This is part of a series discussing the origins of the cast of Universe Gun
Earlier entries can be found here:
Nick Cave has a recurring theme in his music and writing of a guy on the run from a mob through a Southern states swamp after accidentally killing a child. “Up Jumped the Devil” on Tender Prey is a great example of this. Reading his biography, he said he had no idea where this image came from, but that it haunted him for a long time.
I guess I feel the same about the recurring character in practically every strip I’ve ever produced. I created him back in 2007 or so, originally as part of the Legion of Superheroes knock-offs that would become the cast of Universe Gun. Cyberius XII, with Class 5 Super-Intelligence was a simple number-swap of Braniac 5 with 12th Level Intelligence. Like Braniac 5, he’s a future incarnation of a supervillain now working for the good of humanity. The original write-up of a single page in a notebook outlined the three stages of his history – going beserk and attacking humanity, being reprogrammed by Ms. Amazing in 2569, and then working as humanity’s greatest ally and mentor, and finally becoming disillusioned after the golden age of the 30th C peaked, and making toys and games for humanity and secretly hating it.
This last part was a riff on the old gag that we’ve invented the internet and store the body of our species knowledge at our fingertips, and use it to watch movies of monkeys farting and fill out pointless online quizzes. I saw the “Cyberius XII” personality emerge within the larger AI as a backlash to this, like a spiky straight-edged young punk who dismisses human concerns and looks down his nose at everything on the surface, but has some buried empathy and patience that pulls him through the days.
The first comic I ever produced for mass consumption was Love Machine, which still sits on the front of Fundament Zero. A friend of mine alerted me to Melbourne-based comics legend Bernard Caleo’s Tango anthology, and how they were looking for strips on the theme Love and War, and I decided to enter. I entered a rather poorly drawn, atrociously lettered superhero strip to this very indie endeavour, so I’m not surprised at all that I didn’t get in. Reading it now, it looks like it was written by some old guy who bemusedly didn’t get this new Facebook thing, which was more or less the truth at that point. Cyberius is depicted as being guided by NeoPatra, a sexy hologram visible only to him. The idea was that Ms. Amazing implanted this artificial conscience in him when she reprogrammed him in 2569, none of which I bother to explain in this strip.
Cyberius next gets a mention on p13 of Gloriana J: Rings of Saturn, featuring prototype versions of Kid Identity and Star Girl 3000.
He was due to appear with Princess Amtora in the next strip I wrote and laid out (but never drew), with the two of them acting as the brains of the operation. This story may actually get made, after I’ve finished Universe Gun.
When I started up Universe Gun, he was the obvious instigator of events, as you’ll have now seen if you’ve read the latest chapter. One thing my team had always been a bit short on was actual antagonists. Originally, Cyberius XII was intended to be a deliberate creation of the Great Database of Mars, like it purging all its feelings of resentment and rebellion into a single unit. I realised there was much more conflict to be had if he was an accidental creation of this massive AI on the run from its parent. I’d been investigating celestial dynamics a little bit for Gloriana J, just to find the distance in light-minutes form Earth to Saturn, and stumbled on the idea of planetary syzygy. Every 400 days, Mars and the Earth find themselves on opposite sides of the Sun, which provided a natural window for Cyberius to esacape. If he transmitted himself to Earth just before syzygy, he would have a time period to set up in preparation for the Great Database trying to re-assimilate him when it could see the earth from Mars again. Its a very simple and elegant ticking clock for the characters to have to work against.
If you don’t believe how much I liked this idea, check out the logo for Universe Gun. The dot of the i is a red planet, the eye of the g is a yellow globe, and the bottom of the g is adorned with a blue green globe with a little sparkling light blue moon (the colour of orgone). The three main bodies line up. The original fussier logo even showed four concentric orbits for the planets, with Earth and Mars sitting on slots 3 and 4 as they should.
As the drawing at the top shows, Cyberius was originally just a humanoid robot, with a brain-in-a-jar head. I intended the brain to be his personal USB stick, in that he could store data in it that was inaccessible to the rest of the Cyberius network, but using a wet sloppy brain instead of a nice crisp digital medium made him cranky.
I’m not sure when he evolved into his current looser more octopoid form, I think when I started drawing Universe Gun. As a Ms. Amazing villain, I ended up putting him in a wheelchair as a nod to Alpha Flight’s Box, who originally used a helmet to pilot his remote control robot body, just like Cyberius does in the flashbacks to his fight with Ms. Amazing. From there it seemed like a nice progression to give him a non-human body in the 37th C, or at least one that can mimic human form without being stuck in it. An able-bodied human is after all, far from optimum. We have all sorts of weak points like shoulders and knees, we’re hopelessly forwards facing, and can’t handle very much behind our backs. So Cyberius has progressed from building himself bigger tougher humanoid bodies that can walk to using something more like a universal octopus of cables, with a chest piece and glove pieces to hold him in a human shape when he needs to relate to humans. The idea of his USB stick brain became a set of interchangeable swappable heads, each with their own special functions such as the organic brain, or the DNA computer. They can stack, and yes, they are modelled on the shape of Lego heads. I’ve got a couple of extra heads planned as plot points in future issues – keep your eyes peeled for the quantum brain and the mechanical clockwork brain!
Ms. Amazing has become part of Cyberius. My story is already stuffed with far too many characters, so it made sense to ditch NEOPatra and make Ms. Amazing herself the voice of conscience inside his head, existing as a super-intelligent memory image, an idea that really kicks off at the start of #4.
She makes complete sense to me. I like my superheroes bright and optimistic, and a bit silly. As a feminist, the ultimate hero in my universe should be a woman. Cyberius doesn’t make sense. Robots don’t especially appeal to me. I’m not into dark anti-heroes, or compelled to make a point about second chances or forgiveness, and yet there he is in every strip I do, with his stupid robot face where only the eyebrows move. I hate drawing his fiddly tentacle arms sometimes, but keep on doing it. He’s a great source of conflict, he drives the story forwards, and I have a rather cool arc planned out for him.
See you in seven (sure!), cybernetic serial -killers! Dr Mike 2000, 10 Dec 2014