As you may or may not recall, my last review of James Robinson and Greg Hinkle’s Image book, Airboy, was just south of unwavering. At least, it started out that way, not initially being sure if it was a beast of true self-deprecating frolic or wayward compliment-fishing. I am here to report, however, that I am back with a much more decisive opinion, and it is this: Airboy #2, and this miniseries as a whole thus far, may just be the square kick in the crotch the comic book industry needs. And not just thanks to its staggering amount of genitalia...although that does have something to do with it. This issue sees the hyper-real comic book avatars of Robinson and Hinkle out on another bender, this time to make sense of the one, which, the night previous, yielded them not just a hangover, but also a tête-à-tête with the titular Airboy, upon whose rebooted book the two are meant to be collaborating. Once again pushing aside anything so banal as “professional duty” or “common human decency,” the two instead see fit to treat the clearly existentially-displaced Airboy (aka, David Nelson) as little more than an irritating hallucination, plying him with space cakes, stories about multiverses, and facilitating his unknowing solicitations for public blumpkins from, and I quote, “pre-op trannies.”
In the process, Robinson offers up a scathing indictment -- sometimes indirectly, other times more brazenly -- not just of his own personal shortcomings as a man and writer, but also those of the industry in which he has grown jaded and bitter. And yes, he names names...to a point, at least. Framing it around the classic-modern twist (which is totally a thing) of parallel dimensions and anachronistic clashes of ideals (i.e., Airboy’s WWII-era altruism vs. the creators’ 21st Century ennui), which in other hands could easily get far too heavy, Robinson makes his introspective chat feel effortless, fresh, interesting and surprisingly unburdened by Purpose.
Last week, I wrote about Oni Press’ The Auteur: Sister Bambi #2, and in many ways, Airboy #2 feels cut from the same soiled cloth. Both offer withering illustrations of the creative process and their chosen targeted industries, but they do so in a way that is at once unflinching and enlightening. Excessive drug use, wild sexual exploits, dicks - this thing’s got it all; but like The Auteur, it’s not just some big fart joke. It uses nth-degree absurdity to show how mired, how indeed monochrome our protagonists’ lives have become, at least as compared to the more morally black-and-white, but colorfully benevolent approach once celebrated (now derided) in Golden Age comics.
What perfects the storm of Airboy’s telling, of course, is Greg Hinkle’s art, which is, in the most endearing and charming ways, an exercise in the freshest grotesqueness. Once again washing his pages in one-color bleeds, which come punctured only by the appearance of the fully-colored Airboy, his art is grooved beneath the same wither with which Robinson saturates his story. His expressiveness, too, hits every intentionally discordant note perfectly, be it in the grimy humanity/beautiful innocence of toilet fellacio, or in the literally explosive turning-of-tables on the last page, as the creators are shunted suddenly from their coke-laced comfortable malaise, and into a firsthand account of their task-at-hand. And Hinkle doesn’t miss a damn beat anywhere between.
His stuff here, in its elongated and wrinkled chisel, and shamelessly bare, thickly-lined splay is perfect for this story. It feels like the escapee of some super-indie book, but without the pretense, and a clear and dedicated commitment to the narrative’s naked artistic aggression.
Airboy #2 is exploitative, raw, inappropriate and offensive, and it’s honest all the more because of it. It doesn’t placate its readership with the kind of vapid, feel-good jargon in many other so-called “progressive” comics; you know, the kind that feel like they were lifted from some Facebook motivational sticker. It is insensitive and abrasive, but at least it feels true, and not just like it’s trying to win points or be everybody’s ism’s poster-child. And in that, I find its style of swill refreshing; not to mention really, really entertaining. Buy it and roll around in it.