Reviewed this week: Airboy #1 by James Robinson and Greg Hinkle, Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 by Ricardo Delgado, and Broken World #1 by Frank Barbiere and Christopher Peterson. [SPOILER WARNING: Reviews may contain significant spoilers]
Airboy #1 (Image Comics)
Publisher’s description: Worlds and minds explode in a brand-new series! When acclaimed comics author JAMES ROBINSON (Starman, Fantastic Four) is hired to write a reboot of the 1940s action hero Airboy, he’s reluctant to do yet another Golden Age reboot. Just what the hell has happened to his career–?! His marriage?! His life?! Hey, it’s nothing that a drink can’t fix. It’s after one such night of debauchery with artist GREG HINKLE that the project really comes into its own. Quite literally. Because Airboy himself appears to set the two depraved comic book creators on the straight and narrow. But is the task too much for our hero?
My long-standing distaste for creators writing themselves into their comics stems from my experience with Steve Englehart’s late 1980s run on Marvel’s Fantastic Four. As those who follow Brian Cronin’s Comic Book Legends Revealed blog know, Englehart had a devil of a time getting along with the publisher’s editorial staff, due to various radical shake-ups happening in the Marvel offices at the time. Englehart’s stint on the title was marked by storylines truncated in mid-telling, a thoroughly unsatisfying “it was all a dream” resolution to a central conflict, and all sorts of nonsense. On what would prove to be his final seven issues working on the title, Englehart actually refused to put his name on the credits, instead using the alias “John Harkness.” It all came to a merciful end in Fantastic Four #333, where Englehart’s script called for him (as John Harkness) and his family to be drawn into the last two panels of the comic, and he basically gives his “I quit” speech in front of the readers (although given production lead times, that meant that Englehart had already left the book at least a couple of months before the issue hit the stands). That this was actually allowed to go to print was a clear demonstration of how much the fan-favorite writer’s relationship with Marvel’s editors had deteriorated by that point.
Anyway, this is all a long and roundabout way for me to say that I was fully prepared to not like Eisner Award-winning writer James Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle’s new Airboy comic. From previous Image Expo announcements and press releases, I knew beforehand that Robinson and Hinkle were going to go “meta” and even autobiographical in their treatment of the public domain action hero, and if their appearance in the comic would be anything as clumsy as Englehart’s infamous Fantastic Four cameo a quarter of a century ago, I wasn’t going to stick around.
No amount of convention announcements and press releases, however, could have prepared me for the raw honesty of Airboy #1. The comic is structured as an autobiographical piece, and has Robinson decrying the quality of his recent work for DC Comics and lamenting what he sees as his inevitable decline as a writer, hints at the impending breakdown of his marriage, and features the writer and artist enabling each other’s worst substance abuse impulses in search of the creative spark that will spur them to work on a character and comic neither particularly cares for.
The neatest trick Robinson and Hinkle have managed to pull off in this issue, however, is that none of their excesses—the drinking, the indiscriminate drug use, the cheating on their wives—is played as glamorous or even sleazy fun. It’s all just… sad—the self-destructive flailing of two artists desperate for genuine inspiration (and paying comics work).
In the comic, Robinson calls Hinkle “an artistic stylist,” the kind of artist who can bring attention to a title on the strength of his unconventional, unique approach to the medium. And while that’s true, Hinkle brings more than just distinctive rendering to the comic. His approach to the storytelling is remarkably dynamic while still being clear and unambiguous.
In one scene in the comic, Hinkle makes mention of Hunter S. Thompson while discussing the previous night’s debauchery with Robinson. The reference is appropriate—they’d just survived a drug-and-alcohol bender worthy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas—but the creeping sense of depression and self-disgust as they descend into a shared madness is reminiscent of another writer, the late Charles Bukowski.
A brilliant outing, and an early candidate for one of my favorite comics of the year, but I can’t help but wonder if this kind of serial output is sustainable from the creative team. The brutally candid, public purging and display of faults must take an emotional toll on them and their loved ones.
Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
From the publisher: Ricardo Delgado’s gorgeous and brutal Age of Reptiles series returns, marking a bold new direction in wordless storytelling! The steaming swamps of Cretaceous Africa teem with prehistoric life and primordial danger in a tale filled with villains, victims, and one of the most dangerous and unpredictable protagonists ever created: the lonely antihero Spinosaurus aegyptiacus!
Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 is the latest entry in 1997 Eisner Award-winner Ricardo Delgado’s Age of Reptiles comics. The conceit of the line is that each installment shows the everyday, naturalistic exploits of a featured dinosaur or dinosaurs—it’s a “slice-of-prehistoric-life” comic, if you will. With this new miniseries, the focus is on the prehistoric animals that lived in the late Cretaceous Period in what is now northern Africa (hence the Ancient Egyptians subtitle). For this particular issue, the featured dinosaur is a lone Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, properly depicted as a part-time quadruped, semiaquatic predator (instead of the fully bipedal, land-based “T-Rex killer” that was shown in the Jurassic Park III film).
Besides the somewhat novel subject matter and treatment, Age of Reptiles has one more integral quirk: The comic is “silent”—there is no dialogue, naturally (or should I say, naturalistically?), and there are no narrator captions or sound effects, either.
Make no mistake, however—the Age of Reptiles comics aren’t merely a showcase for Delgado’s well-researched, detailed renderings of Mesozoic Era flora, fauna, and environments. There is a unifying, self-contained, linear narrative in Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #1 about the Spinosaurus‘ daily struggle for survival, hunting Coelacanth and whatever else it can, competing with other predators such as the giant crocodile Stomatosuchus, avoiding the ire of a herd of irritable Paralititan, and just basically navigating the complex web of interspecies relationships one can assume existed in Cretaceous Period-Egypt. There’s drama here—perhaps not of the type many readers are accustomed to—but it is drama nonetheless, and the fact that it is as engaging as it is, without the benefit of the visual lexicon of anthropomorphized expressions and gestures, is a credit to Delgado’s supreme talent as a visual storyteller.
Broken World #1 (BOOM! Studios)
Publisher’s description: With a meteor days away from causing an extinction-level event on Earth, time is running out for Elena Marlowe. While most of the planet’s population and her family were approved by the government to escape on one of the giant spaceships headed to another planet, her application was denied due to her mysterious past. With the meteor fast approaching, Elena tries desperately to find a way to fake her way onto the last ship or else be left behind to die with the rest of Earth’s rejected denizens.
The post-apocalyptic thriller gets a novel spin in this new four-issue miniseries by writer Frank Barbiere (The White Suits, Five Ghosts) and artist Christopher Peterson (Grindhouse: Drive In, Bleed Out, Mayday). The comic starts out conventionally enough: An asteroid is headed towards Earth, a government plan is enacted wherein only select people are allowed passage on the evacuation spaceships, riots and religious hysteria grip those doomed to stay planetside. It is very much a Social Darwinist take on the Christian concept of the rapture, with the worthy flying up to the safety of space and the unworthy left to a hellish existence, for however long that might be before the asteroid obliterates life on Earth. The comic’s putative protagonist attempts to scam her way onto one of the last spaceships using forged documents, but is found out at the last minute and kicked off just minutes before liftoff, a mere two hours before the asteroid’s impact.
The twist—and it’s dripping in irony—is that the asteroid actually misses the Earth. But while those left behind are still alive, the implications of their situation aren’t looking too good: They’ve been abandoned by the world’s best and brightest, and now face the prospect of living in absolute anarchy and chaos.
Barbiere has the beginnings of a compelling platform for some good, old-fashioned, sci-fi social commentary here, and with the capable Peterson on art duties, it’s sure to look good at the very least.