The cybernetic Cyborg has long been a superhero, but has he ever thought he could be something much worse? In Cyborg: Rebirth #1, part of DC’s ongoing Rebirth, writer John Semper Jr. seeks to find the humanity — or the monster — in the computerized DC hero on the brink of mainstream popularity thanks to the forthcoming Justice League movie.
“When I’m figuring out how I’m going to develop a character, I always start by asking myself the question: What is the character afraid of?” Semper Jr. told Inverse about his new series, beginning with the arc “The Imitation of Life.”
“It’s been touched upon before whether or not he’s more human than machine. If he’s a machine, what does that mean? Is that a good thing or is that a bad thing? That’s the new slant I put on it. It really does touch upon the Frankenstein story.”
Semper Jr.’s Cyborg retells Victor Stone’s origins as a hotshot college athlete viciously attacked by monsters from another world. His father, a brilliant but arrogant scientist, “heals” his son with advanced technology, turning him into a half-man of tomorrow. In our modern world dominated by technology, Cyborg might cease becoming a side-character into something more when Ray Fisher fleshes him out in Zack Snyder’s Justice League next year. For now though, Semper Jr.’s book will be the one searching for Victor Stone’s soul.
We’re living in an absolutely technological world. Do you aim Cyborg: Rebirth to address our modern anxieties living with technology?
It is very much so. Ray Kurzweil has this concept of the singularity, which is when man and machine become intertwined, so intertwined that it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. We’re getting closer and closer to the singularity. That’s very much what I wanted to address because Cyborg is already there. He’s that many more decades ahead of us. It might even be shorter than decades. Yes, we are getting very attached to technology. That’s exactly the issue that I want to address with Cyborg: Rebirth.
It’s [also] about the human element and how much of humanity is still left in him, which I think is a question that we all have to ask ourselves these days.
Speaking about human elements, Victor’s relationship with his father, or lackthereof, has long been a defining trait. How will this revelation — that his father thinks he’s a monster — further strain their already troubled relationship?
It’s going to cause huge problems, obviously, huge problems. If I may sound like Trump for a second – huge problems.
Tremendous problems. There is a major rift brewing between the two. We will see Cyborg get out from under his father’s wing and be on his own. It seemed to me that as a character, he’s never left the house. If S.T.A.R. Labs is the house and daddy is still, pretty much, presiding over that, then we’re going to see what it’s like for Cyborg to get out of the house and establish his own identity with a bunch of new characters, new friends, new allies, and new enemies.
Sounds like, in addition to a techno-thriller, your Cyborg is angling towards a coming of age story too.
Absolutely. That would be the best way of describing it.
Tell me more about the ending, the reveal of Gamma Omega Gamma. It looks like a team made up of robots. What inspired you to make them and what is their purpose?
Let’s just say I’m introducing a new villain. This villain hits right at the heart of all of Cyborg’s fears, right at the relationship between him and his father. In a way, this villain wants to be Cyborg’s father. He’s been collecting technology, every time there has been a technological villain of some sort, when that villain’s defeated, this guy’s collected the wreckage and basically rebuilt the villain. What we’re getting at in that last shot is every cybernetic villain you could ever think of that’s been in DC is in this guy’s possession. If it’s been defeated, if it’s been destroyed, he has plans for it.
You do a lot of explaining to Cyborg’s origin. Was this in any way brought on by Cyborg being in the Justice League movie?
No one gave me the mandate, but I wanted to. I, personally, wanted to simplify. I wanted to retell the origin story. I also wanted to reshape it in my own way. There are some — not changes, but clarifications I’m making. Instead of jumping in and continuing a previous storyline, I like to get at the motivations, why characters do what they do. It seemed to me the best way would be to delve into the origin.
The whole Rebirth umbrella was one where, we’re hoping and it does seem to be the case, we’re drawing in a lot of new readers. I want lots of new readers. This is a book we’re hoping will draw a large number of new readers who aren’t familiar with the characters.
Being part of Rebirth, will Cyborg influence anything in other DC storylines? For example, will Gamma Omega Gamma cause trouble in other DC books?
No, they won’t affect other DC stories. I’m in my own sandbox here, which is great because I don’t have to get involved in anyone else’s storyline at the moment. Geoff Jones has given me tremendous freedom. I do have editors, and I do try to accommodate their notes because I come from television. When we get notes in television, we have to adhere to them. I don’t mind that, I’ve been doing that for 30 years. When I get notes now from my DC editors, it’s more of a conversation.
Speaking of TV, you were nominated for an Emmy on DC’s Static Shock series. What would you say is the difference, besides age, between Victor and Virgil?
A lot of things. I never thought of Virgil as cybernetic. He organically gained the power to manipulate electricity. It was a different question to Virgil. It was more of a younger coming of age story. One of the things I’m going to get into more with Cyborg is the notion of relationships. How does that work when you’re Cyborg? That wasn’t an issue with Virgil because it was a Saturday morning cartoon and it was a younger character, we didn’t delve much into relationships.
DC’s Cyborg: Rebirth #1 hits shelves September 7.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.