The nineties roll off of Cybernary. If the comic had a smell, it’d be diesel and Teen Spirit, all raucous and chaotic and mostly unpleasant, unless you’re a particular type of person. I’m not that person.
Cybernary’s initial run was written by Steve Gerber, art by Nick Manabat, as a backup to Deathblow. The run was cut short due to Manabat’s death from Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1995, but the series was later revived by Gerber, Jeff Rebner, and Richard Friend. However, according to Gerber, nobody’s heart was really in it because of clashes between the art and the team’s vision for the world of Gamorra.
The clash is pretty evident: where Manabat’s run is drawn in his characteristic style, all dark and dreary with heavy, sometimes impenetrable black linework, the second miniseries is neon-bright and easy to parse. The story, too, is easier understood, filling in the gaps left in the original series so that it actually makes some modicum of sense. Between Cybernary’s dense artwork, its unfinished story, and the haphazard nature of telling the story out of order, it’s difficult to follow.
In the first run, readers are first introduced to a sexy “Nympho-droid,” which is exactly what it sounds like, except the Nypho-droid has gone against programming (the villains within the story make a point of correcting themselves from referring to the droid as “she,” preferring “it”—that, like so many things about this comic, is meant to dehumanize her) and become a killer. They’re meant to return her to Kaizen, some sort of head-honcho villain, but things naturally don’t go that way.
Instead, we flashback to the Nypho-droid’s—it’s Cybernary, of course, but there’s so little detail in the series itself that that’s a conclusion we have to leap to ourselves—origins. As it turns out, she’s didn’t start out as a Nympho-droid; she was a human woman named Katrina, who gave herself up to evil scientist Vandalla in exchange for her partner, Cisco’s, life. They make her into a fucky sex droid who loves to kill, and thus, Cybernary is born.
Her story gets more complex in the second run on the comic—turns out her mind also contains the consciousness of Yamiko, the daughter of Kaizen, meaning she’s a fucky sex droid presumably meant to sleep with her own father—and yet also utterly uninteresting. Oh, wow, another sexy robot in a gritty, cyberpunky future. Oh, how novel, she does violence and that makes her different. What big horns she has, how droll.
Cybernary seems intensely interested in the titular (ha) character’s femaleness, and nothing else. She must wear a tiny outfit because she is a Nympho-droid, and thus built for sex. All the language used against her must be violent in a specifically violating way; the narrative uses words like, “invaded,” “pierced,” “laid . . . bare,” and “peeled,” to describe what must be done to her. The story opens with Cybernary’s failure and closes with Katrina’s. The first issue shows us the glorious busty hero crying, because she is a human, because she is a woman, because even though she is the title character and ostensibly the hero, she is also nothing more than a fuck robot.
I imagine that the motivation behind Cybernary was to create a character that was both sexy and capable. Ah, no, see, it’s okay that she’s all tits and ass because it’s a ruse; she’s really a fighting droid, not a fucking one. It’s empowering. Ladies, you, too, can spend the majority of your own comic encased in a cylinder of glowing liquid and/or trading in your body for your male partner’s. No shame in this eye-candy character; put a pin-up of this chick on your wall and it’s about her strength and lust for life, not her scantily clad body. Cybernary, the cyber-mercenary who manages to fight just once in the original run and lose, communicates sexual availability but also danger. It’s scary to want this woman who could so easily crush you with her robot arm, but she wouldn’t, because you, the reader, are a Good Person and also she loses every time.
It’s just exhausting, frankly. I read through the first arc twice before what was happening clicked, and even then, I had to turn to Wikipedia to confirm my thoughts. I dove an issue into the second run because I was certain there was a reason the comic had a revival in 1995—and then a second one in 2001. That reason, as far as I can tell, is because T&A never goes out of style, and Cybernary’s design communicates that she is very willing to have sex but also that she can kill you. Only she won’t, because she’ll be defeated first, and shed one single tear to remind you that you have nothing to fear; she is, beneath the horns and Bride of Frankenstein hair, merely a woman.
I suppose this might have been revolutionary for the early ’90s. I was five years old when Cybernary came out; it certainly wasn’t for me then and isn’t any more for me now. I confess that I’m not a scholar of comics history; I know that early Image and WildStorm are important because I’ve been told so, but there is nothing at all important or even remotely interesting about Cybernary’s story.
I don’t know how people talk about Cybernary today—if they talk about it at all—but I do find it interesting that the letters pages of the first run echo my thoughts on Manabat’s artwork. It’s intriguing art, and not bad in any kind of technical sense. I’d go so far as to say it’s the best part of the comic, even though I find it so densely detailed as to be nearly unreadable. The letters pages say similar things, with readers finding the darkness off-putting, even if they, unlike me, enjoyed the story. It’s interesting, but I don’t enjoy it.
Truth be told, I don’t know what to make of Cybernary. It exists. It’s loud and noisy and sexy in ways that are entirely unappealing to me. I’m not sure what, if anything, it adds to the comics landscape, or if it was rebooted in 2001 because it’s old and therefore it took on some modicum of respect for coming out a long time ago. It, like so many boring comics, is just an excuse to look at a hot girl in various shades of pain, but sometimes she holds a gun and a sword.