Fifteen months ago, I took a look at five first issues of Wildcats and Youngblood. It was appropriate at the time as both of those original Image titles had recently come out with new number ones. Jason Marconnet, aka Lime Coke, enjoyed those articles so much that he asked me to do a similar survey with other Image or ‘90s titles. It’s taken me fifteen months to get around to it, but never let it be said that I let down a reader. So, for Lime Coke, for me, and for everyone else, here are reviews of five first issues of Marc Silvestri’s creation CyberForce, and it’s spin-off StykeForce.
by Marc and Eric Silvestri
Welcome to the Image Revolution! Marc Silvestri was one of seven artists who left Marvel Comics in 1992 in order to take control of their own careers and start their own company. Silvestri had already established himself with popular runs as the regular penciler on Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine. He even contributed art to the famous X-Men arcade game that debuted out in 1992, helping to define the look of the X-Men for a generation of fans.
For his initial Image title, Marc Silvestri stayed in his comfort zone. He created a new team called CyberForce. However, his new team had a lot in common with his old team, the X-Men. There are five characters featured on the cover of the first issue and each of them bears a strong resemblance to one of the X-Men. There are a few key differences- Stryker has four arms, Ripclaw is a Native American- but the initial resemblance is- dare I say it- uncanny. Silvestri even calls his characters “mutants,” though in this case they are also cybernetically enhanced (hence the name, CyberForce). The familiar building blocks aren’t necessarily a problem. Other characters have grown from imitations, parodies or homages to become fully realized creations such as Captain Marvel, Cerebus, Savage Dragon and The Authority.
Marc Silvestri and his brother Eric craft an interesting world and a strong opening story around these central characters. That includes some interesting supporting characters. The first character we meet is Velocity, a teenaged girl on the run from a private military who is rescued by CyberForce’s Ripclaw. There’s a superficial resemblance to the X-Men’s Jubilee- teenage girl, runaway, befriends the gruff guy with the claws. However, Velocity has different powers (speed) and a different back-story (she was abused). We also meet two boys, Chip and Timmie. Chip is a teenaged genius. Timmie looks like a little boy, but he’s actually an android. These younger characters also help give CyberForce their own identity. They’re more like a band of refugees than a superhero team.
Silvestri also introduces a strong cast of villains. The first is Ballistic, a cybernetically enhanced bounty hunter who is trying to capture Velocity. Then there’s a reference to Gammerung, either a person or an organization, dedicated to killing mutants. Next up is Mother May I. She’s the head of Cyberdata, the organization that claims to have created all of the cyber-mutants and that still wants to control them. Mother May I is a cyborg herself, with a unique blue Cleopatra look. She’s one of the best villains in any of the early Image titles. Finally, Ballistic comes back with an as-yet-unnamed squad of mutant villains who all work as enforcers for Cyberdata.
These different villains and supporting characters show that the world of CyberForce is nearly as multi-faceted as our own. One of the other secondary characters is Bluestone, a mutant running for political office (although there’s some confusion in that he’s running for mayor on one page and then called a senator on another). That gives us a whole range of mutants and political perspectives- those who are open and attempting to engage in public life, those who are in hiding, those who want to kill them and those who want to capture and control them. It makes for a much, more complex and interesting world than many other superhero stories. Altogether, it’s a great introduction to new characters, a new team and a new world.
by Marc Silvestri, Eric Silvestri and Scott Williams
Unfortunately, the second CyberForce #1 isn’t as good as the first one. The main problem is that it’s really a continuation of the recently completed mini-series. The initial Image titles were all popular. Some of them were set up as ongoing series from the beginning. But most had been planned as mini-series. Youngblood stayed with the original numbering as it extended from a mini-series into an ongoing. On the other side, Savage Dragon and CyberForce opened up the ongoing series with a new number one.
Yet, despite the new number one, this issue of CyberForce is really part of a continuing story. Its fine as an installment of a larger story if you’ve already read the initial mini-series and the zero issue that was published in-between. But it doesn’t really work as a first issue. The previous first issue shared back-story such as the abuse Velocity experienced as a child. But that was presented as new information for the reader, even if it’s in the past for the character. In this issue, the characters also make numerous references to earlier events. The multiple references make this issue exposition-heavy. Plus, some of the references are oblique, telling you that something happened in the previous stories but not what. As a reader, you definitely feel as if you’ve missed something.
This is especially true of a scene in which Stryker apparently attempts to recruit Ballistic into CyberForce. Stryker explains what happened- they removed an implant that was forcing Ballistic to work for CyberData. But the scene works much better and carries much greater emotional weight if you’ve read the previous story. It’s a good piece of Ballistic’s overall arc but it’s an awkward introduction to the character for a new reader.
Another problem is the sub-plot in which Ripclaw is experiencing bad dreams. The visions feature two other people- a man with long green hair and a woman with big red hair. By the end of the issue, it’s revealed that the green-haired guy is Warblade, from Wildcats, and the red-haired girl is named Misery. In the back, there’s an ad for an upcoming crossover between CyberForce and Wildcats in which misery splits the two men and the two teams.
It isn’t a bad thing to have a B or C plot setting up storylines down the road. However, this issue of CyberForce doesn’t really have an A plot. The other part of the story is a training exercise, helping Velocity acclimate to the team. The result is that one plot looks back at the previous story and the other plot looks ahead to an upcoming crossover. Nothing of importance actually happens in this particular issue. It’s truly a middle issue and not a first issue. Yet, even as a middle issue, it fails to deliver anything on its own.
by Marc Silvestri, Brandon Peterson and Josef Rubinstein
Image was wildly successful and many of the initial titles launched spin-offs. Youngblood led to Brigade, Wildcats to Stormwatch, Savage Dragon to Freak Force. And yes, CyberForce led to a spin-off team, Codename: StrykeForce. After clashing with Heatwave over leadership of CyberForce, Stryker struck out on his own. His new team would be less defensive and more proactive (now where else have we heard that one?). They would be more like a black ops team, taking the fight to the villains on their own turf. They would also get paid. That contradiction aside, this is a very strong opening issue.
The first scene echoes Stryker’s introduction in CyberForce #1. In that issue, he was assigned to watch Bluestone, the mutant political figure running for mayor. Stryker saved Bluestone from assassination. In this issue, Stryker has been paid to watch out for “President Bill” as he listens to a speech by Mikhail Gorbachev. And yes, once again, Stryker stops an assassination attempt. It’s a great heroic moment for Stryker, and a strong introduction to the lead character.
This first issue also does a good job of introducing the other members of the team. Their introductions are spread throughout the issue as Stryker calls on them at certain junctures of this mission and the next. That keeps the reader from being overwhelmed by meeting an entire team all at once. Marc Silvestri had used a similar effect in the first issue of CyberForce- introducing each member of the team one at a time- but the technique is even more effective here as they’re all connected to one main incident.
First up is Icarus, who flies and looks a lot like Nate Grey. Then there’s Anvil, one of my favorite characters in the world of CyberForce. He’s short and squat, built like an anvil and hard as iron. He’s sort of a mixture of the Thing, Puck and Wolverine but he’s not any one of them. He is truly his own character. There’s Bloodbow, an albino, elven archer. There’s Tempest, the token girl, who apparently has weather powers. And there’s Killrazor, a villain who’s willing to work with the good guys for a price.
There’s also a super-villain. In one sense, he’s like every other super-villain, berating his henchmen and cackling about plans to conquer the world. But Silvestri and company at least try to drape him in mystery. He refuses to mention his name, telling a group of hostages that they don’t need to know and insisting that all of his lackeys call him “sir.” It doesn’t make the boss as memorable as CyberForce’s Mother May I- that’s also the downside to not having a name- but it’s at least an attempt to make him different.
I also like the Brandon Peterson art. He does a good job of weaving Silvestri and Jim Lee influences so that this title fits in with the general Image vibe. His characters are a little more muscled-up than Silvestri’s but that fits the tone of this team. And he does a great job with panel lay-out and story-telling. There’s a great contrast on two pages- one which very clearly depicts Gorbachev giving a speech and another which coyly hides “President Bill” in Stryker’s shadow. There’s also some good action scenes with planes, missiles, submarines and torpedoes.
CyberForce had more of a team feeling than StrykeForce. This is like Stryker and the Jordanaires. But other than that, it’s a very well done first issue- possibly the best in the batch.
by Jay Faerber, Tyler Kirkham and Marco Alquiza
We go from arguably the best first issue to arguably the worst. I apologize in advance to all involved. I’m a huge fan of Jay Faerber’s creator-owned work at Image (Noble Causes, Dynamo 5, Urban Myths) but this Top Cow mini-series is a turkey. And Tyler Kirkham is a good artist on other titles but it’s hard to defend his work here.
The main problem has to do with the company itself. It had been a dozen years since CyberForce had hit the stage and nine years since they launched the successful StrykeForce spin-off. In the meantime, a lot of other things had happened for Marc Silvestri. CyberForce became a victim of the superhero glut. There were a lot of titles and a lot of teams. And CyberForce struggled to remain as popular as the X-Men and the Wildcats or as relevant as Gen13.
Meanwhile, Marc Silvestri expanded his little corner of the Image universe by adding new artists, new characters and new titles. One of those artists was Michael Turner. And one of those new characters was Witchblade. Witchblade was more of a supernatural superhero than CyberForce. She became very successful, arguably the most popular “bad girl” in comics. Silvestri slowly transitioned his output to cater to those fans. CyberForce and StrykeForce made way for Witchblade spin-offs like Darkness or imitations like Aphrodite XI. The imprint became known as Top Cow and Top Cow became known for “bad girl” art.
By 2004, comic books had bounced back. The time seemed right for a resurrection of Top Cow’s superhero characters, most of whom had sat on the shelf for several years while Silvestri’s imprint focused on “bad girls” and “good girls” like Witchblade and Tomb Raider.
Unfortunately, Top Cow’s house style infiltrated their newest superhero title as well. It’s not that the earlier superwomen had been ugly. Cyblade was drawn to be beautiful and Velocity was cute. But they pretty much received the same treatment as the guys, and they at least wore full costumes. That wasn’t the case this time around. Jay Faerber introduced four new characters to this version of Strykeforce, including two women. One was Sly who had the power to turn invisible. Naturally, she could only turn herself invisible and not other objects. Like her clothes. Which meant that she spent half of the issue walking around naked. The other woman was Tia Katana. Her power was a magic tattoo from which she could draw a sword (or technically, a katana). However, in order to reach her sword, she had to wear next to nothing (or occasionally nothing) on her torso. Apparently, just to make sure she was consistent, she also wore next to nothing on her lower half. That there were in-story reasons for the two women to spend the whole issue half-naked or half the issue completely naked isn’t a defense. In actuality, it makes it worse. It shows that they thought they needed an excuse.
It’s such a major flaw that it undercuts an otherwise decent story. Stryker and his team are hired to rescue some corporate executives who are being held as hostages in the mountain jungles of Peru. They’re successful. But they’re wanted by the FBI for being independent operatives. And the FBI has planted a spy on the team. That’s a good set-up for a good story. It’s too bad that Strykeforce couldn’t get out of its own juvenile way. And Top Cow wonders why it developed its reputation.
by Ron Marz and Pat Lee
The latest first issue of Cyberforce serves as a retroactive lesson for the 1993 first issue. By this point, Cyberforce has a long history and Ron Marz has to let the readers know some of that history in order for this issue to make sense. Then, this is also the first issue in an era when most stories are written, at least partially, for the trade. So Marz has to look at setting up a longer story over several issues. That means that this issue has to simultaneously look backward and forward while still being a satisfying issue on its own. That’s the test that the 1993 issue failed. But it’s a test that this 2006 issue passes with flying colors.
In terms of looking backwards, Marz gathers the three female members of the team for a dinner party. They’re wearing evening gowns and drinking wine- showing that female characters can look sexy and beautiful, without being exploitative. They’re drinking to the end of Cyberforce. The team is fractured and devoid of any future. The women are agreed: it’s best to end the team now. There’s just one last piece of business: Ripclaw has gone rabid. They feel that they need to clean up their own mess, and kill off their own teammate. The scene certainly shares exposition- for example, we learn that Velocity and Ripclaw had become lovers- but it does so in a way that resonates emotionally.
In terms of looking forward, Marz uses the sub-plot to do that. Marz opens with a scene from a far-space station. The sentries complain that there’s nothing to do out here on the edge of civilization before being run over by a massive armada. That oncoming armada hangs over the rest of the story. How can a dispirited and disbanded Cyberforce stand up to such a force?
Then, the story is satisfying in its own right. At least one major bit of action is completed in this issue. The rabid Ripclaw attacks and the three women of Cyberforce- Ballistic, Cyblade and Velocity- fight to take him down. The rabid Ripclaw appears to have won. Ballistic and Cyblade have been taken out of the fight. Ripclaw has Velcoity at his mercy. He threatens to kill her, or rape her. And then, another claw bursts through his chest. The rogue Ripclaw falls to the ground and another Ripclaw is revealed behind him. The rogue was a faulty imitation. The real Ripclaw is back and he just might be able to help the women defeat the alien armada that they don’t even know about yet.
That’s both a complete incident- the defeat of the rabid Ripclaw- and also a tease of a larger story yet to be told- the gathering of Cyberforce and the battle against the alien armada. That makes for a great first issue.
Pat Lee’s art is also perfect for this story. It’s a little dark and rough around the edges, wonderfully matched to the story of a shabby super-team on its last legs.