Thursday, December 24, 2015


Here begins a series of reviews, planned to run through the rest of this month and January. The idea is to clear out a bunch of comics that have been sitting in my office waiting to be written about by your bloggy thing balladeer. They will alternate with other bloggy things. Let us begin...

Airboy, the four-issue series by James Robinson (writer) and Greg Hinkle (artist), was the subject of much controversy and loathing, even as it was praised by some readers and industry professionals. It was published by Image Comics in the summer of this year.

The premise of this “Mary Sue” story is that a severely depressed James Robinson, forever whining about the difficulties of working with a major publisher, about writing a few movies that he believes no one liked, about being typecast as a guy who does recreations of Golden Age characters, about...well, it all blurs together. James (at least seen in this series) is an unhappy man given to massive drinking, massive drug use and cheating on his wife. Knowing, as I do, a great many fine writers who cannot get the opportunities that Robinson enjoys - he’s currently writing multiple series for Marvel Comics - I found myself having no more sympathy for him that I do for entertainment and sports celebrities who don’t appreciate all they have and act out in destructive ways. Which is a shame since I liked the James Robinson I met a couple of times back in the day and think his Starman is one of the finest super-hero comic books of all time.

Asked to revive the public domain character Airboy, Robinson goes on a bender with happily-married artist Hinkle, pulling the artist into the same self-loathing behavior in which the writer indulges. I am assuming - for the sake of my own happiness - that the writer and artist portrayed in this series are mere fictional constructs, no more real than the Airboy character who suddenly appears during their substance abuse party. The Airboy of the 1940s and 1950s was a pleasant fellow. This version is a jerk.

The controversy stemmed from the trio visiting a bar frequented by crossdressers, drag queens, transvestites and transsexuals. It’s a den of iniquity with sordid sex acts performed in bathroom stalls. The Robinson of this series refers to the bar patrons as trannies, a description that doesn’t cover all the possible permutations and which has fallen out of favor in the LGBT community. I have a few problems with the outrage.

The first is that the character who uses the term is not remotely admirable. He’s the biggest jerk in the series. He would use that term without thinking twice about whether or not it’s appropriate. Because he’s a self-loathing jerk whose sense of privileged misery is all he embraces. Are comics writers no longer permitted to write unpleasant characters and use dialogue that reveals how unpleasant those characters are?

The second is that the term “tranny” is not as universally reviled as the outrage would suggest. I know crossdressers who embrace the term and are somewhat jolly in using it. I don’t care for it and I don’t use it. However, coming out of the mouth of this unpleasant version of James Robinson, it wasn’t inappropriate. I can make the case for it being deplorable in that Robinson uses it to make the bar patrons part of his self-loathing, but, given how the character behaves throughout the issue, it’s not inappropriate.

The controversy is a side issue. The series itself strikes me as an exercise in whine and poses. The Robinson character pulls all other characters into his childish behaviors. He doesn’t seem to learn a thing in the course of an adventure/delusion that pulls him and the Hinkle character into a World War II battleground. At the story’s end, the Hinkle character walks away, suffers no consequences for his behavior and basically tells Robinson to get in touch when/if the writer gets his shit together and starts writing. By this time, I wasn’t expecting a satisfying ending.

The only redeeming quality of Airboy is Hinkle’s art. As Robinson states in dialogue, it’s different and fresh. It is grounded in the real world, but can still deliver action sequences when the story requires it. I liked the art a lot and hope to see more from Hinkle in the future.

Airboy crashes and burns without ever lifting off from the runway. Definitely not recommended.


There are a few gems to be found in Marvel’s Secret Wars debacle. Secret Wars: Agents of Atlas #1 by writer Tom Taylor, artist Steve  Pugh and color artist Tamra Bonvillain is one of them. It’s a done-in-one story set in one of the many domains created by the now-God-like Doctor Doom. This particular domain is ruled by Baron Zemo and his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Standing against them are Jimmy Woo, Gorilla-Man, Namora, Marvel Boy, the robot M-11, Venus and secret ally Phil Coulson. The one-shot has action, drama and more than one grim surprise. Best of all, it has a satisfying ending, a welcome relief from the stories that never reach a conclusion. Track down this issue in the back-issue bins. It’s worth the hunt.


Just prior to Secret Wars, most Marvel titles had one or more “Last Days” issues. Some of these were quite poignant. In Ant-Man: Last Days, Scott Lang learns the world is ending, but is unable to see his daughter. Despondent, he ends up spending his last day with a group of rejuvenated super-heroes of the 1940s and his last night with the new female Beetle. A hero sleeping with a villain is most often sordid, but writer Nick Spencer actually made it kind of sort of life-affirming. With art by Ramon Rosanas and colors by Jordan Boyd, this was a satisfying done-in-one story.


Aquaman #40 [May 2015] wrapped up the six-issue “Maelstrom” story arc by Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier. It ended with Aquaman having emerged victorious with a big heroic closing panel of Mera with her arm about him and on an optimistic note. As you should know by now, I love that kind of ending.

Aquaman #41 comes around with a new writer and a new artist and in the middle of yet another depressingly grim tale. Aquaman is being hunted by his own people. He has been overthrown by someone that he thinks is Mera. He ends up sleeping with that someone he thinks is Mera and she turns out to be Mera’s evil sister. This has gone on for six issues with no end in sight. Yawn.

In a world where I am in control of DC or Marvel, I would mandate that the heroes win more often, that the stories be at least partly optimistic and that, after a victory, the heroes get to have three or four months of stories that aren’t depressingly grim. Because if a comics writer can’t tell such stories and make them dramatic and entertaining, he’s not much of a writer.

*mic drop*

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

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