Cyborg, the techno-powered teenage superhero, is rising to the ranks of peers like Superman and Batman by headlining his own comic book series. But what makes him different from other mainstream superheroes? For starters, he's black.
A freak accident turns Victor Stone into the half-human, half-robot hybrid hero with Herculean strength and mechanical telepathy. In spite of his of abilities, Cyborg has a complex life dealing with the challenges of being different both as a black male and as a superhero.
David F. Walker, the award-winning journalist and author who penned the series of black private-eye and vigilante Shaft, is the writer bringing Cyborg's story to life. We caught up with Walker to get the scoop on the cultural impact of the prolific comic book publisher DC Comics and spearheading a leading storyline for one of the greatest black superheroes ever to exist.
The Huffington Post: Who is Cyborg, and how did he gain his powers?
David F. Walker: Cyborg is Victor Stone, who first appeared in the pages of a series called The New Teen Titans, back in 1980. Vic is a young African American man who was nearly killed in a laboratory explosion, only to have his life saved, and his body restored through the use of advanced cybernetics. Vic is somewhat unique, in that he doesn’t have an alter-ego, and Cyborg isn’t so much of persona as it merely is his state of being -- the result of this devastating accident that almost took his life. The technology that is used to keep him alive makes him look more like a robot, gives him incredible strength, and allows him total access to the Internet by way of the computer implanted in his brain.
What sort of significance do you think it means for Cyborg, a black superhero, to officially have his own series?
There simply aren’t that many black superheroes with their own series, which leaves a rather large cross section of the comic-reading audience under-represented. I go to conventions, and I see incredible numbers of women and people of color in attendance -- in some case making up the majority of convention attendees -- and yet that is not reflected in the mainstream comics on the shelves. Cyborg having his own series is a step in the direction of greater representation, which is significant for quite a few reasons. Perhaps the most significant reason is that it helps to activate the dreams of young black people. Lack of representation becomes a form of oppression, sending a message that there is no place for black people or women or the LGBT community in these fantasy worlds that serve as a metaphor for the lives we live, and an escape for the horrors of everyday life.
What traits make Cyborg an interesting hero?
I could say that it is the fact that he is more machine than man -- that he can fly, and possesses superhuman strength, and that his brain has the most advanced computer in existence plugged right into it -- but that’s not what makes him interesting. What makes him interesting -- what makes all heroes interesting -- are the flaws and weaknesses that remind us of their humanity.
What things can we look forward to in the Cyborg solo series?
Obviously, there will be action. This is, after all, a comic book, and action drives a large part of the American superhero comic genre. So, we will see Vic facing various threats, from cybernetic-aliens looking to hijack his tech, to super villains we love to hate. But the thing that I think many people are looking for, and that I hope to deliver, is the development of Vic Stone as a character. Cyborg has been around for 35 years, and we’ve seen bits and pieces of his life, but he has always been a co-star in team books like Teen Titans or Justice League, which means there is only so much of his story that can be told.
What elements do you think make for a great superhero comic?
I may get in trouble for saying this, but superheroes are the modern equivalent to the gods of ancient mythology. These are power fantasies and morality tales that are meant to help us better understand the way we live our lives, and give us an escape from both the mundane and horrific that we face on a daily basis. A great superhero comic is brimming with the same things we deal with, only exaggerated to the most wild of extremes.
Do you feel that the audience for superhero comics has changed over time? Are there more black readers now than there were in the past?
In terms of black readers, other people of color, and women, those numbers are growing at a rate that blows my mind, and makes me happy. There are a lot of people that don’t want to admit this, but the fan base for superheroes -- in comics and other mediums -- has changed drastically, and women and people of color are now the majority. You’ll hear some people deny it, but those people are wrong. And this is why it is so important for there to be more than just the straight, white male heroes.
Do you think reader expectations have changed over time -- is there more of an interest in more diverse superheroes?
There are some comic readers, and they tend to be very vocal, who are averse to change. For them, comics are a sacred place, the heroes are their gods, and a bit too much of their self-worth is invested in these make-believe worlds. I believe these readers are an unfortunately loud minority that fear change, even though change is inevitable. And in the world of comics, diversity means change, because the default setting is white, straight males. It is what all of us know, and have come to expect. We think of superheroes, and we think of Superman.
To bring diversity to that accepted reality, we must be willing to change, and again, some people fear change. At the same time, I know for a fact that there are other readers, who not only want diversity -- and therefore change -- they need it. I’m one of those people. Many of the people that crave to see diversity are either fairly new to comics, or have been intimidated by those who scream in favor of the status quo. We can’t be bullied by the people who want things to stay the same, simply because it brings them great comfort -- especially not when their comfort is paid for by our oppression and exclusion.
Do you think it’s important for people of color to see reflections of themselves among superheroes?
Do you know what it was like to see "Superman" the movie in 1978, when I was 10, and the only black person in the entire movie was a pimp? It was humiliating, and soul-crushing, and it showed me that in the world of Superman, the only place for someone like me was as a pimp. In comics, it wasn’t much better. But it is getting better, and this is why people of color need to see reflections of themselves across the pop culture landscape -- because no kid should grow up to think there is no place for them.
If Cyborg could solve any real-life issues facing the black community today, what would it be?
This is a difficult question, in part because the black community faces a myriad of complex issues, none of which can be solved by a single individual. Even if Superman were black, he couldn’t fix everything the community faces. And as much as I love comic books and superheroes, I think it is dangerous to have them tackle complex problems and then solve these issues, when in real life that simply doesn’t happen. Cyborg can take on an army extraterrestrials and save the day -- as a writer, I can make that work. But can he tackle police brutality and actually fix the problem, which itself is linked to other problems? If there is one issue that we can have Cyborg grapple with -- one that I believe is very important to the black community -- it would have to be self-esteem.
This is not to say that Cyborg can fix all the contributing factors that lead to so many young people of color suffering from low self-esteem, but by merely having him present—by having him being front and center, dealing with his own issues of self-worth and belonging—maybe he can help others with their struggles.
If you're interested in checking out Cyborg in his eponymous title series, CYBORG, the the first issue is now available on bookshelves and digital outlets.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.
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