By David F. Walker, Ivan Reis, and Joe Prado
As DC continues its push to leave behind the branding title of the New 52 (as well as the questionable company ethos that accompanied it) they’ve made a conscious push to try to diversify their line up. This is a feature behind the scenes as well as in the various titles on display and the flagship example of this is David F. Walker’s Cyborg #1. Walker’s been brewing on the indie comic circuit for a while now, really making a splash last year with his excellent Shaft mini-series for Dynamite, so he’s a logical choice to helm DC’s more inclusive future. On the flipside, Cyborg has managed to become one of the most public PoC in DC comics thanks to his role both in the two Teen Titans animated shows as well as a planned film for 2020. From all this it’s clear that Cyborg #1 is a very important book and a major step for progressivism, it’s just a shame it’s not a more quality experience.
Part of the problem is that Cyborg #1 doesn’t have much of a focus. The story serves more as a primer on the character and a few elements we’ll probably see get more important as the series progresses. For now the first issue is mainly Cyborg going to S.T.A.R. labs after a resurrection experience and meeting his dad with whom he has a strained relationship. This isn’t a terrible way to start a series though it’s certainly a slow one. If you’re new to the character of Cyborg it gets you grounded fairly quickly in terms of his origin, recent continuity, his relationships, and what his predominant struggle going forward is. It seems that Cyborg’s recent resurrection/body restructure has left him with a lot of weird new technology integrated into his body he doesn’t quite understand. Again that’s a neat idea, but all the neat ideas in the world can’t overcome Cyborg’s biggest problem: poor characterization.
For most of the issue Cyborg himself lacks a real sense of definition beyond his problems, all of which boil down to simply things he doesn’t want to be. Thankfully there isn’t too much of a focus on Cyborg being painfully conflicted over whether he’s a man or a machine, though it still rears its ugly head before the end of the book. The impetus to make Cyborg’s whole identity a conflict of personal definition is understandable, but it’s also the same thing every author has done with Cyborg since the discovery of 3-dimensional characters in comic books. Aside from that, Cyborg’s other main conflict this issue arises from his strained father relationship, or his “daddy issues” one could say. It’s basically your standard situation of the busy ‘man of science’ dad whose inhumanity makes him a brilliant scientist but a lackluster father. Like the “man or machine” stuff this is well-worn ground with very little variation. What’s worse is that it doesn’t give Cyborg a personality that reflects all this angst; in fact his personality is a little absent all together. It doesn’t help that we’re introduced to Cyborg through his misfortunes rather than trying to make him an engaging and likable standalone character before having unfortunate facts revealed about him or misfortune befall him. Instead however, misfortune is all there is to Cyborg’s personality here. He says he doesn’t want to be ignored, he says he doesn’t want people to view him as a machine, he says a lot of things he doesn’t want to be, but he never has actions that show us who he is, only words to tell us who he’s not.
It’s a real shame the showing is so un-engaging because Ivan Reis and Joe Prado do an amazing job on the artwork and coloring. Ivan Reis is one of the best in the business at drawing dynamic and cinematic artwork and he turns in a great job here. The panel and page layout is top-notch; it flows perfectly while also changing up the method with which it conveys information pretty often. However, it’s Joe Prado who really knocks this issue out of the park. He does a great job blending the colors to create a soft pastel palette for all the normal scenes while the sci-fi stuff has this harsh LED glow. It’s especially great whenever Prado and Reis manage to bathe the normal characters in the stark light of the sci-fi ephemera coating their world.
The only major problem the artwork has is Cyborg’s new costume design. There are some strong elements like the exposed forearms and bizarre blue head jewel, but for the most part it’s just off-putting. The silver and black colors run together for too easily and stuff like the fingerless techno gloves make you tilt your head at how they work as cyborg components. Not to mention the very dopey looking feet that are meant to have toes, but look more like a moose hoof, or the big glowing blue light prominently affixed to Cyborg’s crotch.
As for the issue’s other problems there seems to be an indication near the end that this just a case of first issue syndrome, a starting point that’s less engaging than the things to come. That seems fairly likely based on how much of the issue is devoted to recapping Cyborg history and personal relations, but this isn’t a review of the series to come it’s a review of the issue at hand and this is a pretty lame issue. Here’s hoping for better in issue #2.