Cyborg #1 Review

One of the last of DC’s new #1 titles for the summer, Cyborg comes to the scene with a similarly inviting and invigorating sense to knockout titles like Midnighter...

One of the last of DC’s new #1 titles for the summer, Cyborg comes to the scene with a similarly inviting and invigorating sense to knockout titles like Midnighter and Prez. In a world (a multiverse!) as big as the DC characters inhabit, how does one bring new readers into a decades-old character without alienating them or boring long-time readers? More importantly: in an industry currently fighting almost eighty years of racist, homogenous character construction, how does one take a problematic token character whose history spans thirty years and turn it into something more spiritually and socially nurturing for a newer, more communicative audience?

Walker makes smart use of his supporting cast to build the Victor Stone/Cyborg character from the outside in–thematically apropos for a character whose defining traits (blackness and robotics) are strictly external. Through Thomas Moore, Sarah Charles, and Vic’s father Silas, Walker establishes the personal dynamics and power hierarchy in STAR Labs. We know who Cyborg is because he’s set against that established structure, through use of the dialogue (Silas’ curmudgeonly dismissal of his son’s arrival) and use of internal monologue (Victor’s thoughts which often conflict with his smiling, tight-lipped behavior). Without beating us over the head with it, Walker establishes Victor’s world and plight quickly.

In the hands of lesser artists, Walker’s quick, flowing story could feel clumsy, but Reis and Prado bring a perfect level of delicacy to the visual aspects of Cyborg #1. The art is incredibly wrought and precise, but it maintains an organic sensibility that keeps the whole look just clear of the Uncanny Valley. Again, the parallel of the style of art to Victor’s cybertronic sensitivity is en pointe. Colors by Adriano Lucas bring a crisp, neon flavor to the exaggerated classical style of Reis and Prado’s linework. The resulting comic is beautiful and statuesque, but far from stiff.

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Image Courtesy of DC Comics

Victor comes to STAR Labs to discuss his new, self-regenerative abilities with his father, trying to understand what happened to him and trying to reach out to the older man in a familial way. But as soon as he steps into the lab, he stops being a person and starts being a thing. After attempting to provide some observations about his own body and being ignored, Victor notes in internal monologue: “It’s better to be the monster in the room that everyone fears or pities than to be the thing they DON’T EVEN see.”

This theme is strong throughout the course of the issue: Victor’s struggle with being recognized as a human, to the point where he would take anything over being ignored. On a narrative level, this addresses his technological enhancements. On an industry level, it addresses blackness. There are a handful of iconic black superheroes in the DC wheelhouse, with Cyborg among the most well-known with no small thanks to the Teen Titans cartoons. In his poetic indictment of the character, “Humanity Not Included: DC’s Cyborg and the Mechanization of the Black Body”, Robert Jones, Jr., notes that Victor Stone is far from a positive example of how black characters have a place in comics. He cites Cyborg’s constant use as pawn, second fiddle, comic relief, subservient, and eunuch, but points out, “for the most part, Cyborg was all black kids had. So we ate the scraps we were given.” Anything is better than being cold-shouldered out of the things you love.

Walker’s Cyborg provides three things that promise better from this series than from it’s foregoing canon. Firstly, hiring a black man to write one of the most well-known black characters you have just seems like a no-brainer. Those of us frustrated with Marvel’s recent mishandling of this basic creator-enhancing-culture concept with find that, off the bat, comforting. Secondly, Walker opens the whole series with the protagonist in a state of exhaustion: how much longer does he have to go on being quiet, keeping peace, watching his mouth? As Cyborg addresses his fantasy-world issue of being commodified based on his shiny metal body, he could provide a powerful metaphorical mouthpiece for readers struggling with real-world issues of fetishization and dismissal based on their black bodies.

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Image Courtesy of DC Comics

The third, intriguing device in Cyborg also drives big baddies the Technosapiens closer to our hero. A curious new ability to morph and self-heal is what brings Cyborg to STAR Labs, and this theme of autoimmunity provides a quiet commentary on the current comics scene. The racist nature of the comic industry has been hard to take to task, guarded as it is by hoards of readers dedicated (by egocentric attitudes and the classic nerd fear of That Thing You Like changing) to vindicating any little flaw as an aspect of nostalgia, swearing to those flaws as a matter of doctrine. But in the face of incendiary racial upheaval across the country, it’s clear to see something is wrong on a large scale. Every major publisher in the last year has had to make big statements about where they are going to change, and DC Comics’ “DCYou” initiative is their hat in the ring. In conjunction with their efforts to have a more diverse payroll, their characters also wrestle with universe upheaval in a way that analogs real-world structures within the comics community.

Cyborg’s body was not his choice. It served as a cage for him, and a hobble to keep him from competing with (white) guys like Batman and Superman. Now, his body is changing. It’s morphing to suit his original form. It self-heals, it resists being pierced by a needle which prevents his being tested and quantified for study. It reclaims itself for its own benefit and withdraws from the cataloging or control of the people who built it without Victor Stone’s consent.

With issues of diversity on everyone’s lips and the comics community busting into smaller, successful units of production, distribution, and sales, it’s easy to parse out a metaphor for radical minority takeover in Victor’s new ability to sustain himself. He still operates in the universe, in the Justice League–just as black (and queer and female and trans persons) still operate within the constructs of the industry. He still has to reconcile the fact that he is wildly different from his peer group–as minority figures must reconcile their being set apart from the power structure that founded this industry. But he is learning to demand the attention he deserves, and to protect his heart by surrounding himself with people who understand and can help him. In the same way, the diverse contingency of this audience and industry must continue to shout for attention, and must celebrate and lift each other up in every space they can.

To that end, go buy Cyborg #1. While the dialogue surrounding it is pretty heavy, it’s a beautiful blast, and promises a bright story down the road. As far as supporting diverse characters and creators goes, you’re getting the best, most classic material you could expect from this first issue. More than that, you’re encouraging this problematic character’s ability to self-heal and become something better.

Written by David F. Walker
Art by Ivan Reis, with inks by Joe Prado
Colors by Adriano Lucas

Cyborg #1
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Ten Van Winkle

Upstate New York writer, reviewer and comics creator. For dates for “crying about robots”, “crying about Batman”, or “crying about jean jackets”, please check your local venue for the show near you!

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