Thursday, September 15, 2011


So, earlier this week, I tried to make the case that the Image guys weren't ultimately that bad for the business and kickstarted things just as the 80's were winding down and things were getting a little moribund. I'd talked about what happened before and during that time, but it occurred to me recently, as I was perusing my bookshelves, that I'd never really covered the "after" part of it to any great extent. What happened when the Image guys took off on their own, left Marvel, and formed Image? Surely this would complete their revolution and make a thousand flowers bloom and all of that, right?


Well, not exactly. As is customary for these long-winded blood and thunders from me, there's a bit of history that needs to drop before we actually get to the book proper. Around 1991 or so, the big artists at Marvel decided to strike off in search of artistic freedom, money, a bigger slice of the pie, money, ownership of what they created, and money. But mostly money. So they packed up their stuff and decamped to form Image, which at the time was a subset of Malibu comics.

Ordinarily no one would notice this, since Malibu (pre-Ultraverse) had about 9,000 different sub-imprints that multiplied like viral cultures and filled various niches. Whether this is a good thing I leave to you. But these were Top Guys, and they wanted to bugger off and go do superhero comics, and . . .well, this caused some consternation.

I remember reading an editorial from Peter David around that time that said words to the effect of "Jesus, if all you wanted to do is do superheroes, why not stay at Marvel? Not like you need to be indie for that." (This leaves aside that there were a hell of a lot of indie superhero books out during the various little boomlets in the 80's, leave alone that at the time, Valiant was right there) and there was that sense of elitism kinda going around, like "Geez, what are they doing?"

The Image guys tried to make like they were just having fun, that this was their chance to take a bunch of characters near and dear to them that they dreamt up in high school and finally give them a proper run, a run they would own and control completely.

In practise? Well . . .they kind of do read like people's high school comics in that they are really thin on characterisation, very derivative of the stuff that was formative influences on them as artists, and well . . .there's no real nice way to say it . . .they read an awful lot like X-Men pastiches, and ye gods were there a lot of them around--WILD C.A.T.S.: The X-Men, but corporate! Youngblood: The X-Men, but media darlings!--and finally, Cyberforce, who were the X-Men, except bionic.

The basic concept of the book is sound enough: There's a company called Cyberdata (it was the early 90's--everything was "Cyber" back then) takes mutants and weaponises them with cybernetic enhancements. For instance, if you're a super-speedster, they put in a computer that allowed you to make course-corrections at high speed, and toughened up your skin to reduce air friction and impact damage. That's kinda awesome.

Oh, they also stick in a chip that allows them to control you and turn you into one of their operatives, called S.H.O.C.s (man, I love pointless acronyms), which is a bit troubling. Cyberforce as the resistance to Cyberdata, having been freed from mind control. They fight, and fight, and fight, and fight and fight.

Being that I'm an hour into this thing, I think it's time for a ROLL CALL, don't you? Let's meet our heroes, Cyberforce!

HEATWAVE--Definitely not Cyclops, Heatwave flies around, shoots stuff, and distinguishes himself by not really doing much of anything that the rest of Cyberforce couldn't have twigged on their own. Eventually will sell his soul to Mephisto. No, really.

CYBLADE--Cyberforce may be long gone and forgotten, but Cyblade will never be, and the reason for this is 1) she's definitely not Psylocke and 2) artists like drawing women with polished metal buttocks.

IMPACT--Impact is a combination of Colossus and Brian Pillman, if his hairdo is any indication. Naturally, as you might imagine, combining a Russian pedophile who can turn himself into metal with the man who once wrestled a pencil to a standstill would be an incredibly lethal combination, you'd be right.

Impact is a surfer. I can't remember if he actually surfed in the book. I think 1/3rd of the way into this post I have probably put more thought into it than anyone did in the entire history of Cyberforce. I don't post these things looking to curry favour (well, obviously) but if anyone at Top Cow is listening, I will totally write Cyberforce for you.

VELOCITY--Here's the other reason anyone remembers Cyberforce, y'all. Velocity is a super-speedster, and really broke out form everyone by 1) having a personality and 2) being cute and very fun to draw. Velocity drives the story, generally by running through it, being confused, and not really understanding what's going on. I know how she feels.

BALLISTIC--Ballistic is Velocity' sister, and spends most of her time shooting at her, as all siblings do. Her superpower is perfect aim, which basically means unlike all the other people who carry guns in this book (and there are a lot) she actually gets to hit what she aims at when the plot so demands. Ballistic's actually one of the baddies in this arc, but she later goes on to join the team, kinda, and also stars in an amazing three-issue crossover miniseries with Wetworks which is brain-crushingly demented and gleefully makes no sense at all, featuring as it does vampires that turn into werewolves that turn into angels. I should write it up one day.

STRYKER--Oh my GOD, Stryker. Marc Silvestri's love of Stryker as a character and a concept confuses me then and confuses me now. Stryker (not to be confused with Robert Hays' character from the movie Airplane!) has four arms--three on one side, one on the other--and shoots things. He also has a ponytail, because, y'know, the 90's. Stryker gets hijacked midway through the book long after the plot has gotten muddled to infiltrate the bad guys and get the book back on track. More about them in a bit.

RIPLCAW--Ripclaw is exactly like Wolverine in that he has claws, squats around a lot, and is designated team badass. Ripclaw, who occasionally think of himself as a bear, is also Native American in a rather painfully stereotypical sort of way, always deeply spiritual in a vague sort of way that is just so patronising, but what really sets Ripclaw apart is that he is a poet.

Now when I say "poet" I mean it in the Vogon sense of the word. Here's a brief excerpt:

"She runs like the deer,
Swift and strong, but afraid and alone.
Hiding from the man-machines that serve the god of death"

It gets more twee from there.

So these are our heroes and I guess I should say something about the villains. Not much though, because I really have something else I want to get to, but our villains are Saburo Kimata (because it's the early 90's and Japan=evil. Unless they were ninjas, I guess) and our villainess is Mother May I, and believe me when I tell you her name is just the tiniest piece in the mosaic of what a problematic character she is.

Mother May I is awesome because trying to comprehend anything about her character will cause your brain to try to divide by zero and cause trash code to leak out of your skull. I think, and I've read this book far more times than is probably healthy, that she has some kind of mind control powers and she's Velocity and Ballistic's mom and she talks to the Statue of Liberity and he plan is to have some big mutant riot and excuse me while I reach of the headache medicine.

That's better. I should add that Mother May I's bodyguard is without question one of my favourite characters in comics period: Warbuk.

Warbuk is a guy with deer antlers on his head. He carries guns. That is fucking genius.

Warbuk does nothing, but dammit, I would totally love to see him come back. Certainly more than I would the 2,000th iteration of The Darkness. Seriously Top Cow--I don's ask you for much, but I think 2012 could be the Year of Warbuk. Easily. Make this happen, please.

So, I have a feeling by this point you wish I'd quit fucking around and get to the plot. Well, my chochachos, that's gonna be a problem, because this book either doesn't have a plot or has too many going on at once. To get an idea of what it is like to read something like this, open up 10 tabs, point them all to a random Youtube clip and play them simultaneously. What that sounds like is what it's like to read it.

So let's break it down issue by issue. Issue 1: Velocity runs from the S.H.O.C.s, runs into Riplcaw, Cyberforce shoots people, Velocity is introduced to the team and designated McGuffin T.I.M.M.I.E. the robotic boy. Velocity has a lot of freaky dreams about Ballistic and Mother May I and the S.H.O.C.s show up. Issue 2: S.H.O.C.s fight Cyberforce, some mutants steal some computer discs, Stryker gets recruited to hang out with WARBUK and also infiltrate Mother May I's organisation, T.I.M.M.I.E. nearly gets hit by a car, then steal another car and T.I.M.M.I.E. and then the S.H.O.C.s show up again, and everyone gets in a fight with Pitt (I'm not going to go into Pitt) and everyone fights with Pitt for awhile until they decide not to. Issue 4: Everything ends, WARBUK gets shot and Kimata shoots Mother May I for making no goddamn sense while a mutant riot is going on (mostly off-panel) and Cyberforce fights the S.H.O.C.s again. Ballistic looks on while Mother May I exposits some vaguely character relevant stuff on the last page of the book. Then Cyberforce gets together for one of those group moments that you used to get at the end of the Superfriends where they were all hanging around not all that bothered that they hadn't solved anything and (hilariously) tried and failed to summarise the plot of the miniseries. The end.

Well, except for the backmatter, which contains Stryker's origin from the epic boondoggle that was Image Comics #0 (because Silvestri got tired of waiting like everyone else did) and a trailer for Codename: Stryke Force which features a character named Bloodbow. But not WARBUK. Dammit.

Despite how hard I was on this book, believe it or not, there's some real value in it. It's pitched to over-caffeinated 12 year olds and in many passages seems like it was written by over-caffeinated 12 year olds determined to cram as much cool shit into every single panel that they can and if the final product doesn't make a lot of sense, so what? It's like Axe Cop, but without the excuses Axe Cop has to be Axe Cop. And really, as an entry-level comic for the next generation of comic readers (back when such a thing was still a possibility) you could do a lot worse, and Image frequently did at that time with an ease that would shame most right-thinking people.

But energy counts for a lot with me, especially when I read it, I was young enough to still be tapped into that kind of energy and appreciate it for what it was . . .and, for reasons better and worse, get inspired to do my own comics in high school (which came out as coherent as this, as you'd expect) and if all you were interested in was cheap, disposable entertainment, it would get you sufficiently pumped to read more.



C. Elam said...

We should start a Warbuk fan club.

What is often forgotten is that Marc Silvestri didn't really come into his own compared to the rest until the founding of Image Comics. He also drew his girlfriend/wife/editor Cynthia Sullivan as a character in one of their swimsuit specials, which really drives home the fact that they really DID see the world that way. Which is pretty awesome, I think.

Kazekage said...

We should, man. Can it be a club if there's just two people, though?

I dunno . . .for awhile on the early Cyberforce issues, his style smoothed out a lot from how it had been on X-Men and Wolverine so artistically he was really working in a different groove. The scratchiness returned in a huge way later on, but for awhile there, he was in a different groove.

I think I had that swimsuit issue one time . . .it's a bit creepy when you realise that real life and fiction are bleeding one on top of the other like that. Then again, given the other artists on display there, I have a feeling she was more dressed than most.