Tales of the Wandering Proboy, Part 5: The Case of Airboy, Continued
Last time I talked of my work scripting the three Heap stories in the back of AIRBOY, which turned into me just plotting them for Len Wein to script. Let’s pick it up from there.
I still loved the Airboy characters, as did many of us who read them in the Eighties. Sad to say, though, the book lost a lot of steam as it went along. Everybody concerned knew that the book had a bad seventh-inning stretch, and an attempt to spruce it up with a big Forties-era adventure drawn by Ernie Colon in the near-to-the-last few issues didn’t really work, either, being too darned delayed. They wrapped it up with a big 50th issue written by Chuck and drawn by the Kuberts. Airboy apparently blew Misery up real good with a backpack nuke, but was lost to us on the last page. Nobody seemed to know where.
On the letters page, Cat Yronwode talked about the decisions that led them to suspend Airboy. Among them were: Chuck’s feeling that he hadn’t quite gotten a handle on the title character; the delays in getting the last few issues done; the problems tying the Airfighters into real-world political conditions; her embarrassment when reporters out there to talk about their political books saw issues of AIRBOY around, and so on. Politics, of course, is a tricky thing, and unless you keep it kinda vague and / or symbolic, you’re likely to lose readership. Apparently, that happened.
But, of course, the real problem was: how do you pitch a book that the editor wants to be Terry and the Pirates when most of the readership is looking for X-MEN? It was a difficult job, to say the least. I leaned towards the superhero / fantasy side, myself. Nobody said you *had* to take political sides in a comic book. You could have the Airfighters take down generic tyrants in fictional countries without tying in American policies. Or you could have had them fighting apolitical super-villains. (Which, btw, is what most super-heroes do.)
As it was, the ending of AIRBOY #50, and Airboy, satisfied approximately no one. No cloture. No clear victory or defeat. Airboy’s fate was uncertain. Airboy’s dad, conquered by Misery, came off as a wimp. Was Misery dead, gone with his castle? What became of Valkyrie, Sky Wolf, Iron Ace, Hirota, and the rest?
No one would know. Eclipse would try to reinvent itself as a producer of graphic novels, which is the way it started out (and, perhaps, should have stayed).
I’d been a pal of Cat and Dean, as I’ve said before, for a long time by then. So, when I asked Cat for the chance to write a script on spec that would finish up the Airboy saga, she gave her okay. For my part, it wasn’t just wanting to place another story. It was the chance to give a decent ending to some characters I’d come to love very much.
So I got to work.
For this one, I wanted to write a story of great scope and power…something like Airboy’s CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. Forthwith, I bought up all the old, Golden Age AIRBOY COMICS I could afford, both on fiche and in hard copy. This resulted in a pretty decent research library for the characters. I despise scripters who won’t try to research thoroughly the characters they’re trying to write. It probably shows.
I outfitted it as a four-issue, prestige-format series. It was set in contemporaneous times, during the administration of Bush I, who made guest appearances. (Also making cameos were Stephen King and the Rolling Stones, for what that’s worth.) Airboy and the Heap had been warped back to the courtyard of their headquarters by forces yet unknown, and they and the other Airfighters were still engaged in running Nelson Aviation.
But that wasn’t the way it started.
Charles Biro had created Airboy for Hillman, but that wasn’t the only character he created for them. For CLUE COMICS, he’d dreamed up the Boy King.
Said Boy King was Philip of Swisslakia, whose tiny nation had been overrun by the Nazis. He and his father had been put in a firing line and shot dead. Philip managed to live, and his dad lived long enough to tell him about a Giant. The Giant was a colossal robot, something like an ancient Shogun Warrior robot, who had been designed by Nostradamus to be used against the evil ruler (Hitler) whom he foresaw coming to power. (There are those who claim, indeed, that Nostradamus’s reference to “Hister” is intended as the Fuehrer himself.) At the time it was needed, the Giant could be activated by having a bolt in his head screwed in. So Philip found the Giant per his father’s instructions, screwed in the bolt, and brought it to towering life.
With the Boy King on his shoulder, the Giant went to town on the Nazis. He eradicated them from the nation, and, for a finale, picked up the German commander who had ordered the king’s death, and squished him. Prince Philip decided there was more action to be had in America, and that’s where he had the Giant take him. The Giant waded the Atlantic Ocean to do it.
The Boy King and the Giant appeared in most of the run of CLUE COMICS, in a series about as good as the early Airboys. The opening of my Airboy saga had Nostradamus awakening from a dream of Misery destroying the Earth, and then going to supervise the work on the Giant. The chief workman was Zzed, the immortal villain.
What followed was the Gotterdammerung between the Airfighters and Misery and his minions, along which epic we learned the details of the original Airboy’s birth and his ancestry; the true origin of Misery; and Zzed’s role in the creation of the Giant. Misery and his castle had survived the bombing, all right, and he was out to destroy the troublesome Earth itself for the necromantic high of it, and then move on to other worlds. On his side was a host of refurbished Airboy villains from the Forties and early Fifties.
But on our side was truth, righteousness, and a sympathetic scripter.
Unfortunately, sometimes that’s not enough.
At any rate, Cat Yronwode said she’d be sympathetic to the idea of somebody ending the Airboy saga, so I finished up the script on spec and sent it in, and waited.
But I kept in contact with them. The first stop was an editor named M (no lie), who said she really liked the script and would see if Stan Woch, Airboy artist of note, wanted to draw it. Joy.
Unfortunately, M left the company before too much longer. So it was passed off to another editor. Again I waited.
Gradually I learned the editor in question was reading it, so I kept on with hope. But I kept prodding, both because I wanted the assignment and because I loved the characters and wanted to see them given the ending they deserved.
Finally, I got the editor on the phone after she read the thing. Out of the box she said to me, “Lou, that was a good script.”
“Great!” I said, or something to the equivalent. “More, more!”
She said she liked the way that I brought the Golden Age characters into the modern age, and the general tone of the script, and pretty much everything else. But…
…Cat and Dean had decided to go with a story about Airboy versus poachers in Africa.
“Poachers? POACHERS?? The fans don’t wanna see a story about no stinkin’ poachers! They wanna see Airboy go mano y mano with Misery, for cripes’ sake!”
Valiantly the editor tried to defend Cat’s and Dean’s decision, but even I sensed that there wasn’t much heart behind it. I don’t know what their thinking was, political correctness, misjudging the audience, or just Cat’s seeming desire to make Airboy into a remake of Terry and the Pirates, her favorite strip. But the editor said that’s what they were going with, so I was out in the cold.
But there was a ray of hope. The editor (and Cat, when I caught her on the phone) said that they wanted something a bit less continuity-heavy, something a newbie reader might be able to get into without familiarity with Airboy Lit. So, once again, OI rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
This time I posited a scenario in which Nelson Aviation was the victim of a hostile takeover by a Japanese consortium, led by the son or grandson of a man who had been killed in battle during World War II by Airboy I. His ultimate plan was to lure Airboy II into a trap in Japan, and ultimately kill him in an aerial dogfight. Of course, our hero would triumph. But he would also realize that the time to be a hero was over, and that he had to pay more attention to his company and buckle down to being an exec if he wanted it to survive. Thus, he would settle down with Valkyrie, and the saga would be ended, with the possibility of more adventures in the future if things went well.
I submitted the script. And waited.
Meanwhile, the sympathetic editor also left the company (which editors seemed to have a habit of doing, back then), and Eclipse announced that they were going to do another Airboy series. Could it be?
First off, Cat told me that two of her old editors (of which there seemed to be no small supply) had submitted a script which she liked better than mine because it had Skywolf and Valkyrie becoming lovers. And God knows, romance is important above all, isn’t it? She also said that she liked a submission by Kurt Busiek better than mine. “You write good stories, but you don’t put in enough characterization!” she blurted.
Oh? The first Airboy script had a helluva lot of characterization on Airboy, focusing on his character growth, having to take on responsibility (both in his crusade against Misery, and his helming of his company). Skywolf acted more like a John Wayne father figure, Val had to deal with pregnancy, and Hirota made the ultimate sacrifice for his figurative son. Airboy I got his moment of redemption, and had his emotional reunion with his son, and the final farewell to Valkyrie, the woman both he and his son loved.
Heck, I even thought Misery got a fair shake, characterization-wise.
But it wasn’t what she wanted. Personally, I thought Airboy had become too much Terry and the Pirates and not enough X-Men. Superhero comics, which AIRBOY was, despite the fact that only the Heap and Iron Ace had any “powers”, are largely about fantasy battles of Good Vs. Evil, not geopolitical conflicts over which large segments of the audience have differing opinions. Still, that didn’t matter. I was out in the cold.
The point was, as it sat, Cat and Dean weren’t even that committed to Kurt and company. They announced the debut of a new series, AVIATOR X, starring a renamed Airboy. Cat said that when she went to dinner with Chuck Dixon, he asked if he could write it, and on the spot, she agreed.
Probably the editors and Kurt knew how I felt, then.
And it kind of boggles the mind to think that a series would be announced without even having decided the creative team, or having anything in the tank, production-wise. But I don’t know. I was on the outside, not the inside.
But of course, even Chuck didn’t get the go-ahead. Eclipse fell apart sometime after that without producing a page of the new Airboy saga, and that’s where it all ended.
More recently, Chuck has helmed a pretty good Airboy effort thru Moonstone Comics, set during World War II, and not depending on the Eclipse continuity. It’s worth a read, folks.
But if you ever wondered why the Eclipse story never came to an end…well, maybe you have a few more clues now.