Let’s Talk About Cyborg
on July 20, 2016
Cyborg is really relevant to John Stewart fans and how the John Stewart character is treated at DC Comics and Warner Bros. in general, nearly as much as the Hal Jordan character. To believe otherwise is to be rather naïve. Seeing as how Cyborg affects John Stewart to such a large degree, I think the character deserves attention here at greenlantern.co.
Ever since Bruce Timm’s animated hit Justice League, there has been a precedent for having a black male on the team. Timm thought exclusively showcasing a bunch of white guys and a white girl saving the universe with a green Martian was very dated, so he added John Stewart, a black male Green Lantern. Certain sectors of comic fans were predictably against John’s inclusion, since they preferred one of the several white Green Lanterns. In the end, those fans didn’t really make any difference, and the show went on to be a big hit, and John developed a passionate fanbase from it.
Though this opened up a lot of doors for courting a demographic DC Comics had trouble penetrating—largely because they rarely ever bothered to put in the necessary effort—they were never really behind John Stewart. The late Dwayne McDuffie, one of the main writers from the Justice League cartoon, touches on this issue in the video below at the 1:30 mark.
I’m very confident Dwayne McDuffie would have been more than willing to write a John Stewart comic series, but DC had no interest in printing such a title, even at the height of Green Lantern’s popularity when the franchise could comfortably support multiple books.
It is true that John’s inclusion in the cartoon brought him out of comic inactivity… but to what? DC never utilized John for anything of note. This was very jarring to anyone who looked at what the popular cartoons were doing with him on television. Bruce Timm was moving DC Comics’ properties successfully into the 21st century, and painting a new, fresh, inclusive view of these iconic concepts for a new generation… and DC Comics, as McDuffie said in the above video, were very comfortable with what they (DC Comics) were doing.
Regardless of John Stewart’s success on television, or perhaps even in answer to it, DC was gearing up to resurrect Hal Jordan, the then long dead Silver Age Green Lantern, and put all their resources behind that character. John Stewart proved to be an inconvenience for DC, since they wanted to perpetuate the idea that Hal Jordan was Green Lantern, yet Stewart had been firmly cemented in that role in the minds of millions. DC’s strategy for surmounting that obstacle was to greatly increase Hal Jordan’s visibility, which eventually culminated in a Hal Jordan movie and cartoon show, while ignoring John Stewart in the hope that people would forget about him.
Even though DC black balled John Stewart, they rather surprisingly realized they shouldn’t just have a bunch of white heroes in prominence. I personally believe that if DC could feature just a bunch of white people without the audience looking at them with suspicion, they would. Remember, actions speak louder than words, so let’s consider what DC has done. They squelched their most popular black and diverse character–who came to be such by no effort of DC Comics, but rather by WB Animation–for the sake of a white one. What also makes me think the way I do is that DC put even less than halfhearted effort into John’s black ‘replacement’. As a consolation to black people, DC promoted the Teen Titans character Cyborg to the Justice League while continuing to more or less ignore John or only give him stupid roles.
This whole situation is problematic on numerous levels and has naturally resulted in a massive catastrophe. Despite problems every which way, from lack of care on DC’s part, lack of interest on the fans’ part, intense criticism from both traditional fans and the black fans Cyborg is supposed to appeal to, creative conflict behind the scenes, and a recent comic series that proved to be a sales disaster, DC is stubbornly sticking to their guns and continues portraying Cyborg as essentially their number one black guy. This has not worked out for them and it will not, and here are the reasons why…
Let’s discuss Cyborg by himself. Blogger sonofbaldwin wrote a great article highlighting many of the troublesome issues with Cyborg, especially with portraying him as the most prominent black character at DC. However, regardless of the negative social implications of the character (and there is a crap load), Cyborg is… just not cool.
He does not look cool. His story is not cool. He basically has no world. He has no good love interest. And his only relationships are with Beast Boy and his dad. DC has never done anything good with him that I have ever seen. Regardless of the fact that the character is missing his penis, is missing about 40 percent of his face, and is a general freak (and again, those are whoppers), black males simply do not have a cool character to get into with Cyborg. The character is similar to Maul from the Wild Cats or Beast from X-Men in that they can work in a team, and it has to be a certain type of team, but on their own… forget about it.
Everyone else on the Justice League is generally cool to at least some extent, which is what makes it one of DC’s strongest properties. Even if I don’t like a particular version of a character, like Barry Allen, The Flash is worth investing in, which is why fans fight over who should be The Flash. The Flash is a cool concept, and fans want their guy to fill that role. The same can be said of Green Lantern.
Cyborg, however, is not cool. He is lame as hell. Very few people will fight for Cyborg, and many of those who will have ulterior motives. For example, they could be Hal Jordan fans, or fans of the general New 52 Justice League status quo, or just some of those guys who think that just about anything DC does is great. I know all of this first hand, because I’ve dealt with all three types of Cyborg supporters. There are legitimate Cyborg fans. From my experience they fall into two camps.
There are fans looking for a black hero to relate to, and since Cyborg is just about the only thing DC has on the menu, they try to make the best of it rather than reject it. Typically, I believe most of these fans prefer John Stewart, but since John is sidelined, they take what they can get.
Then there are real, totally legit Cyborg fans. I honestly don’t believe there are many, but they are out there.
There is the hope for Cyborg that he is popular with a bunch of kids who aren’t making their voices known online and who do not buy comic books. That’s possible, but we can’t really say. What we do know is that a lot of the kids who grew up watching the Teen Titans cartoon in the early-2000s are young adults now, certainly of an age to buy comics and post online, and the character does not seem to garner much esteem and support among fans. It’s my personal belief that the character is just not popular, because the character IS NOT COOL.
Black males generally don’t want him, because they have much better options, like John Stewart, and a number of characters over at Marvel, and elsewhere. White people don’t want him because he doesn’t have much of a history, and they really have no good reason to like him. Black people have limited options and still have much better choices than Cyborg. White people have near unlimited options, and when you can get into Superman, and Batman, and Spider-Man, and Captain America, and Nightwing, and Wally West, and ten trillion other characters, why on Heaven, Hell, or Earth, would they choose to be into Cyborg!? This character with no history, no world, barely any comics of his own to delve into. He looks like crap. He can’t even have sex like most people can, and who would want to have sex with him even if he could?
This is what DC is telling black males they have to offer them? No wonder it isn’t working out!
What do white males have? Superman. It’s established all kinds of women want to be with him. Batman. It’s established all kinds of women want to be with him. Hal Jordan. He’s supposed to be a lady’s man. Kyle Rayner. A total wish fulfillment character to the point they had him date Wonder Girl in his heyday. I bring this up because sexual desirability is a regular part of superhero wish fulfillment. Cyborg is not capable of that. And to present this character as the primary black hero of their publishing company is a message to black people that they are less. Whether DC intentionally meant to send that message isn’t even important. All that matters is how the audience perceives it.
While DC offers the problematic Cyborg to black people, John Stewart sits in Hal Jordan’s shadow, being neglected or used as a side character. Who is John Stewart famous for having a romance with? Hawkgirl. John Stewart can actually have have a romance just like his white peers, and he has one with a character that probably most straight, red blooded human males wouldn’t mind being with too much.
John Stewart succeeds with black males because he got to be a superhero and naturally do the things superheroes do, including having pretty love interests. These are things many people wish they could escape to. John Stewart is a character many people would like to be. Who would want to be a mutilated Cyborg with no penis and a large portion of his face missing? Personally speaking, I would rather date Hawkgirl and have a wishing ring. I have no desire to give up my penis or face, or even for my arm to turn into a cannon.
John Stewart succeeds with other types of people, not just black males, because he is famous for being an extremely well written and compelling character, in incredibly well written and compelling pieces of entertainment that just about anyone could enjoy.
Now, let’s consider how DC has handled Cyborg. The whole endeavor was always doomed for failure because of the points above, but DC didn’t really help things with their obvious lack of interest in the character.
DC showed their lack of caring about diversity simply by putting Cyborg on the Justice League and promoting that character as their primary black hero. All this is exacerbated by the fact that in five years, DC has barely done anything with the character. It didn’t take Bruce Timm five years plus to do something worthwhile with John Stewart. Nope, it took about two episodes. Timm knew John and Hawkgirl would be in an epic romance right from the get go. Very early in Justice League’s first season, Timm planted the seeds of the romance and believably built it over the course of two seasons, and it was the focal point of the season 2 finale.
I don’t claim to be a super master comic scripter. However, I have written and drawn comics that people enjoyed, so I feel I have at least some authority to say something here. What I learned about writing comics, which is a really simple thing that you kind of already know, is that you, the writer, ARE GOD!
If I wanted John Stewart in a relationship with… Princess Iolande… I could write it, I can make it happen, and I can even do it to where it would probably be an entertaining story. The Justice League writers wanted John with Hawkgirl despite there being absolutely no precedent for that relationship, and look how well they made it work.
What my experience tells me is that Geoff Johns, the writer of the Justice League comic series for about five years, and Green Lantern for nine, has no excuse for ignoring Cyborg or John Stewart, other than he clearly just didn’t want to write them. When you’re on a book for fifty odd issues, I don’t care that Cyborg is sharing it with Superman and whoever else; you have more than enough room to do something meaningful with that character. When you’re writing Green Lantern for… I don’t even know how many issues, perhaps about 90-something… you have more than enough room to do something with John Stewart… IF YOU WANT TO. GEOFF JOHNS DID NOT WANT TO. THAT IS ALL! THERE IS NO OTHER REASON!
Why did they put Cyborg on the Justice League and then not even want to use him? Just so they can say they have a black guy, that’s why. There is a term for that type of thing. It’s “tokenism.” The fact they stomped out John Stewart and replaced him with as problematic a character as Cyborg, and then didn’t even care to do anything with Cyborg, tells me that DC didn’t really care about diversity. They cared about removing a threat to what they see as a white icon (Hal Jordan), while keeping up an appearance of diversity. I honestly don’t know what else I could glean from all of this.
The transparency of the Cyborg issue is a huge problem for DC. Most discerning people should see all the politics behind Cyborg’s inclusion on the League and thus being DC’s top black guy, because it’s all shamelessly staring you right in the face. The Hal Jordan fanboyism, the marginalizing of John Stewart, the lack of interest and care toward Cyborg… it’s all obvious.
Cyborg is on the Justice League because those in seats of power at DC do not want John Stewart there. Not because they have some special affinity toward Cyborg. Cyborg is being pushed, and I use that term somewhat loosely, because the powers that be don’t want to heavily promote John Stewart. This is because they want Hal Jordan to be seen as Green Lantern and don’t want that challenged. At least, this is how things were at the onset of the New 52, and we are still more or less dealing with the aftermath of all of that.
If you look at this situation, who benefits from it? Certainly not John Stewart fans. They’re left feeling incredibly alienated and frustrated with John’s treatment and DC’s blatant Hal Jordan favoritism. The Cyborg fans don’t benefit. They’re left continually disappointed by DC’s nonstop misfires with the character and general lack of care. Black people in general, the people who this diversity is supposed to benefit the most, don’t benefit. No one wants to be an ugly Cyborg, and no one is impressed by DC ignoring their most popular black hero, and also ignoring the black hero that DC wishes you liked.
It is the Hal Jordan fans who benefit. Unsurprisingly, it was essentially Hal Jordan fans who orchestrated this whole thing, and they did it for the sake of Hal Jordan.
Will revealing and discussing any of this really make a difference where it counts? No, I don’t believe so. DC officials may see this article, and they may even read it, but at the end of the day, DC is going to do what DC wants to do.
No matter how much people warn them, no matter how much people tell them they don’t like what they’re doing regarding all of this, DC will not change. If they were going to change, they would have done so by now. Rather, we see Cyborg continuing to be on the Justice League looking ugly, with that same tired storyline of his (apparently the only one he has). We see him continuing to get another series despite his previous one being a big failure. We see John Stewart shoved firmly behind Hal Jordan in a title called Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.
Cyborg, despite DC failing with him, and basically no one being happy with him, is slated to hit the big screen, and there is no official word on the status of John Stewart. If John Stewart does appear in film, he will probably be, once again, shoved firmly behind Hal Jordan. It doesn’t matter if the Hal Jordan movie and cartoon ultimately failed. It doesn’t matter that a bunch of people would rather see a John Stewart led movie. It doesn’t matter that multi-million dollar actors would love to play John Stewart. None of that matters, because, again, DC/WB are going to do what they want to do, and unfortunately for the John Stewart fan, DC could give less than a fart about him.
If you don’t care for all of this, all you can do in response is say so and choose not to support DC Comics. There are other alternatives in comics and entertainment in general that would probably frustrate you a whole heck of a lot less.