In 1964, legendary manga creator Shotaro Ishinomori created one of the most famous works in the field, about nine cyborgs and their bid for freedom from the warmongering organization that created them. In honor of the man’s 75th anniversary, summer 2013 will see the release of a brand new graphic novel inspired by this great franchise. In advance of its release, Archaia Entertainment released CYBORG 009 #0, a one dollar limited preview of the full work. Does it live up to Ishinomori’s legacy? Or will fans be shouting betrayal?
When I learned about Cyborg 009, I had erroneously attributed its creation to Osamu Tezuka, the man known among scholars of sequential art as the God of Comics, in much the same was as Jack Kirby is known in the west as the King of Comics. It’s not without cause that I assumed Tezuka, prolific mangaka that he was, also produced this series. This is because Cyborg 009, the original work, shared artistic similarities to Tezuka’s work (which include Astro Boy). A fact not surprising, given that its true creator, Shotaro Ishinomori, was a protege of Tezuka, and in many ways is his successor.
But indeed, I made this mistake. To Ishinomori-san, I apologize, because he holds a massive place in Japanese pop culture in his own right.
If you live in the west, the name Ishinomori probably doesn’t ring a bell. But you’ve most certainly heard of his work, because in addition to his contributions to manga, he also created and perfected the concept of Sentai (“battle teams”). These include Cyborg 009 of course, as well as Kikaider, Kamen Rider, and Himitsu Sentai Gorenger, the latter being the basis for a little franchise popular in the west: Power Rangers.
So what about Cyborg 009 in particular? Set in the vague present (or possibly the near future, relatively speaking), the series concerns nine people kidnapped from their lives by an evil weapons developer called the Black Ghost Organization. In the original manga, Black Ghost developed high tech battle machines of numerous varieties, with the aim of proliferating conflict where none existed. Standard warmongers. In this case, the nine people captured were systematically altered into cyborgs (obviously), with most of their memories erased. The intent being to develop soldier for the future. With the conversion of Cyborg designate 009, Black Ghost had used all the techniques developed in the previous eight models. But then the cyborgs rebelled and escaped their creators, striking out on their own in search of freedom and the annihilation of Black Ghost.
That’s the basic plot, and like every permutation and adaptation before it, CYBORG 009 #0 stills to it faithfully. 009 awakes in a lab with no memory of his past, tries to break out, meets with the scientists who made him, is ordered to destroy his eight predecessors, but joins with them when they break the mental control holding them. They kidnap lead scientist Dr. Gimore, only for it to turn out he orchestrated the escape to begin with because of his own moral guilt over ruining their lives. The preview ends with them flying off in a stolen helicopter, presumably into the events of the graphic novel. It’s a very start, with most of the members briefly showing their individual specialties, and getting the classic story up and running.
I think the only problem I have is with the scientists ordering 009 to destroy the other cyborgs, despite their being no rational reason as to why Black Ghost would want subjects they invested so much time and money into casually killed. Chalk it up to them being arrogant or something.
Let’s talk about the art style, because of all the minute changes from the source material this is the sticking point that’s going to make the most difference in the long run. It is, to say the least, off-putting to see the characters rendered in a more realistic way as opposed to Ishinomori’s stylized models. Characters have faces that aren’t exaggerated, which can both make it more pleasing to regular readers of comics (who expect realism more), but also make it very jarring for fans of the original. It’s by no means bad, but a lot of the iconic style is lost in the conversion, so this book will have an uphill battle to win readers.
I will say the new designs carry echos of the old models, if downplayed to match the new aesthetic. 009 still has a wild patch of hair obscuring part of his face. 002 still has a pointy nose, and etc. The conversion also serves to make otherwise comical characters like 006 and 007 look positively badass, although if you liked them comical you’ll be disappointed. And it’s very weird seeing 001, the telekinetic baby, with a bowl cut that doesn’t obscure his eyes most of the time.
Personally I’m much more forgiving of change in my sequential art, as such thing is common and not worth making a fuss over. Unfortunately, my fellow comic and manga fans have far lesser capacity to just let things go, meaning I can only guess how the new art style will go off.
It’s also worth noting that the new realistic style makes the old suit designs – bright red, black boots, yellow chest buttons with matching scarf – look kind of silly. Then again, you could say the same thing about a blue jumpsuit and red cape with a giant ‘S’ on it, no?
CYBORG 009 #0 also includes several pages of text following the comic portion. These include interviews with the creative team, the philosophy behind the original series and the new version, and a page summerizing the life of Ishinomori himself. All of this is very interesting, and is well worth the one dollar I paid for it. If you like Cyborg 009 or any of Ishinomori’s work, and if you can find a copy (from what I understand not many copies were printed), I’d say check it out. Especially if you’re on the fence about buying the full book later this year.
And if anything I’ve said here makes you interested in the original manga, Comixology currently hosts the first six volumes. Happy reading!