Review: Cyborg 009 graphic novel, Archaia, 2013
F. J. DeSanto, Bradley Cramp, Marcus To, Ian Herring
Published by Archaia, 2013
I don’t hate it. But this book feels rushed off its feet; a recap for old hands, not a reboot for new eyes. I’m a little familiar with Cyborg009–I’ve watched an episode of the 1968 cartoon (“anime”) and read a chapter or two of the manga here and there. I’ve read a couple of essays by fans. I’m fond of the concept in the vaguest way– “Ishinomori did it? Then it must have SOME quality to it, right? Is it about humanity, agency, and corrupt institutionalised powers? (Yes.) Costumes got pep? (Uhuh)”
I don’t want to not mention the change in 008’s design, but it’s not my bailiwick so I’ll point you here
So, the basics: our titular Cyborg Zero Zero Nine is Joe, kidnapped to be the ninth in a series of experimental cyborgs. He can now “go really fast”, as well as breathe underwater and go
flying leaping through the air. Those eight preceding him all have their own cyborg tricks (foot boosters, missile knees, the sensing of far-away objects somehow, etc) and pre-kidnap skills and connections too, except the one who is a baby–but he is psychic and psychologically advanced, so it’s all good. They run away from their shady science overlords and start doing good things around the world with their kicky red outfits and now-innate powers of robo.
Like I gave it to you there, Archaia’s Cyborg 009 all comes on in a flash. Every burst of action happens, is questioned by someone, gets lightly explained–& the narrative shouts “OK!!” and barrels on. Give me a minute here, huh? Let me ground myself. Who are all these people? Nine is a lot to keep track of.
From writer F. J. DeSanto’s interview with Jessica Greenlee for the Geek Girl Project:
…When you are dealing with manga, there are a lot of things you can’t initially bring over, in particular the extended origins of each character, but I believe we have been able to really give readers the absolute best of what Cyborg 009 has to offer.
And technically, this may have happened. There’s the uniforms, the anti-corruption/anti-impersonal politics, the basic character designs and the neat powers. But “the best of what a story has to offer” shouldn’t be the scaffolding that a story is hung on. It should be the meat! We don’t want a wikipedia entry when we pick up a novel.
The biggest interpersonal connection made in this OGN is between Joe and Francoise. Francoise is a french ballet dancer who was kidnapped to become Cyborg 003. She misses her older brother, and Joe misses his girlfriend after his own kidnapping Spider-Mans their relationship (with great power comes date responsibility). The Joe and Francoise of the ‘68 cartoon had an all-adults-together sort of vibe going between them–the kind of thing a spy and a secretary share, you know? Moneypenny and Bond, Maggie and Sherman, Vogler and Eberlin. “Well we’re both attractive adults, and the rest of the world is very foolish, but perhaps we won’t have sex. (Or will we? No. Or will we) Plenty else to be getting on with, anyway”–but here it’s far more faulting, more vanilla. Are they taking platonic, balanced solace in each other? Are they gonna kiss like everyday smooth-faced teens? I don’t know. I can’t tell. It doesn’t feel obvious but it doesn’t feel complex, either.
By page twenty-four I’m calling 001 Cyborg Baby Dumbledore (“It’s what you CHOOSE to be that matters”, he interjects telepathically, to no response) because that’s all I got. Page twenty-seven gets us to some one-panel character bios, as the gang finally introduce themselves to our protag. Perfunctory, unless this is nostalgia, or unless it just ~works for you. For me it doesn’t. Why couldn’t Albert Heinrich’s (004) fiancé legally enter Germany? What year is this? Had she done something awful? Tell me THAT story. And why, oh why, by teacupMaryPoppinsJohnCleeseblackpudding, is 007 (LOL), who is from England, still actually, really, legally named Great Britain? [img] Look: this is stupid. So stupid that I don’t even expect to find it proven that Real People Are Sometimes Christened Great Britain Thereby Forcing Me To Admit The Legitimacy Of Using It In Fiction. It’s daft. Ishinomori was pratting about. It isn’t sacred!
This new book, see, is very serious. Not gritty, but serious like an army cadet directing traffic at a county fair. A smooth brow puckers as more problems than were ever expected suddenly arrive! That sounds like it should be thematic, the atmosphere of this new book echoing the unfolding of the traditional audience; kids were supposed to be waking up to this stuff, right? Intro to soullessness and anti-environmentalism, intro to power corrupts. But it comes from every level of the book, not as a knowing overlay, and I already know that big business can be shady. Ishinomori’s cartooning never dropped the action or forgot the serious message but it had the ability to be goofy, “cartoony”, really frumpy; it mocked and interrupted the political downers and gave us a good time while we faced the futility of obsessive capitalism. Marcus To’s pencils aren’t clownish at all. There’s an earnestness in the air here that won’t let me overlook a name like “Great Britain”, or give the info-dump first half a break.
Below: Ishinomori’s pratfalls. Below 2: To’s serious business
From here things pick up though, the real adventure begins. On page thirty-five or so Joe abandons his new pals to try to salvage his old life/address the injustices therein, while the powers behind the cyberising process start making moves to bring their “property” back–as well as in their wider plans. I begin to occasionally forget to read left to right, knowing of old that this all came from a manga, and become confused. Everybody looks so young! I took Joe for an adult originally–he has been in some adaptations–but I’m getting a real prospective Emma Viecelli-on-Alex Rider vibe by the time Joe fights cyborg twins in an underground train station. Alex Rider is fourteen! And I actually like it better that way: as a teen action book the pace is more forgivable, the condensed overview of a decades-established concept understandable, and the baby-frown sincerity sort of sweet. Jet Link‘s sulky remarks (“whatever”, “gross”) and less than welcoming attitude make sense if stroppy, unwelcoming kids are able to feel cool and beautiful through him. I won’t knock that.
There’s still only one woman (girl?) on the team, Francoise, and I don’t see any excuses for that. Great Britain (UGH) became a baby (this is a separate character from the other baby, 001, who I guess remained also a baby? Cybabies double-oh-no) in the original manga, after producers on the ’68 series made this same change én animé to appeal to a youthful television audience. If it’s happened once, it can happen again. Try to appeal to the “I am a girl and I will read OEL Manga” demographic, maybe? Make someone else or sometwo elses a girl, is what I’m saying.
Good bits, though: There’s a nice nostalgia-symbol that I do understand with the yellow muffler. The eventual refusal to surrender one’s worth to outside opinions is the Ishinomori Shotaro spirit I sing for. The colours are rather lovely throughout, primary but not aggressive, and the “shooting star” splash page towards the end is finely set up and well executed. The mysterious voice, gun and leg of “Foundation X” gives me pause, as it might any neo-Heisei Kamen fan… There are interesting things here! There are questions that are established. As a prequel trade to an ongoing series or as the start to your own determined look at the history of Cyborg 009, I can recommend it. As a stand-alone? I guess not so much. It has a lot of good reviews and I’m glad of that–I want people to enjoy a master’s legacy, and to learn from his characters and templates. Luckily for me I already know where to find Ishinomori-derivative works that stoke my engines. Lucky for you that Cyborg 009 is here, if this is your bag.