Comics Mastery: How Marv Wolfman Made Me Care About Cyborg

The Curious Case of Cyborg and Sarah Simms

 

Over the course of the last 3 years, I found myself becoming a huge fan of New Teen Titans. I was a fan of the 2003 cartoon and Young Justice previously, but when I started researching the characters and lore on comic fan wikis, TV Tropes and generally learning about how different these characters were compared to their cartoon adaptations, it piqued my curiosity enough to want to actually start reading the comics.

 

While reading the comics, I found myself generally loving everything about Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s work at the time but there was one relationship that I found myself getting more invested in than I initially expected to and that was the relationship between Cyborg (Victor Stone) and Sarah Simms, which is what I want to talk about today. Specifically, how one of the most organically developed comic relationships managed to get derailed after several issues of buildup and the alleged reasoning for why this happened but before that I feel it’s best for me to start from the beginning, so let’s take a nice stroll down memory lane.

 

THE START OF VICTOR & SARAH

 

Hot off of the heels of the first Trigon arc in New Teen Titans ending with LAST KILL!The New Teen Titans #6), which was released in April 1981 and fighting against The Fearsome Five for the first time in ASSAULT ON TITANS’ TOWER (The New Teen Titans #7), which was released in May 1981, Victor began a process of tying up a couple of loose ends in his life.  One of them was Victor’s grudge against his father Silas for the incident that caused him to become Cyborg several months before joining The Teen Titans and the second loose end being his estranged ex-girlfriend Marcy who had not called or spoke with him after the aforementioned incident.  The other culminated in epilogue of issue #7, where Cyborg decided to make up for lost time and reconcile with his father after finding out that his father was dying of radiation poisoning due to saving his life and this later culminated in Days in The Lives (The New Teen Titans #8), where Cyborg visits Mercy’s house and finds out that she didn’t call because her parents demanded that she never see him or talk to him again.  For context, here are pages from those respective issues:

What’s worth noting was that just with the small amount of time he had been in the Teen Titans at this point along with his father passing away, Victor was becoming less bitter about the circumstances in his life to the point where he couldn’t even be angry at Marcy for what she said and did to him. However, this also meant a fresh start because of the fact that he had gotten closure on these loose ends in Days In The Lives, which was released in June 1981. This issue also contained the first appearance of who would become Victor’s first recurring love interest in New Teen Titans, Sarah Simms herself.

Those two ended up meeting right after Victor left Marcy’s house and he is pondering to himself as he walks. He specifically is asking himself “Where do I go from here?” due to the fact that he knows that when he’s not fighting crime he still has to live life as a normal human being. However, the perfect situation falls in his lap, due to him coming across a small kid with an amputated hand playing baseball. The kid was nice to him and was one of the few non-Superheroes to be around him and not be afraid of his appearance. However, the kid wouldn’t be the only one due to Cyborg also crossing paths with Sarah, who is a young teacher of handicap elementary school kids along with being another person who looked past Cyborg’s appearance as treated him with compassion as well. This leads to what would become Cyborg’s primary civilian activity in the comics at this point, which was helping Sarah Simms by playing with her young students.


What made the dynamic between these two interesting to me is that Sarah was the first adult woman to treat Victor like he was not a freak because of his appearance and as he helped her with her students, they would gradually become closer over time to where it was easy to see that their friendship was on the verge of blossoming into romance even when Victor wasn’t always able to be around due to being a crimefighter. Not to mention despite Sarah being a minor character in the books, the way her interactions with Victor were written and portrayed made what was, at the time, a brewing romance feel natural and organic. Both were highly likable characters that just seemed sweet with each other anytime they were seen together. However that did not mean that there weren’t ups and downs that took place when it came to this blossoming relationship between the two.

RELATIONSHIP ROADBLOCKS FOR VICTOR AND SARAH

The first example of their relationship hitting a low point was when Deathstroke captured her as a means of getting under Cyborg and the rest of the Titans’ skin. Which lead to Cyborg blaming himself and avoiding her in an effort to push her away. Which thankfully did not work because she wanted him back in her life. 

Now for provide some more context, The next time Victor and Sarah would be shown together is in LIKE PUPPETS ON A STRING! (The NEW TEEN TITANS #9), which was released in July 1981. What happened between them in this issue was that due to Sarah’s students wanting to meet Raven because they assumed that because her powers can “make people feel better” that must mean, she can cure them of physical handicaps as well but Victor and Sarah wanted to teach them that just like everyone else, Superheroes an only do their best along with Sarah primarily teaching them to not see themselves as freaks just because they have physical handicaps.

Notice something in the later panel that’s posted above,  Alongside the fact that it looks like Sarah was about to kiss Victor on the cheek, there was something she said shortly after her words of encouragement to him. When he joked that she’ll blow the image he built of himself with the Titans as a stoic person, she told him this: “I don’t know but if they don’t love you like I do, It’s their problem”.  Now, it might seem like I’m being pedantic by zeroing in on a statement she make to basically be encouraging to a friend to help him not be insecure about his physical handicaps but I hope that as I provide more context to both those who have read this run and those that didn’t, why I feel that even at this point, it was obvious that seeds were being planted for potential romance between the two even when I initially started reading this run.

However, this brings me to the first roadblock in the Victor-Sarah saga that I mentioned earlier in this article, Deathstroke capturing Sarah and out of self-blame for the incident, Victor trying to distance himself from her. This plot thread kicks off in PROMETHIUM UNBOUND! (THE NEW TEEN TITANS #10), which was released in August 1981 and had another significant plot thread kick off which was the rivalry between Deathstroke and Changeling/Beast Boy.

However, the incident of Sarah Simms being captured happened on  Page 7 of the above-mentioned issue when she was going home after a conversation with one of her students’ parents. While she was pondering on her financial shortcomings, she as coming to terms with the fact that despite being broke, she was happy due to her work with the children but right as she got into her apartment, Deathstroke got ahold of her.

Here are some things that I recommend taking notice of when looking at the comic pages above:

1. Despite being used as a bargaining chip to manipulate, Cyborg/Victor and the Titans , Sarah did not show any indication that she blamed Victor.

2. Even with her life being more in danger than Victor was, Sarah was just as concerned about his well-being as he was hers.

3. Cyborg explained why he cares about her so deeply and made sure to state that they were not lovers or anything but just friends.

The first two things are gonna matter a little later but as of right now, I want to point out the last observation I made because while it’s important to note that they were not a couple I think this may have also been an indication that at this point he had deeper feelings for her than he was conveying at the time as we explore this more, you’ll see that she did for him as well.

As for the first two observations that I mentioned above, let’s fast forward to FRIENDS AND FOES ALIKE! (The New Teen Titans #13), which was released in November  1981. This issue is the first time Sarah had been mentioned in the comics since issue 10 and the return of the Doom Patrol in comic books. The one thing that this issue consisted of that was notable was the fact that Cyborg was expounding upon how he feels about the fallout of Deathstroke capturing Sarah Simms, where he’s essentially beating himself up over what happened to her nor gave her a proper explanation before sending her home. It comes across that he’s trying to push her away by ignoring her because he thinks it would keep her safe. He doesn’t say those things but I personally think it’s a reasonable conclusion to come to. You can take a look for yourself here and decide whether or not you agree:

Several issues would take place without Sarah Simms appearing or being mentioned (save for the above mentioned issue) after the events of  issue #10 until THE LIGHT FANTASTIC! (THE NEW TEEN TITANS #19), DEAR MOM AND DAD (THE NEW TEEN TITANS #20),  and BEWARE THE WRATH OF…….BROTHER BLOOD! (THE NEW TEEN TITANS #21), which were released in May, June, and July of 1982 respectively.  Sarah Simms would often appear in spades here and there in the above mentioned issues. In issue #19, We would find out that Victor had not talked with Sarah in two months since the events of issue #10 because he was beating himself up over Deathstroke’s kidnapping of her. However, we would find out that Sarah misses Victor and wants him to be back in her life despite the situation and him avoiding her for as long as he had. He would even avoid her on his birthday when she would get Terry Long to send him a gift in issue 20 as well before she would finally visit his house in issue #21. Where they briefly discussed the situation regarding his guilt over the situation and her not blaming him for it. This would in a way be them coming to a form of reconciliation and continuing their friendship.

The second roadblock would happen s in NIGHTMARE! (THE NEW TEEN TITANS #30) and WHO KILLED TRIDENT? (THE NEW TEEN TITANS #33), which were released in April and July of 1983 respectively. What happened is that while making a visit to Sarah’s house, Victor would meet with someone claiming to be Sarah Simms’s fiance who would also give a false explanation for why he wasn’t living with her prior to this. Sarah wasn’t home at the time to corroborate or discredit his claims, so it left him in a situation where he could only take the man’s word for it. 

Victor’s feeling about the ordeal can easily be summed up with this panel:

I think it’s safe to say that Victor was hoping to become more than friends with Sarah, wouldn’t you? Nonetheless, what would go one to happen for a while is  that Victor would,  out of anger and a sense of betrayal, would ignore Sarah’s calls to him when she would try to explain to him what was actually going on. We would then find out that Sarah wasn’t actually romantically involved with Mark because whatever relationship they had ended a year before she met Cyborg despite his insistence that they get married. Sarah would then get tired of his behavior and literally force him out of her apartment.

The Mark Wright conflict would culminate in SIEGE! (The New Teen Titans #35), which was released in October of 1983.  This is when Mark would go off the deep end and accost Sarah Simms  in public and despite Victor ignoring her previously, when Gar told him about what was happening with Sarah, he instantly jumped to try and rescue Sarah. Victor would later vow to himself to tell Sarah how he feels and always be there for her. We would also find out that the reason for Mark’s breakdown is after his woman Maddy left him, he came back to Sarah because he felt like everyone else took advantage of him but her. Raven would then heal him of his pain after he broke into tears and put the gun down.  Here are some panels from this issue chronicling the events:

Forgive me for once again being pedantic but did Cyborg just say that he did not give Sarah a chance to explain because he was afraid that she “dumped him? Unless there were more feeling expressed between the two off page, at this point, I would assume that while sparks were definitely flying between the two up to this point, I assumed they just had a platonic friendship with the potential to blossom into something more but maybe there was more to that than meets the eye.

THE  DERAILING OF VICTOR AND SARAH’S ROMANCE

 

   After the events of issue #35, We would later see Victor and Sarah together again in THE EYES OF TARA MARKOV! (TALES OF THE TEEN TITANS #42), which was released in May 1984. This issue was the official start of the Judas Contract storyline, which was the biggest arc in Teen Titans history. However, when it comes to Victor and Sarah, the one interaction we get between these two is a playful and somewhat flirty interaction that happened while they were ice skating with her students.

 

While one might look at this scene as largely insignificant, if you remember Victor telling himself that he’s gonna tell Sarah about how he feels in issue #35, a case can definitely be made that if he followed through with that during an off-page event,  that those two were likely being more open about their feelings with one another  even if they were not “official” at this point in their relationship.

The highest point in their relationship and the biggest indication that things were moving forward, atleast to me, was 7 issues later in THE LIGHT THAT FAILED (TALES OF THE TEEN TITANS #49) as well as WE ARE GATHERED HERE TODAY (TALES OF THE TEEN TITANS #50). Both of these issues were released in December 1984 and February 1985 respectively. During these issues, Victor would get the confidence to call Sarah and ask her to go to Donna Troy’s wedding as his date, which she would happily agree to do.

Now when looking at the last panel above, one thing that stood out to me, in addition to the fact that Sarah agreeing to be his date for the Wedding, was that she considers Victor a beautiful person, which can mean two things:

1. She is referring to how sweet and compassionate of a person he is, which would mean inner beauty

2.  She can be referring to the former in addition, to finding him attractive physically despite the robotic parts of his appearance

All of this to me, still points in the direction of those two moving closer and closer to becoming an official item despite his constant going away due to his duties as a crime fighter.

 

Unfortunately though, All of this would come crashing down for Victor in LOVE STORY (THE NEW TEEN TITANS #10) and CRISIS (THE NEW TEEN TITANS #13), which were released in July and October of 1985. The former issue is where the bomb would be dropped that while Victor has been away fighting crime, Sarah has found a new lover named Gary Sellers that works at the school with her. When Victor would find out 3 issues later, he would be angry but after spending time with the kids and calming down, he and Sara would have a talk about the situation and largely stay on good terms.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON VICTOR AND SARAH

 

Now that we’ve finished this stroll down memory lane, there are many problems I have with the way this romance arc was concluded. One of the main problems I have is that this arc was developed organically from the very start of Wolfman’s run on Teen Titans and for the most part, every interaction felt organic and made the characters likeable. Alongside that, this romance went a long way in developing Cyborg as a character by humanizing him. Sarah Simms was the first normal human to see Victor as a person and not a freak as well as helping him see himself in that way as well. While developing his relationship with her and helping her take care of her handicapped students, Victor would also show alot more of his kinder and more compassionate side of his personality. So over the course of the 5 years that this relationship was being built up, Cyborg was given much needed dimensions to his character that kept him from just being a one note stoic and angry figure that he would have been without that relationship being there. 

So with all of that said, I really thought it was EXTREMELY anti-climactic to have a relationship that was being developed and progressed for 5 years be torpedoed in two issues with no real payoff. Now, one way of looking at this is that it showed the consequences of being a superhero due to the fact that Victor was always gone, it would be unrealistic for Sarah to wait on him. I can see the merit in that argument due to the fact that similar things can happen in real life. However, when something like this is being built up for so long, in my personal opinion, there should be a payoff and having those two become an official couple would have been that.

Now I’m unsure of what Wolfman’s reasoning for this was but I can definitely say that over the course of an otherwise great run on the Teen Titans, if there was any major disagreement I’d have with Wolfman, it would be the way this ended.

However,  here is the alleged reasoning by Marv Wolfman for Victor and Sarah not being a romantic couple:

 “Not necessarily. At first I thought of it. And then decided there was nothing wrong with a good healthy friendship that isn’t based on a sex. I received a letter that sort of helped me change my mind, from a black leader who felt that we had seen a lot of interracial relationships, but we haven’t seen that many good, solid black-black relationships to show that a black hero doesn’t always go together with a white heroine and vice versa. And that sort of got me thinking. That came very early in the relationship, that it made a lot more sense in terms of their needs to be very good friends on a platonic friendship level. He has no girlfriend who he is totally in love with in a sexual way at this time. He’s just very good friends with her, And that in itself is a slightly different relationship.”

 

The problem is, outside of Wikipedia, I have a hard time substantiating this quote but I can definitely say that this would not be hard to believe. So, let’s take this at face value and say that this was Wolfman’s reasoning for a second. Even then, I don’t agree with it but I can once again see merit in it. The reason I don’t agree with it is because based on every issue those two appeared in outside of the issues with Gary Sellers, the most organic place to take the story and characters was to have them become an official couple regardless of “representation” concerns. It’s also worth noting that Sarah’s role in the comics would largely diminish after this 

Which also brings me to another thing that I like about the way this relationship was written and developed. If one looks back at any of the panels shown with Victor and Sarah, what stands out to me is that throughout their entire romance/friendship development, there was no mention of race relations or racial politics because it was being presented as something normal as opposed to something abnormal. This is something that I think a lot of modern comic writers can take notes on from Wolfman’s New Teen Titans run as well.

All in all, this to me was one of the more underappreciated comic relationships and it’s a shame that the only comics where these two became a couple were in the tie-in comics for the 2003 cartoon.

JUST KEEPING THE LIGHTS ON