Manga in Minutes: Cyborg 009, Vol. 1
My look at Comixology’s Shotaro Ishinomori offerings comes to a close with what is perhaps his best known work in the US. Originally created in 1964, Cyborg 009 tells the tale of a group of people, kidnapped, captured and otherwise coerced into becoming test subjects for a terrorist organization’s weapons program. After undergoing cybernetic alterations, the group escapes and wages an ongoing war with the group that changed them, Black Ghost.
The tale may seem familiar by now, but this is where Ishinomori did it first. A group of superpowered individuals turned into human weapons which ultimately prove to be their creators greatest enemies. It’s a theme that’s popped up in everything from Kamen Rider to Kikaider, and it’s done here with a little extra, overt political commentary. Ishinomori uses Black Ghost and his allies to decry the warmongers and, in a bit of a commentary that’s arguably more relevant today than it was at the time of Cyborg 009’s creation, the military industrial complex. While setting up this premise he also takes some time to establish each of the individual cyborgs backgrounds, even if they are only given minor details. You have the East German attempting to escape from the oppressive state, the drunken, washed up British actor and more. It’s really kind of amazing how much information, characterization, action, and social commentary he’s able to cram into 186 pages, especially when compared to some of his later works which don’t even have half as many cast members.
Visually the art looks dated, but it doesn’t really suffer from it. There’s an energy in this work that’s lacking in Kamen Rider, and despite the cartoony nature of the artwork it doesn’t feel like it detracts from the messages or action of the book. Character’s personalities aren’t only expressed through their dialogue, but they’re drawn right into the very character designs. The strong, stoic Native American, the goofy Brit, and more. Of course, that’s where things might get a tad dicey. While Cyborg 009 features a diverse cast ranging from Americans, Germans, Chinese and Africans, it tends to fall into some of the less savory visual stereotypes of it’s times. Cyborg 008 for example, is an African and he’s drawn as being absolutely pitch black with some rather large, white lips. In the Tokyo Pop edition of the manga there was a one page introduction that tried to put this into historical context, but in the Comixology edition there’s none of that. While the visual representation of some of the cast members might be a little off-putting, it is worth noting that they’re in no way treated negatively. Just something to keep in mind when reading it.
After reading the first volume it’s easy to see why Cyborg 009 was such a hit. It’s an incredibly fun, action packed read with nods to greater messages regarding the propagation of war and those who benefit from it. All in all, Cyborg 009 packs quite the punch and remains a fantastic, enjoyable read over five decades after its release.
Cyborg 009, Vol. 1 is available now from Comixology.