An analysis of the importance of Cyborg’s story to both the Black Community and people with disabilities and why he should be next in line for a movie.
2019 has been an excellent year for the comic book community especially in the area of intersectionality with DC shows like Doom Patrol and Young Justice killing it when it comes to queer representation and Marvel laying the foundation for queer and people of colour to join the MCU in various roles and forms. So, in more ways, I am a very happy Blerd. As a DC fan myself, I am beyond pleased with the material that DC has been releasing this past year, but there is a particular character’s treatment that has left a bad taste in my mouth. I would call this character one of the most marginalized and gatekeeped character in all of comics, and his name is Cyborg.
Created by Comic Book Gods Marv Wolfman and artist George Pérez in 1980 for the famous New Teen Titans series. Cyborg has remained a pop culture icon that continues to this day even being named-dropped in Season 3 of Stranger Things, but it seems that his impact is usually dismissed and uncounted.
Victor Stone is the son of S.T.A.R Lab scientists Silas and Elinore Stone who study inter-dimensional access and often experiment on Victor himself. After an attack that caused his mother’s death and mutilated him, his father uses prototype cybernetics he has access to save Victor’s life without his consent and Cyborg is born. With close to 90% of his body being mutilated after the attack, Silas replaced most of his body with the cybernetic parts which gave Cyborg superhuman abilities. Cyborg has superhuman strength, speed, stamina, and he can fly using his cybernetics. As an addition to the Teen Titans Cyborg blossomed into one of the most notable and recognizable comic characters of our time. His storylines were captivating to read, and he brought an element to the team that was unmatched in any way possible, and DC indeed agreed so. In August of 2011 while rebranding DC, Cyborg was rewritten to become a founding member of the Justice League and here is where the real trouble began.
After news broke that Cyborg was to be a founding member of the Justice League, there was an immense amount of self-appointed gatekeepers that believed that Cyborg should have stayed in the Teen Titans. Regardless of how his character added a new element to the Justice League and some diversity, many people were not impressed. Nevertheless, Cyborg continued to give us remarkable storylines that were so nuanced and diverse that he was chosen to be in Zach Snyder’s 2017 Justice League.
Cyborg is not just another Black character; his character is unique because he is an intersection of two marginalized communities, the Black community, and the disabled community. Not only does Cyborg as a character that relates to Black people by being a minority, but Cyborg also relates to people with disabilities as well in his many storylines. One of Cyborg’s best storylines was in New Teen Titans #8 when he meets Sarah Simms, a teacher West Side School for the Handicapped. After a hurtful confrontation with one of his ex-girlfriends Marcy, in which she tells him “Oh Victor, why didn’t you just die?” he is hit in the head with a baseball and meets the kids Sarah Simms teaches:
In this arc, we see how Victor’s struggle with his identity mirrors the way that people with disabilities feel about their abilities. The disabled community has been at the subject of unfair representation from disrespectful and offensive tropes in popular culture and media, but Cyborg’s story illustrates that even people with disabilities can be superheroes.
Interweaved, in his struggle with his newfound disability, is Cyborg’s Blackness, which is also a defining character trait that he possesses. Cyborg is an interesting character when it comes to his race because Cyborg’s backstory does not follow the classical tropes that come along with a Black character. He was raised in a two-parent household (until his mother was killed), his parents were intelligent scientists, and he lived an economically privileged life.
In Tales of the New Teen Titans, #1 Cyborg shares his backstory, and we get a more nuanced discussion of what Blackness meant to Cyborg. Cyborg tells us about living a sheltered life with his parents because they did not want him to become “one of those thugs” and we learn that he is ignorant about the dynamics of race when we meet his former best friend, Ron Evers. Ron Evers was a friend that Vic had met when exploring the streets of Detroit. Ron Evers was the very opposite of Vic, he was underprivileged, not as intelligent, and had an affinity for getting into trouble. After begging his parents to allow him to go to public school the two’s relationship became stronger, so strong that Ron coerced Vic to help him and his gang fight a white gang called the “Hawks”:
The subsequent scene after the battle is one of the most pivotal moments in the series. After coming home with a knife wound, Silas tells Victor, “I swore I would not call him my son if he wound up this way, and I meant it.” In this scene alone, we are introduced to a more nuanced and potentially unintentional conversation on race and class. Victor and Ron paralleled each other on the more significant issue of class inside the Black community, which was a rather unusual subplot for Black comic characters.
In hindsight, the storyline was somewhat problematic for multiple reasons. First, the series treated race as if it was dispensable; there were many times in the series that Ron spoke about the oppressive forces that the white community has imposed on the Black community, and Victor dismissed the issue every time. Victor had an idealized view of race based on the fact that he was in a higher economic class than his friend and in the end, it was Ron, the lower class angry Black man, that died following a heist that Victor decided to throw at the last minute:
However, along with the problematic nature of the storyline, the storyline also introduces the unique storyline on Black elitism, which is a relevant topic in the Black community today. Cyborg’s privileged upbringing makes him view the world in an elitist lens, his father’s construed view of Blackness and his economic class both made him see the world as colourless. While Victor’s mentality reeks of anti-Blackness, his personality can also be seen as the angry Black man trope as well throughout the beginning of the series.
Along with these specific examples, there are many more examples of Cyborg’s storylines that are nuanced enough to spark a conversation and also be quality entertainment, which is why It is not surprising that Cyborg has shown up in almost every new DC show animated and live-action. From Smallville to Teen Titans to Doom Patrol and now Young JusticeOutsiders, Cyborg has continually produced captivating storylines outside of comics as well. Even in Zach Snyder’s box-office and critical disaster Justice League, Cyborg (played by Ray Fisher) was one of the only characters that were praised in the film. But for some reason, DC and Warner Bros. are apprehensive about greenlighting a Cyborg movie even though they announced the film back in 2017. The movie was slated to be released on April 3rd, 2020 and has been delayed until further notice to the dismay of fans and Ray Fisher himself. Fisher continuously talks about how excited he is to be playing Cyborg and what the role means to him while his fans and most of the DCEU fandom are backing him so why is DC and Warner Bros. so hesitant?
The simple answer is that they do not care about Cyborg, at least at this moment. What they care about is what they believe will sell: a Wonder Woman movie will sell, a Harley Quinn movie will sell, a Batman movie will sell, a Cyborg movie is not *in their mind* going to sell more than those movies. The logic in this line of thinking is flawed because in the four projects that DC has released on their DC Universe app, Cyborg has been in two of them and his performance has been fantastic as always. Not only has his character consistently been involved in great storylines, his presence only enhances the overall atmosphere in the medium he is involved in.
As much as I love Cyborg in these different shows, Cyborg does not belong there. Cyborg is not a secondary character that you can throw in a TV show to fill a Black quota, he is not a character that has nothing to bring but his technological intelligence, he has heart, he has willpower, and he has a story to be told. His story needs to be heard by every child who is disabled and to every Black kid who has grown up seeing him every Saturday on Cartoon Network. His story can touch people, and his story needs to touch people to let them know that yes, you can be disabled and Black and still be a Superhero.
Give Cyborg his movie.
By: Deareyes Bryant
Edited By: Keshav Kant
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.
From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.