Cyber Force was one of the original comics that helped launch Image Comics off the ground in the early 1990s, building off creator Marc Silvestri's experience in drawing a superhero team mixed with the once-dream-now-reality of cybernetics. It has endured through time over many platforms, and almost became a cartoon, but has always kept its soul.
A new Cyber Force series will begin in March, co-written by Top Cow President Matt Hawkins and Bryan Hill with art by Atilio Rojo, making it the latest relaunch out of Top Cow Studios, which recently launched a new Witchblade series and this fall a new Darkness series. We spoke with Hawkins about what to expect out of Cyber Force, how advances in technology influenced the series and what else Top Cow has in store for readers in 2018.
In the Rebirth storyline 2012-2014, we saw these dystopian versions of the Cyber Force, but in this new volume, is a tighter, focused story. That's a changeup.
Matt Hawkins: When Marc (Silvestri) and I did Cyber Force and Aphrodite IX together, it worked out for a nice two-year run. This is a little different, Cyber Force is going to stand on its own, and we're planning on doing a nice long arc like we did with Postal (Hawkins' ongoing series about ex-convicts living in harmony) and hopefully knock out 25 issues in a little over two years without a break. We're really committed to doing that long of a run, a definite story that starts in issue 1 and ends at issue 25. We'll see if there's more after that.
What's Marc's involvement with the story and the breakdowns of what you and co-writer Bryan Hill are doing?
Since Marc created Cyber Force, we run everything by him and he'll make suggestions here and there. He did some of the redesigns and I wasn't originally planning on using Killjoy but he loved that character so much that he asked us to add her into mix. He and artist Atilio Rojo have a nice rapport. Bryan and I have worked together on a number of titles and we worked out the plots together. I'll always have him take first stab at the dialogue because he's better at it than I am, to be blunt. He has a psychology background and I have a science background so we look at things differently and that makes for good stories.
So to clarify, is this a reboot?
It's not actually, and it's something that people may not get right away about this new volume because until a big reveal after the first arc. It is in continuity with the Rebirth stuff we just did, and ties directly to Aphrodite IX and IXth Generation. In the end of IXth Generation Vol. 2, there's a fairly significant event that happened, which ties into what we're doing with the Top Cow Universe, which (as a reminder) has two sides to it: 1) the supernatural part with Witchblade and Darkness and 2) the technological part with Cyber Force, and Hunter-Killer. We haven't rammed it down everyone's throats that they exist in the same universe, but there is no multiverse.
But there are some new elements?
There are things that might change the timeline or alter things. It's not some kind of string theory where there's multiple versions of it. We're playing a little bit with some revisionist (elements), but a lot ties into what we did with Aphrodite IX and IXth Generation. That will make more sense at the end of the arc when we reveal who the villain is. We're building, specifically to something for a reason.
What are the core themes you're dealing with in this new arc?
I'm almost a 50-year-old dude so I remember when there weren't computers. I remember when i first got my Atari back in 1978 or whenever that was, so I've witnessed this whole technological revolution in my lifetime. When I wrote Lady Pendragon in 1995, it took me two years to do the research, now I can do it online in a week. I have teenage sons who have grown up with cellphones. Technology has changed us in so many good ways, and also a lot of bad ways. The core theme of this new Cyber Force is how technology affect humanity? How does it change us?
How much further beyond Stryker and Carin do we go or will the two of them become the entry points again?
Going back to the older arcs, and I always loved Stryker and Velocity. They are definitely the entry points, which is intentional, we will include Aphrodite V, Ripclaw, Killjoy, which is a villain that Marc created in the last arc will be part of the storyline. We've plotted pretty heavily through issue number 7 or 8. I've always tried to keep an ensemble cast, but they can be hard, because people can lose track. Initially for the first 8-10 issues, we thought we'd keep it to three or four characters and we'll introduce more, but the core is Morgan Stryker and his daughter Carin Taylor and their relationship.
Well, I'm personally hoping to see Selver again because he's a favorite.
How much did you feel tied to bring back older elements versus going forward with something fresh?
It's a little bit of both. I think the latter was more important to us than being Easter eggy. We're certainly going to include stuff that the long-term hardcore fans are going to recognize, like a brief cameo in the third issue. The idea for us is that we did a nice two-year run back in 2012 and it's been five years. The idea here is that this is for people who maybe haven't read Cyber Force before, and can jump in it and get going. The last arc we did was good for our existing fans and diehard readers. (From my travels doing conventions and talking to readers) I didn't pick up that we picked up a lot of new readers. You run into that whenever you restart a series. I read number 1s from other companies all the time, never having read the previous work, so I have no idea what's going on. It's impervious with all of these multiple levels of continuity, so the idea here was to develop a new story, keep it emotional, keep it to family.
Because how else do you take a story with a global threat and get beneath the surface?
I enjoy Independence Day for the spectacle of it, but I don't feel anything for any of those characters. When you take some catastrophic worldwide event like that, you need to localize it and tell it from the perspective of a few characters and how it actually affects them. Otherwise it's hard to get emotional about it. In so many of these spectacle films we watch, people don't get emotionally involved at all, they're just crazy entertainment and the more we watch, the less impact they have. Normally when people tell you what their favorite films are, they have an emotional connection to one of the characters. That's what we're trying to create, something people can relate to on a father-daughter level with some of these adversities that people deal with.
You've got a masters in physics, Matt. How much have we been impacted by technology and cybernetics?
This is a very real thing, I don't know if you know my science background but I've got a Masters in Physics and I worked with a lot of people who are in the science community and we are doing things to allow deaf people to hear, blind people to see, allowing people who can't walk walk, allowing people to communicate who have Locked-In syndrome. We're able to talk to people's brains who are in comas. Cyborgs are here already, there have been cyborgs walking around with pacemakers for decades now, and some people have cybernetic eyes. There's all this technology and transhumanism movement and immortality through technology. All of these things are fascinating to talk about, but how do they impact personal relationships and families and that's really what we're trying to get across here.
Is there a specific technological breakthrough you've stumbled across in your research that made you think the lines between reality and the fiction have been further blurred?
I love Dr. Michio Kaku, a Japanese-American physicist who is a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York. I've met him a few times and read all of his books and he wrote a book in 2011, called Physics of the Future, detailing out he thought technology would affect people in the next five years, the next 10 years, the next 25 years, and the next 100 years. He literally breaks it out that way. He talks about various forms of social media, computers, the internet, breaking down how all of these impact people. That book had a tremendous amount of influence on shaping how we crafted the narrative of the story and the details. He and a couple of people are part of my svengalis when it came to another comic I wrote, Think Tank, which was much more science-heavy.
There's this thing called Quantum Entanglement, which if you know Quantum Mechanics, at a microscopic level, we see that there are things that are not acting according to what we think are the natural laws of physics. So quantum entanglement has made some amazing jumps in the last five years. You can actually figure out a way now to manipulate an atom on Earth and it will coincide to an immediate time, manipulate an atom or a subatomic particle on a distant planet that could be millions of light years away. There doesn't seem to be distance prohibitive. What does this all us to do? It allows for possible teleportation. It allows for interdimensional travel, it allows for possible instantaneous communication across vast distances. For example, if you talk to someone on the moon, there's a couple minutes delay. You see it on the news when Australia is talking, there's a few seconds delay. Imagine that that goes away.
In the backs of my books, including Cyber Force, I'll include the real science and the ideas where some of this stuff came from, as an added value. You'll read Cyber Force for five to ten minutes. If you want to deep dive into the backend stuff or check out the Youtube links I provide, it could take you half a day and spur your imagination and learn something and I love that.
And you've also taken a strong look at multiverse theory and how it applies to Top Cow?
Multiverse theory is fascinating to me, because so many other companies have done so much like Marvel and DC in multiverse theory, we've opted to go the opposite direction. There is the ability to change timelines (in our Top Cow universe), but they have permanent ramifications and there is no string theory and splits off into an alternate timeline. So it just becomes whatever it is, and that creates higher stakes.
If you go back in time and change the past, and institue six different policies and see how they affect the future, you could see which one had the best outcome or you could destroy the others. This is all crazy, hypothetical sh*t but it's fascinating to me and fun to think about. I love Rick and Morty, they deal with a lot of multiverse theory and do it really well.
How much is Cyber Data, the 'Skynet' of Cyber Force, a presence in this story or will we have a new threat?
We will see the birth of CDI, which we changed the name in the last arc because "Cyber Data” sounded very '90s. [Laughs] This time around they're going to be much more contained, but we're doing some crazy-ass s***!
We have a terrorist attacking major technological hubs, is there something strategic in the attacks?
Yes, of course. We actually have the villain tell the public that the problem is technology and that you have to abandon these technological things you're doing or else it's going to cost you your humanity. I hate one-note villains that are crazy and chaotic, because it rarely works. The Joker being one of the few. I always loved Doctor Doom because he thought he was always doing good for his people. I look at Trump as a villain, but I don't think he sees himself as a villain. He thinks he's doing good for the people of America, so everything is perspective. The villain in this first 12 issues of Cyber Force, thinks very much that she is saving humanity.
The last volume of Cyber Force was influenced by events in Syria and the political climate of the world, how much of our ever-changing times going to seep into this story; does it help or hurt, to be inspired by how the world turns?
This arc is going to have less of that than the last arc, but it's impossible not to be influenced by our environment. I watch the news and am constantly amazed. If I wrote a story that chronicled out what people are saying really happened, people would call me out for being implausible. That's such an interesting thing that's happening in our world.
I try to avoid being overly political, you can already tell that I've got a bit of a liberal slant to me. My parents are hardcore right-wing conservative Christians, so I've grown up one way and became an adult as another. We try not to over-politicize stories, but if we do, we try to do it even-handed and have characters that have both point-of-views and create a discussion. Ideally you want everyone to identify with one of these characters. I'm not a wacky left-winger that thinks every right-winger is insane. I don't think they mean ill, some do, but it's just a difference of opinion. In debate club in high school they would ask us to choose one thing, pro-life or pro-choice, and then make you debate the opposite of what you believe. For me, that had a profound effect on me. There is a right and a wrong, but it's in so many shades of gray, perceptions, perspectives, and the key to all of this is make it relatable, entertaining and visually appealing. We've just finished issue 4 and I'm really stoked for people to see what we're doing.
You've been as much of a guardian of Top Cow properties as much as anyone, what do you think it is about Cyber Force that makes it elastic enough to be reinvented numerous times, but keep the same soul?
There's a core element, humans that are altered by technology. If you look at the Cyber Force from 1992, the run that Ron Marz and Pat Lee did, to the 2012 "Rebirth," Cyber Force were always kind of the rebels, the underdogs. CDI created all of these people but later realized they need to fight against the machine, they needed to fight against the man. That is a universal them as applicable today in our current environment as ever.
You've also relaunched Witchblade in December. Talk about the approach you took with that, having an all-women creative team, and what has shown you that now was the time to reboot that as well?
We've had an all-female team before at different times, but that reboot was a year and a half in the making. We knew we wanted to work with Roberta Ingranata for a long time, so it just took us a long time to find the writer, Caitlin Kittredge. Image Publisher Eric Stephenson, who is actually editing Witchblade, found Caitlin himself and has had a dominant stamp on that reboot. I wrote only one issue of Witchblade, which was #185, the last story of Sara holding the Witchblade, and I liked how we ended that character. We started her out in 1995 as a 25-year old homicide detective and retired the character 20 years later, having aged her 20 years in real time. I don't know that happens very often in comics. She walked away a middle-aged woman with a child.
The thing about the Witchblade, the Darkness, and other Artifacts books is that we've always said there are multiple bearers. So when Sara gets rid of the Witchblade it goes to this woman, Alex Underwood, and we tell her story. Can it go back to Sara? Sure it can. But that gives us a fluidity and flexibility that's pretty awesome. When you see Marvel change out Iron Man or Spider-Man, people tend to flip the f*** out. There's a segment of the market have a strong negative reaction. We've seen a few hardcore fans complain that Sara doesn't have the Witchblade, but they recognize that the genesis of those storylines, specifically enables it a reasonable reason as to why someone else would have it.
This is actually a huge year for Top Cow reboots with Aphrodite V in July and The Darkness reboot in the fall. Any progress you can share on those titles?
Aphrodite V is almost done. Bryan Hill is writing that and Jeffrey Spokes is doing the art and is not a super fast artist. We announced that two years ago and he just finished the fourth issue. For the Darkness, which I'm hoping to launch next fall, I'm hoping to do something similar to the last Cyber Force arc, where we do an online, mobile component too.
Cyber Force #1 is due on March 28. Check out the first four pages below.