John Semper promises only one thing about his current Cyborg series - that the series will continue to change and surprise readers as it explores a more personal side of Vic Stone.
That includes the incorporation of a new female love interest for Cyborg in this week's issue #6. Previously advertised as "She-Borg" (but eventually adopting the title "Variant"), the character will be a female counterpart of the technically-augmented title character.
Semper launched Cyborg as part of DC's "Rebirth" initiative, which is blending elements of the "New 52" with previous versions of their characters and concepts, trying to get back to their "core."
As this week sees the publication of Cyborg #6 - featuring art by Will Conrad - Newsarama talked with Semper to find out more about Variant and what her addition adds to his ongoing story in Cyborg.
Newsarama: John, this week sees the introduction of a new female cyborg character - now named "Variant." I'm a little disappointed she's not "She-Borg" as originally solicited.
John Semper: I liked that name too. They told me I couldn't do it. I guess there was some trademark issue. And I was crushed. I was devastated.
So we thought for a long time what the hell this character should be named, and miraculously, I came up with Variant, which I also like.
Nrama: It's a fitting name for someone in comic books. But can you talk about the genesis of this character? It would make sense that, if the DCU has this technology, they'd try to save someone else in the same way they saved Vic. Was that your thought process?
Semper: Yeah, it's one of those questions that, when you stop and think about the reality of things, you ask yourself, why wouldn't they try to replicate it? Why wouldn't somebody try to replicate it? Maybe not these guys. Maybe not the STAR Labs guys, but somebody would try to replicate the experiment. It's like cloning. You know? They say, well, you can't clone humans, but you know somebody's out there trying it in secret, somewhere.
And so I thought, well, let's play with that. Let's play with the obvious logic of that and create another Cyborg character, and of course, making her a female makes it that much more interesting for all kinds of reasons.
One of my female cosplayed friends said, "Oh great! Now I can cosplay this!" So that was kind of cool.
But I always try to take the fantasy - the illogical conceit - of the superhero, and then try to do the logical thing. And this just seemed like the natural extension of what someone would try.
And then, of course, there's this whole other side of things, which is whenever I create a character in this series, it's always really to bring something out in Vic that we haven't seen before, because I'm really trying to define him as a human being. I don't really think he's been defined very well as a real personality.
So when I started thinking about creating a female cyborg, it occurred to me that it opens him up to all kinds of feelings and expressions of loneliness and expressions of isolation that he can now share with someone.
So we get to see a different shade of his personality as a result of hers simply being there.
Nrama: You've been exploring his personality since the beginning of your run - Vic has had an almost existential crisis in the series. But now, with Variant, what part of him are you exploring? Is it his ability to love? Is this a love interest? Or is this more about exposing to readers what Cyborg's life is like, maybe through her eyes?
Semper: Both. It does give us an opportunity to see what this world is as he shows it to her, and I do that a little bit in this issue #6. And I will continue to do that. This character is not going to go away for a while.
But it's also an opportunity for him to explore his - again, the theme of my run in Cyborg, the thing that I came up with that Geoff Johns got excited about, was this idea of whether or not he has a soul, this quest to figure out if he indeed still has a human soul. And love is a huge part of that.
So obviously, when he starts to have feelings for Scarlett Taylor, I think that really does kind of give us an opportunity to see that side of it.
In the past, they were always trying to make Sarah more of a love interest for Vic, and it was touched upon in the previous Cyborg run. But I could never - there was always something a little distant about that. It was something that felt contrived. And even that relationship gets better developed - the Vic/Sarah relationship - with the presence of Variant. And you'll see what I mean as things progress.
I don't just arbitrarily say, let's create a female cyborg because it'll be fun. It's more like, let's create a female cyborg so we can see what that does to all the other relationships that are going on. So even though Vic still has a relationship with Sarah, we get to explore a new dimension of it as a result of this character showing up.
That's what's going to make this book more interesting for readers.
Nrama: We've seen that there's a mysterious imposter playing the part of Silas Stone. When does that come into play? Is that connected to Scarlett showing up and getting these powers?
Semper: Scarlett's arrival is actually kind of an unexpected treat for that character. That's not something that he necessarily planned on, but it's something that he's going to use to his advantage because it is dropped into his lap. And it plays into his whole plan of impersonating Silas in the first place. Part of it is to drive Silas a little bit crazy, but the other part of it is that it places him in charge of all this amazing technology that passes through STAR Labs. And Scarlett kind of comes under the heading of some of the amazing technology that just kind of falls into his lap. That's why he put himself in that position, so that this kind of thing could happen.
He says in this issue #6, "Wow, I got lucky. I knew this was going to benefit me, but man, look at this. Here I was thinking I could get closer to Cyborg, and now a whole new female Cyborg has dropped into my lap." So it's working to his advantage.
As to who he is and what his whole background is, I just handed in that story, and that will be coming up relatively soon. So yeah, you'll be getting the whole background on where he comes from and why he's so pissed off fairly quickly.
Nrama: You mentioned that you're trying to explore the idea of the "soul." But you've also been touching upon the idea of being judged. Is that something that's going to continue?
Semper: I think the business of him feeling disconnected from humanity has been done before, and it's certainly been part of his whole M.O. It's maybe been done a little bit to death. I think the readers might be tired of it, on some level.
But what I find interesting to explore is, as a black man who was raised a little bit outside of the black community, he now is going through a period where he's reconnecting with the black community in Detroit and reconnecting with the city. And that is interesting to me. I've never seen that before.
I'm a writer of color, so I'm able to talk about these kinds of things without - first of all, from experience, and secondly, without feeling awkward about it. I can explore that side of things.
That's a different twist on the same kind of problem, this idea of isolation and reconnection. So at the same time that he's trying to reconnect and identify with the human race, he's also trying to reconnect and identify with his ethnicity and with his city. And that's certainly a theme that I'm going to continue to explore.
I was handed a character who was a black man living in Detroit, so there are just some obvious things there that one needs to explore as a writer.
Then I started thinking, what's his background? He probably would have been home schooled because he's been raised by scientists. Both his mother and father were brilliant scientists.
When he finally did go to school, he was probably put into the finest school - the wealthiest, the most expensive prep school in Detroit. So this wasn't a kid who was running around in the inner-city.
Now that he's in the process of deciding to reconnect with the city, I think that he's realizing that he was kind of raised in a bubble. And now he's got to explore a little bit more of what the city has to offer.
My own background is that I wasn't really raised in a bubble. I actually came from kind of a lower middle class to middle class community in Boston - Roxbury, which was primarily a black community. Then I did go to a prep school – in fact, I went to the oldest prep school in America. So suddenly, I was thrust from one reality into another. And I kind of skirted both realities. So I was very much - you know, I grew up in the black community, but at the same time, I got very comfortable being in this sort of upper class, white environment. And then I went to an Ivy League college, so that was its own thing.
So I kind of bounced back and forth and got to experience both. So because of my experience, I think I can illuminate a lot of what Vic's going through just in identifying as a black man living in Detroit. I'm from an urban environment - Boston - and I spent a lot of time in New York and Chicago. So I understand the dynamics of urban environments, and how the different areas interact with one another.
And all of that is just being stirred up in one giant soup and being thrown into every aspect of the storytelling of this series.
Nrama: We've seen January solicitations. I know Vic's going to meet a "streetwise thief." And we'll find out more about the fake Silas. Anything else you can reveal about what's coming up in 2017 in Cyborg?
Semper: I'm having so much fun with the thief character. He is going to bring out a whole other side of Cyborg that you haven't seen. I can't wait.
With each issue, I can't wait for you guys to read it. It's very different from animation. In some cases, I would hand in a script and think, "I never want to see that - I'm so done with that story. I don't even want to be around when it airs." But in writing this comic book, every time I finish a script, I can't wait for the art to be done because I'm so excited about what's going on.
The art on issue #6 by Will Conrad is stunning. I'm the luckiest guy in the world to have Will and Paul Pelletier doing the art on these things. And the colorists are doing an amazing job.
As far as what's coming up, my M.O. as a storyteller is, you always have to expect surprises. I don't ever like for anyone to feel that they can anticipate what's going to happen. I read somewhere that, based on the last image of the first issue, this whole series was going to be about Cyborg fighting different robots. And I'm here to tell you, that's absolutely not what this series is going to be.
And there are a lot of different surprises coming up. I think each issue is going to have its own tone. Some readers are going to like some things and not like others. But it's always going to be a surprise.
Whatever you think you're going to get is probably not what you're going to get.