I love Kickstarter. Browsing through it is like watching a crop of ideas ripening for harvest. For the uninitiated, Kickstarter is a website where individuals or groups can pitch their business ideas to the public for funding. If I wax lyrical about it, it’s merely because I love the purity of the concept that enterprise can be funded by the founders’ peers. Not everybody has apply to banks and big investment companies to get their idea off the ground. Things can be small and personal. Dare I say ‘intimate’?
To stop me saying things is a Herculean task, according to some who know me.
All this preamble was just warm up for talking about our real subject today, which is the 20th anniversary and re-release of Cyberforce #1, written by Marc Silvestri and Matt Hawkins, art by Khoi Pham with Sunny Gho colouring.
Cyberforce first hit the shelves in 1992 through Homage Studios as a four part mini-series, before it launched Top Cow as a studio in 1993.
The story follows a group of mutants who were heavily augmented with cutting edge technology by a mega-company called Cyberdata, which was in the business of making (and unleashing) the cybernetics of war, with a side line in world domination. I’m sure you can insert your own software company joke here, so I won’t cramp your style.
The marrying of man and machine was a very nineties concern, with a lot of stories spawned from that shared, unconscious question of where were we headed as a species. Faced with such overwhelming achievements in science, technology and industry, it seemed natural and right that we made stories about it, exploring options we could not yet foresee.
In twenty years, this hasn’t changed much, nor has the unspoken paranoia lessened. With today’s phones and tablets and laptops, the Western world can be connected to the stream of information for twenty four hours a day if we want. We have serious industries built around keeping us wired in. Love it or loathe it, it’s so commonplace that we barely even register our technological hybridisation.
And so Cyberforce returns twenty years on, with the same questions about the nature of humanity, big business autonomy and the conflict of self and society. Questions which are still relevant to our plugged-in, finger-on-the-pulse, wi fi world. All explored, of course, via the medium of super heroic exploits and conflict. But what is superhero fantasy at the end of the day, if not a profound question about what makes people human? Will the narrative of Cyberforce remain exactly the same? Probably not. For one, it’s not the 90s anymore for two, everyone changes and the story Marc Silvestri wants to tell today is probably not the one he was telling twenty years ago.
“To warrant bringing something back and in turn retooling it, you’d better have something new to say. And that thing you want to say needs to be relevant and organic to the concept/characters.”
I didn’t say that, Marc Silvestri did on the Kickstarter pitch for Cyberforce.
Who are these characters he speaks of? Let’s take a little time to talk about them in neatly arranged alphabetical listings. I haven’t listed an extensive history, because when you reboot something, stuff is subject to change and maybe old history has some quirks you’re happy to leave in the past. So let’s talk about what probably won’t have changed.
Family: Older sister to Velocity, abandoned to an orphanage. Hard times.
Powers: Super human athleticism and impeccable hand-eye coordination.
Most 90s Attribute: Abandonment! Fictional parents in the 90s were all deadbeats and alcoholics. It was a tough time for us all.
Family: Her mother died in childbirth and her father and brother died in her youth. Like all good superheroes, her natural instinct is to blame herself and take to radicalism as a Freedom Fighter while simultaneously learning to be a doctor.
Powers: Electromagnetic ‘blades’ she can control with the power of her mind.
Most 90s Attribute: Knows Jeet Kun Do, the martial art created by Bruce Lee.
Family: Couldn’t reliably control his powers when he was a kid and killed his brother with them by accident. Later married with a child, who was killed by in a terrorist attack.
Powers: Absorbing energy from the sun and then emitting it as super-hot plasma either to destroy something or lift himself in flight. It’s like Bulbasaur’s Solar Beam attack … how I imagine Solar Beam anyway. In my imagination, Pokemon is a much more exciting conflict.
Most 90s Attribute: “Heatwave, use Solar Beam attack!” “Finally- I mean, ‘Venusaur’.”
Powers: Being freakin’ huge and strong.
Most 90s Attribute: Being that guy who died to give the others clarity of purpose. Every team has one, some have the same one over and over again.
Family: Was going out with Velocity at one point, but that may not be a thing anymore. A native of the Iroquois tribe.
Powers: Super human regenerative powers with shamanistic tendencies, allowing him to converse with the spirit world and take other shapes.
Most 90s Attribute: Like Wolverine, but not as Canadian. Also, more spiritual! (I’m being so good not making a Bravestar referen- “Speed of the Puma!” Oh … oh dear. That’s most unfortunate)
Powers: Three arms, all of them right! Well, he also has a left arm, but there’s only one of it and that’s just not good enough.
Most 90s Attribute: Having a ‘y’ instead of an ‘i’ in his name.
Family: Younger sister to Ballistic, similarly dumped in an orphanage at a tender age.
Powers: Super speed, super manoeuvrability and some healing ability, which is probably also linked to speed in some way.
Most 90s Attribute: Chronic case of the damsels. Velocity is that young, almost side-kicky character who spends most of her time in more trouble than she can handle.
In summation, I think of all the reboots to come up with, Cyberforce probably makes the most sense. It’s often compared unfavourably to X-men, but while both franchises revolve around mutants, I think there’s an excellent case to be made that they’re not telling the same story. X-men as a concept and a story can be very applicable to equality movements. It’s about people who are reviled because they are different and who suffer great divisions in their own community about how to fit in with the rest of the world and to have their say. We’ve all heard the comparison of Professor X to Martin Luther King and Magneto to Malcolm X. These are not off the cuff comparisons, in every oppressed group there are radicals on both sides screaming about what needs to change and in the middle, people wondering whose dream is worth fighting for the most.
Cyberforce is applicable to humanity’s relationship with technology and the great concern of our age, which is the fearsome political power mega conglomerates have. People on the telly can rant at me until they are blue in the face about how regulation on business is super bad for the economy, but we know and they know that what regulation and oversight is really bad for are profit margins.
Stories about our times are important, they stay with us because they speak to what troubles us today and can help form our ideas of how to deal with tomorrow. To that end, Cyberforce makes sense.
The fact that the digital copies will be free never hurt a comic’s chances of being read either.