Friday, 27 November 2015

Airboy Review (James Robinson, Greg Hinkle)

James Robinson is in a bad place. He’s spending too much time getting fucked up on booze and drugs because he’s dissatisfied with his work at DC and the pigeonhole he’s found himself in at this point of his career as “the guy who reboots Golden Age characters”. So when he’s approached by Image publisher Eric Stephenson to reboot Airboy, another Golden Age character, he’s hesitant but takes the job for the cash. 

Teaming up with artist Greg Hinkle, the two struggle to come up with a fresh take for this unknown and outdated intellectual property - so they resort to getting fucked up on booze and drugs for ideas! An epic Hunter S. Thompson-like bacchanal later and the two wake up to see the larger-than-life character of Airboy standing in front of them. But… he’s just a comic book character… isn’t he? 

Airboy really was a popular comics character from WW2 who had adventures flying planes and shooting down Nazis. Except readers in the post-war years lost interest and the character’s publisher eventually moved away from comics allowing the rights on the property to lapse until it became public domain. 

Also: this is easily one of the best comics of the year! Robinson writing himself and Hinkle into the comic as these debauched characters is an inspired decision but then putting Airboy alongside them is a slam dunk. The fish-out-of-water angle works beautifully as Airboy finds 21st century San Francisco deeply disappointing to great comedic effect, especially when he wonders whether James and Greg are supervillains and this is all a trick! James and Greg make a brilliant double act too, the pair bumbling through the weirdness they find themselves in in a charming and entertaining way. 

But it’s more than the setup that makes this a really interesting comic; it’s also Robinson’s brutal self-deprecation and honesty about himself that makes this so compelling. Not that I’m certain everything he reveals here is 100% true but there are elements to them that feel real. He touches on his bad experiences and falling out with DC after many years working there (his New 52 Earth-2 series was poorly received and he partially blames editorial interference, something MANY creators who’ve worked at DC these last few years have also complained about), his misadventures in Hollywood (his movie Comic Book Villains sank without a trace and his screenplay for the dismal League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie effectively ended his film career), and how comics readers these days care more about the likes of Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns than anything he does. 

Greg Hinkle is a revelation. Besides some fantastic imagery, including the exceptional drug sequence and the action scenes in the second half of the book, he chooses to draw “our world” in one colour, so a lot of the book is coloured in the green seen on the cover, but he colours Airboy and his world in full colour. It’s also worth mentioning there is a LOT of full frontal male nudity – Hinkle’s glorious horse cock (hey, if you’re drawing yourself nekkid wouldn’t you big yourself up?) gets quite a bit of air time! 

There was some controversy in the second issue when Robinson unintentionally insulted the Trans community with a scene in a gay bar’s toilet. It was an outdated stereotypical jokey slur that (pun not intended) doesn’t fly in the 21st century but Robinson did apologise extensively for it. I don’t believe he meant any malice so it didn’t ruin the comic for me. There’s only one punching bag in this book and it’s James Robinson. 

Airboy is an absolutely superb comic that takes a long-forgotten character and rejuvenates him by throwing him into a post-modern/magical realist story about a comics writer trying to get his life in order. I’ve never read anything like it. James Robinson may be lamenting his seemingly atrophied career but Airboy proves he may have been down but not out. It’s a return to form for Robinson and arguably his best comic yet while being a tremendous break for Greg Hinkle whose work we’ll hopefully see lots more of in the future. 

Airboy is one of the most original and outstanding comics of 2015 – don’t miss it!


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