In this age of pan-global entertainment and transnational creations, where Bruce Willis is chosen to star in movies because he has big box-office appeal in Japan and the TV networks choose their sitcoms with an eye towards how that show can be marketed to viewers worldwide, it makes sense that we get an Americanized version of a classic manga series.
Cyborg 009 is the series that receives an American reboot here, from the good people at Archaia Press, and writers F.J. DeSanto and Bradley Cramp and artist Marcus To. Based on a classic manga by Shotaro Ishinomori, this all-new graphic novel aims to put an Americanized spin on the story of a young man who wakes up one day completely unaware of who he is or how he got to the place that he's being held. He quickly learns that he has enormous cybernetic powers and has been created by a sinister military force to be a cyborg soldier. More than that, he's the ninth cyborg and must defeat Cyborg 001 through 008 to really take power.
From that intriguing premise, this story takes off and becomes an intense, world-spanning adventure full of thrilling battles, shocking revelations and the inevitable battle to gain their freedom.
I'm sure that this story is tremendously resonant for those who know the original manga series. As David Brothers shares in a fascinating commentary, the classic Cyborg 009 manga had an elegant and intriguing subtext that spoke to children and adults alike. Unlike much of the manga of the time, Cyborg 009 presented complex human villains. In the original book, much of the power came from the post-World War II revelation that evil wasn't committed by vicious evil villains, but by ordinary men and women whose lust for arms or power or a few more dollars was never checked by government or industry. Instead, their lust drove The Black Ghost to do evil for banal reasons.
Of course, we're all used to that idea these days, after hundreds of movies that set a banal government as the source of evil. It's much more of a cliché now than an innovation, much more a classic trope than an intriguing insight.
DeSanto and Cramp move away from those clichés a bit. Perhaps to play with the wants of the American market, they spend considerable time giving readers backstories for these characters while also continually ramping up the threats that the team fights. It feels like a huge amount of events happen in this book, and sometimes those events feel a bit overwhelming, a bit too much. There were times when I wanted the book to go smaller and it just went bigger and bigger.
All through the book, the art by Marcus To delivers the same professional, exciting artwork that we've come to expect from books like Red Robin, Huntress and The Flash. His art goes a long way towards making this story resonate for an American, though it feels as much like the rejected pilot for a New 52 title as the resurrection of a beloved manga.
Cyborg 009 has amazing production values – you need to look at this book just so you can play with the really breathtaking cover design – but the book just didn't excite me. I wish I'd fallen in love with this action/adventure super-hero book. If you're a fan of the original Japanese Cyborg 009, this may be exactly the book for you. But for me, without a history or experience with these characters, this graphic novel just fell flat.
For our video interview with F.J. DeSanto and Marcus To, click here.