Review time! with Cyborg 009
The excellent people at Archaia sent me a copy of Cyborg 009, a “re-imagining” of a manga by Shotaro Ishinomori, and I’d like to thank them for it. This version is written by F. J. DeSanto and Bradley Cramp, drawn by Marcus To, colored by Ian Herring, and lettered by Deron Bennett. As usual with Archaia’s books, it’s a bit expensive, at $24.95, but also as usual with Archaia, it’s a gorgeous hardcover book, so there’s that. Cyborg 009 showed up in stores this week, so it should be available if you’re interested in it!
There’s a lot to like about Cyborg 009, but there’s a lot that doesn’t quite work, either. As with a lot of comics these days, the artwork is far ahead of the story, and the book is absolutely amazing to look at. The story, unfortunately, doesn’t quite hold up. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that DeSanto and Cramp don’t really do too much with a familiar story. The idea of an evil dude creating an army of cyborgs might have been fresh 50 years ago, when the manga debuted, but it’s become less so in the intervening years, and the fact that the evil dude works for an evil corporation that wants to promote war all over so it can sell more weapons is also not terribly interesting. It’s mildly entertaining and it can be exciting, but for the most part, DeSanto and Cramp go through exactly the kind of progression you expect with this kind of story. It’s comfort food, which is fine, but not special.
The main character is Joe, a Japanese kid who wakes up in a lab where everyone calls in “009.” It turns out he’s the ninth test subject to receive cybernetic enhancements, and he’s told he needs to eliminate the preceding eight. Before he can think about it, the other eight begin to fight against the scientists who altered them, and 009 joins in, along with one of the scientists, who has decided that what he did to the kids wasn’t very nice and he wants to help stop the evil organization that funded the research. They all escape, but eventually, of course, they need to fight the main evil dude, who gets his own enhancements because he’s tired of being human. As this is a long-running manga, I imagine Archaia has more volumes planned, so it doesn’t end completely conclusively, but that’s okay.
There are certainly ways to tell this story, but the story has to have strong characters, and in this volume, DeSanto and Cramp don’t do enough with them. The characters are all vaguely stereotypical, and none of them get too much development. Obviously, there are a lot of them, so if there are more volumes, presumably we’ll get to know them better, but in this volume, at least, they’re a bit clichéd. The Indian, for instance, wears war paint for no discernible reason. There’s one, and only one, female cyborg, because 009 needs a love interest and he can’t have two of them, so another girl would be superfluous. Joe, of course, wants to return to his former life and try to reconnect with the girl he was keen on before he got kidnapped, but he can’t. There’s a mild rivalry between Joe and the alpha male of the group, but it gets resolves fairly quickly. It’s certainly not bad writing, but it’s completely unsurprising writing. You and I can predict pretty much everything in this book, including who will sacrifice themselves for the greater good. It’s kind of frustrating.
To and Herring’s artwork, however, is wonderful. To has done good work for DC, but this is even better, and it ought to move him up some tiers in the artist hierarchy. His style works well with superheroes, as he’s fluid and able to choreograph scenes very well. His fight scenes are laid out well so that he can cram a lot onto the page without overwhelming the reader. There’s never any confusion with what’s happening and where it’s happening in relation to everything else in the scene, which is a harder thing to accomplish than you might think. To also does some nice stuff with the way he reveals things about the characters, especially when Joe remembers his life and To draws part of the page almost as puzzle pieces falling into place. When he does flashbacks, it appears that he doesn’t use inks, making the memories a bit rougher and sketchier, which fits nicely. As this is adapted from a manga, the characters look vaguely “manga-ish,” but To makes sure that they all have different personalities, which are reflected in the way they look. Herring is a fine colorist, and he does a very nice job using the base colors of red and yellow to shade the entire book, from a girl’s scarf that links her to Joe to a man’s necktie. When Herring focuses on Sekar, the main bad guy, he makes his clothing much darker but whom he still links to the other cyborgs with just a bit of yellow. There’s a tremendous double-page spread when Sekar gets his own enhancements, which is drawn beautifully and colored excellently – Herring does a wonderful job with the reds and blues on the page, while either he or To shadows Sekar’s face very well as he becomes even more evil.
I don’t know if Archaia is planning more of these volumes, but I’d be interested to see if To and Herring are on board with them, because I think the writing will improve now that the introduction is out of the way, and if the writing improves and the art stays as good as it is, the further adventures of the Cyborg Justice League could be very good. Volume One is not as strong as it could be, but it feels like DeSanto and Cramp know that they had to get the origin story out of the way, and then they could start focusing more on interesting stories. That’s what I hope, anyway. As a beginning, this is solid but unspectacular, except for the artwork, which is brilliant. We’ll have to see if everyone can build on this.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆