August 15, 2015

Cybersix comic, volume 1, part 1


Recapping a bit of history from our opening piece, Cybersix was originally published as a weekly 12-page comic strip in the Italian magazine Skorpio for two years from 1992 through 1994. It was then released, with additional original stories, as a series of 45 96-page graphic novels, which are most widely available through a series of 12 omnibuses published in French. Unfortunately, the page numbers don't entirely add up, so I don't think those 12 volumes contain the entirety of the series. Have no confirmation of this, though. You never know when Wikipedia has some info wrong. It does look like they may have compressed and redrawn chunks in later years, but I'm not sure.

Those 12 French volumes are what I have. The series has never officially been released in English (nor in Japanese, which is again surprising given the production of the cartoon), which may tie to the creators having bitterly attempted to sue James Cameron's Dark Angel for plagiarism. Only half of Volume 1 has been translated by fans and has been floating around for a while. For the purposes of this review, I completed my own rudimentary translation of the volume. I am not fluent in French, so Google Translate was used. The dialogue is very simple and brisk, so well over 90% translated beautifully, with just a few bits where I had to kind of wiggle around figuring out what was specifically being said.

This translation was done for my own personal use. I will not be distributing it, so please don't ask. While I would like to apply it to the remaining 11 volumes, I didn't have time to do so for this project, so my followup piece will just be a general overview of them as a whole. I may review them in a more detailed fashion down the road, though. We'll see.

Volume 1 is broken into 16 12-page chapters. It opens with a page of quick character intros, giving brief setup on:
  • The Techno, as well as their sibling versions, Types and Fixed Ideas.
  • Data-7, just described as a loyal servant to his master.
  • Von Reichter, revealed to be in his third body now to have survived for so long.
  • Krumens, a character not in the cartoon. He's a typical blonde German type, a Nazi loyalist. Described here as a sycophant and Von Reichter's fanatically loyal servant.
  • Lucas Amato, a "scientific journalist".
  • Lori, aside from the usual, also described as an acrobat!

It's followed by a text page recapping this real life news story, in which a couple died in a plane crash and an estate battle was fought over what to do with their frozen embryos, mostly in terms of how it would affect the inheritance of their living son. He ultimately won and the embryos were destroyed.

The comic then posits a what if. What if they hadn't been destroyed? What if they fell into evil hands? "What would happen to this child today, at the age of ten or twelve? What would happen if, today or tomorrow, he were to undergo psychoanalysis from a therapist? How would his oedipal stage manifest? What fantasies could this child have of his mother and father?"

Don't worry, this comic will absolutely get grosser, and I'll tip my hand, not with a level of intelligence to make this discourse all that interesting.

Chapter 1 "Could a Norman Man Fall in Love with a Shadow of the Night?"

This formed the loose basis for the debut episode "Mysterious Shadow".

We open on Adrian Seidelman, a literature professor at an academy (they never say if it's high school or college - probably high school), for low-income delinquents. We have the scene of Lori writing him a love-letter ("Don't worry, I'll be quick. I never wear underwear.") only to fume as he crumples it up and resumes class. Leaving school, Adrian is jumped by Lori's gang who want to knock him around until he sleeps with Lori in the hopes that she'll again perform favors for the rest of them in return.

I'll go ahead and mention, this is a hard-R rated comic, packed with sex, nudity, bloody death, rape. It's not a kid-friendly book. At all.

Adrian is saved when Lucas Amato beats the punks off, and the two head to what will become their regular coffee joint to cool down. Both bond over the poet Fernando Pessoa, famed for having dozens of assumed identities. Lucas is a biology teacher at the school and also writes for a scientific journal, and offers to swap articles in exchange for Adrian's translations of Pessoa. Things get a little weird when, discussing genetic manipulation, Lucas starts getting into rumors about artificial humans wandering the city, and a shadowy vigilante of the night he's developing a fixation for. Pulling out some blurry photos, it's of course Cybersix, and Adrian excuses himself.

Returning to his apartment, Adrian strips off his clothes, and here's where things are going to get a little different than in our coverage of the television series. In the show, the duel gender identities are played very vaguely, so Cybersix can and has been read as a gender-fluid character. That's still an entirely valid reading of the television show, and I continue to respect it, but here in the comic, she clearly states in her narration that she identifies as a woman and that Adrian is just a mask she wears to keep people from finding her. It's a less interesting take, but I get it, and she's fallen so into character that it is leading to an existential crisis of not knowing who she is or wants to be or her place in the world. There's a lot of Cybersix narration throughout the book, much of it very depressed and longing for answers.

As she sets out, we learn that Technos, artificial beings, are scatted all over the place, living under our noses as average citizens. They all require a special fluid to survive, having to periodically refuel, and because Cybersix has been disowned, she can't just pop into these stations, so has to vampirically feed on others in order to survive. Instead of the whole thing of enemies poofing into smoke and leaving a vial as in the cartoon, she's biting into their necks and drinking as the stuff glops all over. She's not proud of having to do this, though, and makes a point of leaving them with enough to refuel before they die.

Also worth pointing out is her method in this chapter. The Techno is just a dude walking down the street, and instead of pouncing, she goes up and starts a flirting pickup like a prostitute, even opening her cape to reveal she's only in panties underneath. Then she strikes when they drift into an alley. After filling, she delights in soaring along the rooftops, being a part of this city, but above and away from it. When she returns, again donning the disguise of Adrian, she closes up, no longer interested in going out as she returns to grading papers.

This is still a pretty strong intro piece to the series, setting up our lead and her struggle, both the streets she prowls at night and the life she leads during the day, a couple key players in her supporting cast (especially Lucas and his hunt to find answers about Cybersix and the Technos), and is also a nice examination of the world they all live in. Yeah, it's grittier and grosser, but not in a terrible way. I really do like the blocky, messy, but very dynamic and animated art. I had some complaints about the designs in the toon, especially that hair, but there's a stronger consistency to it here. It's very noir, very dank and shadow heavy, engulfing our characters in this setting just as the writing engulfs Cyber in her conflicted thoughts, and the soaring leaps across rooftops are a nice escape. You can also see a lot of influence from 80s era Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin, neither of whom I'm a huge fan of, but it's well used so far.

Chapter 2 "Is It Because You're a Creature of the Night That You Have a Black Father?"

Yeah, let's just let that title soak in for a second.

This one feels like the second episode of a show, where they've begun production on the series proper months after having made the pilot, and use the opportunity to course correct a few things. Cybersix has gone from a nude streetwalker under her cape to wearing her full outfit, with a higher focus on action. Techno is used as a term for the first time, with backstory about how they're the line which came after the Cybers, who were all wiped out when they were found to be disobedient. Instead of just taking on stragglers, Cybersix is specifically tracking Technos to find the stations where they refuel on fluid, which is called Sustenance from this point on.

As the story opens, she's found one of these stations, but attempting to sneak in, she alarms a group of guards and is forced to kill them all so they can't report who broke in in the hopes she can return again. It's a very strong and brutal action sequence, and the way Cybersix is drawn does help set the style which was used for animation in the show. I see artist Carlos Meglia spent some time working in animation for Hanna-Barbera, and you can tell in the way his figures' postures nicely convey movement.

During the battle, Cyber also loses and has to retrieve a faded photograph that's important to her. No, it's not the photo of her brother from "Data-7 & Julian", but rather of a sad-looking, emaciated and bedraggled black man. Remember how, in "Yashimoto, Private Eye", we talked about how, regardless of the fact that Detective Yashimoto was a pretty awesome character, they way he was drawn was such a caricature of ethnic stereotype features that it still came off as uncomfortable and insensitive? The same is true here as this man and later black people we see are drawn in the gangly, clumsy, massive white-lipped style you'd see in old racist propaganda cartoons.

She identifies the man as her father, and returning home to sleep off the drain of the Sustenance she's burned off without refueling, her nightmares recount the day her creator (still in the shadows) ordered the extermination of the Cyber line, and this man, a worker at the facility, rushed to find Cybersix, helping smuggle her free of the jungle-based camp. This is an interesting bit of backstory that I'm surprised the cartoon never really adapted in any way, and the photo gives Cyber one brief familial attachment to this world. If only we didn't have the missteps of that bizarre title quote, attributed to a taxi cab driver from one of Cyber's dreams (?!?), and all the ogling shots of Cyber as she writhes through the nightmare. Every time Cyber returns to her apartment in this book, she strips nude. Which, let's be honest, a lot of people do when they live alone. But there is an exploitative angle to the way Meglia will have things ride up in certain ways from shot to shot which does make it a bit awkward, especially as these introspective moments are some of the most personal for the character in terms of her internal monologues. And yes, he does draw pubes in that same blocky style of hair croutons. Which isn't to say it's always bad. There are some moments of nude Cyber that are very artistic, showing her loneliness and detachment, especially as she stares at herself in the mirror.

Chapter 3 "It's Said the Creation of Monsters is Never Ending, Never Ending"

Cybersix is struggling to maintain the Adrian disguise the next day, visibly ill as an enthusiastic Lucas shares with her some fresh night photos he snapped of Cybersix, clearly showing her inhuman powers as he wonders what she is. Adrian excuses herself and struggles through class. That's when an interesting twist happens. Remember this dude among José's recurring henchmen in the cartoons?

Yeah, his name is Sylvester Vidal, and he's placed in the class as one of Adrian's students. This is where we learn most Cybers and Technos can recognize one another on sight (which doesn't gel with Chapter 1 very well), and Cyber's anxious about what this means. After staring at herself in the mirror a bit and suiting up, she hits the rooftops in search of Sustenance, only for Sylvester to attack. He's from a new line, the Types, a line succeeding the Technos, who have advanced intelligence as well as strength and exist as the overseers in terms of how Technos are placed within society.

He delights in being the one who will finally succeed in killing Cybersix, a feat no techno was able to achieve. She puts up a fight, but is no match for him as he strangles her and refuses to let go. This does also lead to another issue which plagues the broader book, his threats turning to those of sexual violence as he takes in her panicked beauty. For everyone who wants to kill Cybersix, just as many want to rape her. It's not pleasant.

With a sudden clonk on the head, Sylvester goes down, revealing Lucas with his heavily lensed camera for night photography. Before he can get any questions out, Cybersix pounces on Sylvester, refilling her Sustenance. Lucas is shocked, asking if she's a vampire, but she gives him some vague info on the inhuman natures of herself and Sylvester. She hoists Sylvester up, about to throw him off a roof to finish him off, when Lucas questions her morals. She decides to let Sylvester live... which proves moot when he comes to and attacks, accidentally flinging himself right off that roof.

This is a bit of a bummer, as I really dig this chapter and think Sylvester would be a great character to continue exploring: a Techo variant embedded directly in Adrian's classroom. Furthermore, with the cartoon lacking many subvillians beyond José, it really surprises me that they didn't leap on this setup for at least an episode, instead just making Sylvester an undeveloped flunkie.

As the chapter ends, Lucas has more questions, but Cybersix takes off, promising him she'll give him some answer some other day. He catches that she mentions him by name and wonders what that means.

Chapter 4 "The Woman Who Would One Day Be Nothing More than a Number"

The day after, Lucas tracks down the morgue where they brought Sylvester, bribing the coroner for info on the body only to find out it vanished without a trace before any type of autopsy could be performed. Lucas leaves in a huff, wondering if he'll ever see Cybersix again and get any answers, when she swoops down, yanking him to the rooftops to give him some answers. We see a lot of what we've learned already, that she's a Cyber and the last remaining of 5000 units which were all destroyed. We see and learn the name of Dr. Von Reichter for the first time, learn his lab was in Brazil (I've read elsewhere that Meridiana itself is based in South America, given the Argentine origins of the comic), and that the Dad who helped her escape was one of a group of African slaves being held on the property. Cyber and her dad managed to set up a comfortable home in a fishing village until Von Reichter's men hunted them down. Cyber got away, but her dad was brutally tortured, refusing to give up any info about her until he died.

This sequence is beautifully drawn, with the story playing out against Lucas's eagerness to learn, even as he's clutching for life to an angel statue on a slick roof as rain pours around them. She shows him the "Cyber 6" tattoo on her arm, saying she's as fake as a refrigerator, but he reaches out and touches her, assuring her she's real, flesh and blood. She pulls away again, setting him back on the ground, then leaving, though promising again that they'll see one another. At her apartment, she again strips down and ponders over how the touch of his man's hands have made her feel like a woman.

This is where the gender politics do get a little thickly laid on. It's not awful, and does fit Cyber's longing for identity and companionship, and Lucas isn't a bad dude. It just gets a bit melodramatic and eye-rolling at times. I actually like how the cartoon preserved this, but in a more subtle and romantically sweeping fashion.

Chapter 5 "As For Myself, I Don't Care About the Here and Now, I Want Reality. I Want the Things That Really Exist, Not the Time That Measures Them"

Flashback origin issue as we follow Cybersix as an adolescent after the death of her dad, slowly making her way with nothing to her name but a single suitcase, planning for the day she'll get her revenge against those who cast her out and killed her dad. When she hops a train, she's attacked by a hobo who's after the case, but she easily lifts him over her head and tosses him out. Checking the case, we see it's full of jars of Sustenance.

After slipping the border out of Brazil, she comes across a car accident. Seeing the body of a boy around her age, she realizes they vaguely look alike, so she buries him where he'll never be found, and makes off with his passport and glasses. He was, of course, the real Adrian Seidelman. Reaching Meridiana, she as Adrian gets a job as a courier (another strike against Dark Angel, James Cameron), working her way up through school and college until getting a job as a lowly literature professor.

Unfortunately, while she's only drunk from it sparingly, Cybersix has run out of Sustenance and needs to find more if she's going to survive. Stalking the night as Adrian, she finds a prostitute whom she recognizes as a Techno. Following the woman up to her quarters, Cyber violently attacks her, discovering for the first time that Sustenance can indeed be consumed in this much more direct fashion. Reeling from the rush of the moment, it's only then that she realizes she can't keep doing this as Adrian without blowing that identity, and that's when she sees the trademark hat and cape in the prostitute's closet.

For a 12-page story, this is jam-packed with material. I do actually like the story of how she came to become Adrian, though not so much her getting her signature costume just by stealing it from the prostitute. And while I feel a few quibbles about her complete lack of ethical struggle in both cases, this is a vampire story in many ways, and both scenarios speak to the unfortunate choices vampires need to make in order to survive. It makes Cyber a much more complicated and nuanced character than the noble hero she was in the cartoon, and while it would have been interesting seeing them try to work some of this into the show, I get why they ultimately either axed it entirely or sat on it for later. In fact, I'm surprised the comic is giving us so much so soon. Don't have a problem with it, though.

We end on Cyber in full Cybersix mode, prowling alleys at night, when she's confronted by Von Reichter who comes at her with fingers made of Sustenance syringes. Cybersix wakes from the nightmare, chilled and wanting to talk to someone, but when she goes to Lucas' window, she's disappointed when he asks if she dreams. She again takes off.

Chapter 6 "The Ghost Roams in His Old Dwellings, Filled with the Sounds of Squeaking Mice and Rats in the Haunted Mansion that is 'The Obligations of Life' "

In the Brazilian estate, we finally meet Krumens, though don't get to know much about him as he congratulates Von Reichter on engineering a perfect labor force: black people. No, really, the black people on this estate are all bioengineered to be obedient beasts of burden. Because evil Nazis and yuck. Von Reichter warns they may "still carry the indomitable spirit of their race" and laments the failures that were the loss of Cybersix and an empty cage labelled Data-7. He rolls up his sleeve, revealing ugly wounds from animal claws.

Moving on, Adrian is reading some poetry to Lucas in their cafe, but it's interrupted by teasing from Lori and her gang. This follows Adrian to the classroom where he's (going back to the he/him for Adrian because he's such a developed persona that it really does ease the synopses) interrupted as Lori starts passing around a doodle inscribed "Lucas and Adrian are madly in love". Adrian tears into Lori, who seems genuinely hurt by it.

Later, Lucas cools Adrian down at a cafe, relating the encounter with Cybersix, but Adrian is distracted by distant roars only he can hear, underlaid with the signal of his own kind. Quickly leaving and suiting up, Cybersix remembers the panther Data-7, one of Von Reichter's attempts to replicate the Cyber process on animals, and the instant kinship she formed with him. Finding Data-7, they instantly reforge their bond. And that's it.

This is a weirdly scattershot chapter. The intro with Von Reichter and Krumens, while gross, is intriguing, but before we settle into it, we get two sequences of Lori making mischief, and lots of Lucas wanting to talk, and by the time we actually get to Data-7, he reunites with Cybersix in a single page without any actually plot leading up to it. For as major a character as he is in the cartoon, this is a letdown of an intro.

Chapter 7

From this point on, at least as far as I've read, no more of the chapter have titles.

We instantly contextualize the last chapter with backstory, parts of which loosely became "Data-7 & Julian", showing Cybersix as a child, along with her brother Cyber-29, as they play in the woods. 29 decides to climb a large tree, but when they're startled by a guard catching them, he falls and breaks his neck. Von Reichter is displeased about the loss, but decides to further his experiments with the panther Data-7 by surgically swapping out its brain with the boy's. We again see the recovering Data-7 bonding with Cybersix, but it's unclear if this is after the scene in the last chapter, before, if she thinks he's still just the panther, or if she knows its her brother. They never say, but the Cybersix of the present who's narrating this all seems to know the truth. She then thinks back on how he continued to suffer after her escape as Von Reichter continued experimenting and experimenting to drive the panther's will. None of which Cybersix would have seen and Data can't tell her, so I'm again not sure why she's narrating.

Anyway, we come to the present with what should have been the opening of the last chapter, as Von Reichter, a Techno (who looks like a burly Fixed Idea but isn't identified as such and seems quite sharp versus what they're usually portrayed as), and Data-7 are crowded around a terminal as Von Reichter works out that the attacked Technos in the city who are being drained of Sustenance are likely the victims of Cybersix. He orders Data-7 to hunt her down, but as soon as he prints out an image of her face, Data-7 recognizes her and attacks Von Reichter and the Techno, escaping in a cool action sequence and making his way to Meridiana. Cybersix and Data-7 together decide to renew their promise to no longer run and start finding ways to fight back.

A much better chapter, with some wonderful pages of art during the flashback, especially the image of Data-7 being used as Von Reichter's executioner against slaves who disappoint the doctor. I really do wish they had re-ordered the events of this chapter and the last to build some level of mystery instead of just dropping him into the story then backtracking for context later. Still, it's a good backstory.

Chapter 8

Okay, so here's where we get to the Fixed Ideas. With Krumens following along, hyperbolically praising everything Von Reichter says, the doctor shows off the army of 1,000 Fixed Ideas he's ready to unleash, the first of which has already been released to hunt down Cybersix. This is followed by a great sequence as we follow a Fixed Idea around Meridiana and get into his head, as he processes all possibilities of what Cybersix may now look like against the people he passes, elaborates her use of rooftops and tracking methods, pausing to watch through a window as a dude gets blown (?), all while Cybersix and Data-7 watch on and try to work out a plan. I should point out that while both Von Reichter and the Fixed Ideas have the black markings over the top halves of their heads, instead of being the facepaint/tattoo/mask things they are in the cartoon, it appears to just be a shadow effect here.

In a twist, Lucas shows up on a roof and greets the Fixed Idea, offering to sell out Cybersix's hiding place in exchange for being able to examine her corpse for his science articles. The Fixed Idea, a friendly, hapless monster, just as in the cartoon, goes along, and when they reach the fuel depot, he sheds his jacket revealing a flamethrower on his back. He goes in to find Cybersix acting distressed and surprised, but as he takes a step forward, he falls into a hidden pit. It was all a trap. In a hilarious moment, he speaks from the pit that he's quite resilient and it'll take more to stop him, so Data-7 casually slinks into the hole and we hear screams. Seriously, these first 2/3s of the chapter are my favorite part of this book so far. It's lively, well plotted, and really does a solid job of establishing the Fixed Ideas, as well as the team Cybersix, Data-7, and Lucas are beginning to form. It's another chunk I'm surprised the cartoon didn't adapt in some way.

And then it gets weird. Cybersix's Dad then enters the room, saying he survived all the torture and faked his own death using "a trick of the Mocumba", and he's desperate to hold her again. She tries her best to quiet Data-7's warning growls, and even brushes off the man raising an axe to her as she's filled with so much joy at seeing him again. He suddenly goes up in flames and drops dead. Lucas tosses away the flamethrower, berating Cybersix for falling for such an obvious trap as this was yet another Von Reichter clone trailing the Fixed Idea, and they all run out before the fuel depo explodes.

This is... odd, and honestly an unnecessary further twist for the story. I'm not against bringing back her dad as a killer clone, but this wasn't the right spot to slip it in, and it even wastes him as a character as he just gets a few pages, then goes up in a fwoosh of flame.

Since we're only halfway through this 200-page book, I'm breaking this post in half.


Tony Williams said...

- I'm just gonna go ahead and ask the question that I'm sure is on everyone's mind; "Where is José?".

- Reading about how often Cybersix is nude or in various states of undress reminded me of a point I'd forgotten to bring up during our reviews. The "transformation" scenes in the cartoon, where Cybersix dons her outfit, are fairly erotic, with the camera cutting away at the last possible second. They clearly tried to retain as much of the spirit of the comic as possible in that regard.

- I don't suppose the comic bothers to explain how a science teacher came by a flamethrower does it? You can't just pick one of those up at Wal-Mart. Well, maybe Wal-Mart, but what are the odds there's a Wal-Mart in Meridiana?

- Looking at the artwork here I'm impressed by how well the cartoon captured the look of the comic; at least the characters.

NoelCT said...

Where is José?

You won't have long to wait on that one.

Reading about how often Cybersix is nude or in various states of undress reminded me of a point I'd forgotten to bring up during our reviews. The "transformation" scenes in the cartoon, where Cybersix dons her outfit, are fairly erotic, with the camera cutting away at the last possible second. They clearly tried to retain as much of the spirit of the comic as possible in that regard.

They are, but I never found them exploitatively so. They had more the feel of confidence and assurance of identity. Unlike here.

I don't suppose the comic bothers to explain how a science teacher came by a flamethrower does it?

No no, the Fixed Idea has the flame thrower. Lucas just makes use of it after the FI is taken out.

Looking at the artwork here I'm impressed by how well the cartoon captured the look of the comic; at least the characters.

It does. I do still feel there's a bit of clash between the clean fluidity of the show and the rougher, intentionally messier designs, but they do capture them well.