Man vs. Machine (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Twenty-Two)

When I finally return to the New Titans, I’ll be taking a look at a storyline called “Terminus: the Final Fate of Cyborg.”  At the time, it was a long-awaited story because Cyborg had been blown up in a rocket to Russia at the end of New Titans #75 and then rebuilt in New Titans #77.  We’re heading into issue #104 at this point, so that means that Vic Stone has been a vegetable for something like 2-1/2 years, which is a long time for a character whose story is so integral to the Titans as a team.

I have to admit, though, when I was a teenager first collecting the New Teen Titans and New Titans, I really wasn’t the biggest Cyborg fan.  Robin/Nightwing was obviously my favorite character and I also wanted all of the issues that involved Terra and Deathstroke, which are all issues I’ll get to in a few months.  I mean, I bought the issues that focused on Cyborg but that’s because I wanted as many issues as I could.

Or that I could find, anyway.

Up until I was about 15, I had rarely been to a comic book store outside of Amazing Comics or Sun Vet Coin and Stamp.  Sure, there was the occasional trip to that comic book store in Huntington, but it was true that for the most part, I had bought just about every Titans back issue that Bob had in the bins and with the exception of ordering back issues through Mile High Comics (which usually charged a pretty penny for them) didn’t have any other ways to get comics.  In the summer of 1992, however, I flew down to Fort Lauderdale to spend a week with my friend Chris, who was as much of an X-Men fan at the time as I was a Titans fan.

Armed with a stack of Uncanny X-Men back issues for him–mostly stuff from the mid-170s, which were all part of the “From the Ashes” trade–and a hefty amount of cash I had saved from the job I had working at a stationery story on weekend mornings, I hit Florida and went comics shopping at his LCS, which I don’t remember the name of except that he referred to it as “Phil’s.”  Phil had an enormous backstock, especially of Titans and I was able to complete most of my collection of the 1980 series (I think I had to track down #2, and #34, and if I wanted to, the reprints issues).  Among those were most of Cyborg’s story before the Trigon storyline in the first issues of the Baxter series.

That story begins all the way in the New Teen Titans’ very first appearance in DC Comics Presents #26 (a book I got for all of a buck at a comics show back in the early 1990s).  The premise of that story is that Raven is planting dreams in Robin’s head that involve him fighting alongside the New Teen Titans, a team that includes herself, Starfire, and Cyborg, none of whom he knows at that point.  While Starfire is simply a “golden girl” flying around and shooting bolts from her fingers and Raven is at the center of the mystery, We see that something has made Cyborg angry because when they defeat an interdimensional monster at STAR Labs, he starts yelling at one of the scientists, who happens to be his father.

That’s all we get for the most part, but it establishes his character as two things:  a very powerful Cyborg and an angry kid.  I’d venture to say that at a glance, the early Vic Stone stories are that of an angry black kid and he would have been a complete stereotype if Wolfman and Perez hadn’t slowly given hints to his origin throughout the first year or so of the book before revealing it completely in the first issue of the Titans mini-series, Tales of the New Teen Titans (not to be confused with Tales of the Teen Titans).  In New Teen Titans #7, we see Vic’s father, Silas Stone, again as he has designed Titans Tower and had it built and then reveals he is dying.  The two get a chance to reconcile before he does pass, which is supposed to show that he hasn’t lost all his humanity because we had just been treated to a brief summary of how Vic was mutilated in a lab accident and his father built the Cyborg body to save him.

The fact that Vic does have that humanity and is struggling with the results of his accident is more or less the motif of his character in the first New Teen Titans series, which is a trademark that Wolfman kind of had going for him in his sixteen-year run: Cyborg’s story took the better part of a decade to really come to fruition (which is blowing him up, I guess?).  We see, through Tales of the New Teen Titans #1 and the regular series that have come before it that Vic was the son of a pair of married scientists and a genius as well, but as he grows from being a kid to being a teenager he decides he wants to know more about the world.  That means that eventually he winds up falling in with a bad crowd, especially a guy named Ron.

A chance meeting in the park changes Vic Stone's outlook in New Teen Titans #8.

While Vic becomes an athlete, he clashes with his parents in true adolescent fashion and winds up in and out of trouble, especially as Ron goes from being a prankster type kid to street thug to domestic terrorist.  This is too much for our hero and he leaves his friend–who insists that “The Man” has brainwashed him–to focus on both his studies and training for the Olympics.  Unfortunately, that’s right around the time he walks into his parents’ lab to see that an interdimensional monster (that looks like a big foamy goo thing) has attacked both of them.  His mother dies, and he winds up having half his body eaten up.

As a result, Silas Stone makes his son into a Cyborg, and even though he saves Vic’s life, the boy is continually angry because he blames his father for his mother’s death and the accident.  Plus, his girlfriend leaves him, he loses his college scholarship, and Ron attempts to use him to blow up the UN building.  However, Vic stops him and more or less makes the decision to start being a hero.

Things start looking up for Cyborg after his father’s death when, in New Teen Titans #8–the famous “A Day in the Lives” issue–Vic meets Sarah Simms, who is a teacher of kids with prosthetic limbs.  Vic and Sarah become good friends and he obviously is romantically interested in her, but his lack of confidence prevents him from ever doing anything about it, and then some guy named Mark coming back into her life makes it worse.  Except that Mark is an old flame who is so obsessed with her that he takes her hostage and we have a Cyborg solo story where he stops Mark from hurting her, and his confidence does grow over time but he’s never comfortable in his metal body.

This comes to a head in a 1985 storyline which takes place before Crisis on Infinite Earths, although it came out in the middle of the maxi-series and winds up being the last original storyline for the original title, as Tales of the Teen Titans #59 would reprint the story from DC Comics Presents #26 as well as another story and then would being printing the Return of Trigon storyline with issue #60 (and if you were reading both the original series and the Baxter series in order you would read the first series up to #58 and then start with issue #1 of the Baxter series).  In this story, Vic undergoes an experimental procedure where the metal parts of his Cyborg body are replaced with polymers courtesy of a Dr. Klyburn from STAR Labs.

At first the surgery is a success and Vic meets another Sarah, Dr. Sarah Charles, who helps him with his post-op physical therapy and while they don’t get along at first they do wind up, over the course of the next three years’ worth of stories, falling in love.  But that’s not before there are complications with the surgery and with the Titans’ villains known as the Fearsome Five.

The rest of the team has been fighting the Fearsome Five–well, minus Dr. Light –at this time and their paths and Cyborg’s converge because the Five kidnap Dr. Klyburn so they can force her to release Neutron, a Superman villain that they want to add to their team.  Vic frees Klyburn and they run away from the bad guys’ dockside hideout (why is it that so many of the bad guys in the 1980s hide out in industrial parks and down by the docks?) but he collapses when his body rejects the new parts.

After experimental polymers give Cyborg his body back, he nearly dies when they're rejected. From Tales of the Teen Titans #57.

The battle with the Fearsome Five ends with a Titans victory (and Psimon ends up on The Monitor’s satellite) and Vic’s Cyborg body is restored, with the hero really coming to terms with who he is.  Which, by the way is something that Harvey Dent doesn’t realize a couple of years later when he plays a “I’m Two Face and you have two faces” game in a story in Teen Titans Spotlight #13 that while it is written by J. Michael Strazynski has a feel of “Ah, we’ve done this already.”  And when Cyborg and Changeling face off against the same gooey gooey monster that killed his mother and made him who he is in Teen Titans Spotlight #20 he really has done this before.  Although this time the gooey gooey monster eats a shopping mall.

I remember reading all of these issues one night in my room at Chris’s house because I couldn’t sleep (damn you Mysteries of the Unknown and your creepy commercials) and thinking that they were pretty “meh.”  With the exception of a Curt Swan fill-in on issue #5 and a fill-in on #35, I really hadn’t read a lot of Wolfman without Perez from his era and I have to wonder how much he really put into it considering he was in the middle of Crisis and had been writing other Titans stories that were an entire year or so ahead, continuity-wise.  The Tales of the Teen Titans stories have a “Well, I have to finish this up somehow” feel to them and the Teen Titans Spotlight are some of the better of that series’ uneven run but they aren’t the issues that I constantly take out and reread.

The same is true for the other issues that I looked at to get the story of Vic and Sarah Charles, which were from the mid-to-late 40s and mid-to-late 50s of the New Teen Titans/New Titans series.  I really only sought most of these issues out because I needed to finish my run.  Their relationship progresses pretty naturally over the first 40 issues of the Baxter series and then in New Teen Titans #41, she tells him that she has been transferred to STAR Labs’ San Francisco division and she’d like for them to stay together.  This causes obvious tension and in #45 she moves away.  They’re not separated for long, though, as the Titans wind up in San Francisco in issue #46 and then by the time issue #49 wraps up, they are in a long-distance relationship.

Happier times for Victor Stone and Sarah Charles, who would have a final goodbye in New Titans #104-107.

Cyborg then takes center stage when Wildebeest hacks his hardware and controls him in an effort to mess with the Titans, something the villain kept doing throughout this period, with no real purpose.  Obviously the purpose behind it was ultimately revealed and although Marv Wolfman hadn’t thought about the Titans Hunt at all during this time, the early appearances of Wildebeest and the whole Titans Hunt/Jericho Gambit do flow together well and it’s cool to see Cyborg fighting the villain that would ultimately start his long, slow undoing.

That undoing would come after that two-and-a-half years of him being a mindless robot and would be a major part in one of the more lackluster parts of this Titans period, which is a shame because Vic Stone really developed from a stock character to a well-rounded man.

Next Up: Terminus! The Final Fate of Cyborg

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