Cyborg Vol. 1: Unplugged – David F. Walker

Cyborg CoverFirst Published: 29th March, 2016
Genre: Superhero / Graphic Novel
Contributors: David F. Walker (writer); Ivan Reis (penciller); Joe Prado (artist); Adriano Lucas (colourist); Rob Leigh (letterer)
Available: | Amazon UK

Attackers from another dimension kill Cyborg and steal his arms. But Cyborg doesn’t stay dead and his arms regenerate. He heads to S.T.A.R. Labs to find out what’s going on with his technology. Meanwhile, in another dimension, a war against alien cyborgs rages.

This graphic novel includes the first six issues of Cyborg’s comic. It tells a complete story, though does leave some plot threads open for future stories. The opening introduces what’s been happening in Detroit while Cyborg was off being a superhero, as well as providing space for Cyborg to reflect on his life and relationships. This part interested me the most, as it means finding out about the man behind the snarky superhero.

Inevitably, the two storylines come together, and there’s some alien cyborg action. The highlight of that part was the art. The aliens are detailed, and there’s a certain organic messiness to the cybernetics. The battle scenes are a place where this really gets to shine. My only complaint with the artwork was the cat who Cyborg talks to before and after. The cat didn’t seem as detailed or expressive as the other characters. Though he wasn’t in a lot of frames, it stuck with me.

Cyborg’s backstory is having most of his body destroyed and replaced by machines, including a replacement eye and arms. Disability issues often aren’t addressed in stories like this. When prosthetics give someone superhuman abilities, it’s usually handled as though there aren’t any issues at all. That isn’t the case here, though the way it was handled wasn’t perfect. I liked that the cybernetic technology is treated as the untested equipment that it is, with the concerns that raises for Cyborg about what’s happening to his body. He also faces being treated like a science experiment by the scientists, including his own father. The struggle against feeling dehumanised is linked back to how he felt just after the accident, when he was hesitant to go outside due to reactions from other people. Even after becoming a superhero, he faces people asking him invasive personal questions, from how he goes to the toilet to his sex life. Superhuman prosthetics don’t make these social consequences go away.

Other social concerns are touched on in the early part of the story, such as differing access to medical care. A man with a missing eye and crude prosthetic arm is one of the protesters outside the labs. Detroit is suffering financially, and access to the best medical care is not something everyone has. This leads to body shops, where people can have untested cybernetics attached. It’s an option that can be within reach for people failed by the medical system, but it means surgery in shady back alley establishments and uncertainty about what the cybernetics will do.

It was a great setup… but it gets lost once the action starts, and is wrapped up neatly in a simplistic cure narrative. This highlights an issue with the aftermath in general. I’d expect a lot more devastation left behind, rather than things going back to normal so quickly. The way everything wraps up feels rushed.

I also would have liked to see more of Sarah. She’s shown as a supportive friend, and possible love interest, but doesn’t get to do a whole lot. I couldn’t say much about her. I want to see them as friends before I can really buy them as a possible romance.

I don’t think this is a bad introduction to Cyborg’s solo adventures. It has some time to develop him as a character, as well as some action. There’s more to explore when it comes to how his cybernetics are changing. The ending was the weakest part, though there is the potential to address those themes in more detail in future stories.

[A copy of this book was received from the publisher for review purposes]

Agent Carter (Season One)

Agent Carter Cover (UK)Alternate Titles: Marvel’s Agent Carter
Genre: Superhero / Television Series
Main Cast: Hayley Atwell; James D’Arcy; Chad Michael Murray; Enver Gjokaj; Shea Whigham
First Shown: 6th January, 2015
Available: | Amazon UK

** This is a full season review, so will discuss some scenes from later in the series. It will not reveal the major plot twists. Please don’t post information about season two in the comments. I’ve not seen it yet. **

Agent Carter tells the story of Peggy Carter’s (Hayley Atwell) life after the war. She works for the SSR, but is constantly undervalued for being a woman. They’re more interested in having her take the lunch orders than doing secret agent stuff. When Howard Stark’s (Dominic Cooper) vault is raided, and his dangerous inventions end up on the black market, he contacts her to clear his name. Part of the deal is assistance from his butler, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy).

One unusual thing with this series is we know where it ends. Peggy will found SHIELD and survive into old age. Howard will eventually become the father of Tony Stark. Jarvis will live long enough to inspire Tony, and be immortalised as the A.I. Jarvis. This is the story of how everyone gets there.

I enjoyed how the story progressed. Each episode tackles a new part of the overall plot, with plenty of twists and turns. The short season meant there was no filler or waiting on the movies to reach a certain point (an issue Agents of SHIELD is prone to having). What makes it though is the relationship that develops between Peggy and Jarvis – one of friendship and mutual respect. I’m down for watching them solving mysteries together.

Peggy losing Steve is also tackled head on. She’s grieving the loss of the man, while society only sees Captain America. One reminder of this is a radio show, where her role is taken by Betty Carver, a damsel in distress. As well as being salt on her wounds, this show highlights how history was often rewritten to exclude the women who were part of it. The secret agent becomes a nurse, who is there to mend socks and get kidnapped.

A large part of the conflict for Peggy is getting things done in a society that’s sure she’s incapable of doing so. It’s why she ends up going behind the back of her colleagues, as she knows they’ll neither believe her, nor be willing to look at theories outside of Howard selling his own inventions. Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham) is trying to protect her. Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) is the typical women-don’t-belong-here sexist. Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) is the best of the bunch in many ways, but still idolises her in a way that a real person can’t live up to.

It’d be easy to show Peggy as the single exceptional woman, but that’s not how it goes down. One of my favourite moments is when the women she lives with are explaining the elaborate ways they smuggle food out of the buffet. They don’t lack ingenuity. They lack opportunity.

It also touches on disability issues. Daniel is a war veteran with a leg injury, who walks with a crunch. He’s been told his survival is an inconvenience. When someone notices his developing feelings for Peggy, he’s told she’d never date a guy with a crutch. Daniel also stands out among his colleagues as not being the classic Northern European guy (the actor is Albanian-American).

The dynamic between Daniel and Peggy is interesting, as they’re each marginalised in different ways. They use that to empathise with each other. They don’t always get it right, but it gives them a starting point to try.

Around the time I was watching, there was yet another example of a romance book where a Jewish woman falls in love with a Nazi, then converts to Christianity. There seem to have been a string of them recently. Some authors are very determined to romanticise Nazis and sweep all of the atrocities under the rug as not being that bad. One comment on this is why the non-Jewish love interest has to be a Nazi, rather than one of the many people who actively opposed them.

So I was very interested to find out that Jarvis was married to Ana, a Jewish woman. This is one of those stories about a person who opposed the Nazis doing what he can to get the woman he loves out of Europe, and to safety. I also liked that when Peggy refers to Ana being Jewish in past tense, Jarvis corrects her. She hasn’t stopped being Jewish.

What I didn’t like so much is we don’t get to meet her. This was a golden opportunity to have a positive on-screen Jewish character, and it didn’t happen. Though I can see why Jarvis would try to keep her out of things, this wouldn’t have prevented there being a scene where he made up some vague excuse and she was suspicious, or something on those lines.

It’s also very noticeable that black characters aren’t in main roles. Though I’d be happy to see more non-white people in general, I really wanted to see anti-black racism addressed given the setting and time. For a series that handles other issues of marginalisation, this is one that’s glaring in its absence.

Despite those areas where I would have liked more, I enjoyed the season as a whole. It tackles a number of difficult issues, as well as having a fun action mystery plot. I’ve always rather liked stories that handle being non-superpowered in a world with superheroes, so in many ways, I like it better than the movies it came from.

inFAMOUS: First Light

First Light Cover

Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
First Release: 27th August, 2014
Version Played: PS4
Length: Short
Links: Trailer One, Trailer Two

inFAMOUS: First Light is a short prequel to inFAMOUS: Second Son – a 3D action game set in the near future. First Light was offered as extra content for Second Son players, but is also sold as a standalone game. I got a copy as part of my PlayStation Plus subscription, having never played the other inFAMOUS games. My thoughts are from the perspective of how the game stands up on its own for players who are coming into the series with this as their first game.

In the inFAMOUS world, conduits (superpowered people) are controlled by the authorities in the USA. They’re locked up in government facilities and trained to use their powers for official purposes (like working for the D.U.P., who contain and control conduits).

Abigail “Fetch” Walker is a conduit who controls neon. When she’s a child, her parents want to turn her over to the authorities, so her older brother runs away with her. They spend years living on the streets, struggling with drug addiction, and carrying out petty theft to raise enough money to escape to Canada. This evidently goes wrong, as Fetch is in a D.U.P. prison for conduits, telling her story about what happened in Seattle a few years earlier.

It was clear the game wasn’t initially intended for people who hadn’t played Second Son. The early part forgot a few details, like highlighting what waypoints looked like. Or that waypoints existed at all, and that was the place I needed to go on the map. I wandered a series of streets I couldn’t tell apart until I figured it out. Once at the waypoint, it threw me into a combat situation without a clue about which keys were for combat. A button-mashing extravaganza ensued.

Once I survived that, the game had a combat tutorial (these take place in the prison, where Fetch alternates between telling her story and doing combat training). Because the best time for a combat tutorial is after you’ve already had to fight something. Needless to say, the game wasn’t making the best impression at this point.

But it was free and I wasn’t going to get any more free games for a few weeks, so I kept at it. I took some time out from missions once the open-world objectives appeared on the map. A bit of wandering around and fighting random gang members helped a lot with learning the combat system. The game grew on me after that point, though still had some issues.

Starting with the positives, I liked Fetch. Her neon powers are interesting (she absorbs neon, and uses it to create light weapons, turn into light and run, and other things). Her character design is good, with clothes and mannerisms that match her character, rather than having her posing sexily in her underwear (unfortunately common in games, even when it’s snowing). Her voice actress hits the mark of someone young who’s been through a lot.

The portrayal of women was generally okay. Of the main voice-acted parts, three are women (Fetch, the head of the prison, and a hacker who helps on some missions) and two are men (a drug lord and Fetch’s brother). So Fetch isn’t a single woman in a world consisting entirely of men. There are some uncomfortable themes, like the drug dealer being creepy and sexist towards Fetch, and women being kidnapped by human traffickers, but these aren’t shown as good things (or shown in such loving detail that it seems the storywriter is fetishising them). I would have liked to hear a female voice alternative for the D.U.P. armoured people, as it’s clear they employ women and anyone could be in those armour suits… yet the voice for the mob is always a man. Though the main point isn’t so much First Light, but that the main games of the series have all had men as leads. Fetch gets a smaller prequel game rather than a main title, which is an elephant that needs pointing out.

The open world (the Seattle parts of the game) was a good idea in principle, with collectibles (lumens), lumen races (chasing after moving lumens) and neon graffiti as things to find. It encourages the player to explore the whole map. It’s only a pity the city wasn’t worth exploring. Seattle was beautifully textured for sure. The rain effects were nice, like reflections in the puddles and rain falling on the camera when it was angled up. But the city districts weren’t very distinctive. The buildings felt like empty boxes, which were only there as platforms to jump off to reach lumens. There wasn’t a sense of exploration or finding something unexpected around the corner. A few buildings were clearly copies from the real Seattle, which is nice enough, but the overall city was rather lifeless. As most of the game took place here, this was a problem.

Story isn’t a strength of the game. It has a straight-forward and simple storyline. It does its job well enough, of introducing the character, and holding together the action. It’s just not likely to surprise anyone.

Once the game is done, the player can continue to roam Seattle or play in the prison arenas. The arenas score points, which go on a leader board. In theory, a player could spend a lot of time playing the arenas to compete with other PlayStation players. In practise, I doubt that many people keep playing the arenas after they earn their trophies, as they’re not that interesting. It is worth going for the trophies though, as unusually for a short game, this one comes with a platinum trophy.

I enjoyed the game in the end, but not enough to want to buy the other inFAMOUS games. I might have been swayed if Fetch had been the main character in Second Son, but she isn’t. As far as First Light goes, the grittier sides of the world might put off some players, as there is human trafficking, torture and needles are shown. But if you’re in the market for an action game where you get to smite things with superpowers, and you’re not too worried if the world and story aren’t the strongest, it’s not a bad title.