REBIRTH CYBORG’s Greatest Danger: ‘Being a Black Man Living in Detroit’

DC Rebirth art
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Cyborg's ongoing series is getting a new start as part of DC's Rebirth, and as part of that the publisher has brought in Spider-Man: The Animated Series writer John Semper.

Cyborg received several upgrades as part of "New 52," most notably, becoming a founding member of the Justice League, but when Cyborg relaunches in August he'll be dealing with a challeng: a soul quest.

Semper, who makes his major comic book debut with Cyborg, comes with a long history in animation ranging from The Smurfs to Static Shock, and being the aforementioned story-editor for the aforementioned Spider-Man: The Animated Series from the 1990s.

When Cyborg launches In August with Semper and artists Will Conrad and Paul Pelletier, it may just be the most philosophical title in DC’s new line, exploring the concept of the “Singularity,” learning what it means to be human, and even dialing in to what it means to be a black man in Detroit – who also happens to visit outer space alongside the greatest heroes in the world.

Newsarama spoke with Semper at WonderCon, discovering the hotbed of ideas at the heart of the breakout star’s new title, and Cyborg’s place in the DC Universe, where he’s reached his highest profile ever.

Newsarama: John, you’re moving from the world of animation into the world of comic books to relaunch Cyborg as part of Rebirth. Have you done any comic book work before?

John Semper: Only a little bit on my own. I’ve done a few experimental comics with artist friends of mine. I did a little comic book with a guy named Michael David Ward, who’s kind of a spacey artist guy, and I did a comic with an artist named Del Barras who worked on Spider-Man: The Animated Series with me. But those were small, independent things, so this is my first real mainstream, professional gig in comics. I feel like a youngster starting all over again.

Nrama: Cyborg’s profile is higher than it’s ever been since he joined the Justice League and got his own solo series. What’s your take on Vic Stone’s place in the DC Universe?

Semper: Well, what I want to do is define him a little more clearly as a distinct personality. I think that, externally, he’s been defined very well, but sort of what’s going on in his head is something I’m not so sure we know yet. I really want to clarify that and expand upon that. So his place in the DC Universe won’t really change, we’ll just know him and like him a lot better, and identify better with him. And hopefully he’ll gain more fans that way, by being a full-fledged human being.

Nrama: During the Rebirth press conference, you brought up the philosophy of the “Singularity,” the idea that one day humanity and technology will coalesce. You’re turning that into the question, “Where does the soul of the man end, and the soul of the machine begin?”. How do you explore that dichotomy not just physically, but how does Cyborg internalize that?

DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
DC Comics April 2016 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics

Semper: He’s got one very big question, which is, is he still human? And that is a fear. I think that the fact that he has a major fear that he might not be human is kind of what defines him and defines the problem. So he’s going to go on a bit of a “soul quest,” if I can use an old, hackneyed, ‘70’s, hippy-dippy term. He’s going to try and find himself. And I think that’s going to be an interesting journey for him. I don’t think he’s gone on that journey before. And of course, that’s just a foundation for battling with villains and saving the city, and maybe occasionally saving the planet. That’s all still going to go on, so his place in that is going to remain the same, but we’re going to get to know him better and like him more.

Nrama: So there will still be superheroics in this philosophical journey. Now that we know what his internal questions are, what challenges is he going to face outside of himself?

Semper: We’re still working on that, and we’re just getting started, really, since Cyborg won’t come out for a little while. So he’ll be up against villains both old and new – I’m gonna sound a little bit like a movie trailer. “In a world full of villains both old and new…”

He’ll be the kind of hero that takes on whatever comes his way, so we’ll see lots of different villains.

Nrama: You’ve got a long history of superhero storytelling having worked on Spider-Man: The Animated Series and Static Shock. Is there anyone at DC who has guided you in the transition to comic books?

Semper: There’s a young fellow, he’s kind of a beginner, but I think he knows a few things. His name is Geoff Johns.

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: I’ll have to look him up.

Semper: Yeah, look him up. He’s a pretty bright guy [laughs].

He’s kind of taken me under his wing, and I’m getting the best comic book writing school that money doesn’t have to buy, which makes me very happy. I’m learning a lot from these guys. Mostly Geoff. I’m also working with Brian Cunningham, and he’s my immediate editor. We’re just getting started. It’s an interesting dynamic and so far I’m having a lot of fun.

Nrama: You said something in the press conference that was really interesting, and touched on something that Cyborg is a really unique character to explore. You said he’s a guy who’s been to outer space, he’s worked with the Justice League, he’s stood toe to toe with Gods. But he’s also a black man living in Detroit.

Semper: He faces his greatest danger, which is being a black man living in Detroit. Justice League was once set in Detroit, he’s working out of S.T.A.R. Labs in Detroit, but no one has ever made the city a part of the saga. Detroit is a very unique city; it’s got a wonderful history, it’s got music, it’s got all kind of great things. It’s got a large black population, and here we’re telling the story of a black man in Detroit.

It’s also a city that’s in a great deal of distress, so there will be a lot of stories that will emanate from that. And in a way, Detroit will be a part of Cyborg’s identity, like Batman in Gotham, and Superman in Metropolis. We’re gonna make Cyborg a big part of Detroit.

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