Cyborg Volume 1: Imitation of Life (2016)
Written by John Semper, Jr.
Art by Paul Pelletier, Will Conrad, and Tony Kordos
Who is Cyborg? The first reaction to this question would be to say he’s former NFL hopeful Victor Stone, but this opening volume of the Rebirth revival asks us to think about that for a second. Cyborg is still operating under the watch of his father, Dr. Silas Stone, partnering with STAR Labs colleagues Dr. Thomas Morrow and Sarah Charles. In the shadows, a dark cybernetic being watches Cyborg and other robotic denizens of the DC Universe (Red Tornado, Amazon, Robotman, etc.). This being unleashes the alien technological entity Kilg%re on Cyborg as a test which leads to a behind the scenes shake-up in the protagonist’s personal life.
Like most collected editions these days Imitation of Life is just the first chapter in a larger story. There is one primary story beat resolved, but everything else is left hanging for the next volume. Of everything that is going on in this book, I was most interested in the revelation that Cyborg does not have all of Victor Stone’s memories and that his own father might be behind the erasure of them. The things that Cyborg learns are kinda huge, and the book is setting up the rift between these characters. A lot of time spent on our main character and Sarah Charles and is there to develop them both, but it can become meanderingly dull at points. And that is one of the most significant flaws with the collection.
Starting small scale and building to a more substantial conflict is the bread and butter of most modern comic book runs, but the pacing of these issues feels entirely off. The first battle with Kilg%re and the reveal of this shadowy cybernetic fiend in the background is a great hook. But then the story just switches gears incredibly abruptly and idles in issue after issue of character beats. The dialogue can be gratingly bad in many moments undermining any severe conflict as villains made proclamations like bad Saturday morning cartoons. The covers continually tease characters and plot elements that never come to light. For example, Darkseid and the Justice League appear on at least two covers, but the actual story makes this a brief and hallucinogenic cameo at best.
Not playing up the Fourth World angle to this reboot of Cyborg is a colossal mistake. With the New 52 launch in 2011, Cyborg was given origins that connected him to the greater DC Universe. I have yet to see any author really play with and explore those ideas. Even the Justice League movie failed to solidly connect the character to the enemy which should have been remarkably easy to do. The philosophical question brought up in the book, “Is this a man or machine?” would make for an interesting story but even that is barely touched on. By the time I forced myself to finish this book I felt frustrated at the lack of any sort of story momentum with a character who is probably one of the most untapped in the DC Universe.
The artwork will likely be what turns most readers off. The volume starts nicely enough with veteran Paul Pelletier’s pencils, but at some point, he apparently dropped out or couldn’t make the deadlines. His replacement is so dreadfully awful by comparison it might make you drop this and not even finish. It is indeed some of the ugliest, amateurish art I have seen in a DC Comic in a while, and that is saying a lot. I will probably continue reading as a completionist and in the hopes that this run gets salvaged in some way. If it doesn’t the reading will make for a dreadful time.