Anything relating to superheroes is considered big money these days. From Ant-Man taking home the number one box office slot to the recent destruction of Marvel Comics’ multiverse, millions of people are watching, reading, downloading and subscribing to anything related to comic books.
As the medium continues to grow in popularity, more and more fans (both old and new) are asking the powers-that-be to incorporate characters that resemble those who enjoy these tales of fancy. Whether it’s a female lead in a Hollywood blockbuster (director, star or both, we’re not picky!) or a more diverse representation in the industry, the masses are calling for change.
Enter: David F. Walker.
The writer behind the recent Shaft comic book has been tapped to lead the charge behind the debut of former Teen Titan and current Justice League member, Cyborg. With the first issue available this week, the superhero born as Victor Stone is capitalizing upon the major status boost he received with DC Comics’ New 52 initiative (a 2011 reboot of their entire line). For those who don’t know, DC Comics shuffled the origin story of the Justice League, revising it to place Cyborg amongst Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as a founding member of Earth’s greatest team of heroes.
With Walker handling the scribing duties for Cyborg #1, alongside art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado (Justice League, Green Lantern), the new series will focus on the man behind the machine. Already the first installment is being talked about around the interwebs, as the debut series finds the son of Silas and Elinore Stone recreating one of the most famous scenes from 1976’s Green Lantern. Walker is a great reason why readers should check out Cyborg solo.
Getting his start as a journalist, David Walker has worked with legends like the late Dwayne McDuffie, director/producer Reginald Hudlin, and filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. His sharp wit, strong storytelling and personality-filled prose enabled him to take home Story of the Year at this year’s Glyph Comics Awards.
“My career has had so many different facets over the years, it’s hard to nail down one single moment,” he says over the phone. “So much of everything is tied to the decision to make my documentary about blaxploitation films of the 1970s. But if you want to get really technical, the most influential moment of my career came when I was a kid and saw Enter the Dragon for the first time. That’s the film that introduced me to Jim Kelly, which then led to my fascination with Black actors and Black action films of the 1970s.”
Walker—who also worked on The Army of Doctor Moreau, Number 13 and The Supernals Experiment—was brought in by DC Comics after putting together some pitches. A certified comic book encyclopedia, David went back and purchased all the back issues he could find to help redefine the former Teen Titan.
Armed with the unique skill to craft nuanced characters and multifaceted plots, Walker writes our titanium-bodied force revealing more of himself within this “DC You” universe. An expressive personality inside the comic book industry, Walker has not been shy about the lack of diversity for characters of color, such as Captain America and Cyborg. “In his 30-plus year history, Cyborg doesn’t have a lot of solo stories,” he told IGN in a recent interview. “There’s a mini-series here or there or a storyline, whether it was in Justice League or Teen Titans. What really attracted me was the opportunity to create this world.” This environment, this vast opportunity to show off Victor Stone’s world (and what he has to deal with) is fresh material for Walker to play around with.
By taking all these incarnations of Cyborg—from various animated series to the current Justice League title—Walker can bring comic fans on a ride that explores just who (and what) Cyborg is. “Who is this guy and what makes him tick?” he asks.
“[Vic] is one of the few characters in the DC universe who doesn’t have an alter ego,” Walker explained to Wired. “Superman has Clark Kent, Batman has Bruce Wayne, Green Lantern can be Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner, or someone else—they have these secret identities and personas that Vic simply doesn’t have.” This dynamic enriches his story, especially given his background, as that of a young African-American man used as a science experiment by his own parents. Upon working on an inter-dimensional portal, Victor’s mother is killed in front of him, while he is severely mutilated by a massive gelatinous monster.
How do these decisions and tragedies affect his relationship with his father? In the first issue, they are plainly and vividly expressed by the series’ lead character. “My father saved my life by turning me into the greatest experiment of his career,” Cyborg says in a monologue describing his father’s “newfound interest” in what his son can do.
“If you want to get technical about it, Cyborg isn’t his persona, Cyborg is his disability—the machinery and technology that keeps him alive after this terrible accident has happened to this kid,” Walker says. To this, Walker uses his skills as a writer, educator and advocate for diverse storytelling to push a venerable character past his limits, bridging the gap between the deepness of philosophy and the richness of comic book storytelling.
“How does he find the balance between the reality of being mostly a machine, but he’s [also] a human being,” David hypothesizes about Victor Stone and his 70 percent machine body. “That’s the most universal truth with that character.”
Another intriguing truth is to look at the way comics and their creators are accepted now versus in the past. Back in the day, a person wanting to be in the same shoes as writers Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Brian Michael Bendis, or the aforementioned Dwayne McDuffie would find themselves laughed at or scoffed away from the table. Now, there are comic storytelling college courses across the country.
“When I’m writing comics—or prose, or screenplays—I’m very much coming from a place of creating what it is that I’d like to see,” Walker says. “Toni Morrison talks about the need to write what you want to read if no one else has written it. Creatively, I try to live by that.”
Cyborg the comic book might be available now, but fans still have to wait five years to see actor Ray Fisher portray the character live on the silver screen. With other Black comic book characters like The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Green Lantern (Tyrese Gibson and/or Common) and Blade (Wesley Snipes) either in action or rumored to be competing for superhero box office bucks, we wondered whether or not African and African-American superheroes will have a renaissance similar to their White counterparts.
“That is a tricky question,” Walker answers. “I know there are some movies in development, but those will have to be as good, if not better than their White counterparts.” He cites that Blade—the 1998 surprise hit starring Wesley Snipes—making $70 million domestic at the box office (over $400 million today) is a testament to the power that these characters of color possess.
“You could build a compelling case that Blade helped really get this superhero thing moving along, and yet how many Black superhero movies have we had since then?” he asks. “Unless a movie with a Black superhero earns a billion dollars, the best we can hope for is one or two movies before we get some sort of rehash of the blaxploitation era—low budget films marketed to a niche audience.”
Will Disney or Warner Bros. even consider going down that road if such a movie takes off? We shall see. In the meantime, David Walker’s attempt to tell a deeply rich story about a comic book character of color remains the fuel in storage that can propel all to the front of the pack.
Cyborg, even after DC’s New 52 reboot, deserved a revamped look and a closer look at how a person such as Victor Stone came to be. DC Comics assembled all the right players with Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and David Walker leading the charge. Up until the beginning of the 21st century, unless you were truly bonkers about comics and those within the industry, creators of color like the late, great Dwayne McDuffie weren’t household names.
“It wasn’t until the last 15 years that any comic creator became that recognizable,” Walker admits. “Of course, it doesn’t help that the industry has a large percentage of White creators.” Making matters worse is the purveying sense of fanboy-ism that marginalizes people into only purchasing their favorite comic or supporting only one (major) publisher. “The real truth, one that no one wants me to say out loud, is that there is not enough support of indie creators. There are some incredibly talented people putting in work, either at smaller publishers, or self-publishing, that are not getting the kind of support their work truly deserves.”
With his first installment, David Walker has created a blend of superhero social consciousness that doesn’t shy from tackling the tough material.
Cyborg #1 is available now at comic book shops and digital outlets such as Comixology.
Kevin L. Clark is a Brooklyn, New York based writer. His favorite comic book characters are Batman and Wolverine. You can find him on Twitter @KevitoClark.