The idea of a Cyborg solo-series was sound: a Detroit-based hero with cybernetic enhancements who “never asked for this.” Vic Stone could have been DC’s very own Adam Jensen, and his book could have been just as serious an exploration of the transhumanist themes implicit to the character in comics as Human Revolution was in video games. However, after an incredibly strong debut issue, Cyborg has been in swift decline, with issue #4 being the weakest yet. The reasons for such are not difficult to discern. It is poorly paced, strangely scaled, and defies reader’s expectations for the character.
Though the first two issues embraced traditional storytelling without becoming formulaic, slowly establishing the status quo, the central cast of characters, the initial threat, and the general prerequisite world building, the long gutter space between the final panel of issue #2 and the opening of issue #3 saw a full on extraterrestrial planetary invasion, immediately elevating Cyborg from a provincial hero in Detroit to humanity’s one and only hope. The revelations in issue #4 heighten the stakes many orders of magnitude yet again, with the Reaper rip-offs revealed to be a multiversal menace, and the big baddie behind them a more malicious version of Victor Stone’s nearly-estranged father from an alternate earth.
Given that Victor’s troubled filial relationship has been the emotional center of the character since the New 52 reboot, such is perhaps a fitting identity for a potential arch-nemesis, especially given Cyborg’s lack of a proper rogue’s gallery. Other than Grid there has never been an adversary with whom he’s had strong ties. And beyond serving as the Vader to Vic’s Luke (an especially apt comparison considering that the “evil” Silas Stone is also “more machine now than man”), such a villain also occupies the classic trope of the dark doppelgänger. Both share the same mysterious Red Room nanotechnology, but whereas Victor struggles to retain his humanity, this alternate Silas is said to have eagerly discarded his own.
This, of course, has always been the strangely Luddite ethos underlying stories about Cyborg. Both the cybernetic upgrades hardwired into his body and the synthetic foes he frequently faces are the subject of suspicion simply because of the uncertainty such advanced technology represents. Writer David Walker implicitly demonstrates such by condemning an amputee seeking a limb replacement into the thralldom of the technosapien hoard. He explicitly articulates such by having the alternate Sarah condemn Silas for experimenting with unknown technology, an anti-intellectual and fallacious argument that fails to account for the morally neutral status of technology in particular and knowledge in general. It is only the presence of the Metal Men, each brimming with so much personality that their personhood is without question, that helps to alleviate these overly-humanist undertones.
Reis’ reduced role to layouts is yet another misstep the series takes in this issue. Watanabe is clearly attempting to evoke Reis’ style, so much so that when I first began writing this review I called Reis out on the severe drop in quality:
Compared to his previous pencils on Green Lantern, Brightest Day, Aquaman, and Justice League, Reis’ Cyborg falls far short the works which made him a superstar in the industry. This could possibly be a result of subject matter; the chitinous exoskeletons of the technosapians and the mechanical components of Cyborg and the Metal Men might be proving too complex to properly illustrate, causing him to rush on other features where he normally excels, such as faces, anatomy, and backgrounds.
These criticisms, though misapplied to Reis (whose own work is so consistently gorgeous it ought to be tattooed onto supermodels), certainly hold true to Watanabe. The fact that DC was willing to allow a fill-in for Reis, arguably the book’s primary selling point, in the middle of the very first arc certainly seems to demonstrate a lack of either confidence in or concern for the title on their part. That’s a lack of confidence which, as of this issue, I certainly share.