If you were to ask a casual comic book fan who the usual members of the Justice League are, you’d probably hear the standards: Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, the Martian, the fish dude, etc. But for the past few years, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. have been heavy-handedly trying to turn Cyborg into a core member of the League in a way that’s both narratively weird and optically questionable.
Though they’re cool things to think about individually, when taken together, Teen Titans Go!’s success, the casting of actor Joivan Wade as Doom Patrol’s Cyborg, and the DCEU’s upcoming Cyborg movie tell an interesting story about how DC doesn’t really know what to do with Victor Stone.
Understandably, most people know Cyborg as a member of the New Teen Titans, who first came together to fight Raven’s father Trigon back into the pits of hell. Though New Teen Titans’ roster of young heroes didn’t include a number of the team’s founding members, Robin, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, and Cyborg have been the faces of the Teen Titans brand in the wake of the animated series’ monster success. Though they may abhor comic book purists, an entire generation of fans grew up understanding Cyborg as a foundational part of the Titans. Looking at the way DC handled the character in its comics, it’s clear that the publisher was aware of the renewed popularity sparked by the animated series. But rather than simply giving him his own solo series and a bigger profiler within the larger DC universe, the company made the curious to decision to make him the newest member of the Justice League.
In 2011, Justice League writer Geoff Johns explained that he saw Cyborg as a hero who embodied our increasingly connected digital society, something that made him the ideal addition to the Justice League. In theory, this sort of promotion would be cause for celebration. Since his origins were first reworked during the New 52 era, Cyborg’s enjoyed an overall increased profile and more exposure across all of Warner Bros.’ DC properties, both animated and live action. But as Cyborg’s become more visible, his character’s become comparatively less interesting because, frankly, he hasn’t been incorporated into the Justice League very well.
Stop what you’re doing and think to yourself. What did Cyborg do in Justice League, exactly? The answer is very, very little. It’s not that actor Ray Fisher wasn’t up for the job; rather, Justice League, much like a lot of the other properties currently featuring Cyborg, didn’t give him any kind of space and depth to be an actual player in the story.
DC and Warner Bros. should know that Cyborg is at his narrative strongest when he’s within the Titans’ orbit, but in trying to make him a Justice Leaguer, the companies have backed themselves into an odd corner. While DC is much more open than, say, Marvel to play around with Elseworlds and one-shot movies that have no bearing on their primary shared cinematic universe, the company is somewhat particular about brand consistency. Whether he’s in feudal Japan or in 19th century England, Batman (and his squad) are always exactly who you think they’re going to be. Mister Miracle, for instance, isn’t just going to randomly pop up as the newest member of the Bat Family in The Killing Joke movie.
Cyborg still regularly appears in animated Titans-related projects, but his absence from DC Universe’s upcoming live-action Titans series illustrates the weirdness DC has with the character now. He’s not a Titans cast member, but for some reason, he’s a part of the streaming service’s Doom Patrol. When you zoom out and look at the big picture, it really does appear as if DC and WB just...don’t know what to do with Cyborg.
A pessimistic reading of Cyborg’s current status within DC would say that the company saw an opportunity to capitalize on Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go!’s popularity by swapping out one black character on the team (the definitive Green Lantern, John Stewart) for another. Much in the same way that Cyborg became synonymous with the Titans for a younger audience of fans, John Stewart is the Green Lantern for those who first met the Justice League members in their animated series from the early oughts. But DC seems hellbent on leading with Hal Jordan, who may or may not end up cracking wise with Cyborg depending on how many lines he gets in the next Justice League movie.
Regardless of why DC’s given Cyborg top billing but a whole lot of nothing to do, it’s tough to argue that it’s been a particularly great decision for the character and the teammates who really need him most.