Written By: F.J. DeSanto and Bradley Cramp
Illustrated By: Marcus To and Ian Herring
Published By: Archaia Studios
In this episode of Sequential Thoughts, I review one of the most enjoyable pure graphic novels to come along in many moons, CYBORG 009. Before my review, though, just a little about the source material...
Shotaro Ishinomori’s original run of Cyborg 009 ran from 1964-1981. At the same time Lee and Kirby were reinventing American comics, Ishinomori was creating the first super-hero team published in Japan. His epic story reads like something Lee and Kirby would have done, only without the overwritten dialogue and overdramatic brooding. Young imperfect heroes, good versus evil, incredible creatures, cinematic action scenes, cliffhanger endings...it’s all here, plus a great balance of serious social commentary and lighthearted humor. In a very profound way, this was the “All-New, All-Different X-Men” over a decade before that team was born!
The team consists of nine cyborg prototypes (001-009), each of whom come from different parts of the world and, through various circumstances, become the first test subjects of an evil organization called The Black Ghost, who seeks to exploit the technology by building cyborg armies and selling them to nations in an effort to keep the word at war indefinitely so they can keep profiting from it. The cyborgs, still being quite human, make their choices to either obey their creators or rebel against the idea of endless war profiteering. Like most good fiction, it is a simple premise that becomes the template for brilliant creators to tell great stories.
This new creative team has taken elements of the first couple of volumes of the original manga series, distilled them down to their essence, and reworked them into a new graphic novel that is a hybrid of the best of Eastern and Western comic book storytelling. Gone are the outdated (and cartoonishly racist) physical appearances of the various ethnic characters in favor of more realistic looking physical portrayals...perhaps the only weak aspect of the original series. Also gone (for the sake of length and pacing) are a lot of great monsters, creatures, and concepts from the original, but everything that is left works wonderfully. The writing works for all ages, as Ishinomori’s heavier socio-political commentary is minimized in favor of a good ol’ super team action spectacular. In addition to the story itself, I especially enjoyed the small character moments that DeSanto and Cramp sprinkle throughout, such as a half page panel that conveys nothing more than the simple rush of what flying must feel like. The pacing is quick and breezy, but when I finished it, I felt like I got more than my money’s worth but still wanted so much more!
The artwork is absolutely top notch. I have been a fan of Marcus To’s pencils since seeing his work on Red Robin and the amazing 2011 Huntress mini-series for DC. To see him step up his game even further in a long form comic like this is really special. There are a few sections of the book that are wordless (in the manga tradition), but don’t need them as they would only get in the way of To’s remarkable storytelling abilities. The action is always clear and always powerful. Ian Herring seems like an ideal colorist for To’s style, as he makes one perfect choice after another to really make the pages “pop”.
The design of the book itself is a work of art. Sturdy hardcover with a secure, sewn binding (eight stitches for you anal retentive types!) that always lays flat as you read it and provides no loss of artwork due to gutter loss. Nice, heavy weight, non glossy paper stock. Clear plastic dust jacket that resembles an animation cell and, when removed, reveals two opaque overlay sheets showing how 009 looks underneath the “skin”, finally giving way to a portrait of the main bad guy, Sekar, on the actual cover. The inside front and back covers have oversized samples of artwork from the original series and there is a seven page text piece at the end with a little history on the creator and his creation. The end result for the reader is a really nice feeling of respect for the past as Cyborg 009 takes the next step forward. This project was clearly a labor of love for all of those involved in it, and it shines through on every page.
...and my favorite thing about it is the last line on the back of the dust jacket, “ISHIMORI UNIVERSE BOOK 1”. YES! Bring on a lot more of this stuff!!!