There was a lot of controversy over this issue, and for the most part, it has settled down thanks to an extensive apology from writer James Robinson. Given the stance I took on comments made by John Byrne, I felt that I needed to look into the issue in question. My review will talk about the controversy and the apology, as well as consider the issue and the contents in question as a whole.
Story By: James Robinson
Art By: Greg Hinkle
Cover By: Greg Hinkle
$2.99 / Published: July 1, 2015
Are the drugs wearing off, or just kicking in? After a night of debauchery, James and Greg have a hell of a hangover in the form of 1940s comic book character Airboy. The aviation hero is curious to learn what the future has to offer. Hey, you try denying a reality you’ve already altered.
First I’m going to discuss the issue itself and then I’ll talk about the controversy around it, and how it has played out.
This issue continues a first issue where the creators descend into a drug-fueled world of self-destruction to avoid the perceived descent that the writer views his world has become, and his depression about it. Airboy has appeared to them and is confronting them about this strange world that he views as almost dystopian. In keeping him with them, they continue with an alcohol-fueled exploration of what to do with a character that, having slipped into public domain, has no apparent relevance to a modern society.
Hinkle’s art and how it’s colored works perfectly. The world that the creators inhabit is indeed rendered in what could be described as a dystopia to someone from the 1940s. I think that Hinkle is accurately rendering Robinson’s struggle with his place in the comics industry, and a series of behaviors that are indeed, self-destructive. That’s where the problem is with the issue, and in fact, the series.
All of the people that Robinson and Hinkle meet along their way are not actual people, and we fail to see their notivations. In the first issue that engage in a threesome with a larger woman, whom we get no dialogue from. She is seen simply as one more step on their descent into self-destruction, on the same level as heroin and ecstasy. In this issue, the transgender people at the heart of the controversy, as well as all transgender people in the location where the scene happens are not whole people, in fact, just like the woman from the first issue, they get no lines. Airboy’s reaction is extreme and definitely transphobic. However the discussion of the transgendered people in the bar uses only the the slur “tr**ny” and by not giving any of them any personality, we are left only with a caricature of and entire community. This is the reason that this issue is given as low a rating as it did. If just once the slur had been objected to by a character, if just a few panels of dialogue between Robinson and the person that performed the sex act on him in the bathroom had shown that person to be someone and not a step in Robinson’s journey of self-destruction, then it might not have been so bad.
That being said, I should note that self-destructive people on the way to that nadir in their lives rarely see those around them as complete people. In this way, the story and scenes are accurate. Unfortunately, they are still hurtful and simply showing his own character to be oblivious of their feelings would illustrate this point without the reader having to pull it out from in between the gutters and page turns.
Fortunately, James Robinson has read the criticism and issued an apology through GLAAD. He does explain the pitfalls of trying to write a story about a character, in this case himself, at a horrible place in his life. I hope that the last two issues have him arriving where he needs to be and not making light of all of these horrible actions he’s committed and horrible things he’s said to and about people.
I look forward to the last half of the series, as while this issue is rated at 65% due to that controversial scene, with that scene not considered, it clearly rates at around 85%. I find fault with how Robinson is depicting people on his journey that are not named James Robinson, Greg Hinkle, or Airboy. It should also be noted that Robinson depicts his wife in the first issue as an admirable person that Robinson has remorse about harming. This story is about Robinson at a low point in his life, and at such a point, he will not be as admirable as he showed his wife. I would just like other people being shown to have admirable qualities as well.