Interview: Mark Sable on Cyborg, the ‘Heroes’ Webcomic and ‘Two-Face: Year One’
When it comes to portraying the duality of a character, there are probably no better examples in the DCU than Victor Stone and Harvey Dent — otherwise known as Cyborg and Two-Face. With two new miniseries, Grounded writer Mark Sable intends to bring readers the back-stories of these two tragic characters.
With DC Special: Cyborg, the writer takes a look at the fan-favorite Teen Titan in a six-issue arc that began this week. Victor Stone was an Olympic athlete who, after being crippled, was resurrected with experimental prosthetics by his scientist father. Blessed with powers but cursed by his accident, he called himself Cyborg and became an important member of the Teen Titans. Created in 1980 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez and introduced in the pages of The New Teen Titans, Cyborg quickly became one of the most popular DC characters of the ‘80s. He even became a member of the Super Friends on the ‘80s Saturday morning cartoon, The Super Powers Team: The Galactic Guardians.
In Two-Face: Year One, the writer takes a look at one of Batman’s most dangerous villains in a miniseries whose first issue hits shelves just days before Aaron Eckhart takes on the big-screen role of Harvey Dent in July’s Dark Knight. The two-issue miniseries follows Dent as he runs for District Attorney and has the accident that changes his fate (and his relationship with Batman) forever.
I spoke with Sable about Cyborg, Two-Face, the characters’ respective miniseries and writing webcomics for the hit NBC television series Heroes.
CMix: To start with, tell us what fans of Cyborg can expect from your new series.
Mark Sable: It’s a six-issue series and the first issue is almost like a “Year One” in the sense that it gives you a lot of his origin. I’m not tinkering with his origin. I’m trying to be as respectful as possible to what Marv Wolfman and George Perez did, because I think Cyborg’s origin is one of the best in comics. There were a couple of things that needed to be slightly tweaked to make everything make sense. It’s done deliberately because I want people who aren’t familiar with Cyborg to be able to pick it up. It lays the groundwork for what this series is about. Without giving too much away, we really weave his supporting cast of human characters into the story as well as the Teen Titans, so it was important for people to know who they are.
But the main part of the story came from asking this question: Victor Stone is a guy who is wounded and gets advanced cybernetics, so why doesn’t everyone else in the DCU have this opportunity? Especially now that we are at a time of war and have all these wounded veterans coming home. Why don’t they get Vic’s technology? What Vic’s going to learn over the course of the series is that someone else has thought of this and is giving veterans this type of technology, but at a price. Which is, if you want these cybernetic limbs, you have to keep killing for the person who supplied them to you. The minute you stop, they’ll take them away. The core part of the story is about Vic discovering this and his moral dilemma regarding the use of his technology.
But something that fans can expect is not one but two groups of Teen Titans. We’ll see both the current, younger Teen Titans and the original “New” Teen Titans. I think people who are longtime fans will be very happy with the characters that I’ve brought back from his past. I also created a group sort of like a “Cyborg Revenge Squad” of familiar villains who we’ve seen before that I think are very suited to bring down Vic. Also, we have a group called “The Phantom Limbs,” which is brand new. They’re characters that fall somewhere between hero and villain. They’re also benefiting from Vic’s technology. I’m excited about it and I really think longtime Cyborg fans will like it, too. But I worked very hard to make sure that it would be an easy pick-up for people who haven’t been exposed to Cyborg before. I want someone who doesn’t know anything about Cyborg to be able to pick up the book and feel like they walked away with a real sense of his history and who he is.
CMix: When you’re writing a series like this, is it difficult to get approval to use all the characters you want for your supporting cast? For instance, you mentioned the “New” Teen Titans. Did DC limit what characters you could use because of the Titans book currently out that Judd Winick is writing?
MS: You know you’re always at the whims of what’s going on (in the DCU). This is a story I pitched originally as a Teen Titans inventory story, to use as a fill-in. It was going to be a Teen Titans story that happened to focus on Vic, then it grew and DC liked it enough to make it into a series. But that was two years ago when I first pitched it. I think “One Year Later” had just started. So there was really only one group of Titans at that point. Then last year, DC told me on the sly that they were bringing back the “New” Teen Titans. It’s not like certain characters are off limits, but there were some that I would have liked to use that were just unavailable. I happen to be a huge fan of Bart Allen and Superboy/Kon-El. I couldn’t use them. But Winick’s Titans have only had a couple of issues out and they’ve been pretty recent. I finished writing this a while ago, so I didn’t use all the Titans that he has. I mean I didn’t know Wally West was coming back. Red Arrow is in Titans but I didn’t use him or Donna Troy. I still have Raven, Nightwing and Beast Boy. To me they are the cores of that group anyway. There were some villains that I couldn’t use but whenever that came up DC would help me find someone else who would be better in the long run.
CMix: Does the story take place in current DC continuity?
MS: It takes place in continuity but Supergirl and Blue Beetle are still part of the team. I think it fits in before Final Crisis. There is nothing contradictory there. But it does technically take place like… last month.
CMix: What attracted you to writing a Cyborg story and when did you first become aware of the character?
MS: My first awareness was definitely the Super Powers cartoon. I think what that did in my mind was made him for me, an A-level character. Because when I was growing up, he was fighting beside Superman, Batman and the rest of the Justice League. Plus, he had his own action figure and Nightwing didn’t even have one ’til much later. So to me he was always an A-list character. That led me, of course, to read Wolfman/Perez. And I thought Geoff Johns really did some cool stuff with him in his most recent run.
For me, the main attraction to the character is that I see him as a really big deal. He’s one of the first and most distinctive African-American characters. And he’s not a stereotype; there are so many different layers to him. Before he even had the accident, he was an Olympic class athlete with a 180 IQ. He would be an interesting guy if nothing ever happened to him. Then you add in that Frankenstein- or Thing-type origin, where he has these powers but they’re a curse. And then, he’s a Cyborg; he can do just about anything. I’ve said before, if the Teen Titans are DC’s X-Men, then he’s their Wolverine. I think he’s the most original of all the characters that Wolfman/Perez added to the team. It amazes me that in over 20 years there has never been a Cyborg mini or solo series for that matter. His origin is amazing. It’s so rich and layered. It’s amazing that his origin only appeared in comics once because people still remember it. Obviously those guys (Wolfman/Perez) hit on something early on and it’s responsible for the character’s longevity.
CMix: If the miniseries is successful, would you be interested in doing a monthly series and if so, do you already have ideas for it?
MS: Yes and yes. But I haven’t talked to DC at all about this. Of course I would do it in two seconds, I would love to write more Cyborg. I really think that he is a character who can support his own book. Again, it’s nothing that I’ve talked to DC about, but I wrote six issues and still feel like I could have done more with him. What I like about the series is that I didn’t just use up other people’s ideas. Whether it’s for me or someone else, I think I’m adding rather than taking away from the mythology. So whoever the writer is, when we see Cyborg again, whether it’s in Teen Titans or a solo book, we’ll have some new characters and events in his life to deal with.
CMix: Let’s talk about Two-Face. Tell us about his Year One mini-series that you’re writing…
MS: The series is comprised of two, 48-page, prestige format issues. It’s essentially four issues worth of stuff in two books. It comes out in July. I think the same week or so as The Dark Knight.
CMix: Is it set in the film’s continuity or DC continuity?
MS: It’s set firmly in DC continuity. The first issue is Harvey Dent becoming Two-Face and the second deals with Harvey’s election for District Attorney. Basically, Dent is still on the election ballot after he becomes Two-Face and runs an “insane” election campaign. Arguing that you’re more likely to get justice from a flip of a coin than from the corruption in Gotham. But it’s very much in the tone of Batman: Year One and Gotham Central. In fact, I kind of use a lot of the Gotham Central characters in what you could call (chronologically, at least) their first appearance. They become part of James Gordon’s “Untouchables” — essentially, the only honest cops in Gotham.
CMix: Can you tell us which Gotham Central characters in particular? Will we see Renee Montoya or Crispus Allen?
MS: Not Renee. Crispus is in question right now, but not Renee. I think that’s a case where, Greg Rucka should be dealing with her. He owns her, not literally, but you understand. Those stories need to be told by him. I can mention that Maggie Sawyer is one of the characters. So is Harvey Bullock. There is another character named Detective Cohen, who is an orthodox Jewish character that’s seen in a small way in Gotham Central. I got to expand on his character a little bit. But I would love to write about Crispus Allen’s early years. That’s part of the attraction to doing “Year One” books. You’re locked into continuity in a certain way because you know where these characters end up. On the other hand, that’s fixed. It’s not a goal post that is constantly moving. I don’t have to worry about what ever changes are happening to that character in the current continuity.
CMix: Have you always been a Two-Face fan? Is he your favorite Batman villain?
MS: Yeah, definitely, but I guess I’ve always been more of a Harvey Dent guy than a Two-Face fan. I’ve always loved the more grounded villains, just in terms of being more street-level. I just like characters that have tragic flaws. I tried to write Harvey Dent as an anti-hero. So yeah, he’s one of my favorites and evidently one of Dan DiDio’s as well. Dan told me that Two-Face is his favorite Batman villain, so hopefully I won’t screw it up.
CMix: Finally, you worked on some of the webcomics for Heroes. What was that experience like?
MS: That was really cool. Actually it hasn’t been officially announced yet, but I guess I can talk about it because I’ve done the work. I have more Heroes comics coming out. Over this summer, the Heroes webcomics are going to have a lot of original characters as well as feature people that we’ve seen before. But it’s going to focus on teams of agents that work for the Company that we haven’t seen on the show.
What’s been cool about working on both the old Heroes comics, where I wrote a Mohinder Suresh story, and these new ones, is that the Heroes people take their continuity really, really seriously. The comics are canon. You can’t take a character (from the show) and have them do something out of character. Beyond that, they want this stuff to count. They want their fans to read it and not feel like something that happens in the book isn’t important to the show.
So there is real participation from the writers and the creators of the program. The exposure on that is incredible. It’s unbelievable to me how many people seem to be fans of the webcomics and read it probably more then any of my printed work. The first time I was just writing a one-shot story, but this time around has been fun. Being in L.A., I went over to the Heroes offices and met the writers. It was a much more collaborative effort this time and it was fun for me to see how the Heroes guys work. I got to throw my ideas in the hat. Not just on my own stories but on other peoples’ and vice-versa. So that was a lot of fun.
Issue #1 of DC Special: Cyborg is on shelves now, with the second issue scheduled for a June 18 release. Two-Face: Year One #1 is currently scheduled for a July 16 release. The first part of Mark Sable’s Heroes webcomic, "Faces," is currently available at www.nbc.com/Heroes.