BIN SIFTIN’ with Rene LeClair: AIRBOY #1

IMAGE COMICS – Writer/ James Robinson    Artist/ Greg Hinkle

“I’m typecast as the golden age guy or the Starman guy. I’m more than that, you know?”

That line got me.

I don’t know much about the original WWII-era Airboy comics, but I understand it was part of a line of aviation comic heroes back in the 40’s. I remember finding the character aesthetically appealing and doing a little amount of research on the character when I started reading Michael T. Airboy #1Gilbert’s Doc Stern… Mr. Monster. I’ve been digging around for old issues of Mr. Monster ever since I bought a trade paperback of the collected comics originally published by Eclipse back in the 80’s. Airboy had made an appearance in a one-shot called Airboy and Mr. Monster, which I don’t believe I ever tracked down, since I don’t remember reading it. Adding it to the list.

I must say that I really enjoy “monster” comics. Mike Mignola (Hellboy, B.P.R.D., Baltimore) stories hold a soft spot close to my heart, and with Mr. Monster serving up the perfect blend of dark, dramatic and over-serious tone, which seems to be the main criteria for a goofy pulp feel, I was sold.  Let’s not forget the monsters getting what’s coming to them. Very important.

At that same time, I was pretty much done with reading mainstream comics and had started exploring independent and underground comics. These seemed fresh, raw and visceral to me in comparison to the largely user-friendly Marvel and DC comics of the late 90’s.  Robert Crumb, Jamie Hernandez, Dave Sim and a load of other great creators quickly became some of my favourites.

This is why, when I see a comic with a cover like Airboy #1, I have to take a moment to check it out. Two surly looking degenerates sitting on a dirty couch Airboy01_Review_Page_05in their underwear with cigarette butts, empty booze bottles and drugs all over the place. A wall hanging of the classic Airboy crookedly hangs on the wall behind them. This doesn’t look like what an Airboy comic usually looks like, and is most certainly not aimed at kids. Uh-huh. Tell me more.

The “heroes” of the book are, hopefully fictional, James Robinson and Greg Hinkle, the two surly degenerates on the couch. Huh?

James Robinson receives a call from a publisher at Image Comics to do a reboot of golden age Airboy and reluctantly agrees to give it a go. Alone, drinking in a bar, he tries to come up with some ideas for this new Airboy comic , but “he’s blocked” in more ways than one. He’s full of self-doubt and self-loathing and fears “everyone thinks [he’s] a hack” despite having written some great stories involving golden age DC heroes in Justice Society of America (and he’s the “Starman guy.”) Having the worst time, his “(then) wife” suggests that he would perhaps have some success if he found an artist to team up with.  Someone to bounce ideas off of.

Enter Greg Hinkle.

Clearly, James and his wife aren’t really getting along, so it’s no surprise to find out he rented a motel room for he and Greg to work out of for a few days before Greg has to head back to wherever he’s from. After settling in and barely taking a moment to put their minds to the Airboy story, James says “Let’s go for a drink”.

Let me tell you, this is where things get rough. First off, they go to a bar, but it’s not long before James drags a reluctant Greg to a guy he knows who can get him some coke. Then it’s back to the bar and they feel the need to mellow out with some ecstasy. Greg, surely thinking of his wife back home, says: “err, fuck it, what have I got to lose?” They snort more coke in the bathroom and in the airboy1_robinson_hinkle_image_comics_04back alley. Greg ends up buying more coke off a stranger because he feels bad that James has been buying all the drugs. More drinking, more drugs. Horse tranquilizers are ingested. In a quiet moment, late in the night, Greg asks James how he manages to write and have a serious writing career in comics with all the drugs and drinking. James, with “…honesty you only get from drugs and booze”, admits he’s unhappy and wasting his life, using drugs and alcohol to “pretend it’s glamorous and wicked when it’s actually pathetic and sad.” Shocked, Greg decides he still wants to work with James. Then, they hook up with a big, beautiful woman and double team her back at the motel room only to pass out, all together, in the bed. What a night.

The next morning, James figures Greg’s coke has turned brown because it’s heroin and that’s what they’ve been sniffing the whole night. Greg freaks out, but James assures him that his wife will never know about the “sleeping beauty” in the next room and the weekend of debauchery. Since James still has some of his coke, he suggests “…chop[ping] it up and then hopefully everything will make sense.”  Not so easy when they are startled by a voice saying: “Oh, I doubt it. gentlemen… This behavior will not stand!”

Airboy, in the flesh, is in the motel room in front of the open window. How much drugs are they on?

It’s funny to me because the first time I heard of James Robinson was back with 1994’s ongoing series Starman, by DC comics. I have never really been a fan of DC, but here was a new title spinning out of the Zero Hour event, which I knew nothing about. It started with a #0, which seemed sorta novel at the time so I bought it. I remember I picked it up one week after moving into my first 527255c51e88ffb765301c54f0f3dc9aapartment on Daly Avenue in Ottawa, and it was the first time a DC comic made me give a shit about DC; for real give a shit. I’ve always been an unashamed Marvel fanboy, and I HAVE appreciated DC over the years, but I have never really felt like they have their finger on the pulse like Marvel do. I’m sure many will disagree, but I don’t care.

What James Robinson did with Jack Knight though, that story stuck with me. Go read it. Jack, in his story as the vintage shop owner turned reluctant hero, son of the original golden age Starman, in what I guess we can call a continuation of the Starman family legacy, is simply phenomenal. He collects records (like I do) and runs a shop that sells all sorts of antique knick-knacks in a side alley in Opal City.

Making that link to the golden age of DC through Jack and his father, and introducing me to the rich history of DC’s superheroes of days gone by, allowed me to immerse myself, without confusion, into some of the greatest adventures Airboy-panelI’ve ever read. This is why it’s so friggin’ weird to me that the “Starman guy” I’ve been recommending for years now, shows up as a main character in his own comic called Airboy.

But, I shouldn’t be surprised. James Robinson is a very skilled writer and is clearly not a hack. Just like golden age heroes Mr. Monster and the original Starman got their re-imagining in the 80’s and 90’s respectively, Airboy is getting an update for today’s adult comic book reader. Brilliantly writing himself and Greg Hinkle into the story is genius and hilarious. What this comic does is it takes the indie vibe and approach of underground comics and introduces a classic golden age character to the mix and I’m loving it. Hinkle’s art has that fresh, raw and viceral feel that comes through like I like with this type of comic, and that is the cherry on top.

Airboy #1 & #2 are out now! – RENE

(Rene LeClair is an avid comic book reader and works at Comic Hunter in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, spreading the word to all who love comics as well.  He is also a fantastic musician who currently plays with a great band called FEAR AGENT.  Rene has been at his music for years, including stints with Longtimers, Four Frames, and the amazing Dead City Rebels.  At the Comic Hunter (Moncton/Charlottetown) they easily have the biggest selection in the Maritimes for all your nerdy needs. They specialize in comic books w/ over 250k back issues, an immense library of graphic novels as well as a seemingly endless selection of board/card games. Whether you find yourself that side of Quebec or not, they’ll ship anywhere. Visit their website and contact them here.)