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GOC COMIC CORNER: Comic Spotlight on Wonder Woman and Cyborg

Another week separates us from the Justice League movie premiere, so let’s soothe our collective longing with more superhero news!

First, the obvious. We now know that the movie will be just about two hours which, for all the concern on social media, hasn’t stopped anyone from buying tickets once they went on sale this past Wednesday.

Second, DC has declared this week its dual celebration of Wonder Woman and Cyborg. Of course, Wonder Woman and Cyborg Week would be nothing without a special video message from Ray Fisher and Gal Gadot:

Just like Flash Week, Justice League fans have been given a lot of great new visual content for Wonder Woman and Cyborg Week. This time we’ve been treated with two new stop-motion posters, exclusive short clips, a Facebook camera filter presentation by Gadot and a special superhero lesson on Cyborg’s origins. And, just like last week, Geeks of Color is helping y’all get information and learn more about the extensive comics history of these two iconic characters.

So, old and new DC fans alike, let’s hunker down and celebrate the end of this superpowered week with the most essential comic book reads:

Tales of the New Teen Titans, Starring Cyborg
By Marv Wolfman and George Pérez

Now before y’all act up, there’s a reason I’m starting this list with Cyborg – there’s significantly less material available for him, so this list was easier to compile. Overall, Cyborg is criminally underutilized in DC comics. This might come as a surprise for fans who grew to love him thanks to the original Teen Titans cartoon, where he commanded a sizable amount of screentime. But I’m here to help satisfy y’all with the very best of the material we do have. So, if you’re looking for a good starting point on your Cyborg reading list, your best bet is returning to the bronze age of comic books.

Celebrated creative team Marv Wolfman and George Pérez first introduced readers to the human-robot hybrid named Victor Stone in 1980 as part of the aforementioned superteen squad of young heroes. While an important player in the team’s many ensemble adventures, he didn’t start getting his own solo stories until his 1982 special issue of Tales of the New Teen Titans. The story starts simply enough: the Titans are on a camping trip in the Grand Canyon and decide to swap stories about the lives they led before joining the team. Victor goes first, and thereby finally reveals his superhero origin story.

Both new comics fans and longtime readers should check this story out because of all the interesting background information we get on Victor, more than we experience still to this day. This story portrays an incredibly smart, promising young man from a loving family whose struggle to find himself takes a tragic turn. Yet his story is also full of hope, as readers see how Victor and his family transform their sufferings into a promise to create a better future. Wolfman and Pérez created such a powerful origin story that it has lasted a series of writers, reboots, and movie adaptations for nearly four decades. It’s a pretty impressive feat in the world of superhero lore, especially when you consider the only origin stories that have staying power typically deal with a gruesome death or two (shout out to Spider-Man and Batman as the MVPs of this category).

Teen Titans Spotlight on Cyborg – The Two Faces of Evil
By J. Michael Straczynski, Chuck Patton, and Romeo Tanghal

Another classic Teen Titans story that offers readers a stunning look into the hidden complexities of Cyborg, and makes fans such as myself long for a good solo series, damn it. Not that they don’t exist, of course (and more on that later), but they never get as good as this Teen Titans spotlight when it comes to Victor’s attempts to reconcile his old human life with his new transhuman experiences.

In this story, the Teen Titans series adds Two-Face to its roster of supervillains. While he is typically part of Batman and Dick Grayson’s rogue gallery, Two-Face only has his sights set on Victor here. Jealousy fuels Two-Face’s strange new vendetta, as he envies how easily it seems Victor can navigate life in the public eye despite how his robotic body makes him stand out from other people. Nevermind the fact that Victor is also a good person who helps people, while every time he’s in public Two-Face is physically threatening someone… but I digress. Regardless, Two-Face tries to ruin Victor’s life by kidnapping his new girlfriend and making him undergo a humiliating public ordeal to save her. This entire elaborate ruse is to make a point: that Two-Face and Victor are very much alike, and the only thing that ever stopped Victor from becoming a villain like Two-Face was luck and circumstance.

The Two Faces of Evil evokes a classic comics trope about the blurry lines between what makes a hero and a villain. Rather than feel like a cliché, this story is stunningly innovative because it uses the unlikely pair of Two-Face and Cyborg to show how the deformations of their bodies have a similar emotional effect on their identities. Thanks to Batman lore, readers know that Two-Face feels like a monstrous shadow of his former self, and his descent into villainy is in part a reflection of his mental agony. But readers very rarely realize that a hero like Victor could feel this way as well. Truly, the implications of Victor’s origin story are frightening once you really consider it. You don’t lose your physical body without experiencing some serious existential baggage and questioning your new place in the universe, and this story offers a humanizing look at Victor’s struggle to find himself again. This is the kind of internal conflict that most characters in any fictional medium would kill for, and one I hope is explored as much as it can be in the Justice League and Cyborg’s solo flick in 2020.

Cyborg: Unplugged
By David F. Walker, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Adriano Lucas

Alright, time to get to the recent comics. Since the recent Flashpoint reboot, there have been two attempts to give Cyborg more substantial material than special one-shots and limited series. The first attempt is this recommendation, which served as a modern reintroduction to the character in the New 52 canon.

Rather than rehash the entirety of his origins and then stumble into his solo adventures, Cyborg: Unplugged thankfully spends the entirety of its time expanding Victor’s world beyond his work with the Teen Titans and the Justice League. Readers should check out this story to learn more about Victor’s family, his friends and love interests, his non-superhero allies, his enemies, and his unique connection to other superhero-related institutions like S.T.A.R. Labs. Of course, you should read this story just because it’s essentially a spiritual successor to the previously mentioned Teen Titans Special. Victor is slowly coming to terms with his cybernetics when compared to other humans, but what happens when he must defend the merits of his humanity against technological foes whose total lack of humanity makes them powerful and deadly? Coupled with the fact that Victor’s cybernetics are evolving without his consent, making him question himself further, and Unplugged provides some exciting character development for a well-deserving character.

And, just so you know, the second attempt at returning Cyborg to public relevance is the current ongoing Rebirth series by John Semper Jr. and Paul Pelletier. The first volume of stories was released earlier this year under the title Imitations of Life. It’s… fine enough on its own, but it really pales in comparison to Unplugged. Besides, we all have limited time and finite financial resources these days, you know? It’s totally fine to skip it, especially since we also need to cover another superhero’s greatest comics hits.

So, upwards and onwards to Wonder Woman!

Wonder Woman Omnibus
by George Pérez, Len Wein, and Bruce Patterson

Before I begin, I just want to forewarn you that it was incredibly difficult choosing one origin story to recommend for Wonder Woman. There must be about fifteen differently written origin stories by now, and all of them have been consistently epic since her creation in 1941 by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter. If I were lazy, I’d just recommend Marston’s golden age omnibus. Better yet, I could recommend y’all watch the biopic based on Marston’s life with his wife Elizabeth Marston and their lover Olive Byrne, who all were integrally involved in Wonder Woman’s creation. I won’t, ultimately, but you should still check them out.

What I will recommend as one of the best origin stories for this character is the Wonder Woman series by George Pérez, Len Wein, and Bruce Patterson. This omnibus takes place after DC’s first major comics reboot, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Pérez really set the stage for Diana’s modern personality with this important Wonder Woman run. Here, he solidifies the mystic of Themyscira and establishes its mythological connection to the Greek pantheon, which in turn helps fuel his portrayal of Diana as a powerful up-and-coming goddess and warrior. This omnibus also includes two of the most popular Wonder Woman stories in comics history: Gods and Mortals, which describes Diana’s battle against the god of war Ares, and Challenge of the Gods, which introduces readers to one of Diana’s most famous comic foes, Cheetah.

New comics readers will enjoy these stories in particular thanks to the recent Wonder Woman movie by Patty Jenkins, since it was heavily inspired by the Pérez interpretation. But any fan of Diana should find this run to be a fantastic coming-of-age story for the classic character. There is also a lot of great diversity and feminist politics in this run which, as any true Wonder Woman fan knows, is integral to what she represents as an effective modern icon. If you’re going to start anywhere with Wonder Woman comics, this is a definitely powerful option.

Wonder Woman: The Circle
By Gail Simone, Terry Dodson, and Bernard Chang

So, this is admittedly another origin story, even though I already gave you a solid recommendation above. However, if you want to further immerse yourself in Themyscira and explore how Diana fits into that world, then you have to read The Circle by prolific writer Gail Simone and her team.

Once again, readers learn of Diana’s magical conception from clay and Aphrodite’s intervention – but in this story, her birth isn’t as well-received as one might think. While Queen Hippolyta sees Diana’s birth as a blessing from the gods, the other Amazons on Themyscira can only feel jilted resentment that their wishes for children have gone unheeded. These feelings grow into a violent paranoia that in the short-term threatens a young Diana’s very life on the island and in the long-term colors the Amazon’s treatment of her and her journey into becoming a superhero on Earth.

What readers get out of The Circle is some beautifully rendered insights into Diana’s home life and her relationships with other women. She is near universally praised within and outside DC comic canon, so it’s heartbreaking to see the ways in which her loved ones first viewed her birth and eventual powers as something of a threat and a burden. At the same time, seeing how Diana strives to mend these relationships is inspiring in the face of all the aforementioned conflict. The Amazons emerge from this period stronger than ever, if not perfectly aligned with one another as they once were, which is reflective of true life and refreshing to see in any good superhero origin story.

Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia
by Greg Rucka, J.G. Jones, Wade Von Grawbadger, and Dave Stewart

The Justice League was founded by superheroes who believe in the ideals of truth and justice, but who’s to say that their individual interpretations of morality mesh well together all the time? Especially when it comes to particularly stubborn and diversely righteous characters like the Trinity. We’ve seen how often Batman and Superman come to blows over their differences, but have you ever wondered what would happen if Batman and Wonder Woman disagreed on the appropriate form of retribution?  

Look no further than Greg Rucka’s incredible Wonder Woman story, The Hiketeia. At first, this story seems like a random one-off: a young woman has gone on a killing spree in Gotham, so now Batman is trying to arrest her. Rather than go with him quietly, the woman turns to Diana to explain her crimes and request her protection via an ancient Amazonian contract known as the Hiketeia. This leaves Diana in a deliciously fraught situation, one where she must decide between her role as Themyscira’s ambassador of peace on Earth and her commitment to the Justice League as a superhero. And based on the cover, I’m pretty sure you can guess what she chooses to do.

However, Rucka’s story cannot be so simply categorized as the DC version of Marvel’s Civil War storyline. This story is actually a serious examination of Diana’s loyalties and internal beliefs about justice, and it shows how these cultural standards can clash with other, equally justifiable interpretations of justice in the modern world. It’s rare to see an intercommunal superhero conflict done well, but The Hiketeia achieves it with ease and grace. I don’t want to spoil this story because you really need to experience it for yourself, but let’s just say that there are no easy solutions or neat endings to be found in this complex tale. It’s often compared to a classic Greek tragedy, and once you see the strain this conflict takes on our heroes, you will definitely agree. And, hopefully, advocate that we see this conflict play out in future DCEU movies.

But for now, we still have to make it to the next DCEU movie coming in November. Justice League will premiere on November 17, 2017. Stick with Geeks of Color and get hyped for the premiere as we bring you all the coolest content on the World’s Finest. And as always, share your favorite Wonder Woman and Cyborg comics in the comments!

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