Review: Cyborg Vol. 1: Unplugged trade paperback (DC Comics)

March 16, 2017

I admit to being a tad concerned as I started David Walker's Cyborg Vol. 1: Unplugged. I hadn't picked up great things about it by osmosis as the individual issues came out, and also I noted that Walker wasn't continuing with the Cyborg series into Rebirth and even exits this DC You series before the end. But Unplugged is well done, in itself a kind of "Cyborg: Rebirth," and surely a fine basis for an ongoing series if Rebirth writer John Semper keeps up with what Walker has started. Much credit to Geoff Johns, too, for setting up much of this in Justice League; especially with Ivan Reis on the art, Unplugged reads like a natural spin-off of what's been established over there.

[Review contains spoilers]

I might not have always thought the Cyborg Vic Stone character was developed enough apart from the Titans to helm his own series. But again, much credit to Johns, who's been really not-so-subtly writing a Cyborg series within Justice League, throughout but notably in Justice League Vol. 5: Forever Heroes, on which this volume leans heavily. The most important part of this is a supporting cast for Vic all his own, including his father Silas, Sarah Charles, Dr. Thomas Morrow, and Will Magnus and the Metal Men, plus STAR Labs assistant Lori Carmichael. Walker uses them all in this book, and distinctly, continuing to build a unique corner of the DC Universe where Cyborg acts as "agent of" an embattled STAR Labs, not dissimilar to the set-up of the Flash TV series.

It would have been an easy trap for this burgeoning supporting cast to be just an echo chamber for Vic (which they have to be, somewhat necessarily, in Justice League). To that end I thought it was especially clever that Walker casts a future Sarah Charles as one of this book's antagonists, giving the present-Sarah an actual active role. Long-time DC readers know Sarah not only as Vic's on-again, off-again love interest, but also a pervasive pre-Flashpoint DCU medical professional a la Leslie Thompkins; in the New 52 continuity, however, she's younger, and has been seen mostly assisting Silas Stone and Morrow. Sarah stepping forward in Cyborg is an appropriate culmination of her New 52 appearances so far, and especially appropriate this close to the New 52's end.

Unplugged's six issues are nothing short of epic (and nicely self-contained), indeed making this read like a Rebirth miniseries of old (Green Lantern and Flash, that is). Walker believably isolates Cyborg from the Justice League as part of the story, but casts him in a leadership position with both STAR and the Metal Men. By the end of the book Vic is foiling a worldwide alien invasion essentially all by himself (and with a VR sequence that's thankfully less fanciful than most), and Walker does well raising the stakes and making the action feel "widescreen." Vic has surely been in leadership positions before -- mentoring the Teen Titans in previous continuities -- but Unplugged marks a coming of age for this particular Cyborg, underscored by the accolades he receives from the rest of the Justice League in the end.

I appreciated that in Unplugged's conclusion, Walker didn't go the easy route and have Vic simply be overjoyed by his newfound ability to look "normal," but rather chooses to keep it a secret. There's plenty of times we've seen Vic wish to shed his cybernetic implants and even some brushes with "normalcy," but clearly we know any such changes, like this one, are bound to be reversed. To that end, any such celebration lacks a certain amount of punch, but having Vic be reluctant instead is wonderfully complex. Walker has clearly thought through the character far enough to realize that despite that Vic misses his old body, he's essentially been made famous in his young adulthood by being Cyborg, and to give up his "cyborg-ness" would be to lose his sense of self -- especially for a character that's specifically this Vic Stone's age. Walker doesn't have many issues left on this series, but I'm eager to see how he resolves this in the next volume.

If Cyborg Vol. 1: Unplugged is an indication of what Cyborg's solo efforts are going to be like into Rebirth and beyond, sign me up. There's few false notes here, and writer David Walker is even circumspect with his use of "booyah," Cyborg's animated Teen Titans catchphrase that's now (for better or worse) made it to the comics. Unplugged is a satisfying romp and a fine beginning to this series.

[Includes original and variant covers]


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