Airboy #4 wraps up this contentious Image book in what turns out to be much more of a whimper than an actual bang, which is a shame for something that came out swinging so strongly. As weird as this sounds, I sincerely hope that has more to do with its own natural petering out, and less to do with the whims of the professionally offended. Saying all of that, this fourth and final chapter in James Robinson and Greg Hinkle’s self-deprecating jaunt through golden age meta-commentary is not without its charm or merits; and while it did end weaker than I would have expected, it remains an interesting character study of a reboot story’s architects, rather than its actors.
After literally screwing their relationship with Airboy and his crew last issue, Hinkle and Robinson are tasked with helping the fictional WWII dogfighting heroes by covertly sneaking onto a bridge protected by mecha-nazis and helping the Allied forces blow it up. A great amount of emo-level navel-gazing and self-flagellation ensues against a barely-there backdrop of aeronautical bullet jousting, the cliché aftermath of which leaves us to wonder if the whole thing was just a dream, and whether our erstwhile creative team can possibly continue working together to finish their project.
Narratively, this issue starts out strongly enough, with the same grotty irreverence we’ve come to expect from both sides of its creative process. In that is the true power of Airboy: its gleeful traipse through its own grime. But as it turns out, that also acts as its greatest weakness, because more than any issue before it, Airboy #4 feels like James Robinson throwing himself the world’s biggest, brightest pity party.
Now, some of his remorse is deftly done and even downright hilarious, like when he snorts booger sugar with the character Black Angel and goes on - at length - about his real life directorial and screenwriting failures, in films like Comic Book Villains and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the latter of which enjoys a fantastic little zinger this issue. He also talks about his failed marriage, and even offers two honest-to-goodness moments that feel truly ripped from the heart (one where he faces certain death, and another wherein he ostensibly ascends to redemption); these were done to great effect and without too thickly spread a melodrama.
My problem is that, everywhere else, Robinson goes overboard (both figuratively and literally this issue, as it happens), such that his self-loathing feels more like fishing for compliments than actual contrition. I also wonder if Hinkle wrote his own dialogue this issue, because if not, it’s just Robinson telling himself (and the reader) how both terrible and great he is via Hinkle’s character, which is... weird, and not a little uncomfortable. Of course, I guess that’s also the point of this book, to shine a harsh, awkward light on how big a piece of shit and how much a hack Robinson thinks (or says he thinks) he is.
Another issue I have is that everything is spelled out this time, from Robinson’s own self-deprecating moral depravity, to the fact that he is literally burning bridges, a metaphor that would have been more compelling to let stand on its own, rather than explicitly state it for the reader. Then again, given the reaction other critics have had to the less savory paths this story has taken, maybe some folks do need a certain amount of narrative hand-holding.
Which is really fucking sad, by the way.
One thing I think we can all appreciate, however, is how great Hinkle’s art has been throughout this series. Hell, I’d even go so far as to say it has been the highlight of the book, and this issue especially. His comedic use of caricature through chiseled, angular figure work here is bested perhaps only by his great (though too darkly colored) sense of architecture and vehicular rendering, be it in biplanes or fictitious mech-armor. While keeping everything fun, Hinkle has brought a thematically-necessary dingy darkness to Airboy that I have enjoyed thoroughly, with a fantastic sense of timing, tone and acting that I look forward to seeing in more books very soon! This guy on, say, a Quantum and Woody or a Deadpool? Yeah, sign me up.
Still, not much happens in this, the end of the Airboy experiment, other than a small bout of action, a lackluster sense of “spiritual growth” and some great art, making it less the entertainingly caustic experience it started out as being, and more an obligatory bout of apologetic hand-wringing.
Airboy #4 Writer: James Robinson Artist: Greg Hinkle Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 11/11/15 Format: Miniseries; Print/Digital