By Scott Southard. “You know James by now. If it’s not about him, he’s not interested.”
Greg Hinkle’s fictional self utters the damning phrase just as the pair embarks on a clandestine mission to kill a bridge-load of Nazis and sway World War II in favor of the Allies. And as outrageous as the scene sounds, Airboy has remained an autobiography of sorts for famed narcissist, James Robinson. He’s explored drugs, love, friendship, and drugs through the lense of Airboy (the character), but it’s never been more than a tool to explore Robinson’s own relationship with himself. The ultimate meta-superhero story found its stride immediately and has only picked up the pace since then. With the final issue, we see a satisfying close to the series, but more than anything, we see a sliver of hope that Robinson may have found some satisfaction himself.
The rapidly escalating plot of Airboy finally sees the protagonists at a European battle site, but it’s fairly clear throughout that we’re looking at metaphors for the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that daily life constantly presents us with. (Particularly the daily life of a self-pitying artist.) Robinson’s original task was to revive an old character and write a short series about him. How this transformed into violent struggle and then a literal World War seemed unfathomable until one remembers the dread that comes with confronting their to-do list, and it makes the whole “mountains out of molehills” thing a perfectly acceptable line of thought. Robinson’s creative struggles are laid out in the most over exaggerated, self-aggrandizing manner, and dammit, it’s all well done.
It’s important to notice that Greg Hinkle unloads everything he’s been holding back as well. With two page spread after two page spread of glorious airplane violence and dynamic human interaction (with a charmingly vivid cocaine sequence to boot), raw excitement is viscerally captured within. Hinkle’s work on Airboy benefits greatly from Robinson’s creative proclamation/apology in that we are forced to view all of the art as an act of honest memoir. By the end, he becomes one of the most endearingly loveable technicolor characters I’ve ever come across.
As far as plot in #4 goes, it’s standard fare. The good guys have faced serious, rising tension. We’ve gotten to the climax and blowoff, and Airboy doesn’t shy away from being a traditional comic in this sense. We get the cliche lines of courage, a hero attempting to sacrifice his life for the good of the planet, and a very Han Solo-esque aviatorial save-the-day moment from the titular character. These tropes keep the series grounded and give the postmodern fireworks plenty of scaffolding to hang onto, which can only eventually break. But then, without a structurally sound framework, the series wouldn’t have any stakes, and the mind bending literary maneuvers wouldn’t have any meaning.
On a grander scale, the context provided by Airboy gives all of Robinson’s catalog a deeper tinge of meaning (go back and read some Starman and tell me that Jack Knight isn’t a sexier version of Robinson) and insight into what he’s been trying to figure out over the past few decades. However, there’s still a sense that the majority of his past work has led up to this. It’s not his ultimate comic nor his greatest work, but there’s something final about it, as if it were the culmination of a long stretch of both professional and personal labor. Upon review (of this review), I’ve realised that it reflects James Robinson as an author and a character much more than it analyzes the comic he wrote. But after all’s said and done, isn’t that how he’d want it?
Written by James Robinson
Art by Greg Hinkle
9.5 out of 10