or a family of any kind. Perhaps he was sterile or lost a loved one in the past. In any case, beneath his warm exterior was lonely soul seeking companionship. So like Geppetto's wishing his marionette was a real boy, Light placed his faith in science to deliver him a child.
Following the disappearance of his first creation, which undoubtedly caused Light much grief, he constructed a brother-sister pair, hoping their companionship would temper any notions of abandoning their father. His creations, Rock and Roll, were treated like they were his own flesh and blood. And if robots could fill the void in his life, imagine what they could do for others!
As the scientific community stood in awe of Light's vision, Wily remained alone in opposition. He argued that Light's ambitions were misguided, that he was allowing emotion to override logic. Just because Light desired a perfect world where robots and humans live harmoniously didn't mean others would simply accept the new order.
It wasn't just the personality drive in these new machines. It was the volatile combination of expression and independent thought. With a brilliant mind like Light's leading the field, robots with true free will were a foregone conclusion. What would happen when these new lifeforms, possessing not only complete logic but complete emotions as well, grew tired of judgment from the segment of the population that never accepted machine independence?
His pleas fell on deaf ears. Rather than scrutinize Light's research, the community questioned Wily's motives. It wasn't hard to build a case against Wily -- though his skills were on par with Light's, it was the latter who earned all the accolades. It was concluded that Wily was acting out of pure jealousy and carried intent to sabotage Light's work. Thus, he was blacklisted and forced into seclusion.
It was during Wily's exile when Light actually completed development of the first line of Robot Masters that would be deployed to industrial sectors. Wily was utterly nonplussed by the short-sightedness of these machines' designs. A robot that could instantly generate powerful explosives? Another with massive shears that could cut through the densest of materials? These were walking weapons! How could Light be so foolish!?
One of Wily's fears from the start was how soon armed forces would request Robot Masters for combat applications. Now Light was demonstrating that even civilian units were battle-capable! With each new development, the clock counting down until the inevitable machine uprising would accelerate. Meanwhile, no one was making the slightest attempts at safeguarding against potential hazards.
Wily was panicked. The people of the world were oblivious to the dangers these independent machines posed. And the longer the world sat back, the more difficult it would be to undo the damage. He had to nip this threat in the bud before it was too late!
Wily thought, what if there was a way to sow distrust, to turn public perception of robots completely around? Nothing short of a global calamity would do the job. But how to regulate it while minimizing collateral damage?
Wily was fortunate enough to discover Light's lost first creation. By studying Proto Man, Wily was able to learn much about how the Robot Masters AI operated. He could then capture the robots and rewrite their code to only follow his commands. No one would believe his actions were just, so he'd have to conceal his true intentions behind a global domination ruse. Once the nations of the world noticed how dangerous these machines were, they would most certainly shut down the Robot Master program and put a stop to Light's ambitions.
Then Mega Man happened.
The Robot Masters were nigh invincible, as Wily surmised -- even the military was ineffective against the power of these monsters. Unfortunately, he could never have predicted that Light would weaponize his robotic "son" in a last-ditch gamble. Wily had hoped that his plan would turn the people against the machines, but it instead gave birth to a champion of hope. And Light, rather than being ostracized for having an indirect hand in the chaos, was lauded for his impromptu ingenuity!
But it was too late for Wily to turn back now. He had to persevere and somehow factor this new obstacle into his future plots. He would begin construction of his own Robot Masters, each with personality quirks in mockery of Light's ideals. He tried every nefarious act he could imagine -- deception, kidnapping, extortion -- until something worked. Something had to work! As much as it pained him, he had to maintain the façade of the the mad scientist.
As the years dragged on, Wily's own notoriety proved to be the greatest impediment to his grand plan. If ever he had caused the people to question their over-reliance on Robot Master technology, those concerns were quickly overridden by hatred and annoyance towards this persistent madman. Most egregiously, no one seemed worried that Robot Master AI encryption was continually being broken. Considering the regularity in which civilian robots would go haywire, more secure forms of data protection should have been investigated. It was as if the humans staunchly refused to learn from the past.
Each defeat at the hands of Mega Man took a toll on Wily's psyche. As the stress began to break his mind, he began to actually believe he was a megalomaniac bent on conquest. Before he became completely lost in the delusion, he set to work on a final solution that would end the conflict for good.
There was no more room for subtlety. He would construct a machine fueled entirely by hate and anger, a demon with the singular purpose of annihilating all other robots without pity or remorse. Wily's greatest creation would purge the world of the mechanical cancer through raw, unbridled power. Though the humans would never realize it, the android Zero would be their savior.
That was the plan, anyway. When Zero was activated a century later, the machine rebellion that Wily had foretold was well underway. Though he would become a hero in his own right, Zero failed in his original mission, once again thanks to an unpredictable intervention by Light.
Light's own final creation, X, was equipped with a "Suffering Circuit" that, if certain literature is to be believed, was what caused the first machines to rebel against humans. It was intended to keep X's morals in check, and subsequent "Reploids" were equipped with circuits based off the original's design. Unfortunately, the Suffering Circuit carried a critical design flaw that Reploids were ill-equipped to handle, causing them to malfunction and turn "Maverick."
When Zero came in contact with the virus leaking from the faulty circuits, his own code was mixed in, resulting in an even deadlier, more contagious virus. His violent nature was in turn tempered at the cost of his body's becoming a virus carrier. Instead of eradicating the robot disease, he would inadvertently cultivate it.
The Reploid wars would continue until the Earth was razed and the planet's human population was reduced to less than half. From then on, the world would never return to its former heights. All because the early warning signs were ignored.
It's possible that, had Dr. Wily succeeded in ending the Robot Master program, the robot uprising would have merely been delayed until some other fool was allowed to carry on Dr. Light's work. Of course, it's also possible that the delay would have given mankind enough time to adequately prepare for the nightmare ahead. I guess we'll never know.
If only we had listened to Wily...