Anomaly and his cybernetic army are destroying Detroit! Cyborg, Exxy and Black Narcissus unite to defeat him once and for all. But their final battle with Anomaly takes an unexpected twist Cyborg will never see coming!
Cyborg # 18
Writer: John Semper, Jr.
Artists: Will Conrad and Cliff Richards
Colorist: Ivan Nunes
Cover Artist: Eric Canete
Variant Cover Artist: Dustin Nguyen
Publisher: DC Comics
What You Need to Know:
Cyborg and his friend Exxy have returned from a Matrix-like digital universe where they, female cyborg Variant and the evil Anomaly have been fighting with their doppelgangers in a dystopian future. In the real world, Anomaly’s creation, Aldous, has gathered together cybernetic organisms to destroy Cyborg’s hometown of Detroit.
What You’ll Find Out:
On a page already titled “The End,” the first words from Cyborg are “This is the end” in a scene from Aldous and his forces destroying Detroit. Which is odd because on the very next page Cyborg explains his physical body in Detroit is still unconscious while his mental self is in the Digiverse. How he is seeing and hearing things in Detroit while he is unconscious and in another world is never explained.
The war in the Digiverse is over. Anomaly’s doppelganger and his forces there have been defeated and the Omniscient Transformational Advanced Cell (OTAC) virus has been cured. Thus, all the human-cybernetic hybrids are returning to their normal, human selves. For 3 pages, we get a recap of what every character is doing. Variant decides to stay and help the Digiverse Earth rebuild because she’d only be prosecuted for crimes in Detroit that she committed with Anomaly. Cyborg’s dad is alive and cured and reunited with Cyborg’s mom (who’s alive in this digital world). Cyborg narrates all of this in excruciating detail telling us everything we can already see, what everyone is thinking, what everyone feels, what he feels.
This narration by Cyborg describing literally everything including what we can already see in the panels is on every single page. Cyborg tells us he’s waking up when we can see he’s waking up. He tells us that Detroit is under attack by Aldous which we were already shown and told on page one. Then we get 3 pages of Cyborg fighting Aldous’s army where Cyborg tells us he’s fighting Aldous’s army.
Cyborg’s ally and stereotypical street thief Exxy saves Cyborg from cybernetic soldiers with a stolen laser cannon (which we know because we can see all of this and Cyborg also tells us all of this). The soldiers turn to attack Exxy only for a fellow Detroit superhero named Black Narcissus to swoop in on a hoverboard and save him. Again, Cyborg tells us everything we are seeing right down to how she drops Exxy on a rooftop (because apparently, we need to be told it is happening while we see it happening).
This is followed by yet another full page of Cyborg telling us everything we can already see happening while recounting the origin of Black Narcissus in detail…
Yes, Cyborg has to tell us that Black Narcissus is one hell of a tough lady twice in four panels. Did you know that she is one tough lady? Well, you do now.
Anomaly awakens and runs out of S.T.A.R. Labs (which we can see, but thankfully Cyborg tells us anyway). Cyborg has a drone follow him so he can track him to his lair and save his father, Silas Stone. Anomaly transmits a message to Cyborg; Cyborg tells us Anomaly is transmitting a message to him. Can you see where Anomaly transmits a message to Cyborg?
With that, Anomaly—Cyborg’s #1 nemesis for the past 18 months, a vindictive, sadistic and deceitful madman who vowed to destroy and replace the entire human race—completely repents, admits he was wrong and blows up both himself and his pseudo son Aldous in two and a half pages. Boy, that sure was easy!
We get a panel of Black Narcissus transmitting a radio message to Cyborg (which Cyborg tells us is happening because that is apparently one of his superpowers now) and miraculously, every civilian conveniently left the area because…well, in the post-Man Of Steel era, I guess you’re not allowed to have innocent people die in massive explosions anymore. At least, maybe not in the DCU.
Now Aldous and Anomaly’s army of cyber soldiers flies off into the sunset with no explanation other than Cyborg guessing Anomaly programmed them to. Where are they flying off to? Maybe Anomaly told them to go destroy another city or kill some of Cyborg’s other friends? Neither Cyborg nor anyone else knows, nor do they seem to care. Not a single person—not the police, the U.S. military or even A.R.G.U.S.—are shown chasing after these cybernetic monsters who only a minute ago were trying to kill all 670,000+ citizens of Detroit. Cyborg simply assumes Anomaly told them not to attack people anymore without ever questioning his own dangerously naïve assumption.
This leads to a page and a half of Cyborg recounting how the Digiverse is part of many digital universes throughout the DC Universe. This includes a massive retcon that Mother Boxes from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World are in reality beacons sent from these digiverses to ascertain whether or not other digiverses are worthy of being allowed to live or arbitrarily destroyed. How one group of digiverses got the right to decide which digital universes live or die isn’t explained. And Cyborg seems totally cool with that because he doesn’t question it or express any doubts or concerns whatsoever about whole collections of universes randomly sentencing other civilizations to life or death without any justification whatsoever.
This mess ends with Cyborg’s birthday party where he sticks birthday cake in Sarah Charles’s face and tells us that endings can lead to rebirths. Get it? Oh, that is so clever!
What Just Happened?
What just happened was I wasted 18 months and a good chunk of my money on one of the worst-written comic books currently being published.
As a fan of Cyborg for the past 37 years and someone who believes increasing diversity requires we support female and minority characters, I make a concerted effort to buy such books. But when the books are as badly-written as Cyborg has been for going on 2 years, it is not easy.
John Semper, Jr. is an Emmy Award-winning writer with many years of experience writing for animated series like Daredevil Vs Spider-Man and Woody Woodpecker. He has far more experience than me and I am reticent to criticize someone as accomplished as he is. But I also criticize editors Harvey Richards and Brian Cunningham for allowing hundreds of pages of scripts like this from Semper to get published without correcting these painful rookie mistakes.
It is Comic Book Script Writing 101 to not have your lead characters reciting exposition in every panel on every page describing word-for-word what is going on in the panels that the artist has already drawn. It is pointless and detracts from the reader’s enjoyment. It might be helpful to very young readers, but the average comic book fan nowadays is in their late thirties or mid-forties.
This rookie comic book writer’s mistake (which happens in every issue of Semper’s run) is disappointing enough. But there are more than a few other problems with his take on Cyborg. Black Narcissus’s codename is an anachronism in this day and age, but the bigger problem is she uses nothing but technology. She’s clearly a brilliant engineer, if not also a highly intelligent scientist and a sophisticated woman in her twenties or thirties. I feel safe in saying that Semper probably thought it was a cool codename, but it makes no sense for a female scientist/engineer to name herself after flowers from her husband’s murder. It’s downright macabre and silly. She’s not Poison Ivy or Chlorophyll Kid. Also, “Machine Queen” for a villainous codename? Seriously?
But yes, that is nit-picking compared to the more glaring flaw in this issue’s script. Semper has spent the past year and a half writing Anomaly as dripping with venom and bubbling over with rage. He’s kidnapped Cyborg’s father, then impersonated him, took over S.T.A.R. Labs, tried to capture and mind-control Cyborg and created an army of hundreds if not thousands of monsters to commit mass murder and obliterate an entire city.
Then in 2 and a half pages, this lying, raging, hate-filled super-villain admits he was wrong, renounces his evil ways, abandons his whole plan and commits suicide. Semper has written a redemption scene that contradicts every single line of dialogue and all the characterization he wrote as the foundation for his villain. It is ludicrous in the extreme and in no way plausible at all.
The digital universes concept and the retconning of Mother Boxes was a daring idea loaded with tons of potential. But in terms of execution, Semper fails to consider the logical consequences and outcomes of what he’s dreamed up. You can’t have a superhero discover such a huge twist without that hero also asking why these civilizations feel they have the right to destroy other civilizations and commit genocide on a universal scale. No superhero wouldn’t think to question that.
This book’s sole saving grace is the artwork. Will Conrad and Ivan Nunes with assists from Cliff Richards, Allan Jefferson, Paul Pelletier and others have turned in solid art many times on Cyborg that was a welcome relief from the ham-fisted, cheesy and plodding scripts.
I take absolutely no pleasure in my harsh criticism of Semper’s writing on this book. I sincerely hope that his run on Cyborg was at least a good learning experience that he can use to improve his comic book scripts in the future.
Rating: 5.5 / 10
Final Thought: Cyborg under Semper’s writing is not a book I can recommend to anyone (except the most devoted, hardcore Cyborg fans). The scripts have been simple-minded in a Saturday morning cartoon kind of way and lack serious examination of the troubling implications of the innovative concepts Semper has posited. Every issue has been awash in pages of irrelevant exposition, dull dialogue, and cardboard characterization.
Skip this issue and all the ones prior to it. Wait until new writer Kevin Grevioux takes over next month before you check this series out.