I don’t envy the creative team on Cyborg: Rebirth #1. The issue suffers from some of the worst problems that have dogged this line of one-shots. The Rebirth books have sometimes been overwhelmed by needing to be jumping-on points for new readers while not ruining the impact of the upcoming #1s that will launch the actual series. So, as a result, they either lean too heavily on past continuity that befuddles new readers or suffer from prologue-itis. What I mean by that last phrase is that they spend most of their pages recapping events pretty much every reader knows at least some parts of, usually utilizing a framing device of an inconsequential battle shaded by subtle hints of whatever upcoming arc/threat the creative team will introduce more properly in the first issue.
To be fair, writer John Semper Jr. does better than some have in juggling those balls. The burgeoning mystery foe of the issue is mostly well-handled and does serve to be intriguing, a sinister foe observing Victor Stone as he does battle as Cyborg. The device of an unseen observer is being beaten to death in DC Comics these days, so it feels a bit cliched, but the adversary at least comes off as imposing and creepy, so that’s good. I think that Semper also has a feel for Vic and his supporting cast, sketching intriguing relationships that have room to grow and deepen. The entire issue is basically devoted to retelling the reader everything about Vic’s origin that they need to know in order to get what you need, which is good for new readers. But it’s laid out pretty conventionally and not in a way that flows as part of the ongoing narrative. The result is more episodic than it needs to be.
I can sense that Semper is trying to write a story about artificial intelligence and the relationship it may have to humanity and what we consider to be a “real person.” And that’s definitely interesting. But the trouble is that I never doubt that Vic is a person, because he is written so authentically human. As the story asks us to question Victor’s humanity, I just felt bad for the guy, as if he was questioning himself for no reason. Even though Victor may be more machine than man, more artificial intelligence than biological one, it hardly matters because he is depicted with such earthy humanity. I kept being reminded of Tom King’s “Vision” series for Marvel, a series that tackled the idea of the Singularity and artificial intelligence in a far more interesting way. Right off the bat in that series, you knew that Vision and his family were beings with some kind of emotion and sentience and therefore rights and privileges. But they were also alien in many ways, so the examination of the issue was far more complicated and therefore compelling. There are some reasons why we could doubt how much of Cyborg is the “real” Victor Stone, but Semper’s script never complicates Cyborg enough to make you doubt his humanity or feel unsympathetic to him. When another character questions his humanity, I just felt that character was totally wrong and obviously so. Even if Cyborg is nothing but a copy of Victor, that doesn’t matter because clearly Cyborg has thoughts and feelings and is a person. Now, perhaps the series to come will cast more doubt on things, but I can’t see DC letting one of their big characters become such an ambiguous figure. But even if I think it doesn’t nail the questions it raises, you’ve got to appreciate Semper raising them in the first place.
That aspect of Cyborg: Rebirth #1 is by far the most interesting part of the issue. The battles and flashbacks wear out their welcome quickly as the issue becomes little more than a retread of backstory with a little foreshadowing thrown in to keep the narrative going to “Cyborg #1.” It’s not bad per se, but it does feel very familiar, reminding me of those occasional Bronze and Copper Age issues where readers were given a status update on the series’ status quo while the hero fought a forgettable bad guy. I think that Semper and company will have better things in store when they get their narrative going properly, without the baggage of restating Cyborg for new readers, but all the recapping made this issue more of a slog than it needed to be.
The art is very good however. Paul Pelletier has such a wonderfully detailed classic style that you never feel cheated of anything. Every face is individual and emotive, every panel has some beautiful little touch in it. Given how much information he needs to convey in the issue, its remarkable that Pelletier gets so much across in such interesting ways, with such drama and impact. Just gorgeous stuff on display throughout.
In the final analysis, I have faith in what Semper and Pelletier will do with the Cyborg series, but I felt that Cyborg: Rebirth #1 tried to do a little too much and strayed away from its more interesting aspects into a cul de sac of backstory and slugfests. That’s why I have to give the issue a 6/10.