Cyborg #23: Review - Orchestrations of a Master
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: Tom Derenick
Colorist: Wil Quintana
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Let's make no mistake about it. Marv Wolfman is a legend. I've been out of comics for a while and I missed the drumbeat where DC somehow got him back, but it's like having one of your great Generals return to the field of battle. In concert with his long time artistic collaborator George Perez, he largely architected what we know as the Bronze and the beginnings of the Modern Age of comics. He created many staples that are now woven into the tapestry of comic book lore. Crisis on Infinite Earths. Blade. Bullseye. Nova. Raven. Starfire. Cyborg. The Omega Men. Tim Drake. There are few writers as prolific as Wolfman in comic books, and I am not sure any that have as many original character creations and certainly none of equal standing in new character creations in the Modern Age. Wolfman was at his apex when I entered the comic book domain as a reader back in the mid-80s, at the start of the Crisis on Infinite Earth's miniseries. So curling up reading an issue of the solo book for a character he created is as warm as Apple pie.
Cyborg #23 continues the Steel & Blood arc that began two issues ago; an arc that pits Cyborg against another mecha-human whose origins penetrate back to feudal Japan. Cyborg has formed an uneasy alliance with a spinoff of Star Labs, one that is more aggressive and less restrained and not afraid to get their hands dirty in direct involvement with violent conflict. He has also formed a relationship of sorts with what are essentially the mechs for this splinter group, and has learned some degree of control of them in battle. This is a loose summary and the best I can manage as I missed an issue of this arc and am only now returning to it.
There's a lot going on here, but it is masterfully wrangled by Wolfman, who is no stranger to equally complicated and complex storylines. There are at least two factions of scientists, perhaps actually three, scrimmaging around in the plot background, creating a series of potholes that Vic has to navigate. Each group is incredibly bristly, easy to upset, take stake in where his allegiance truly lies, and are all engaged in some level of effort to use him as a pawn. His father won't speak to him and members of the team at Star Labs are covering something up. Each group of scientists is also pointing fingers claiming that the other stole their work. As a writer who primarily covers the technology space and is witness to the childish sniping and frequent lawyering up of every TD&H in Silicon Valley, I was a bit apathetic about having to read through this replay of Samsung vs Apple, Google vs Sun, and ZeniMax vs FaceBook all wrapped up in one. With any other writer it would likely feel even more cluttered and distracting than it did. What counter-balances this is the strength of character written into Cyborg. Long an also-ran in a series of team books, this rendition of Cyborg emits a vibrant chorus of tones that resonate and gives the scategorical story structure; beams to fortify its stance. You can't BS me; I know too much. You can't surprise me; I see everything coming. If you slight me, I will be fine; I am above this and so many things. Having mentioned Blade, Cyborg feels written in slightly the same manner, but only hinted at via nuanced undertones. He is so clearly above the foolishness of those around him, a cocksure manner, and it is clear that he has little tolerance for their squabbles, even as he tries to help them rise.
I initially felt not very impressed by the art. But as I looked over it a second time I was able to put my finger on something that had left me impressed, and that is the cleanliness of the lines. It might be interesting in a book like this to draw Cyborg and the robots with intricate lines of detail and all sorts of spiny, pointy, angly bits of matrix-like circuitry dripping off every page. The temptation must be immense. It has certainly been done ad nauseum before in the pages of a Cyborg story. So I really appreciate Derenick's treatment of the hi-tech plot with very clean and consolidated lines. It makes the panels flow much more smoothly and with less distracting disruption to the storytelling. There's some weird aspect ratio / proportionality stuff in a couple of panels in the opening dream sequence, but because it's a dream, I'll let it go. Combat choreography could also get unwieldy with a bunch of mechanized combatants, but things are staged relatively well. There is a panel where Cyborg is essentially in a "Danger Room" equivalent and he is supposed to be lifting weights via a resistance machine, but the positioning and articulation for actually working out seems all kinds of wrong. As you can imagine, it's a bit difficult for a colorist to make a lot of things interesting for a book about a character who is steel gray. But Quintana, as one would expect, finds solid opportunities to insert some masterful shadowing. And when he does get a chance to light things up, there is some excellent craft on display, especially in the final page of the book. In short, hats off to the colors in this book.
SCORE: 7.5 / 10
Cyborg #23 is an interesting read, if it does not necessarily set a new yardstick. There's nothing particularly racy about the panel layout and design. And other than nostalgia, it did not evoke any strong emotional string tugs. By and large there is a certain degree of the nod that is given for keeping a story like this together without letting it degenerate into a fragmented web of suspense that, while potentially interesting, could fall into the pit of lost comprehension. Wolfman does a great job orchestrating a small set of very strong character themes despite a lot of potentially distracting window dressings. More than anything, Cyborg #23 is about Vic Stone the man, rather than being about Cyborg the techno-hero, which is a very difficult thing to pull off amidst things like Pacific Rim-sized robots. It's a solid example of what Wolfman did for two decades at DC, complimented by some solid craft from his supporting cast.