Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer #1-5 (Image/Top Cow)

Mark Waid and Kenneth Rocafort craft a different kind of comic book crossover, one that’s actually good.


 32 pgs. ea. full color; $2.99 ea.

(W: Mark Waid; A: Kenneth Rocafort)
One of the most exciting aspects of superhero comics, especially when you first get into them, is the shared universe, the idea that all your favorite heroes and villains occupy the same space and that at any moment, any pairing of them might get in a tussle. Or even better yet, a threat can come along that’s so big that no single hero can handle it, forcing scores of heroes to unite in an epic, mega-crossover event to take that threat down.
Given their penchant for high octane action and shocking changes to the status quo, these kind of stories can, of course, be a lot of fun, but just like eating a can of frosting for dinner, you can have too much of a good thing. Crossovers have gone from a sometimes treat to a daily staple of the superhero comic fan diet, with Marvel alone foisting a stomach-churning seven of them—War of Kings, Realm of Kings, Siege, Fall of the Hulks, Doomwar, Necrosha, and Second Coming—on the reading public in just the last year. The end result, unsurprisingly, is diminishing returns: Siege may be finally putting a capper on six years’ worth of Avengers stories, but it’s being read by less than half as many people as read its predecessors like 2008’s Secret Invasion or 2006’s Civil War.
Like most mainstream comics readers, I’ve read a lot of crossovers in the last few years, and I’ve been incredibly bored by most of them. Call it event fatigue, but these crossovers for me have now become simply a transition piece, a clean break between Shared Universe Status Quo #1 and Shared Universe Status Quo #2. I read them mostly just to know “what’s going on,” and even when I get enjoyment out of a crossover’s cool little moments, I still wouldn’t hazard to call most of them “good comics.” 

And that’s what’s most surprising about Top Cow’s new crossover, Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer: it’s actually a good comic. Writer Mark Waid was already on something of a tear before tackling this series, doing some of the best work of his career on his BOOM! Studios releases like Irredeemable and Incorruptible. But where those titles work by subverting/reversing standard superhero tropes (one by making the perfect hero turn villainous, the other by making a villain struggle to turn heroic), Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer revels in those tropes, taking the most standard, generic crossover formula possible— take a group of heroes, make them battle each other over some villain-induced misunderstanding, then have them team up to beat the baddie—and running wild with it. It’s a simple formula, but it’s one that almost always works because the results are guaranteed to be high on action, even if they might be low on depth.

Waid, fortunately, doesn’t settle for “low on depth.” His plot gets cooking fast, helped by the fact that the premises of the two teams (both co-created by Top Cow founder Marc Silvestri, though a decade and a half apart) dovetail so nicely: Cyberforce is a team of super-powered heroes battling an evil organization named Cyberdata that turns people into unwilling superpowered soldiers, while the Hunter-Killers are a paramilitary group of superpowered soldiers that hunt rogue “Ultra-Sapiens” at the command of the secretly villainous Morningstar. It’s not much of a stretch that the Hunter-Killers could be tricked into trying to capture Cyberforce, and villain Morningstar’s whole raison d’être is to act an awful lot like Cyberdata. With the plot developing so organically, Waid has room to quickly breeze through the set-up before getting to the meat of his story, setting up a few surprising twists that warp the story into a sci-fi tinged espionage thriller tinged with pointed commentary on how our dependence on technology just might bite us in the ass one day.
The chief aspect of the book that allows Waid to keep his story wound so tightly, however, is that it’s self-contained. Unlike most recent crossovers, the entire story takes place within the pages of these five issues, which makes it easy to digest in one sitting. It should make readers’ wallets happy, too: Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer is over and done for under $15. Contrast that with, say, DC’s Blackest Night, which would cost you twice as much to buy just the core miniseries and over ten times as much to follow every side story and tie-in, and the competition isn’t even close.
Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer is also self-contained in another way, a way that (like the book’s classic crossover formula) harkens back to simpler times. Never read Hunter-Killer? Haven’t checked in with Cyberforce since the book started in the early ‘90s? No worries, because Waid actually bothers to introduce the cast of characters: names, powers, personalities, interpersonal relationships, all of it is slipped in by Waid in narrative captions or casually slipped into the dialogue. As a guy who despised every page of Final Crisis for not bothering to explain who people were and why I should care, I found this aspect of the book a godsend, especially given neither team had headlined their own series in over three years. Whether you’ve read every Top Cow book in existence or never read a single one in your life, you can still enjoy this comic.
I’ve said a lot about the writing of Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer, but the art can’t be ignored, especially since the artist, Kenneth Rocafort, is one of the best kept secrets in comics. A fantastically skilled artist whose work has chiefly been seen on low-profile books like Top Cow’s Madame Mirage and the Marvel anthology Astonishing Tales, Rocafort blends all of the best aspects of the so-called “Image style” turned up to 11: the beefy heroes of Jim Lee, the gorgeous cheesecake heroines of J. Scott Campbell and Michael Turner, the dynamic posing of Marc Silvestri and, thanks to the lack of an inker, the sketchy energy of Leinil Yu’s New Avengers and Ron Garney Skaar: Son of Hulk. He’s not content with boring, perfunctory page layouts either, and while that can lead to the occasional clunky transition, the overall book is easy to read and downright gorgeous to flip through.
If other crossovers that fail to deliver big action have gotten you down, give Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer a shot. You just might be as pleasantly surprised as I was. | Jason Green
Click here for a 9-page preview of Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer #1 and an interview with Kenneth Rocafort, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

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