WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the Doom Patrol Season 1 episode "Donkey Patrol," streaming now on DC Universe.
Once envisioned as central to Warner Bros.' fledgling DC Extended Universe, Cyborg had only the briefest of cameos in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice before actor Ray Fisher appeared more fully in Justice League, where the character's intended arc was changed with the departure of director Zack Snyder. But while a solo movie, once planned for release in 2020, is doubtful, the hero is finally enjoying a long-awaited moment in the spotlight, on DC Universe's Doom Patrol.
Although it may seem an unlikely venue for a character so long associated with the Teen Titans and, more recently, the Justice League, Cyborg meshes well with Niles Caulder's team of "circus freaks," yet still stands apart. He's a hero among self-proclaimed outcasts, an incongruity that helps to create the live-action depiction of Victor Stone that many fans have been waiting for.
Introduced in 1980 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, Victor Stone a once-promising athlete who, following an explosion in his parents' laboratory, his saved by his father using experimental artificial implants and prosthetics. Left as much man as machine, Cyborg viewed himself as a freak, at least until he found kindred spirits among the Teen Titans.
Played on Doom Patrol by Joivan Wade, Vic debuts in this week's episode, "Donkey Patrol," as an up-and-coming hero fighting crime in Detroit while bristling at the control his father Silas (Phil Morris) seeks to exert over his life. Charismatic, confident, and maybe even a little cocky, this Cyborg seems take as much joy taunting muggers by hacking into an ATM as he does trading insults with the cantankerous Cliff Steele (voiced by Brendan Fraser). The latter provides a dynamic sure to please fans of the classic Vic Stone/Gar Logan relationship.
A friend of Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton), who, perhaps uncharacteristically, provides an emotional warmth that his father lacks, Vic travels to Cloverton, Ohio, to investigate the town's sudden disappearance. There, he finds a Doom Patrol as a loss for what to do following the Chief's disappearance -- flee, retreat to the mansion, or chase a donkey? -- and swiftly fills the leadership void, just in time to be swept up into the sinister plot hatched by Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk).
As much fun as it is to watch Vic spar with Cliff, the true Cyborg isn't revealed in those moments, but rather in the trap set by Nobody. Drawn with Rita Farr (April Bowlby) and Larry Trainor (voiced by Matt Bomer) into some sort of pocket dimension within the flatulent donkey (long story), Vic is forced to relive the explosion that killed his mother, for which he blames himself. However, the virtually omniscient Nobody seriously misjudges the young hero.
"You don’t get it," Vic, his body mangled in the recreated aftermath of the explosion, yells at the unseen narrator. "You think forcing me to relive this is torture? I relive this every time I go to sleep. I relive this when I close my eyes. You may know who I am, but you don’t know shit about me. If you did, you would know that every criminal I bust, and every person I save, is me fulfilling a pledge to my mom that she’ll never get to hear -- trying to make her proud, knowing I’m the reason she’s not around to see it. That’s my burden. That’s what it means to be Cyborg."
It's a crucial moment for Cyborg and the audience, as it reveals what truly motivates the young hero. It's not his ambition to some day join the Justice League, and most certainly not the carrot-and-stick tactics of his father. It's guilt, and doing whatever it takes to live with it.
However, as Nobody gleefully suggests, there's more to Cyborg's backstory, and his motivations, than the hero realizes. (“What … an … origin story! Wow. Too bad it’s a load of donkey shit.”) Nobody is needlessly cruel, but he's not a liar, so when he tells Vic, "You don’t even have memories, you have programming," we should probably take notice.
Vic does, once they're free of the trap, and he's confronted by his father, who tracked him to the Doom Patrol's mansion. As Silas lectures his son, and then promises their work in Detroit will "catapult you to bigger and better things," Cyborg finds himself confronted by his own words. Or, perhaps, programming.
"And even if it doesn’t, it means something to me, and your mom," Silas says. "Every criminal we bust, every person we save, is us fulfilling a pledge to your mom, doing her proud. That’s our burden, Vic. That’s what it means to be Cyborg.”
In the original comics, Vic hated his father, whom he blamed for the accident that killed his mother, and left him part machine. Cyborg viewed his father as manipulative, but Doom Patrol may take that to a new level, with Silas Stone actually creating his son's memories and motivations, so that he can place him on a path to become "a godlike force for good.”
We're left to wonder what, or who, caused the fateful explosion, and whether the experimental procedure was a last-ditch attempt to save Vic Stone's life, or part of a larger plan to create Cyborg.
But one thing is for certain: Never doubt the narrator.
Streaming now on DC Universe, Doom Patrol stars Brendan Fraser as Cliff Steele, Matt Bomer as Larry Trainor, Diana Guerrero as Crazy Jane, Alan Tudyk as Mr. Nobody, April Bowlby as Rita Farr, Joivan Wade as Vic Stone, and Timothy Dalton as Niles Caulder.