Like I mentioned recently on Episode 187 of the CBMFP, Airboy #1 is something of a conundrum. In fact, even as I begin this review, I’m still not sure of the score I’ll give it. But I will say this: while not being what I’d call a “cerebral” experience (it’s actually quite the opposite), this book has been stuck in my head since I cracked it open a few days back, not intending to review it as I did so. And yet, here we are, because if nothing else, Airboy makes me want to talk out my feelings, or at very least show you on the doll where it touched me. As its cover suggests, issue one isn’t about the titular Golden Age adventurer, but rather the process of reintroducing him to a modern readership; that is, the dreaded and oft-maligned reboot, undertaken in this case by the real stars of this first issue, James Robinson and Greg Hinkle, its creative team. As such, this thing takes on a very Adaptation approach to storytelling, focusing more on the pitfalls of the creative process than those experienced by its creation. But that’s not to say shit doesn’t get weird, because it does... in spades.
Suffering from debilitating writer’s block after being asked to revamp Airboy by Image’s big cheese, Eric Stephenson, Robinson enlists Hinkle in what should be an innocent brainstorming session, but instead descends into a drug, booze and fuck-fueled night of debauchery, where deep-and-meaningfuls flow as freely as the ill-gotten booger-sugar. The party further tumbles not into a cornucopia of great ideas, but a cesspool of bemused post-coitus moose-pigs, well-bled spirits (in a couple senses of the word), spent cocks, passing regret and not one damn idea of how to reboot a World War II-era superhero for a new audience.
In the process, no one is more thrust beneath the harsh light of introspection than Robinson, whose self-deprecating introspection proves to be quite the telling long, dark “happy” hour of the soul. What continues to confound me about Airboy in that regard is that I’m still not sure whether it’s a pretentious pity party or a biting and bold look into an industry (and the creators therein) often misunderstood by its fanbase. Or both.
Again like Adaptation, this book becomes something the reader sort of expects, even desires, of the creative process: this never-ending party of fast women and perpetual parties, which get more and more absurd with each turn of the page, until the high is drained and there’s nothing left but the hangover. As such, it’s an interesting look into the staggering insecurities of a well-established name in the industry, but it isn’t done so without an endearing and often hilarious sense of whimsy (odd as that may sound).
At the same time, Robinson doesn’t become one of those characters - real or imagined - who you love to hate (or vice versa), he just clearly thinks he is more important than his station suggests... but he also knows that... which again makes him pitiful... but not necessarily unlikably so. This, of course, brings me back to why I’m not sure if I truly enjoy this book, or if I simply appreciate the almost cleansing abrasiveness with which it rubs my rhubarb (metaphorically speaking). But it’s hard not to, at least on some level, enjoy something this debauched and ridiculously over-the-top; so for now, it’s got a reader in me.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the involvement of Hinkle’s art, which is almost grotesquely cartoony in a very gratifying way. Like the narrative, his visual direction stumbles well into grotty, dick-rife art that I find, perhaps despite myself, inescapably attractive. I love the way he first establishes then melts and mangles the detail of hyper-real situations, setting them up to take a fall like Robinson does with the banalities of real life, drowning them in the stupor of insobriety.
The color is also extremely well done, smothered in pale greens and only punctuated by a few liberal splashes of purple and magenta throughout - mostly to distinguish between the mundanity of decline and a drunken, druggy nightlife. However, the masterstroke of this approach comes with the arrival of Airboy himself, who appears fully colored; a fictional being much more realized and idealized than the avatars for the comic book creators. Because of that disparity, and like the story that is implied during the “things to come” previews of the issue’s backmatter, I’m looking forward to seeing this character exist in contrast to the misbegotten life of our “heroes” and seeing what misadventure will ensue.
So here we are at the end, and while I first thought Airboy #1 was self-serving garbage, after sounding it out, I’ve gotta say that I kinda dug it. This is Robinson and Hinkle having fun, and even at its most self-analytic, it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s sexy and grimy and shameful and hilarious, and while it wasn’t close to being what I expected, I now feel it’s exactly what I wanted: something weird.
Listen to Steve on this week's CBMFP!