Airboy returns for its second issue, this time featuring the titular character. Is it good?
Airboy #2 (Image Comics)
After completely freaking out, Robinson and Hinkle get a hold of themselves. Then they sit down with Airboy and explain how he exists via comic book logic. Things get so meta, in fact, that they even reference how they’re explaining it, but the dialogue never gets clunky or too cute. Instead, it’s pretty dang funny, especially to anyone who’s been reading comics for a while.
Still not entirely sure if Airboy is just a drug induced-hallucination, the creative team takes him out into the world. Needless to say, he’s not very impressed with how our modern society looks or feels…until he eats a pot brownie. Then things get weird.
Is It Good?
Now this is more like it.
Unlike the first issue’s constant depressive cycle (which still managed to be funny most of the time), Airboy #2 utilizes the Airboy character for some truly inspired moments and dialogue. There are A LOT of places where the easy joke was there for the taking, but Robinson does a good job of either going in a different direction or making it work well enough that it’s still funny. He also doesn’t fall into the trap of simply making Airboy a two dimensional sounding board for the modern world.
Robinson’s great character work is aided considerably by Greg Hinkle’s superb knack for drawing facial expressions. The coloring is great, as well, especially in the last few pages.
All that being said, some of the book’s raunchier moments still feel forced. And as good as Robinson is with the dialogue/existential moments, the whole man-out-of-time comedy trope does start to wear a little thin by the end. Fortunately, the issue’s cliffhanger shows that the next two issues won’t just be more of the same. The creative team is taking the book in a direction that should be hilarious and a lot of fun.
So after a lot of reading and a lot of thought, I decided this needed to be added to my review.
Recently, a particular scene in Airboy #2 has come under fire for being transphobic. When I first read and reviewed the issue, my reaction was that it was being used to show what terrible people the exaggerated/parodied versions of the creators were–and how grossly out of touch Airboy was with the modern world.
In the days following the issue’s release, I’ve read multiple articles by transgender people expressing how hurtful and dehumanizing that scene was to them. It struck a major chord and caused me to think about things very differently. This wasn’t a case of people being oversensitive or trying to manufacture outrage. This was genuine pain.
Think about how you often see transgender people portrayed in the fictional media. It’s usually in a way that’s perverse, horrifying, or degrading. Now take a look at the scene in Airboy. Even with Robinson’s character saying the girl he was with was beautiful, the portrayal of the transgender characters manages to be all three of those things.
For starters, you don’t ever see either woman’s face, nor do they have any dialogue. They’re just faceless sexual props, completely devoid of agency and humanity. Then you have the casual use of the slur ‘tranny’, even from the one character supposedly speaking up for them.
Worst of all is Airboy, who flies into a blind rage after discovering the women he was with was transgender. Not only does this perpetuate the dangerous stereotype of transgender people deceiving people into sexual encounters, but it’s yet another use of the ‘transgender hook up = rock bottom for straight male’ trope. From a comedic standpoint, it’s a very clear example of punching down against a marginalized group.
“Oh, C’MON!” many of you might be yelling at this point. “Why is everyone so sensitive now? Where was all this outrage for The Crying Game or Silence of the Lambs or Ace Ventura: Pet Detective? What about when Dave Chapelle used the same type of transphobic humor in one of his sketches? No one got mad at him!”
To that I would say that the same people who are mad/hurt today were probably mad/hurt back when those examples happened, too. The difference now is that the combination of social media and incremental progress in how the human race treats each other has finally given them a voice to express their frustration. Just because we haven’t always heard it doesn’t mean it wasn’t always there.
And look, I get it. There are plenty of times when I feel like people get angry over stupid stuff or are even actively searching for things to offend them. That’s not the case here. But if you really think it is, then I would encourage you to read what transgender people have to say about it. Better yet, ask a transgender person how it feels to see their sexual orientation constantly used as a punch line and/or horrific plot twist in fictional media.
When you combine that with the discrimination and mistreatment they already have to face in the real world, its no wonder the attempted suicide rate for transgender people is so alarmingly (and heartbreakingly) high.
Does art need to be censored? No. But that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to do better. At the very least we can avoid trotting out the same tired clichés and hurtful portrayals of a group that’s still fighting for the type of dignity and acceptance many of us take for granted.
As far as the Air Boy book goes, there’s still about it that’s good. And to his credit, James Robinson posted a detailed and poignant apology through GLAAD. Progress as an ally isn’t about being perfect; it’s also knowing when you mess up and changing what you do.
As a reviewer, I need to apologize, as well. I didn’t say anything hateful or try to defend transphobic behaviors. I did something much worse. I passed right over it and remained silent. I expect better of myself and all of you should expect better of me (except for David, who has an unshakable faith in my ability to fail). I hope this experience makes me not only a better reviewer, but a much stronger ally going forward.
Thank you for allowing me to open up a bit and taking the time to read this. I shall now return to pointing out air born body parts and organs for Panels in Poor Taste.