(Editors Note: All editorials are solely the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of DC Comics News or its staff.)
A Necessary Preamble:
When a question seems simple, it usually isn’t. This is no different. Just asking it probably seems inflammatory to some. Maybe even racist to others. But, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably wondered the same thing at one time or other since the 2011 launch of the New 52.
What matters now is how I approach the question. If I take the wrong path, you might just stop reading. Or worse, you’ll comment. So let me make this abundantly clear right now: this isn’t an issue of race.
There are really two parts to this question. The first part is if Cyborg deserves to be a part of the Justice League. In other words, is he one of Earth’s greatest heroes? The second part is whether he serves as an adequate replacement for the Martian Manhunter (the green guy, not to be confused with Manhunter the female vigilante, or the Manhunter robot police force that existed before the Green Lantern Corps, or a man who is also a hunter).
Here are the facts: the Justice League, in its most iconic form, consists of seven DC superheroes. The Big 7, as they’re called. By nerds. Of which I am one. Traditionally speaking, the team consists of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. It’s just sort of an understood thing that when you talk about the Justice League in general or mention “the Big 7,” those are the characters you’re referring to.
Sure, you could get bogged down in the little details. After all, in Grant Morrison’s 90’s version of the JLA, the Flash was Wally “I stopped existing” West and Green Lantern was Kyle “I can’t breathe through my nose, you guys” Rayner. Earlier still, in Justice League: Year One, the team didn’t even have Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman as part of the roster and Black Canary (so named ironically by early proto-hipsters for being the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aryan wet dream, I assume) was a founding member. Hell, in the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited cartoon, Aquaman was too busy being the Buster Bluth of the sea to hang out with any other heroes so he got replaced by Hawkgirl. And, I mean, nobody really seemed to care about Aquaman until Geoff Johns started writing him years later.
But, for whatever reason, the Big 7 is a concept pretty much set in stone. Or, at least, it was until the New 52. Suddenly the Martian Manhunter is out. Why? No idea. He was a key member of the team in all three previous versions of the League I just mentioned, as well as being one of the founding members of the JLI (aka the greatest comic series you never read) in the 80s.
Maybe it’s because he’s green and they needed a black guy for publicity.
The Part Where You Realize I Lied And This Is Totally About Race:
I try not to get cynical about comics. I really, really do. I mean, my favorite character is Superman. Cynicism is frowned upon.
But, when it came to Cyborg’s inclusion on the Justice League, it was hard to be anything but jaded (if we were talking about Green Lantern right now, that would’ve been a fantastic pun). See, the issue I have is that it’s really hard to defend Cyborg joining the team.
Some people might say that he proved himself after years on the Teen Titans. Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but so did Starfire. And now she’s a sexy goldfish in a metal bikini who has to share a book with Jason “I blew up, I grew up, and now I’m kind of a screw up” Todd and Roy “I did heroin once” Harper. And it’s written by Scott “I watched TRON: Legacy and the red guy was my favorite” Lobdell. So, clearly, it’s not an issue of respecting a character who “did their time” on a “lesser” team. And if you still think I’m wrong, ask yourself where Donna Troy and Wally West are right now.
Adding Cyborg to the team could’ve been a great move. Casual comic fans probably don’t know much about him other than hearing him screech outdated catchphrases in the Teen Titans cartoon. Unfortunately, Geoff Johns hasn’t really done anything for the character. Which is weird, when you think about it. Geoff Johns was the guy who made Hal Jordan popular again. He was the guy who brought Barry Allen back from the dead. He even made Booster “we stole J’onn’s cookies” Gold (good god, I love Booster Gold) into the greatest hero in the multiverse.
But Cyborg? Barely speaks in Justice League. No personality whatsoever. For perspective, Steve “I crashed my plane into lesbian paradise and that’s not an innuendo” Trevor got a whole side plot for several issues and his own spin off book that you’re better off forgetting ever happened. Vic Stone can’t catch a break.
“Wait!” you cry out. “Those other guys all had their own comics first!” you retort, thinking you’ve caught me in some kind of elaborate lie. Well guess what? You’re right. They did have their own books. Some of them still do (goddamn it, DC, give me back Booster Gold). But Cyborg doesn’t. There’s a dozen Batman books, two whole different versions of the Justice League (Justice League of America and Justice League Dark), a comic that takes place outside the main universe (Earth 2), a book for the Red Lanterns (there’s an angry cat that pukes blood), a freaking Dial H book (really, it’s fantastic), and no book for the newest member of the Big 7. Two years after he was promoted. Even Vibe has a book. Vibe. The character who sounds like his power is a masturbatory aid.
Yeah, DC promoting a black character who isn’t just a palette swap of an existing white character (John Stewart, Ryan Choi, etc.) and doesn’t actually have “black” in his name (Black Lightning), might actually be a race thing.
The New 52 was good in a lot of ways. Superman is fun again, Batman is well written and somehow also totally comprehensible, Wonder Woman is one of the best books on the shelves, Aquaman is cool now, Green Lantern is still going strong, the Flash has consistently beautiful art (I… I tried… I just don’t get Barry). But Cyborg is being wasted.
That’s right, I think Cyborg is a worthwhile character. I think he could be worthy of Big 7 status. Unfortunately, right now, he’s not. Right now, if you had to make a list of the top 10 heroes in the DCU, Cyborg probably wouldn’t even rank for most people. And it’s not because he’s black.
I want to clarify that for every single one of you sitting in your living rooms and yelling “racist” right now: I’m a minority. What kind of minority? The kind who has to shave before going to the airport so I don’t get thrown in Guantanamo. Seriously, I once almost got arrested in a Boston train station for being a bearded brown guy next to an unattended piece of mail on the ground.
I want there to be more minority heroes. And, more than anything, I want them to stand on their own and not be legacy characters (just to avoid phrases like “the black Green Lantern”). Cyborg meets that criteria. Prior to the New 52, he was a strong character who accomplished a lot. And, maybe, much like Flashpoint, there’s a world out there where Cyborg really is one of Earth’s greatest heroes. But this isn’t that world.
In the New 52, Cyborg hasn’t proven himself. Could he? Most definitely and I would love it if he did. But DC isn’t giving him that opportunity. It’s almost as if they think that fans should love him because he’s a member of the League, but they never give us a reason why he deserves to be there.
Martian Manhunter was a vital member of the Justice League in all its incarnations. He was a telepath who used his abilities to strengthen the group’s overall bond, fostering a sense of openness and communication. Vic Stone became Cyborg by accident, and all he really brought to the team that he unquestioningly joined was that he just so happened to be able to communicate with Apokoliptian technology. Which was useful for all of 3 pages.
So, to DC, I say this: give us a Cyborg book. Let new readers actually get to know the character. Get someone good to write it. While you’re at it, we’d also like Booster Gold, Captain Marvel (I refuse to call him Shazam), and The Crime Syndicate of America (Earth 3) to get books, too. Make it happen.