By David F. Walker, Ivan Reis, and Adriano Lucas
Second verse same as the first. Cyborg is a new title released as part of the DC You rebranding initiative meant to drag the once mighty comic company kicking and screaming into the 21st century. A big part of that goal is recognizing there’s a market for comic readers beyond straight white 13-year-old boys so we’ve seen a push across DC titles for greater diversity and more meaningful storytelling. Given that fresh ethos it was only a matter of time before DC decided to give Cyborg his own comic book. Though not as historically prevalent as Black Lightning or Jon Stewart, Cyborg is still a major face for PoC heroes in the DCU. Partly this is due to his storied history with DC’s intermittently popular Teen Titans comic, but there’s also the major benefit of Cyborg’s role in the various Teen Titans animated series. Between that media exposure, a spot on Smallville, and a confirmed role in Batman v. Superman with a feature film in the works, DC is really ramping up to make Cyborg one of the A-listers. It’s just a shame his comic remains firmly in C-grade territory.
The plot of this new comic revolves around Cyborg recently having acquired new robot bits. As he doesn’t understand how his new robot bits will impact his body, especially since they’ve demonstrated strange new adaptive properties, he’s gone back to his home of Detroit to get his father, a scientist at S.T.A.R. Labs, to examine him. There’s some other stuff around the margins with robo-zombie invaders from a dimension of alien techno-death and a brewing cybrnetics industry in Detroit feeding off the homeless and veteran communities as test subjects, but that’s not really the focus. In case it wasn’t clear, Cyborg has a bit of a focus issue and it’s not limited to just the key concepts. Though it’s certainly frustrating that so many interesting ideas are being pushed to the sideline. The cybernetics stuff is a really cool concept that would help to establish a greater sense of reality outside of Cyborg’s view. So much of the comic ends up confined to the limited scope of Cyborg’s reality, moving from S.T.A.R. Labs to his old house, we rarely get a sense of a world beyond him. As a result the series feels sort of flavorless and inert. Without a broader sense of reality or even geography we don’t have a sense of style or genre to ground the story in. S.T.A.R. Labs is basically a collection of generic science buildings and the rest of Detroit is so absent and generic it could be swapped out for basically any other city. It doesn’t feel like you’re reading a cyberpunk comic or a robot comic or even a superhero comic; there’s no defining aesthetic or mood to inform the storytelling.
All of this wouldn’t matter if the narrative focus was stronger, but sadly everything in the comic hinges on Cyborg’s characterization and it’s incredibly disappointing. Cyborg is still left floundering for character development, defined more by his angst and insecurities than anything else. He’s always going on in the comic about feeling less human or wanting to be treated like a real boy but, ironically, all that tired monologuing only has the inverse effect. His constant insecurity with his own success, anxiety over his humanity, and massive daddy issues only serve to make him feel less like an actual person, or at least not a healthy one. So much in Cyborg’s life seems to make him passive aggressive or anxious or flummoxed that you start to wonder if his cybernetic implants really are the source of his identity issues. It starts to seem like the robot bits are just the things that he’s fixating on now to inform his behavior and that even if he never got turned into a robo-man he’d still be every bit as alienated and uncomfortable.
Worst of all is how much Cyborg tells us rather than shows us. Actually, the comic goes one worse than that by actually showing us the opposite of what it tells us. We’re told Cyborg is becoming less human than ever, but we’re shown him sleeping, eating, and playing with a cat. We’re told Detroit is crumbling under economic pressure, but we’re shown a prosperous urban center. We’re told cybernetics is a booming industry in Detroit, but shown back alley deals in hidden basements. It’s like the author and artist were working from completely different scripts for this comic. What really undercuts the comic’s central thesis though is that we’re never shown any downside to being a Cyborg. Cyborg is constantly whining about wanting to feel human and be seen as a person not a machine, but whenever the book shows you him cutting loose it’s incredible. There’s a beautifully illustrated sequence of him fighting a bunch of training robots and it looks like incredible fun. It’s like some weird, inverted Tom Sawyer gag, showing us a super awesome and fun activity than trying desperately to convince us it’s an awful burden instead of a thrilling adventure.
What’s so heartbreaking about the Cyborg comic is how hard it’s trying to be more than it is. It desperately wants to be a comic about character and people more than action or sci-fi concepts, but it all falls completely flat. It’s a book full of contradictions and bad pacing that doesn’t give you any reason to engage with is protagonist. Every time the story comes close to a genuine moment of humanity or contrast to the all doom and gloom we’re constantly sucked back into a world of angst and discontentment, like the issue is far too serious to ever be in a good mood. What we’re left with is a curiously inert, badly paced story with a great big black hole where the main character is supposed to be.