Saturday, May 26, 2018

Image Firsts: Cyberforce #1

            Did we mention half the Image artists used to work on X-Men?

            In the 1990’s, Marvel Comics’ X-Men dominated the sales charts. Truth be told, X-Men had dominated the sales charts for much of the previous decade, as well, thanks to writer Chris Claremont’s revamping of the old team into a multicultural soap opera, thanks also in no small part to artists Dave Cockrum, John Byrne and Paul Smith. But those guys were long gone by the latter part of the eighties and early nineties, and a new breed of artist took over the title. We talked about the sky-rocketing popularity of the X-Men book under Jim Lee’s tenure as that book’s penciller, but before Jim Lee had a turn, Uncanny X-Men was drawn by an upstart by the name of Marc Silvestri. After Lee took the reins on Uncanny (and helped launch the record-breaking, adjective-less X-Men #1), Silvestri then moved over to the Wolverine solo title, where he spent the next few years leaving his mark on everyone’s favorite mutant runt. As far as style goes, Silvestri and Lee were certainly of a kind, both favoring flashy, hyper-detailed lines with sharp edges and plenty of cross-hatching. So it’s perhaps not surprising that each artist’s debut Image title was little more than thinly-veiled X-rip-offs. Indeed, unless they’re a hardcore fan of the early Image days, many a comic book fan would be hard-pressed to correctly identify from a line-up any of their characters as either a member of Lee’s Wildcats or Silvestri’s debut Image book, Cyberforce.

            At least Lee was playing around with a clandestine, decades-long war between alien races in his title. Here in Cyberforce, Silvestri decides to just make his super-team out-and-out mutants. I suppose there is the concept of them being cybernetically-enhanced to differentiate from Marvel’s Merry Mutants, but, considering one of said cybernetically-enhanced mutants is a stoic badass with razor-sharp claws, the differences seem to be little more than skin-deep. Cyberforce tells the story of a ragtag band of mutants on the run not only from a world that fears and hates them, but also the mega-corporation Cyberdata, which is responsible for giving them their enhancements so they can be part of the S.H.O.C. program--that’s “Special Hazardous Operations Cyborgs” (these Image books sure loved their acronyms, but Cyberforce may just take the cake--every other page features an asterisk denoting whatever the next nonsense acronym stands for). Beyond that, we don’t learn much about the individual team-members themselves (sensing a pattern here?), outside of a handful of clichéd internal monologues to give us some sense of a personality to grizzled badasses Ripclaw and Stryker. It’s not much, but it beats Youngblood.

            Actually, that’s not entirely fair: Silvestri is smart enough to frame most of his action around main character Velocity, an escapee Cyberdata is chasing through the alleyways in the opening pages. We do get a hint of Velocity’s backstory via a flashback to her childhood, and while that scene is pretty tasteless in how it reduces domestic abuse in typical clichéd ways--all but screaming, “Look how cool and edgy we are! Bang! Pow! Zap! Comics aren’t just for kids anymore…”--there is one compelling element. It turns out that Velocity has an older sister, and that older sister is strongly hinted to be Ballistic, the leader the Cyberdata S.H.O.C. troops hunting down her younger sister in the present day. It’s a nice twist, and it’s something to hold onto in this swirling miasma of guns, angst and superpowered violence.

            Silvestri’s art is what it is--big, flashy and etched with many, many lines. If you’re not a fan of the early Image styles, then there’s nothing here that’s going to change your mind. Silvestri does seem to have different influences than his peers--while McFarlane, Liefeld and Lee were taking a heavy page from Art Adams, Silvestri had more of horror sensibility, drawing more from influences like Bernie Wrightson and Frank Frazetta. His designs for the Cyberforce themselves is certainly in keeping with his peers, with no small amount of ponytails, shoulder-pads, cybernetic eyes and, of course, wildly improbable guns. Although I must say there is potential in the idea of a four-armed gunslinger.

            Ultimately, like many of the other Image books, Cyberforce didn’t manage to stick around like many of the classic Marvel and DC heroes. Silvestri’s Top Cow Studios found greater success with horror-esque heroes like Witchblade and The Darkness, and Cyberforce fell by the wayside. Like Wildcats and Youngblood, they’re brought back every so often with a patented bold new direction, but little of those takes seem to stick around for very long, either. It appears some things are destined to exist as relics of a bygone era, existing only within the cultural climate that birthed them.

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