There’s not much I don’t love about Doom Patrol, but I’ll admit, for the show’s first season, I had a hard time getting my head around what Cyborg was doing there. To be clear, this is not a knock against Victor Stone. I think the character is one of DC’s secret weapons—one day someone’s going to write a mind-bending, groundbreaking cyberpunk comic featuring Cyborg that will do for Vic what Saga of the Swamp Thing did for Alec Holland. But even without that, Cyborg is a Justice Leaguer. He fights world-spanning existential threats alongside Superman and Wonder Woman. He spends much of his time in outer space, for cryin’ out loud, looking down on the Earth from the Watchtower.
If Vic had shown up on Titans, I’d get it. After all, Cyborg was first introduced as a member of Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s New Teen Titans, so even though Vic’s since made the leap to the varsity team, there’s at least well-known comic book precedence. But Doom Patrol? He’s never been a member of the Doom Patrol in the comics or anywhere else.
That isn’t necessarily a problem. I’m not a purist who believes you can’t make tweaks to comic book storylines or lineups when you adapt them for other mediums. However, when placed alongside the more established members of DC’s weirdest team of heroes—Robotman, Elasti-Woman, Negative Man, Crazy Jane and the Chief—Cyborg sticks out like a titanium thumb.
Admittedly, like the other members of the Doom Patrol, Cyborg is struggling with overcoming trauma—oh boy, does he have a traumatic origin. It’s especially rough in the unique spin Doom Patrol has given it, where Vic’s accident also resulted in his mom’s death. That’ll put a damper on any superhero’s first day on the job.
For much of the first season, Vic served as the Doom Patrol’s motivator—he was the one who encouraged them to use their abilities to find the missing Niles Caulder. There’s no doubt they needed someone like that at the time, and ultimately Vic’s discovery in that debut season was that he needed the Doom Patrol just as badly. But—and this is not to make light of Vic’s struggles—it’s hard to see Rita, Cliff, Jane and Larry feeling like they have much in common with someone who has Batman on speed dial and whose disability also comes with near-godlike powers over the world’s information systems. (After all, if Vic needs a therapist, he can dial up the best in the world within seconds.)
I’m not saying that an emotionally broken take on Cyborg wouldn’t make for an excellent TV show, but is it right for this show? I’m not sure.
Or rather, I wasn’t sure.
Doom Patrol’s creative team makes the bold choice to have Cyborg seemingly leave the team in the second season debut. While it would be easy to see it as an acknowledgement of my season one concerns—that he’s an odd fit—it turns out the show has something far better in mind for him.
Cyborg heads back home to Detroit where he starts attending a support group for victims of violent trauma. While there he meets Roni Evers, an army veteran with a serious limp and even more serious take-no-bull attitude. (Roni’s name suggests that she’s likely a gender-bent take on Cyborg villain Ron Evers, though with one or two key exceptions, her story seems pretty far removed from Ron’s.)
Roni, played by Karen Obilom, is willing to challenge Cyborg in a way that the beloved superhero isn’t usually challenged, and he finds it both compelling and attractive. It’s hardly a surprise to learn that Roni has some serious walls up when it comes to getting close to her, but that’s something Cyborg is used to. And just as important, she thoroughly accepts Victor’s cybernetic enhancements. They neither disgust her nor provoke morbid curiosity—they’re simply a part of her new friend.
It doesn’t take long for Vic and Roni to enter into a relationship and for Vic to discover that most of Roni’s body is significantly scarred. She’s emotionally scarred as well, having participated in some pretty brutal war crimes during her tour and afterwards. (I’m deliberately being vague here because I don’t want to spoil everything.) The important thing, of course, is that Vic also accepts Roni’s body and soul they way that they are. After all, he knows what it’s like to survive trauma and carry around guilt. And Roni knows what it’s like to have your body enhanced, only…
Well, you’ll just have to watch the most recent episode to figure out the rest of that sentence. (But for those of you who are up to speed, I’m curious if Roni’s experience—and the key difference between it and Victor’s—is ultimately going to prove to be a real problem in their relationship. We’ll have to see!)
Cyborg and Roni’s relatively quiet story has to compete with the much flashier action taking place this season with Dorothy and her lethally destructive imaginary friends. That’s not easy to do, but so far actors Joivan Wade and Obilom seem up to the task. After all, one of the best—and I believe most important—scenes that we’ve seen this season was an intimate moment between the two. In it, Vic and Roni lie in bed as Roni discusses her past. When she’s done, Vic tells her that she’s not a bad person, to which she replies, “I don’t want to be.”
There’s a lot we could unpack psychologically in the scene, but put that aside for the moment and think about what we’re seeing there. Two disabled, physically and mentally scarred Black characters being intimate and sexual with each other. When was the last time we’ve seen that? HAVE we ever seen it before?
I’m not sure that we have, and while we have no idea where Vic and Roni’s storyline is going, you have to applaud the Doom Patrol writers for even introducing it. It’s a pretty big win for representation and a surprisingly poignant direction to take a big leaguer like Cyborg in. Victor Stone may have initially seemed like a strange fit in this team of stranger heroes, but this season, it’s becoming clear what he has to offer Doom Patrol. He’s the bridge between the show’s superpowered damaged people, and the non-powered damaged people we find in our real world. As someone who’s always working on coming to terms with his humanity, that’s a pretty good place for Victor to be.
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