Sunday, September 11, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week 15

Cyborg: Rebirth #1 by John Semper Jr., Paul Pelletier, Sandra Hope, Tony Kordos and Guy Major

Like most of the (in-story) third generation of DC superheroes, Marv Wolfman and George Perez's character Cyborg suffered from the 2011 continuity-scrambling Flashpoint/New 52 initiative, but he did so in a rather unique way. He survived the purge that affected much of that generation of heroes, and while his history (i.e. that which made him him) was completely erased, he was promoted (or re-promoted, I guess) from a Titan/Teen Titan to a member of the Justice League in the new continuity.

And so he ascended to number seven in the overall ranking of all DC superheroes (above Martian Manhunter, who traditionally held that spot for decades), but he was now a blank slate, nothing more than a name and set of kind of generic computer-related powers. For much of the last five years in the pages of Justice League, Cyborg was little more than a receptionist and transportation system for the other six Leaguers.

DC awarded him his own ongoing monthly series–his first since his 1980 creation–in 2015, and it lasted the same 12-ish issues as the other series DC launched around that time, just enough to fill two trades. Did it get canceled due to poor sales, or simply because DC canceled everything around that time, in order to relaunch many of the books as part of the "Rebirth" initiative...?

I don't know, but I would imagine from the fact that Cyborg is one of the latest of the "Rebirth" relaunches, followed only by low-selling (but good!) Gotham Academy, that it was a combination of the two.

Cyborg 2.0 has an entirely new creative team, in writer John Semper Jr. (David F. Walker wrote the majority fo the previous volume, followed briefly by Wolfman) and pencil artist Paul Pelletier, here inked by Sandra Hope and Tony Kordos. I would like to say they have an entirely new story to tell, but they don't seem to have anything to say about the new, New 52 version of the character that hasn't already been said in the previous volume, Justice League and related comics.

An unseen narrator, who isn't revealed until the surprise ending, tells Cyborg Victor Stone's origin story, starting with the meeting of his parents and ending in his joining of the Justice League, while the superhero battles against a big, monstrous artificially intelligent threat with self-repair powers and its own dialogue bubble style. The bad guy, named "Malware" (If I were texting you this review, I would hear include the eye-roll emoji), is trying to get to and through the Red Room in S.T.A.R. Labs, which is either where the little, backwards talking, funny-dancing guy from Twin Peaks hangs out or where Doctor Silas Stone and Doctor T.O. Morrow keep all the alien technology, I forget which.

Then he reaches a secret room, where Stone keeps a secret about his son's recreation as a cyborg. Are you ready for the big revelation? Get this. What if Cyborg, being mostly mechanical, doesn't have a soul? What if he is more machine than man? What if–hey, did you pass out? Wake up, wake up! Yes, I know this is like, Robot Guy Plot 101, and DC and Marvel have been writing various versions about this since before Cyborg was even created, and yeah, you can probably think of a dozen different manga and anime series with the same conflict, and while I don't read prose science fiction because of all the words, something tells me someone or eighty authors have covered that ground pretty thoroughly as well, but, well, that's what they're going with here, I guess. Maybe the series will last 12 issues...?

(Why is it only androids and cyborgs who worry about that stuff, by the way? In real life, don't we all wonder if we have souls or not? Why isn't there a Batman series premised on his philosophical questions?)

The one aspect of the book I did find interesting was the second-to-last page,where we see the surprise-ish bad guy looking at a huge bank of monitors on which we sell a whole mess of various robot and cyborg characters from throughout the current DCU–The Metal Men, OMAC, Robotman, Red Tornado, The Brain, Cyborg Superman,  Steel (for some reason), some characters I don't recognize–and intimates that they are all part of some bigger plan.

The artwork is fine. I've always like Pelletier's pencil work, which is well-suited to classic super-heroics, but here he's inked in such a way that it all looks a little too New 52 to me. It's the same visual white noise that makes so many of the DC comics of this area (although they are steadily improving!) boring to look at, which is something a superhero comic book should never be.

I'll read the first issue of the series proper, for the purposes of this feature on my blog, but I'm not looking forward to it, and can't imagine I'll be reading #2. (Well, maybe I'll play "The Night Begins To Shine" on repeat while I read the Cyborg #1. Perhaps that will improve it. It certainly can't hurt it!)


You know, while I'm on the subject of a Wolfman/Perez-era Titans creation, it may be worth considering how DC has made use of that group of characters since their reboot. While DC kept Cyborg's basic origin–suffering what should have been a fatal accident, Victor Stone's super-scientist father saves him with robot parts-–itt was now attached to Jack Kirby's Fourth World characters, and occurred in the pages of Justice League, where he was the team's sole teenage member.

Starfire hung out with Robin II-turned-The Red Hood Jason Todd and Arsenal Roy Harper in the pages of Red Hood and The Outlaws, briefly earned her own ongoing series and is now poised to join the next iteration of the Teen Titans, as its sole adult member (the membership of this line-up will reflect that of the recent Justice League Vs. Teen Titans movie, and Geoff Johns' basic conception of a post-Young Justice Teen Titans series in which Starfire, Cyborg and Beast Boy served as mentors to the fourth generation of heroes.)

And Beast Boy and Raven? They're a good five years younger than their two former peers, and have been appearing in the pages of Teen Titans, where they have been peers of characters who used to be among the fourth generation of DC's heroes, like (Red) Robin Tim Drake and Wonder Girl Cassandra Sandsmark.

None of the four are involved in the new Titans series, which features the grown-up sidekicks who were the original Teen Titans which...I actually can't make sense of following Flashpoint/The New 52/Convergence/DC Universe: Rebirth. From what I've read of it so far, it seems to me a more appropriate title might be Nightwing and The Donna Troys.


Oh! One more thing, and then I'll move on, I swear. The narrator is extremely specific about how long Cyborg has been Cyborg in this comic, even counting the seconds. But the years he places at five, and then a few months, suggesting only five years and a few months have passed since Justice League #1-6. That's fine...except time seems to move faster in Gotham City than anywhere else in the world. At least twice Scott Snyder's scripts have suggested a year has passed (between The Joker having his face flayed off and "Death of The Family," and then again between "Death of The Family" and "Endgame"). And, of course, in DC Universe: Rebirth we saw 10-year-old Damian Wayne blow out the candles on his birthday cake which indicated he was now 13.

So a few months in Detroit is three years in Gotham City, I guess...? Man, Alan Moore and Doctor Manhattan must have really did a number on the DC Universe!

Supergirl #1 by Steve Orlando, Brian Chin and Michael Atiyeh

It may be in large part because the Rebirth special braced me for the many ways in which the new Supergirl series will cover very similar territory to the television series, but do so by veering in different directions, but I found this issue a lot easier to parse. And a large part of that is also definitely the art by Brian Chin, which features more distinct character designs, so that for example, the four blonde women all look like different people.

Writer Steve Orlando attempts an All-Star Superman homage on the first page, attempting to boil Supergirl's origin down to just four panels and short phrases just as Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely managed to do with Superman's origin in their book, but it doesn't really work here. That's partly because Superman's origin, for all the tinkering it's gone through over 75+ years, has had enough commonality in all of those versions that Morrison and Quitely could pick the phrases and images that repeated in all of them. No such luck with Supergirl, whose origin changes so greatly from version to version, and even having read the Rebirth special, I'm still not entirely sure of the specifics as presented here (I think Supergirl is from Argo City, a floating city in a forcefield above Krypton, that was destroyed along with Krypton...?).

It's rather unfortunate, because the homage attempt is so obvious, the fact that it doesn't quite land is sort of embarrassing to watch, like a basketball player on a fast break going for a three-pointer and getting an air ball, rather than going for the easy lay-up (Sports metaphor!).

Things improve on pages two and three, and remain strong after that. While a relatively large part of the Rebirth special was devoted to info-dumping, here Orlando re-states the new book's premise by showing rather than telling: Because adolescent Supergirl didn't grow up an Earthling the way her cousin Superman did, the government doesn't trust her as much. So Department of Extranormal Operations head Cameron Chase has made a deal with S-girl. In exchange for restoring her lost super-powers, they've assigned her foster parents who are DEO agents and the secret identity of Kara Danvers, via which she will attend high school in National City and continue to acclimate to Earth. As in the TV show, Supergirl and the DEO will work together to fight super-threats (I hope Orlando's DEO better-resembles the version from D. Curtis Johnson's Chase, John Ostrander's Martian Manhunter and other comics of that era, rather than the version on the TV show, which consists of a base with four rooms and like a dozen not particularly bright agents in matching black uniforms.)

This issue is mostly devoted to demonstrating Kara's difficulties in acclimating to her new world, as Orlando and Ching continually flip-flop back and forth between daily life on Krypton to that on Earth. In this issue we also meet Cat Grant, who appears to be characterized more closely to how she is on the TV show than how she has been previously in the comics (that is, she scans here more like a particularly bitchy Lois Lane than anything else). We also meet a new supporting character (the guy in the glasses in the lower left-hand corner). And Kara comes face-to-face with the same villain introduced in the epilogue of the special, The New 52 Cyborg Superman, who is apparently her father and whom I know absolutely nothing about (I think his presence here is particularly wonky, though, given that the television show has used "Hank Henshaw," the secret identity of the original, pre-Flashpoint/New 52 Cyborg Superman as the director of the D.E.O. who never, ever turns into a cyborg of any kind).

I liked this a lot better than the special, as I've already mentioned, and actually think it makes for a better starting point, particularly since it also demonstrates the visual style of the series (the special was drawn by several different artists, none of whom were Ching). I think it will take a few issues before we can really get a sense of how good it may or may not be, and if DC has finally gotten around to giving fans of the show a solid, in-universe comic to enjoy, but so far so good.

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