As DC's new Cyborg series launches July 22, writer David F. Walker is upgrading the character's technology to bring back the "science fiction element" as he told Newsarama, while also introducing new threats, including the violence faced by young African-Americans every day.
The new series, which is being illustrated by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, is the latest "DC You" revamp of the company's high profile characters, with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman already getting new costumes and new status quo.
Cyborg will launch with the character researching why he's got a new, slimmer physique and upgraded powers, while also bringing in villains from outer space and introducing a new supporting cast for the character.
Newsarama talked to Walker to find out more about his plans for Cyborg, why he upgraded the character's power set, and why he thinks readers would support a story about police brutality against African-Americans.
Newsarama: David, most readers probably know Victor Stone best as a team member. But as you begin his solo title, how would you describe him as an individual — particularly the Victor Stone you're writing in this series and the parts of him you're exploring?
David F. Walker: I'm writing him… I haven't come out emphatically stated how old he is yet, because editorially, we seem to keep hovering around a couple different numbers, but he's definitely in his early 20's.
And the thing we need to think about is, both looking at him in the context of the "New 52" and then in his original context as a member of the Teen Titans, Vic was 18 years old when he became Cyborg. He has this horrific accident that kills his mother and leaves him maimed. Seventy percent of his body is now machine.
Now he's a young man in his early 20's. He never graduated high school. There are so many things the rest of us take for granted that he's never had an opportunity to experience. And that's part of what I'm exploring.
When I was 20, 21 years old, I thought I knew everything. By the time I was 30, I realized how woefully ignorant I was at age 20 or 21. And that's part of what I'm trying to get into, is who's this young man who isn't even sure to what extent he is a man, and to what extent he is machine.
And the people around him see one thing — they see all this machinery on the outside — but that doesn't necessarily get into the heart and soul of who Victor Stone is.
And that's a huge part of the story that I'm trying to tell. And I think it's a pretty universal story. It's the story of, how do we become the person we want to be when the circumstances of life and the universe and everything else have sort of conspired against us?
Nrama: That makes a lot of sense at that age, although it's something we all think about.
Walker: Oh yeah. The funny thing is, too, because in our society here in the United States, at age 21, you're legally an adult. You can drink, you can vote and you can go off to war. And in some regards, 21 seems really old, but it's not. It's just like 18 isn't that old.
These are these crucial landmarks. You know, at 16 you get your driver's license. At 18 you can join the military. At 21, you can drink.
But none of those are necessarily signs of adulthood, at least not in terms of the things we go through.
And here you've got a character who's fought with the Justice League, saved the world and saved the universe, but has he ever even kissed a girl? What is his social life like? What is he going through, in terms of the existential exploration that we all go through when we're not cyborgs.
Nrama: There's also something special about this character in the information age. He was powerful when he was simply a half man-half robot, but with everyone plugged into the "grid" and with so much information accessible to Cyborg now, doesn't that make him that much more powerful?
Walker: Well, modern technology gives us all the perception of power. The easy accessibility to information that comes with having a smart phone gives a lot of us a sense of confidence that isn't necessarily real.
With Vic, he has access to unlimited resources and information in the internet. He's also incredibly strong. But all that isn't necessarily a true testimony to how much he knows.
I think that what a lot of people forget is that, before he became Cyborg, when he was just Victor Stone, he was still a genius level IQ and an incredible athlete. He was the best of both worlds of what we aspire to be.
And then this technology has sort of overshadowed all the things that he's capable of doing.
It's like when you're at a party, and you're arguing over some sort of trivial fact, and you have to break out your smart phone to look up the answer on the internet, as opposed to accepting that one person might actually really know what they're talking about it.
Nrama: We've seen the sneak peek DC released, and we know that Cyborg gets not only a new look, but I'm assuming it also gives him a new power set. What can you tell us about what happened and how it plays into the first storyline?
Walker: Part of the main thrust of this first story arc is figuring out exactly what's happening to him. He's completely aware of the fact that, somehow, his technology evolved. But he's not exactly sure how it's evolved, why it's evolved or what it can do. So he's figuring that out.
Part of the reason for doing this was that, when the character was first introduced in 1980, he was about as futuristic as you could get. And now when you look at modern technology — not just what we have access to via the internet and whatever sort of technological device we carry around in our pocket, but also biomechatronics and prosthetic limbs. All of that sort of stuff that made him seem so science fiction and so futuristic 30-something years ago. There's a lot of that's reality now.
So part of what I wanted to do was evolve this technology to a point that it was so far advanced that, as we're telling the stories, we're not worried about real life being able to keep up with us.
That's part of what's exciting about science fiction is that you look at technology, you look at the characters, you look at the circumstances and you wonder, will that ever be possible?
We look at Cyborg and a lot of it actually is possible. It might not look as cool as the way someone like Ivan or Jim Lee may draw him, but a lot of the stuff he can do, you can actually do in real life.
And I wanted to sort of get a little bit ahead of that curve and give him a more fantastical set of skills and abilities — to really bring back that science fiction element that really enthralled me as a kid in the '80s, reading his adventures as part of the Teen Titans.
Nrama: Let's talk about his supporting cast. Who plays a role in his life as we meet him on his own?
Walker: It's some of the characters we recognizes, some of the regulars we've seen hanging around S.T.A.R. Labs before — Sarah Charles, his father Silas, Dr. Morrow.
We're bringing in a couple new supporting characters and a few other characters who pop here or there.
One that will for sure be integral in this first story arc is a character named Sebastian, who is a guy who knew Vic from high school. They played football against each other. He was on a rival team. We meet him and at some point, there's going to be a growing friendship between the two of them.
What I really wanted to make sure to do was introduce a person who at least knew Vic before he became Cyborg. And I want to start introducing people that really see him for the human being that he is, because I think he has a lot of problems seeing that — and a lot of the characters at S.T.A.R. Labs have trouble seeing that, because he's part of this walking science experiment.
And that's part of the problem he has in his relationship with his father. They go back and forth in their relationships, from father-son moments to sort of mad scientist and his experiment relationship.
Nrama: What about threats? What's the threat in this first story arc, and can you speak about your hopes for building his rogues gallery?
Walker: The initial threats are these cybernetic aliens. I don't want to give away too much about what they're looking for or what they're trying to achieve.
That's the main threat in this first story arc.
I've got a long list of villains I want to introduce, that I want to try to bring in. But it's also really important to me — and I've talked to DC about this in length — it's really important to me that I address some of the real-life threats that we see every day in America. By that I mean, some of the threats young black men — and not just young black men, but young African-Americans face day to day, in terms of violence and police brutality.
One of the stories I want to get into, and it will hopefully get approved, is this exploration of, in real life, if a guy like Vic Stone is walking down the streets in Chicago or New York, he'd be considered the biggest threat in the world. And that's never been touched upon, as far as I know, in comics. And I'd like to explore that a little bit.
I think comics readers are sophisticated enough that they can delve into some of that stuff without it getting too preachy. There have always been stories that dealt with topical issues. That's one of the great things that comics do — they let us explore our society; they're meant to be a metaphor for how we live, in a fantastic way.
Nrama: You're working with Ivan Reis, who's pretty well known to DC readers. What does he bring to this story?
Walker: I can't sing his praises enough. It's like winning the Mega-Bucks lottery. You get a gig writing a really interesting character, but them you're working with an artist who can bring that character to life in ways that you know, as a writer, you're never going to be able to do.
Ivan is a master at translating the written concepts, the ideas, and turning them into something so visually compelling that they really come to life.
The first thing that happens when I look at a page is I think, wow, this is such an amazing story. And then I think, wait a minute — I wrote this. I actually forget that I've written it, because he's bringing both the thunder and the lightning to this.
I tell people, even if you hate this story, pick it up for the art because it's so amazing. Hopefully they'll love the story as much as they love the art. But in a medium that is dependent on the art, on the visuals, Ivan is a master of that medium. He's a master of that form of storytelling.
For me as a writer, it's helping me become a better writer, because I'm seeing the possibilities of how my work is translated into visual images. Sometimes artists sort of phone it in and don't give you their 100 percent, but Ivan is giving, like 200 percent, and it's leaving me spoiled for whoever my next collaborator will be.