By David F. Walker, Felipe Watanabe, Adriano Lucas, and Peter Pantanzis
At this point the flaws in Cyborg have more or less transitioned from problems to be solved to brute facts to be accepted. That’s not entirely a bad thing, there are plenty of great authors who have essentially just embraced their flaws under the philosophy that to like their work is to like their flaws. For Grant Morrison, it’s his rapid fire pacing and densely complicated writing, Brian Michael Bendis tends to defuse his stories over far too long a period with far too much banter, and Jonathan Hickman often runs the risk of his story’s philosophy and ideology running rampant over the actually interesting elements of the story; everyone has weak points. Even with that accepted caveat though, Cyborg would still be a disappointment as none of its weak points were present in David F. Walker’s previous hit comic, Shaft. Maybe there’s a lesson in that; the creative process works very differently for each individual and it could just be that Walker works better when he’s writing for a character with a more well-developed mythos and past like John Shaft as opposed to Cyborg. As much as fans might like Cyborg, he’s never really been that integral a part of the DC Universe. In his most fundamental story, the Technis Imperative, he spends almost the entire running time as basically a brain in a vat. Whatever the reason Cyborg doesn’t seem to be getting any better, in fact this week it gets far worse.
To Cyborg #4’s credit this issue does make great strides in a strictly narrative sense as this is the best developed and explained the plot of the series has ever been. The story is that on a parallel Earth Cyborg’s dad did some bad science junk and summoned the bastard children of the Reapers and the Borg. The remaining survivors from that Earth have dimension hopped to the main universe in the hopes of finding something to combat this cyber-menace. It’s a little unclear if we’re supposed to like these interdimensional rebels or not because if we are, Cyborg has failed in the endeavor completely. Their leader is just an angry ball of hot air and rage who loves to blame people for things they didn’t do and seemed to be totally fine with condemning Earth-0 to a digital death if her plans didn’t work out. Additionally her dialogue is incredibly stilted, she spends most of the issue verbally sparring with her Earth-0 counterpart and it’s some of the most awkward and ham-fisted writing. There’s just no nuance to the statements, they’re both stating facts about their character angrily at one another rather than weaving their personality into the dialogue.
Luckily the dialogue between Cyborg and his dad is the best it’s ever been in this installment. This is the closest we’ve come to getting a sense of who Vic Stone, Cyborg, is other than the guy we’re following. In a nice combination of artwork and subtle dialogue clues he’s crafted here into something of an introvert thrown into the wrong position. Adding up all of Vic’s weirdness and scenes throughout the entire comic and it’s starting to seem like the idea behind his character is that he’d like to be a kind of nerdy loner who just accidentally ended up with a bunch of alien tech bolted onto his body. It’s still a bit early to say if that approach to his character is a good call or not, but it’s at least defined and doesn’t feel like a tired rehash of someone else’s character in the DC Universe, so that’s a major plus.
Where this issue takes a serious nosedive in quality is the artwork. The terrible, terrible artwork. Ivan Reis is still on hand to do layouts, but the actual penciler this issue is Felipe Watanabe and his work is atrocious. The big problem is that he’s thoroughly incapable of rendering believable human faces. Every character’s face is a twisted mask of exaggerated emotions that borders on caricature with some of the most horrifyingly failed proportions. No one looks natural or believable at all, they all look like wax figurines that have started to melt in the sun. However, colorists Adriano Lucas & Peter Pantanzis are doing an amazing job making this issue look incredibly crisp and vibrant. This issue also features a MASSIVE artwork flub where the Metal Man, Tin, is suddenly replaced by Platinum. If this was just an accidental swap that ignored the previous scene that’d be one thing, but they actually left in Tin’s stuttering dialogue only now it’s Platinum who’s spontaneously developed a speech impediment. This is a ridiculous mistake to actually make it to print in a professionally released comic book; someone should’ve caught this.
After 4 issues of Cyborg’s meandering, the annoyance and frustration might be gone but the disappointment lingers on. For a comic that was hyped up as the new face of the DC You and the new standard barer for diversity in mainstream comics, Cyborg is shockingly vacuous. The enemies are stock, the supporting cast is annoying or underdeveloped, the main character’s identity is only starting to take shape, and the artwork has only gone downhill from word one; and remember, this is DC putting their best foot forward. Despite all the pomp and gloss that’s been afforded this series it can’t shake the feeling that it’ll ultimately end up condemned to the same dustbin of history as all of DC’s other mistakes, mentioned in the same hazy reminiscence reserved for Resurrection Man or Hawk and Dove.