Often, creators discuss how a character reflects themselves or how a hero makes them aspire to be a better person. In “Airboy” #1, James Robinson and Greg Hinkle use the titular character to reflect on who they are, and Robinson pulls no punches as he debauches his way across San Francisco, trying to find an idea for the character and salvation for himself. Oh, and it should be mentioned that this is a story about the creators trying to create an “Airboy” comic and how people use drugs as a way to avoid the things directly in front of them. If someone is a fan of the character, this is probably not what they were expecting: a dark comedy about the trappings of being a creative professional in the 21st century.
Robinson is a writer who has hit close to rock bottom, avoiding his work in a haze of booze, drugs and illicit sex — none of which involves his wife, who is growing tired of the life the writer has chosen for himself. There are many moments in the book that show Robinson has heard his critics over the last 20 years; he took their words to heart, using them as an excuse to turn to substance abuse to kill the pain he’s feeling, the guilt about his choices and the fading quality of his work. It’s intensely personal; though it’s fictionalized, there is reality brushed all over the story, from Robinson’s noted alcohol usage to his work at DC and fear of being pegged as “The Golden Age” guy. The writer does not make himself out as a hero here, saving his most vicious observations for the mirror. The book shows the quality of his writing and keen eye for character moments; the early morning exchange between him and his wife is icy and sad, the words of people struggling to make things work but realizing they don’t.
Hinkle illustrates the scene with the physical distance between the married couple in their kitchen, a gulf of unspoken words between them, their faces revealing their feelings. Every one of Hinkle’s character designs has great emotion in them and, as their adventure through San Francisco turns into a hedonistic nightmare, the panel designs become as inebriated as the characters themselves. There is a gorgeous two page spread of their romp, the characters weaving in and out of various locales as they head towards the bottom. The imagery and language in the book is graphic, no more so than the aftermath of their tryst with a woman in a bar, but that is Robinson’s goal. He drags the characters down so far that, when Airboy finally appears (and he does appear), the man is gleaming idealism, the hero of yesterday come to save the man who feels he can only write the heroes of yesterday.
The book is a gorgeous, darkly fun look at the roles of heroes in our lives and what we do to hurt ourselves when we’re scared. Fans of Robinson’s straightforward superhero work may not find what they’re looking for, but readers who appreciate his characters and innate ability to create scenes with weight and meaning will be rewarded with a decadently enjoyable confessional narrative and stunning cartooning. “Airboy” #1 is a unique book that fans should check out when it hits stands on June 3.