Zeb Larson reviews Airboy #1…
When acclaimed comics author JAMES ROBINSON (Starman, Fantastic Four) is hired to write a reboot of the 1940s action hero Airboy, he’s reluctant to do yet another Golden Age reboot. Just what the hell has happened to his career-?! His marriage?! His life?! Hey, it’s nothing that a drink can’t fix.
It’s after one such night of debauchery with artist GREG HINKLE that the project really comes into its own. Quite literally. Because Airboy himself appears to set the two depraved comic book creators on the straight and narrow.
But is the task too much for our hero?
Airboy has got to be one of the most fucked-up examinations of artists, writers, and their craft that I’ve ever read. The premise is simple: James Robinson and Greg Hinkle are hired to bring a public-domain character back for Image Comics, but they only manage to drink and do drugs. What happens when their creation shows up and tries to change their behavior? I’ll be skipping the synopsis of the issue, seeing as how Image’s blurb discusses the entire issue and opting just for a discussion of the book.
The material that’s presented here is a strange mixture of biography and fiction. Robinson and Hinkle’s depravity is humorous, though it doesn’t shy away from trying to shock us into laughing. There’s graphic male nudity, Keith Richardseque drug use, and absolutely zero glamor attached to any of it. This is the low side of being Hunter S. Thompson, the part where people don’t take you seriously and look at your escapades with pity, not admiration. There’s no rock-and-roll lifestyle here, but a guy trying to dodge the onset of age and insecurity.
The artistic self-loathing is where the book abandons fiction and becomes at least semi-autobiographical. The heavy drinking and drug use doesn’t seem to be either of their MOs, though this would certainly be a brutally honest way to confess. Still, that’s not what is really interesting here. Robinson is afraid of taking on the Airboy franchise because he’s already known for Starman, but he has nothing else to say artistically. Hence the long conversation where Eric Stephenson tries to convince Robinson to take the job while Robinson is on the shitter, complaining about being blocked. Even more than being afraid of writer’s block, Robinson is also afraid of being forced into shit work. That has to be a common fear of common creators: trapped into doing something they don’t want because they can’t find anything else to do.
Additionally, Airboy is a way of examining how artists measure up to their art. Audiences judge artists and performers for their behavior all the time. It’s patently ridiculous to believe that a comic book character from the 1940s could criticize or even relate to people seventy years in the future. The censorship and context that produced the character effectively it place so far away from the rest of us that we’re effectively speaking different languages. Is it any less ridiculous if fans do so? Are the actions of artists connected to their art? And if so, should they be held accountable? I’ll be curious to see whether Airboy answers any of these questions.
This is a smart series in addition to being a funny one, and it deserves to be read. It may not be a journalistic exposé of the world of comic books, but it raises some interesting points nonetheless.