In July of this year, Top Cow will reintroduce us to Aphrodite V, written by Bryan Hill with art by Jeff Spokes. The Aphrodite series of synthetic humanoids has one purpose: assassination. No matter her version number, she is built to infiltrate and kill, and she does her job extremely well. Since 2000, the various models have racked up quite a body count, though, in her first appearance as Aphrodite IX, she had no understanding of why she did what she did, nor who created her to do so. Following each mission, her memories are erased, but dream-like flashes of memory motivate her to learn more about her past.
Whatever her fictional creators’ motives, her actual creation in 1996 involved far less mystery. Writes David Finch in the foreword of Aphrodite IX Volume 1: Time Out of Mind:
“…given that Aphrodite IX was never meant to be subtle or clever when it was created. That’s just not the sort of work that I do. I like straight forward, unnuanced, visceral fun in a comic book. It seems like books of that sort have become a bit of an endangered species nowadays which is a real shame. We put together a comic book by the seat of our pants; all based upon what we thought would be fun at the time. There were no story meetings, or pitches, or character design sessions. Aphrodite wasn’t so much created, conceptualized and honed, as it was just shot-gunned onto the page.”
With a few plot points from David Wohl, Finch took the idea from Joe Benitez, put her in a cheerleader outfit, and off he went.
Though I didn’t collect Aphrodite XI back then, I was most certainly aware of her because I was besotted with Image Comics’ bad girl revolution. Part of me understood that women weren’t really that shiny, bulbous, and bendy, but I was more interested in the fact that I got to see so many powerful female characters leading the charge in comics.
Eventually, I grew up and realized that the “mature, strong, and world-wise woman” like the one Finch believed he was portraying was more than just the sum of her butt and crotch shots. I matured, and thankfully, Top Cow’s Aphrodite did too. In 2006, Aphrodite IV made her appearance in Ron Marz and Pat Lee’s Cyberforce #5 and later went on to play a pivotal role in the Top Cow universe-altering Artifacts event.
Aphrodite IX was born again in 2013, helmed by Matt Hawkins and Stjepan Šejić. There is far more depth to her story this time around. Through the genetic synthesis of the Aphrodite Protocol, humanity has been reborn after an extinction level event. Aphrodite IX awakes in the middle of a centuries long civil war where the combatants ride on mythical beasts and bear quite a similarity to Šejić and Marz’s story, Ravine, which came out in the same year. Once again, Aphrodite has little recollection of who she is or why she was created, but she knows that she was created to kill. She performs this function to epic effect, and once again, she loses her memory of her actions once her mission is complete.
This summer’s Aphrodite V is not the first version of this character. V appeared in nine issues of the 2013 Cyberforce reboot, where she hunted and then protected Velocity. Now V is back, this time in a near-future Los Angeles on the brink of technological evolution, and dealing with the black market terror that comes with it, some of which we’ve had inklings of in the latest Cyberforce incarnation.
There is so much history behind the Aphrodites, and Top Cow has a penchant for the distinctive evolution of many of its characters over the past quarter century. In an interview with WWAC, Hill gave us some insights into who Aphrodite V is now and what the new future holds for the green-haired assassin.
What approach did you take with the character this time around in comparison to Finch’s original story?
Finch wrote the story of the ninth model. I’m writing the fifth, so the time, place, and intentions are different. We’re on the verge of technology changing the definition of humanity. We’re the last generation of auto-enthusiasts because in ten years ride sharing and self-driving cars will be common practice. We’re the last generation of physical media as everything moves to a subscription model. Cybernetics are a reality NOW, and will be a common reality soon.
I wanted to tell a story about someone who represents the future crashing into five minutes from now and forcing the world around her, in this case Los Angeles, to evolve.
Like many other Top Cow characters, Aphrodite has gone through quite an evolution as the decades roll by. This takes place in the not too distant future. In what ways does the story of Aphrodite V and the character herself reflect our society now?
Even though Aphrodite possess a LOT of power, she’s not indestructible and she feels what we would call pain. Part of the story is about her coming to terms with vulnerability and the concept of sacrifice. She’s no longer tied to a MEGA-CORPORATION that can just “fix” her. She’s on her own, a fugitive from her former masters, and that means she’s taking real risks with her physical being when she enters conflict. For me, that’s analogous to life. If you live and you try to achieve ANYTHING that’s out of the ordinary, higher than the lowest hanging fruit of destiny, then you’re going to get knocked down, terrified, beaten up, and you have to figure out a way to stand up again and face down adversity. Adversity comes hand in hand with independence, and that’s what Aphrodite V will learn.
I was raised by a single mother who essentially gave up her adult life to make sure I had a decent shot at my own. I saw how hard it was, helped when I can, but she had to fight a lot of those battles on her own. My fear is that when adversity leaves storytelling, stories aren’t teaching us how to defeat it. In my stories live a lot of adversity because I always want everyone to know that you can survive. You can win. It might take a piece of you to do it, but you can get it done. That’s the best message I can give society right now.
In the first issue, Aphrodite V says that her creators made her beautiful because others will underestimate her. In previous incarnations, her image has been lithe and delicate, with a greater focus on her sexuality. Now, there are no more frilly skirts. She’s got a much harder edge to her appearance that doesn’t imply she is to be underestimated at all. Tell me about the evolution of her appearance within the context of her function as an assassin and how you came to settle on this new look.
That edge you’re seeing is probably due to my nature, the kinds of aesthetics that interest me. Sexuality is a GOOD THING, don’t get me wrong, but my influences here were harder-edged sci-fi action stories and the former aesthetics just wouldn’t have worked in the world I’m building, the story I want to tell.
The artist, Jeff Spokes, has such a ferocious visual style that when he first sketched Aph, many of the aesthetics you see were already there. He’s great. Aphrodite V was made for combat, to deal with incoming gunfire, explosions, etc. Things had to be FUNCTIONAL in her design or it wouldn’t make any sense to me.
Speaking in thematics, what people WANT you to be, what they groom you to be, and what you DECIDE to be are different things. She’s changed her look because she wants to OWN her look. She may have been created with an aesthetic, but that’s not her destiny. Her destiny, just like yours and mine, is her own.
I do know a few women that do private security, a bounty hunter in there, too. I do a lot of research for my work, and some of them have trained me in small arms, basic protection tactics, etc. I use them as inspiration for my work all the time. They’re all, in some way, martial artists, and part of what they can do is take advantage of someone that underestimates their ability. A sloppy moment can get you ripped apart if you go into an encounter overconfident. Aphrodite is aware of that dynamic, but she doesn’t want to play into it. She’s not part of our society, so its ethics don’t mean anything to her. We’re a strange, broken culture to what she is. Free from the people that created her, she doesn’t have to mute her independence to fit into a paradigm that doesn’t make sense to her.
In previous books, the Aphrodite series numbering was revealed to identify a generation of each model. V’s predecessor, IV, was heavily involved in the machinations that altered the Top Cow Universe in the Artifacts event, while IX went on to fight a civil war in a post-apocalyptic future. Where does V fit in the grand scheme of things?
Aphrodite V was essentially a replacement model for IV. That, but just that to Cyber-Data. A touch of self-awareness woke up a desire in her to not be “FIVE of . . . ” She doesn’t want to be a unit on an assembly line, so she broke free of everything she knew to find that individual sense of self. Readers don’t have to be familiar with Top Cow’s past to enjoy this. All you have to know is the cover, and from there you can enjoy this story, especially if you like films like Robocop and the first Terminator or Mamoru Ohii’s Ghost in the Shell.
Matt Hawkins is quite fond of incorporating real science and technology into his comic writing, and his work on Aphrodite IX: Rebirth displayed a lot of it, including several pages of “Science Class” describing genetic engineering, cybrids, and the transhumanism he is so fond of. What role does the science and technology play in the new story?
Matt’s a real HARD science fella. I’m approaching this with more theoretical science possibility, here’s what COULD happen and this is what MIGHT happen if it did. The world of APHRODITE V is possible, perhaps even probable, and that raises the stakes on the story. This is where we might be heading and we probably don’t want to go there . . . good thing APHRODITE V is willing to sacrifice her existence to keep that from happening.
Aphrodite V will hit comic shops on July 18th.