Whose heroes are these? Not mine.
June 3, 2015 8:24 PM   Subscribe

Cyborg isn’t just an emasculated man, but an emasculated black man, and as one of comics’ higher profile black superheroes — starring in his own movie in distant 2020 — the unspoken fact of his castration is demeaning. The racist narrative of black man as sexual threat is served by the idea of a character who is rendered heroic in the same event that symbolically renders him sexually unthreatening. (Genitals do not define gender or sexual power, but they are often tied to an individual’s relationship with their sexual, gender, and cultural identities.) The Re-Masculation of Cyborg asserts that DC Comics may be correcting the problems that blogger Robert Jones Jr. identified in his essay Humanity Not Included: DC’s Cyborg and the Mechanization of the Black Body.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (31 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
What is so hard to understand about the concept of a Mk XI CyberDong?
posted by Sebmojo at 8:56 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I had always just assumed that Cyborg would build himself a robo-dong or whatever.

This, apparently, is a common assumption (Rule 34 link; cartoon sex drawings).
posted by klangklangston at 9:09 PM on June 3, 2015


Those are both very good essays with very good points. And whether or not he can plug in the equivalent of a strap-on cock is not really the point; if Geoff Johns et al. wanted to include a black member of the Justice League who was technically proficient, and bring in someone from another team, why not put Michael "Mr. Terrific" Holt in the League?
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:30 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am also the sort of person who frequents the sorts of corners of fandom where my instant assumption when I read that someone got most of their body replaced with prosthetic everything is that, well, that would be included in the everything, and it would be as much his as a hand or a foot would be his. But even if one makes that assumption, it seems like a lot of the intended themes were about lost humanity--and I have to agree that nobody seems to have really thought about what "losing humanity" means to people who still operate in a world where there are people in power who think they're less than human. I'd be tempted to just put it down to DC being DC--but if they're really giving it over to a story that's actually going to use that, that's actually exciting.

That's the thing I love about speculative fiction, the ability to explore these huge loaded issues. Not that it can't lead to some weird places--wait, if being a werewolf in this story is a metaphor for being gay, does that mean gay people are monsters? But even if this came out of people being incredibly tone-deaf, it could prove a way to introduce this subject to people who've never thought about the implications before.
posted by Sequence at 9:42 PM on June 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


My reaction at first was "What? Cyborg was emasculated? When?" And then I read on and was "Oh. Right. New52. Never mind."
posted by happyroach at 9:55 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, he's been bouncing back and forth from partial to full robo on and off since the 80s, so for incr it's a dismemberment I can't fully blame Nu52 for.
posted by Artw at 10:08 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


So, first, count me in on the group who assumed even if Cyborg did not have his original human dong he had some form of a replacement. Love will find a way?

The essays offer a perspective on Cyborg that I've never considered (but I'm white, so I guess that's not surprising). I guess some of the things he sees as weaknesses and representative of the emasculation of the character are the things I thought of as the character's strengths. For example, his sweetness and sensitivity and not-womanizing--it's a welcome contrast to the gross come-ons of the Flash or the revolving bedroom door of Nightwing. A conscious choice on the part of the authors to indicate the guy who struggles with his humanity is one of the most human (insert groan here). The "Boom Tubing" never seemed like a subservient act. Chauffeurs can be replaced, but unless the JL is willing to recruit from New Genesis Cyborg's power is irreplaceable. He's granting its use to the rest of the JL. Jones Jr sees Cyborg as a "workhorse" or a piece of machinery--I saw him as a hyper-intelligent guy who exerts total control over technology (and that's a large part of his appeal to young fans).

Regarding angst in general, his character originated in the golden age of the Teen Titans. Every character during that time was angst 24/7, each getting their own special brand of angstiness and all of them having angst-plots revolving around family and parents. A not-angsty character would've been an exception to the series.

I think Jones Jr. makes a lot of good points. The "sports hero" background (which they try to balance with him having super-intelligence), the gross "blackccent" in the cartoons, there are plenty of details to Cyborg that are pretty cringe-inducing. And Cyborg, like pretty much all Black superhero characters from the Big Two, apparently exists in a vacuum where they need never experience nor think about issues of racial discrimination. I mean, Flash got his crime-mentoring by a city cop and Superman is a farmboy from whitebread Kansas and a Black man just integrated into an all-white team all handy-dandy? I can see where Jones Jr's skepticism comes from.
posted by schroedinger at 10:12 PM on June 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Cyborg is also the resident chauffeur, “Boom Tubing” the Justice League wherever they need to go—Hoke Colburn to the Justice League’s Miss Daisy. He is their digitized administrative assistant, interpreting and relaying data at their command, serving, actually, as their very means of communication—as much of a tool for the League as a cell phone or as enslaved black people were to the plantation owners of the American antebellum period.

Interesting articles.

I always thought the JLA coordinator was a pretty cool job. Manhunter did that often, but I guess Cyborg replaced him in the New 52 according to the article? Seems a stretch to say this is a reference to slavery. Isn't he driving the show? Articles like this go off the rails when I read stuff like this as if the comic book writers are mustache twirling secret embedded KKK members.

I am thinking of the this line "For many white people, diversity and tokenism mean precisely the same thing" and wondering what sort of seven person team could include all corners and not seem like it's token-ing some groups. Is it better or worse to not have a black member of the JLA? Does two+ members make it appreciably better or is it the quality of the character? Legit questions, I think. I have no answer.

I am pretty sure that it is impossible to please everyone in the modern age with any sort of entertainment though. We're narrow culture, not wide culture now.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:39 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seems a stretch to say this is a reference to slavery. Isn't he driving the show?

I don't know that it's a deliberate reference to slavery, it's that slavery is a thing which actually happened. Black slaves weren't treated like employees of southern agricultural operations--they were equipment. We have a national history of using black people as things instead of people.

Given that, if he's doing a leadership role, that's great. But leadership roles and admin roles are not the same. The partner and the office manager have different jobs--and one of them is a job that is routinely filled out of temp agencies with disposable staff, and the other isn't. Scheduling and relaying messages are not things the partner does. Partners don't make transportation arrangements. Hell, these days, even admins don't necessarily do these things. If you've got a character whose basic function on the team is to be Slack and Uber, then it isn't a compliment that you gave that role to a minority, you know?
posted by Sequence at 2:20 AM on June 4, 2015


Does two+ members make it appreciably better or is it the quality of the character?

Two+ members of a minority make it much more interesting; then characters can have different personality traits instead of a single character being taken to represent their group.

If you flip it around and ask "Why do they only have one black character in JLA / Star Trek TOS?", there's no good answer.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:34 AM on June 4, 2015


wondering what sort of seven person team could include all corners and not seem like it's token-ing some groups.

For starters, replace Aquaman with Hawkgirl. Balance aside, she's better known (from TV) and more interesting.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:08 AM on June 4, 2015


Did an actual, specific castration event occur, or did Cyborg just lose the lower part of his body all at once? I understand that the result is somewhat the same in either case, but that distinction seems important (and I honestly don't know the history -- haven't read much about Cyborg).
posted by Brackish at 5:04 AM on June 4, 2015


Articles like this go off the rails when I read stuff like this as if the comic book writers are mustache twirling secret embedded KKK members.

I think that the point isn't that Geoff Johns (the New52 Justice League writer) or Marv Wolfman (Cyborg's co-creator) had some kind of deliberate racist agenda. I think that the point is rather that the culture that both men come from was soaking in it for so long that it seeped in without necessarily having a conscious intention to include it. A parallel example is Starfire, also from the New Teen Titans and created at the same time as Cyborg. Even though she wasn't originally as egregiously sexualized as she was in the New52 version, she still seemed to have a tendency to be casual about nudity around her male teammates, and when they did her origin story, well, see for yourself. [technically safe for work] Even though artist George Perez would go on to do superheroine fetish work (he scripted scenarios for a softcore porn site that specialized in women in superhero costumes wrestling), there's no indication AFAIK that he put that in there intentionally, but it's kind of hard to ignore the subtext. (That's her sister doing the torturing, by the way.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:32 AM on June 4, 2015


I grew up reading Marvel comics, mostly X-men and related, along with reading or watching sci-fi. While a lot of it was enjoyable and there's no shame in saying that this black male will have a soft spot for white ass Spider-Man, it did not escape my attention that the portrayal of black superheroes was, to put it mildly, fucking terrible. There was Storm, an African woman, with white hair and blue eyes. Sometimes, when she was in disguise, she'd wear a fake afro wig. A FAKE AFRO WIG.

She was only the black X-man for the longest time, then Bishop showed up, sporting either a jheri curl long after that fad dripped its last or long flowing locks, shaped into a fucking mullet, and, oddly enough, a big ass gun, despite having mutant powers. My friends and I knew Marvel was based in New York, which did not lack for black people. Seriously, none of the artist, writers or editors could be bothered to look out the goddamn window?

Star Trek the Next Generation was notable for including TWO black males, but one was disfigured and the other needed a ton of makeup to portray the war loving Klingon. Sure, there was Black Lighting on the Superfriends, but really Black Lighting? There was Black Panther, but that would involve reading the Fantastic Four and besides, Black Panther? Lando was smooth, but of course he was lusting after the white woman five seconds after meeting her and then betraying his pal, soooo...yeah.

As to Cyborg, I never got into DC, but he did seem like another token character. Great, another disfigured black male character. Where the hell was black, god like figure in bright colors and flowing cape? Also, what the fuck was with the name Cyborg? That's most boring and unimaginative name ever. And why did this genius level person never bother to develop fake skin or the like or more human looking cyborg parts. It made no fucking sense, but neither did most of the DC universe to me. On the plus side, at least he had realistic looking hair for black male.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:49 AM on June 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


And having looked at the preview of the new cyborg comic, which gives him more human looking arms and potentially a real live cock after having both of arms chopped off and being stabbed and killed, well, hurray for progress.

Maybe the genius could, I dunno, just invent some nano particles to make himself look more human while keeping all his powers. It's a goddamn comic, don't over think it people!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:55 AM on June 4, 2015


Where the hell was black, god like figure in bright colors and flowing cape?

Assigned to a 1940s-era supergroup.

(also his grandson until James Robinson decided "body count = good villain")

Marvel made a few early attempts, though each had some issues (Black Panther, literally an African jungle king; the Falcon, with a hidden street gangster past; Luke Cage, walking stereotype. Later authors gave each some much-needed broadening).
posted by delfin at 6:40 AM on June 4, 2015


The original Token Black Characters on the DC side were John Stewart (Green Lantern, relegated to occasional backup status for years), Black Lightning (a valiant attempt by Tony Isabella, though the prototype for Black Hero With Electric Powers), Mal Duncan (originally non-powered, then given a variety of identities), Bumblebee (self-designed supersuit; a positive development), and, in the future Legion of Superheroes...

Tyroc. We don't talk much about Tyroc.
posted by delfin at 6:50 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Where the hell was black, god like figure in bright colors and flowing cape?

Over at Marvel, and a member of the Mighty Avengers.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:05 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wasn't the original Deathlok (Luther Manning) also African-American, and not an entirely dissimilar concept?

(I might be wrong - it's surprisingly difficult to tell - but I do remember various peripheral details, such as his wife and child, which suggested it.)
posted by Grangousier at 8:20 AM on June 4, 2015


A contrast/compare with Doom Patrol's Cliff Steele would have been interesting on the subject of emasculation. I remember Robotman whining much more about his lost body with veiled references to not being able to have sex, but then I've never been compelled to go back and read the 1980's Teen Titans (cue frozen George Perez face radiating shock in separate panel).
posted by benzenedream at 8:57 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


The original Token Black Characters on the DC side were John Stewart

The character wasn't perfect, but on an episode of Fatman on Batman Neil Adams describes how Stewart was created specifically to address the lack of diversity in the DC universe at the time, and that he was made an architect to avoid the stereotypes of a gangster or a mysterious foreigner. He was just a normal black American who received the power ring.

They were at least trying with John Stewart. Too bad he wasn't used more until later, though it's interesting that a generation of kids in the 2000s grew up with John Stewart as the Green Lantern in the DC Animated Universe series.

DC really made a mistake by not making Stewart the lead in that awful Green Lantern film...though it made a larger one in making that film in the first place. It would be cool if Stewart were the Green Lantern in the upcoming Justice League movie. Jordan's a tool anyway.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:08 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Johns is big on Jordan, for some ridiculous reason, so they stuck with him post Nu52, which is a shame as I think the DCAU is right on this one.
posted by Artw at 10:05 AM on June 4, 2015


And why did this genius level person never bother to develop fake skin or the like or more human looking cyborg parts.

Actually Vic got human-looking cybernetic parts for a while--although I don't think they came from his dad, although I could be wrong about that. (Sorry I don't have the issue numbers on hand as a reference.)
posted by sardonyx at 10:14 AM on June 4, 2015


Actually Vic got human-looking cybernetic parts for a while

Interesting and thanks for putting out the info. Do you know what happened to those parts, why he changed back?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:48 AM on June 4, 2015


Thanks to everyone that responded to my questions. I'm still mulling them over.

Teen Titans was a sweet show. I thought Cyborg was a great character on it. Though I haven't seen it in years and wasn't watching it with these questions in mind so maybe it doesn't hold up as well.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:05 AM on June 4, 2015


It has been so long ago that my memory is really fuzzy with the details, but I think it was the typical bad accident happens, needs replacement parts, new skin-like cyber parts are rejected by Vic's body. Or something similar. The one panel that sticks in my mind is Vic looking in the mirror and (practically) weeping with joy when he sees himself minus the shiny silver add-ons. I tried to do a quick search to give you the pic or the actual plot, but I drew blanks. If I have time later I'll see if I can come up with it.
posted by sardonyx at 11:20 AM on June 4, 2015




"The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family, this time without the oedipal project. The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust."

— "A Cyborg Manifesto," Donna Haraway

If technology can replace Victor Stone's limbs, it can certainly give him a cybernetic penis. Or vagina. Or ovipostor. Or tentacle. Or whatever else he wants. A cyborg is not a mutilated human (of one sex or the other); it is its own kind of creature, free to express itself however it can. Is the superhero Cyborg emasculated? Not unless he thinks he is. Is there evidence in the comics that he thinks so, or is the author projecting an interpretation onto his body?
posted by Rangi at 12:18 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure it's just black male noting problems with the portrayal of black male from in the context of society that's historically hostile in its depictions of black males.

Also, black male.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:48 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


"She was only the black X-man for the longest time, then Bishop showed up, sporting either a jheri curl long after that fad dripped its last or long flowing locks, shaped into a fucking mullet, and, oddly enough, a big ass gun, despite having mutant powers. My friends and I knew Marvel was based in New York, which did not lack for black people. Seriously, none of the artist, writers or editors could be bothered to look out the goddamn window?"

Uh he's from far enough in the future that Rick James' jheri curl mullet had come back into style.

(Also it was the Shatterstar era, where a white alien dude got a high top fade with a rat tail. All the hair was terrible all the time, seemingly on purpose.)

Deathlok was a black man with essentially the same story, but overt emasculation character arcs. Spawn was also a black guy, though burned to unrecognizable.

Weirdly, Image did much better on representation, with multiple black lead characters, though almost all of them were terribly written (as was the style of the time). But WildCats, Stormwatch, Youngblood and a couple other teams all had black characters.

There was also New Warriors, with Night Thrasher, Silhouette and Midnight's Fire. (Night Thrasher, a vigilante skateboarder, could have only been introduced in the '90s.)

I have to say, I always liked Black Panther as a character (though if you think that name's bad, the original one from Kirby was "Coal Tiger." WTF). King of Wakanda, master of vibranium, when decent writers got ahold of him he was pretty sweet in not going for a lot of the usual generic hero bullshit. Unlike Falcon, who was kinda perfunctory and boring.

Other black heroes I remember from Marvel: Blade, who people often forget when they talk about comic book movies; Cloak of Cloak and Dagger (whose comics about child abuse and healthy eating were reliably in doctors' office waiting rooms); and Luke Cage, who just seemed like cheap blaxploitation.

DC also had — going along with the mechanized black dude theme — Steel, who was by far the best of the Superman replacements (and who I hoped would get the mantle; instead they totally copped out on the whole thing).

And Milestone was around for a while and had some great comics but I think only Static-X came out of that into the wider DC world.

Frankly though, that I can even rattle off most of the starring black characters is part of the problem — imagine trying to list all the white male superheroes.
posted by klangklangston at 2:06 PM on June 4, 2015


(Static-X is a terrible nü metal band, not a Milestone character.)
posted by aaronetc at 7:21 PM on June 5, 2015


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