So having written about the Unwritten series last week, I thought I’d tackle a less arty, but still enjoyable series today, Eclipse Comics’ 1986-89 Airboy (I finished up the series last year, using TPBs to fill gaps in my original run).
Airboy was a revival of the hit WW II character, who started in Air Fighters from Hillman and eventually took it over. How could he miss? A teenage boy taking the fight to the Axis in his personal plane, Birdy — and better yet, the plane has wings that flap, making it the most maneuverable thing in the skies (never mind whether it’s aerodynamically sound, the point is it just looks so cool!).
The premise of the Eclipse version is that Davy Nelson Jr. is the son of the original Airboy. His father has always been distant, and Davy doesn’t discover Dad’s true history until after his death. Inevitably, with the help of his father’s right hand, Hirota (a Japanese ace dad shot down during the war) Airboy steps into his father’s shoes. With the help of some of his father’s old friends, such as Skywolf, the Iron Ace and the Heap (the prototype for Swamp Thing and Man Thing), Davy, Birdy and Hirota go up against Misery, a demon of suffering whose flying fortress, the Air Tomb, holds the souls of aviators who die in despair. It turns out he’s also holding Valkyrie, a reformed Nazi aviator he captured on the eve of her wedding to Davy Sr. Sparks immediately fly between the new Airboy and Valkyrie (she hasn’t aged any) but he’s freaked out by the idea of dating his father’s girlfriend.
The stories are fun, action-packed and as I said last month, don’t use the retro aspect of the series to perpetuate sexist/racist cliches. The action jumps from the US to Central America to the USSR and Afghanistan, pitting Davy and his crew against drug dealers, dictators, werewolves and the living dead (Misery’s work). In the process he has to grow up fast, get a handle on his relationship with Val and wrest back control of his father’s aviation company, which Dad had largely neglected as Misery worked on his soul.
Although I associate Airboy writer Chuck Dixon with being anti-gay and very conservative, a lot of readers thought of his Airboy work as ultra-left wing, for example because it criticized US support for Latin American dictatorships (one of whom has Reagan’s autographed photo on his desk). This may be partly because Eclipse editor Catherine Yronwode was way to the left of Dixon, but from his responses to letters, he seems to have been perfectly comfortable with those choices (he also has a long history of writing capable women, having been the original writer on Birds of Prey).
In the final arc of the series, Davy learns how Misery captured Val on the eve of her wedding to his father, and how losing her broke Dad, leaving him writhing under Misery’s influence the rest of his days … until his soul ended up on the Airtomb. Davy rallies his allies and takes the fight to Misery, destroying the Airtomb (temporarily) and apparently dying himself. The next arc would have involved Davy finding himself in Africa, where he winds up battling with a Tarzan-type white jungle god.
But it wasn’t to be. In the last issue, Yronwode said she and Dixon were both a little uncomfortable with the idea of a teenage boy shooting bad guys for no better motivation than his father doing it — plus, Kid With Guns Killing People raises hackles in a way killing people with mutant powers doesn’t. And while both she and Dixon liked political stories, they invariably got flak for them, yet they didn’t want to rely purely on supernatural villains or bad guys it was acceptable to kill (child molesters, drug dealers, etc.). All of which wouldn’t have mattered if sales were stellar but they’d been dropping. So game over.
But while it lasted, Airboy was a kick.
#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Tim Truman, uncredited and Joe Kubert, all rights remain with current holder.