Review: Cyber Force: Tin Men of War trade paperback (Top Cow/Image Comics)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

Picking which “classic” Image book to review has been one of the most difficult things I’ve done for Collected Editions. I specifically wanted to review a book which tied into Deathmate, which removed half of Image’s creators from consideration. I reviewed a WildC.A.Ts story not too long ago in Stormwatch: Final Orbit and the wasted potential of Grifter makes it too depressing to read the old version. Linkara has already taken apart the first issues of Youngblood in a more thorough manner than I ever could; Brigade doesn’t exist in trade form, thank God. I was all set to review the first Gen13 trade, but Deathmate was actually their first appearance, plus I want to contrast that with Gail Simone’s version in a later review. That left Cyber Force (or Cyberforce, I’ve seen it parsed both ways) as the default option.

I give Marc and Eric Silvestri credit for having a good amount of creative ambition. This first trade, Cyber Force: The Tin Men of War, is overflowing with concepts beneath its hologram cover, introducing a world rife with mutants, superheroes, conspiracies, and cyber-surgery. The mutants especially open up a lot of questions which aren’t properly answered. One of the key flaws of the early Image titles is that they were trying to emulate the complexity of Marvel and DC without the actual history to back it up. For instance, Uncanny X-Men had enough characters to warrant half a dozen spin-offs because those characters had been created over a span of thirty years. Conversely, Rob Liefeld introduced two dozen or so characters on two Youngblood teams within one issue.

The Silvestris keep the roster small on Cyber Force; the titular team only has five members at the start and much of the book is about recruiting a sixth, with the seventh joining near the end ... I think. Issue four ends so abruptly that I’m left assuming that in the next book Ballistic, at first their arch-villain, switches sides due to events in the plot. That trade, incidentally, helped me decide to review The Tin Men of War in the first place, since its title, Assault With A Deadly Woman, is one of the few cases of actual cleverness I’ve seen from an early Image title. I’ll also congratulate the creators for having some good female characters in Cyblade, Ballistic, Velocity, and Killjoy, although I could only figure out that the latter was a woman at first because of her ridiculous “boobs and butt” pose in her introduction.

Another change from the traditional "classic" Image formula is that the team doesn’t raid a villain’s base until said fourth issue. We instead meet our main characters while they protect a mutant mayoral candidate from assassination, dynamically introducing Cable, Psylocke, Gambit, Colossus, and Wolverine—I mean, Stryker, Cyblade, Heatwave, Impact, and Ripclaw. It’s not nearly as blatant as Shaft being a stand-in for Roy Harper, but the influences are definitely there, especially in Cyblade’s poorly-explained powers. Newcomer Velocity is a speedster, which is a refreshingly old-school power set compared to Ballistic’s ability to ... do whatever it is she does. Control bullets? Adding even more confusion is a crossover with Pitt which doesn’t add much to the proceedings.

Ripclaw was designed to be the breakout character, and I do like that he’s Native American without having obvious visual cues to indicate it. But I need to talk about the four-armed elephant in the room: Morgan Stryker. I first encountered Stryker’s design in action figure form a few years ago and found it endlessly amusing that his multiple arms are gathered as three on one side and one on the other. This amusement carries forward to his comic book appearances, especially in Deathmate; next week I’ll show you a particular panel which may be the silliest thing I’ve ever seen in a comic book. Why would they only put two extra arms on one side of his body?! The required concerns about balance and the necessary modifications required for his whole body take me out of the story every time I see him.

Marc Silvestri is probably the second-best artist of the Image founders, right behind Jim Lee and right before Whilce Portacio. There are points where I can tell that he would have done a better job if he weren’t caving in to the stylization of the time. His storytelling needs some work, but then he’s illustrating a fairly choppy plot. (Velocity and another character escape at the end of one issue only to be recaptured off-panel in the next. Huh?) With the character designs, I again give Silvestri credit for at least going with creative ideas, even if they don’t always work out. Perhaps the strangest is Splitzkrieg, a being with one set of legs supporting two complete torsos; one is a proper English gentlemen, while the other is a Nazi who speaks pidgin German. How he didn’t make it into the Strykeforce spin-off when lame concepts like “Killrazor” did is an absolute shame; Splitzkrieg’s origin needs to be told.

The Cyber Force: Tin Men of War trade includes a preview of Strykeforce, and it’s one of the most awful things I’ve ever read, an utter waste compared to Cyber Force. In a sense, Cyber Force is everything Youngblood was trying to do but with better writing and artwork. It’s the platonic ideal of an early Image title: lots of relatively flat characters with silly names, stilted dialogue, confusing plot threads, needless cameos, contortionist poses, and a deliberate effort to be easily adaptable to other media. But at least the Silvestris put effort into their work; I can at least judge it as having artistic merit, something I can’t say about Youngblood.

Next week, I gaze into the abyss a day earlier than usual with Deathmate. For now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to grab a hacksaw and a few wrestling action figures to start a Splitzkrieg custom toy. My DC Universe Classics Atom Smasher needs an arch-enemy.
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4 comments:

  1. Yes! Thank you Doug for the Image retrospective. My comic collecting began in the 90's (first comic ever bought was X-Force #1 off the spinner rack in the grocery store. I had no idea what was going on but those were some big guns. Followed by Amazing Spider-Man #375, Spider-man vs. this wicked looking monster called Venom and it had a gold foil cover? Awesome!). My introduction to Image was from two kids in my grade 7 class debating who was hotter: Voodoo or Zealot from the Wildc.a.t.s. Personally I had to go with Voodoo on that one.
    I tended to stick with the Wildstorm titles although I do have this trade, I was buying some Image back issues, and this trade came as a throw in.
    It saddens me that we will most likely never have another 90's era in comics. Say what you want about the excesses and poor quality of work, but for a few years comics were what was popular. Current comics have a much higher quality in art and storytelling but the 90's had a certain energy that can't be matched.
    I personally think that, although the writing began very roughly, that the universe building was very well done. The way the Wildstorm titles all fit together and the characters were related was fantastic continuity. Wildstorm Rising is one of my favourite crossovers from that time period. And without the basis of the originals we wouldn't have had great runs like Alan Moore's Wildcats and Supreme which led to Brubaker's Sleeper, and Warren Ellis' Stormwatch/Authority.

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  2. I keep hearing about this "energy" during the 90s, and for me, the material just doesn't bear it out. Maybe some of it was the fewer avenues of communication between fans and professionals. Today, if something happens in a book or if something cool or controversial is announced, six hundred different venues from Twitter to Facebook to Bleeding Cool and more will run the story. Twenty years ago, there was... Wizard. That's pretty much it apart from letters pages and the early days of the Internet boards.

    I will say that the smartest thing the Image creators ever did was farm out their characters to better writers.

    As for the Voodoo vs. Zealot question, I'm going to take a third option and say that the Engineer (Angela Spica) is even hotter than both.

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  3. Doug, if you're open to suggestions for books to review, I would love to read your take on some of Joe Casey's work on either Youngblood or Wildcats. Admittedly, I'm a big fan of Casey's (I'm hoping to write a review of the first volume of Sex if I ever find the time), but I've never gotten a chance to check out his work on those titles.

    I picked up the newest Cyberforce trade because it was free on Comixology. While it wasn't really my thing, I can how excited both the fans and the creators are about this. I did think that it was a really great use of Kickstarter, so even if I'm not going to be reading it, more power to all those guys.

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    1. I might try out the WildC.A.T.s run; between that, Alan Moore's Supreme, Gail Simone's Gen 13 and Brandon Graham's Prophet, I might have a whole "Image Revised" theme month at some point. (Actually, Prophet was my original idea for what to review as the book to represent the "new" Image, but my eventual choice superseded it.)

      As for Youngblood... while I'm sure Casey does his best with the material, I try to financially support Rob Liefeld as little as I possibly can. Also, the whole celebrity superhero concept was done better by the same company with Wildguard.

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