Being that this is a review for Airboy #3, I’ll try not to dwell too long on the criticism levied upon its previous issue, which pushed its writer to make a heartfelt public apology (and ironically, probably helped it sell a lot more units). But I will say this: in a time when creators and critics are often forgiven for making mistakes as part of their ongoing moral progress, I find it interesting that we should be so quick to dismiss a formative part of a story - however fictionally inflated and indeed distasteful - for being inappropriate to the point of calling for it to be pulled from stands, rather than waiting to understand how it adds to or fits within the whole. Of course, part of that shortcoming is the episodic nature of this medium, and thus, our reportage of it. Still, how can we truly appreciate how far someone has come without understanding, on some level, from whence he or she came? Isn’t a starting point part of the slow process that we call progress?
That’s what I think makes this book by James Robinson and Greg Hinkle so interesting; that they are tragic villains on the path to redemption. And we get to watch that process unfold, whether it takes them through personal bouts with substance abuse and wanton promiscuity, or the disgustingly nonchalant objectification of a marginalized group, like the transgender community.
This is a story about two ignorant cisgendered white men, teaming up with the All-American blueprint of a flawed sense of golden age masculinity. And through it all, they are trying to pull themselves up through the muck. But to ignore that muck in the process of this story’s telling would be to blunt its point.
But I digress... We’re here to talk about Airboy #3, an issue which sees the skewed, fictional versions of Robinson and Hinkle thrust into the morally black-and-white, yet ironically more visually colorful, nazi-bashing world of the titular Airboy. At the moment, salvation is a long way off for our leads. They seem to be doing more infecting than learning (a distinctly 21st century condition), not just in annoying and/or freaking out Airboy’s flyboy and girl compatriots, but also seducing one of same, thus adding more fuel to the fire.
As the boys duck past nazi bombers and steam-powered Third Reichbots, they learn that everything in this alternate dimension/drug-induced hallucination is not what it seems, with its iron-clad British bombardiers and dead-as-doornail doppelgängers. And while it’s still a fairly fun ride, with some entertaining character moments and the snide dialogue we’ve come to expect from Robinson, Airboy #3 is also not as intriguing as its first two issues.
Some of that is thanks to its establishing shot nature; it is building this world before our eyes, after all. But then, much of what we see is underground said world, as the crew kills time while lying in wait. There are a few beautifully-rendered moments of action here, and the promise of more next time, but the bulk of this part in the overall story feels like it’s in a holding pattern, with a few dick, fart and naked lady morsels to drive the whole thing forward sophomorically; intentionally, I would still maintain.
It’s interesting the way Robinson adds more depth than you might expect to this Golden Age world, thanks mostly to the malaise of Airboy’s fighting force and the tenuous grip he and his “gal” hold on their relationship. It feels more modern than I would have thought, and doesn’t stand as diametrically opposed to “our” world inhabited by the muted Hinkle and Robinson. It also feels darker; forgetting the fact that they are fighting a force of known holocaust perpetrators, these people live above a morgue. That’s some dark shit for what should be candy-colored American propaganda.
Then again, that doesn’t take anything away from how unnerving Robinson and Hinkle continue to be in this story, personifying as they do a diseased, pallid mirror of how failed a society we have become. And as hard-edged as this world seems, if these most vile humans alive are our emissaries to a simpler, more altruistic time - shitting their pants and pointing out their fear boners over the first sign of trouble - the past is fucked.
The best part of this issue, as can be argued of the series as a whole, is Greg Hinkle’s art. I do think it suffers beneath too thick a quilt of morose shadowing and a surprisingly drab palette - something, again, I wouldn’t have expected in a world supposedly brimming with bright altruism (though maybe that’s the point) - but his jagged figure work and visual aeronautical vim unquestionably heightens the grotesque absurdity of this story.
My only other gripe with the art this issue was the flow of a particular page, which saw Airboy, Robinson and Hinkle climbing a building in retreat. The layout read bottom-left to middle-right to top-left, which is antithetical to how we in the west read our comics. It wasn’t a huge heretical mistake or anything, but it did take me out of the story for a hot minute. I will tell you one thing, though, Hinkle can draw one mean wiener. Over to you, Liefeld!
As entertainingly “postmodern” as it may be, Airboy isn’t a game-changing book. It’s clearly having fun with its blumpkins and boners, and is setting something up that could be interesting in however many issues that remain, but this was definitely its weakest entry. I’ll still stick with it, though, because as maudlin as it can sometimes get (the Robinson crying scene was a bit cringy) and as intentionally incitory, I’m still enjoying the way it wallows in its own self-deprecation.