David F. Walker Goes Beyond ‘Cyborg’ to Find the Human Heart of Victor Stone [Interview]
Standing alongside the Justice League since the start of the New 52, Victor Stone has long been a calm but grounding presence for the team. Unlike so many other heroes, he cannot take off a mask and cowl and go off to live a regular life. Victor Stone is always Cyborg. That brings a different perspective to superhero life that, one that, up until now, has never been fully explored.
This month writer David F. Walker takes on the character for an ongoing series, fresh off a fantastic run on Shaft over at Dynamite. Joined by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Adriano Lucas as the artistic team, Walker has already demonstrated a little of what he plans to bring to the Cyborg series in a 'Sneak Peak' issue published by DC at the end of May. With Cyborg #1 due on shelves next week, we spoke to Walker about how he came on board, working with DC, and finding the humanity in Victor Stone.
ComicsAlliance: Up until now, Cyborg was the only member of the Justice League without a solo series. What made you decide to take on his story?
David Walker: The answer lies in the question. Cyborg has been around since 1980, and aside from a few solo stories and a mini-series, he’s never had his own ongoing. At the same time, he’s one of the most recognizable and popular characters in the DCU --- in part because of the animated Teen Titans series. For a lot of fans, myself included, there was a strong desire for him to get his own book.
When a character gets their own series, they are getting more attention to detail, they are more developed as a person, and after thirty-plus years, Vic Stone has earned that opportunity to grow as a character in a way that doesn’t really happen in team books.
CA: What’s your take on Victor Stone as a person, and a hero? What defines him and makes him unique to the DC Universe?
DW: Vic is a very tragic character --- as are many of the heroes in the DCU. As with many heroic figures, Vic didn’t set off on this path so much as it was a detour life threw in front of him. One of the things that makes him unique is that he has no alter ego. Batman and Superman have the luxury of hiding behind their identities as Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, respectively. There is no hiding for Vic Stone and Cyborg, because they are one and the same. It’s not like Vic sneaks off into a broom closet and slips into a cybernetic suit --- that suit is his body.
I think that’s one of the main defining difference between him and so many other characters. We can debate forever who is the real persona, Bruce Wayne or Batman, but there is no debate with Vic Stone and Cyborg, because he’s not adopting a different persona, he isn’t hiding behind an alter-ego. I mean even though we never see the Lone Ranger take off his mask, we know he can. Vic doesn’t have a mask he can take off.
CA: How do you view the cyborg aspect of the character? Is it an enemy or ally? Something that reduces him, enhances him, dehumanizes him, or makes him stronger?
DW: I think it is important to keep in mind that while Vic Stone is a cyborg, he is still, first and foremost, Victor Stone, a human being. His cybernetics are what was used to keep him alive and functioning, so to me, his tech is basically on par with any sort of adaptive or prosthetic device. If someone has an artificial heart valve put in, or they wear a hearing aid, or use a wheelchair, it doesn’t make them any less of a human being.
Vic has trouble seeing himself as being fully human, as do some of the other people around him, and that leads to dehumanization, but that really has to do with perception more than reality. This subject is a major driving force of the story, as Vic struggles to understand his own humanity.
CA: One of the first things you’ve done is restore some of the character’s human body after years of him being increasingly mechanized. Should we consider that a statement of intent?
DW: Vic is on an evolutionary journey, one that will redefine who he is, what he is, and how he interacts with the word. We’re taking our hero on a journey, and it wouldn’t be much of a journey if he didn’t face new challenges and go through changes. If these challenges and changes can be viewed as a statement of intent, that’s fine. The real intent is for readers to get to know more about Vic as he learns more about himself — it’s about experiencing this evolutionary phase of his life as he’s going through it.
CA: For one of the most prominent African-American heroes in comics, I can’t recall his race often really playing a factor in his stories or characterisation — is that something you want to explore within this series?
DW: I would love to explore it, and I have plans to explore it. Personally, it would be irresponsible for me to not explore race in some capacity. We live in a time where a lot of people have their head in the sand when it comes to race and racism, which makes that much more important for the rest of us to stand up and be heard.
This is not to say I’ve got something heavy-handed in mind, where I stand on a soapbox — but c’mon, there’s no getting around the fact that Vic Stone is a black guy, from Detroit, and at some point elements of that reality need to find their way into his story.
CA: He’s still a teenager, and so much has already happened to him. How has he managed to stay so composed and calm in the face of everything? What’s his mindset?
DW: First of all, let me say that there have been several conversations about how old Vic is in the series. If we go by the events that have unfolded in the New 52, he about 22. In my mind, he’s younger than that, though at this point we haven’t given him an official age. The one thing everyone agrees on is that he became Cyborg when he was 18, and was thrust almost immediately into the world of being a superhero. He’s endured a lot, and lost a lot, and to be honest, I don’t know how he’s holding it together.
This is part of what I’m planning on exploring as we move forward. He has yet to mourn the loss of his mother. He seems to suffer little if any by way of PTSD. I don’t know if anyone has every addressed whether or not he graduated high school. Did he ever have a serious girlfriend before the accident? We look at Cyborg, and we forget that Vic Stone is basically a kid. I plan to remind people that he’s younger than he appears.
We’re going to see him a bit more insecure when it comes to some things. There’s also going to be some of the hubris and arrogance that comes when you think you’re an adult, but you really aren’t there yet. When you’re 21 or 22, you think you’re an adult, and you’ve got it all figured out. Well, that’s not the case, even if you have fought Darkseid, as Vic will be finding out.
CA: How have you found working with Ivan Reis and Joe Prado on the series?
DW: Working with Ivan and Joe, as well as colorist Adriano Lucas, has been an incredible experience. I met Joe in person earlier this year, which was awesome. Ivan and I have yet to meet in person, but there is a lot of back-and-forth via e-mail. Working with this art team is teaching me so much as a writer, and it is helping me improve my game.
I think some people don’t fully understand the collaborative nature of comics, or the transformation a story goes through as it is being translated from words to images. Every time I see a panel or a page that Ivan has drawn based on what I’ve written, my mind is blown. I’m constantly forgetting that I wrote the story, because the story itself has come alive in a way that makes it completely new.
CA: His friendship with Shazam has opened up the character a little recently, giving him a sense of humor and fun. What kind of tone will this series have? Is it going to have more light-hearted moments of fun?
DW: I love the relationship between Cyborg and Shazam that Geoff Johns has developed — it’s one of my favorite aspects of the New 52. I looked at that relationship and those interactions as I was thinking about how to develop Cyborg’s solo world. There will be moments of light-hearted fun, and definitely a sense of humor, but this isn’t going to be a book that’s brimming with jokes — I’ll leave that to Heath Corson on Bizarro.
More than anything, I think of this book as something of a coming-of-age tale. Some people may think that Vic is too old for that kind of story, but I like to point out that he became Cyborg at 18, and immediately went to saving the world. In many ways, Vic hasn’t grown up yet, and that’s what we’re going to explore. Is that stuff funny? Sure. Is it tragic? Absolutely. You’ll find it all as Vic defines himself as a solo star.
CA: His story so far in the New 52 has revolved around his relationship with his father — is that something you intend to explore further in the series?
DW: The relationship between Vic and his father will be important in the series, and it will be something of a rollercoaster ride. I see the relationship between Silas and Vic as a bizarre mix of Frankenstein and The Great Santini — both stories about fathers and the messed up relationship with their children. The thing to keep in mind is that when it is all said and done, Silas is practically a villain.
Think about it — he had almost no interest in Vic when he was a boy, he’s at least partially to blame for the death of Vic’s mom, and he’s the one that turned Vic into Cyborg. Any one of those things is enough to make for a complex and strained relationship.
CA: Aside from his father, he’s been somewhat isolated. With this new series, do you plan to build up a supporting cast?
DW: Yes, there will be a supporting cast. Some of it will be recognizable characters like his father, Silas, as well as Dr. Thomas Morrow and Sarah Charles. We’ll be introducing a character that knew Vic is passing before he became Cyborg, and this character is going to become important in Vic finding more of a balance between his humanity and his cybernetics. There will also be some surprise characters showing up, but I can’t say who it will be.
CA: Has writing the series changed the way you think about Cyborg as a character and as a hero? You’ve said before that you’ve been a fan of the character for a long time. What’s it been like to actually get to write him?
DW: The moment you sit down to write any character, it changes what you think about them. I was reading the New Teen Titans back in the early 1980s, so I grew up with Cyborg. But as I’ve grown older, I see the world differently than I did thirty-something years ago. It is interesting, because when Cyborg first debuted, I was just a little younger than the character. Now, I’m basically the same age as his father. I really do find myself thinking of Vic as a young man old enough to be son, and what sort of father I would be to him.
Ten years ago — twenty years ago — I wouldn’t be writing the same type of story, because I wasn’t seeing the world the same way. I definitely feel like something of a father or an older brother to Vic, and I want to make sure he’s safe and happy. Every time I write an action scene, I feel almost irresponsible, like I’m putting my little brother in danger. And then I remind myself that Vic is always going to be his own person, and I’m just here to support him.
Cyborg #1 is published by DC Comics on July 22nd.