By Wendy Browne
When the boys moved out of Marvel’s house, it was inevitable that I would follow. Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri’s artwork had taken my love of the X-Men to a whole new starry-eyed level, but I knew that, as I burst into adulthood, I needed so much more in my comic-reading life. Like them, I had clearly outgrown those childish mutant antics. What I needed as I awakened to womanhood in the ‘90s was mutant cyborgs, acronyms, and aliens in taut, shiny, thinly-veiled X-Men knock-off bodies.
I needed the WildC.A.T.s and Cyber Force. But someone else is writing about Lee’s WildC.A.T.s… so let’s just focus on the steel-ribbed goodness of Silvestri’s shiny cybernetic misfits.
The first issue opens with a frightened young woman dashing through back alleys, chased by C.O.P.S. (Cybernetic Operatives for Protection and Security), a.k.a S.H.O.C.s (Special Hazardous Operations Cyborgs). We soon come to know the young redhead as Velocity – so named for her superhuman speed – and the leader of the SHOCs as Ballistic, her sister. Velocity has escaped the clutches of Cyberdata, the evil technology corporation who is kidnapping and experimenting on mutants like Velocity, enhancing them with cybernetics and sending them out to do their evil corporate bidding.
Meanwhile, a blue-skinned man speaks to a crowd about the need for mutant representation, asking for their votes in an election. His speech is interrupted by sniper sights from which he is saved by a four-armed mutant named Stryker and his companions, Cyblade and Impact. Elsewhere, Velocity is rescued by Ripclaw and Heatwave, with a young man named Chip and his creation, T.I.M.M.I.E. (Totally Independent Mobile Machine Intelligence Experiment), running surveillance from the base.
And so we meet the members of Cyber Force: former Cyberdata soldiers who fight to protect mutants from the company’s cybernetic machinations and don’t have any kind of moral code about tearing up bad guys in order to do so.
As far as creativity goes, Silvestri, as both writer (supported by Eric Silvestri) and illustrator of Cyber Force reveals that he hadn’t learned much from working with writer Chris Claremont on X-Men – but he had gleaned enough to emulate rudimentary concepts when it comes to character development.
Heatwave takes on the official role of team leader, though he lacks any of Cyclops’ complexity. Where many people either love or hate the X-Men’s leader, Heatwave manages to be so uninteresting that there’s only room for apathy. Even his powers are basic: heat blasts. Bleh. Cyblade is a debutante who turned her privilege into activism after her Psylocke-like powers (and outfit) manifested. Impact is the muscle, sporting a head of luscious curls to go with his giant shiny surfer boy image.
Morgan Stryker’s mutant power is excellent balance, what with the three metal arms on one side of his body. He is the unofficial leader of the team, and the one character who perhaps doesn’t have an obvious X-Men counterpart, making him a lot more interesting and worth following into the other book he led at the time, Codename: Strykeforce.
And finally, there is Ripclaw. He is undeniable as a Wolverine homage, though his claws are not retractable. He is not a Canadian with ties to Japanese lore and culture. Instead, Ripclaw is of Indigenous descent, and though brutal in battle, he is quiet and introspective outside of it. When he first appears, he is perched, Batman-like, on a rooftop with the only narration boxes that appear in the first volume. It’s not quite clear if it’s an inner monologue, or just a shaping of his character as the words speak to the chase he watches below and the spirits that have summoned Velocity’s rescuer.
The words, according to the asterisked note, are from a poem called “Freedom Run” by Robert Bearclaw, which is the character’s real name. Turn the page from this poetic interlude to the first of many splash pages as Ripclaw leaps into battle with cartoonish strokes of lightning painting the sky above him.
In my later years, I learned about Claremont and David Cockrum’s decision to kill off the X-Men’s first Indigenous character, Thunderbird, shortly after his introduction. In a 1993 issue of Wizard Magazine, Cockrum explained,
“…we created him as an obnoxious loudmouth, and we already had an obnoxious loudmouth in Wolverine. So one of us decided to kill him off after all, just for shock value.”
As much as I appreciate Wolverine, I lament that we could not have instead had Thunderbird as the hero who no one will let die now. Imagine the stories we could have explored with a character from an Indigenous perspective. I wonder if Silvestri was thinking the same thing when he created Ripclaw – though in the Cyber Force volume one backmatter, he says he’s not sure where the idea to make him Native American came from.
For this first volume, that one quiet page is the only downtime we get. Otherwise, Cyber Force is all about the non-stop action. Even grocery shopping can’t be accomplished without shit blowing up in as much vibrant colour as Joe Chiodo can manage. The team spends most of their time running away from or towards the various uniquely designed cyber-enhanced mutants working for Cyberdata and its nefarious goals.
There turns out to be a bit more to Cyberdata than just being an evil corporation with advanced cybertechnologies. The face of the corporation is now a sexy blue mutant telepath who wants to turn New York into a safe haven for mutants and is using Cyberdata to do so. Aside from the fact that Mother May I is an excellent villain name, her Mystique/Emma Frost vibes make her an antihero that I would have liked to get a lot more out of. Unfortunately, as with the rest of the story, she’s written by writers who think they are writing a well-nuanced character, but instead are just leaning heavily on melodrama and tropes.
Even the lettering by Mike Heisler can’t get away from a ‘90s action film feel, with sound effects EXPLODING across the pages. He also adds smatterings of an obnoxiously difficult to read cyber-esque font to ensure that you never forget that you’re dealing with a technologically advanced society—just in case having “cyber” attached to every other noun isn’t a big enough hint.
Looking back at Cyber Force’s start you can see why, like everything else at Image back in the ‘90s, the shine eventually wore off. The high octane, tech-heavy stories and the very ‘90s posturing, posing, and pontificating turned out to be somewhat shallow. Just because someone can write words, doesn’t necessarily mean they should, so it’s good that Silvestri wisely allowed Ron Marz to take over the team going into the ‘00s, as other artists stepped in as well.
There have been several reboots since then, each revealing a new layer in the evolution of both the creator and his tin men. But the new stories never venture far from where Cyber Force began. It remains focused on technology in the wrong hands, found family, and fighting for one’s rights and humanity, no matter how inhuman that technology makes you feel.
Cyber Force #1
Writers: Marc & Eric Silvestri
Artist: Marc Silvestri
Inker: Scott Williams
Colourist: Joe Chiodo
Letterer: Michael Heisler
Wendy Browne is a comics critic and journalist, as well as the Publisher of WomenWriteAboutComics. You can find her writing on the site here – and you can follow her on Twitter here!
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