One of the most positive presences in “Justice League” is fellow superhero Cyborg, who, along with Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman, The Flash and Superman, form the great union of superheroes charged with saving the world from evil. With the second season of “Luke Cage,” the small-screen debut of “Black Lightning” and, of course, the highly anticipated arrival of “Black Panther,” all in 2018, Cyborg’s Black superhero status is becoming less rare. That was not the case when he appeared in 1980 as part of the DC Comics printed series “Teen Titans.” Since 2003, he has mostly been seen in the “Teen Titans” and “Teen Titans Go!” animated series on the Cartoon Network. The late Lee Thompson Young did play a live-action version of him in the hit Superman/Clark Kent series “Smallville” on the small screen.
And while Cyborg is not the focal point of “Justice League,” newcomer Ray Fisher, who originates the “half-man, half-amazing” superhero on the big screen after introducing him in a cameo appearance in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” last year, proudly proclaims to Atlanta Black Star that “Cyborg has never been a sidekick and he will never be a sidekick. He is his own character.”
In “Justice League,” Victor Stone and his scientist mother are in a horrific accident that claims her life and barely spares his. His father, also a scientist, puts him back together, but not like new. Instead, the star athlete becomes Cyborg. Composed of mechanical parts for most of his body, Cyborg possesses superhuman strength and intelligence. In fact, he has an inner computer system that can link with others. Plus he can fly and has other useful abilities.
Superpowers aren’t what interests Fisher most, however. Instead, it’s what’s underneath Victor/Cyborg. “I think he speaks to the resilience of the human spirit,” he explains. “I think the idea that he’s able to bounce back from such harsh circumstances and rebuild himself is a true underdog story. He could have very easily have gone to a darker place and become a villain in this circumstance, and it would have been justified.”
That struggle is very real, and there’s a glimpse of it in “Justice League” through Victor/Cyborg’s tense interaction with his father Silas Stone, played by Joe Morton. Victor doesn’t accept his cyborg state easily. He feels like a monster, an outcast, and is particularly angry with his father for making him into one. Doubt as to whether Victor will accept himself for the cyborg he is now and not who he once was and wishes to still be is very real.
“Who he is innately ultimately ends up winning out, and he ends up being able to put his personal feelings aside and use his gifts that he once perceived as curses to save the world,” Fisher explains.
Fisher’s gateway to this role came through his noteworthy performance as Muhammad Ali, who was a real-life superhero to many and still is, in the off-Broadway production of “Fetch Clay, Make Man” in 2013. Using the reported relationship between Ali, largely a symbol of Black pride, and the actor Stepin Fetchit, a symbol of Black coonery to many, the play explores Black identity issues. And, interestingly, Victor/Cyborg can be seen as part of that discussion.
Comic book writer David F. Walker, who once wrote for “Cyborg” and now has added Marvel’s “Luke Cage” to his credits, recalls how loudly that Blackness spoke to him. “I can say that when I was a kid and I first saw [Victor/Cyborg] back in 1980 in the new ‘Teen Titans’ it was super significant because there wasn’t a lot of black superheroes back in those days,” he shares.
“When I had the opportunity to write that character, it was pretty cool because I remember the first issue of ‘Teen Titans’ that I bought because Cyborg was on the cover,” says Walker, who also teaches the Portland State College course Writing For Comics. “It was ‘Oh, there’s a Black guy,’” he continues. “Even though he looked like he was wrapped in tin foil, I still had to get it.”
And it’s safe to assume that Walker’s sentiment then is one that Fisher, who was born seven years after Cyborg emerged and grew up in Lawnside, N.J., whose beginnings trace back to land purchased by abolitionists in 1840 specifically for a community of freed and escaped slaves, understands today. “I think representation is important,” he says. Fisher is especially mindful of the roles he chooses, be it Muhammad Ali or Cyborg. Actually, he deliberately chose not to do any other big-screen roles until after the release of “Justice League.”
“I wanted this to be the first thing that people saw me in, and I was conscious of making sure that I didn’t over-inundate myself with projects,” he explains. “It’s hard for me to fake passion. … I’d rather be involved in things I actually care about than work at all.”
With a rumored solo Cyborg film reportedly slated for 2020, coupled with a nearly $100 million first weekend opening (even if Deadline tags it a stumble), Fisher appears to be making the right moves. Despite many fans expressing displeasure with “Justice League” as a whole, excitement for Fisher as Cyborg appears evident in reports of deleted scenes that are making the rounds.
“It has been quite a journey. There’s been a lot of ups and downs within those three years,” admits Fisher, who was first cast in 2014. “The amount of time it takes for these things to reach the public, it was a long wait. But I am glad it’s finally here.”
“Justice League” is in theaters now.