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.