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Abhay Writes about AIR #1, While Eating Wontons

Abhay Khosla

I’m undecided on AIR #1. Well, not really: I think it’s not very good. But, shit, I want to like it.

It’s an implausible comic book. Action scenes obey no logic; characters’ actions make little sense; dialogue doesn’t resemble actual human speech; none of the emotions seem real.

Fine. So: dream logic, then…? That seems to be how the book wants to be judged. The book opens with a wink to Salman Rushdie’s SATANIC VERSES, perhaps to signal to readers that the book will traffic in a similar sort of magical realism. And– and that’s something, isn’t it? Trusting readers to be savvy enough to not only catch that reference but to be able to infer a meaning from that reference– isn’t that something?

It’s about flying, after all. Dream of flying, if I remember my Freud, are all about sex and erections. Personally, I like erections. But the relationship between the two romantic leads is just a lift from Stanley Donen’s CHARADE anyways, so I don’t know how interested I was in that relationship to begin with. Does anyone expect Audrey Hepburn & Cary Grant to be topped by a comic book?

I look forward to future issues where the main character of AIR rides a banana into a train tunnel. (If anything, AIR reminded me not of Rushdie or Pynchon, but Vittorio Giardino‘s creepy LITTLE EGO comics from early 1990’s HEAVY METAL magazines. LITTLE EGO was a Winsor McKay LITTLE NEMO parody involving the dreams of a frequently naked European woman who… Why don’t I use ellipses to avoid proceeding with this disturbing paragraph? It’s not as embarrassing as Wally Wood’s CANNON but … dot dot dot…)

Anyways: I was frustrated with AIR, constantly saying to myself “but no human being would ever DO that.” Even accepting that parts will be implausible– it’s interesting, but is it entertaining? The lead characters are just… dull. Even accepting that it’s okay that everything that’s coming out of their mouths is implausible, they weren’t interesting. Nothing that came out of their mouths was funny or cool or intriguing. I didn’t care if they kissed or had sex or blew up or all of the above at once. The main character just seemed … I don’t know, pouty, and … describing sky-kisses in random narration boxes doesn’t quite cure that, no. The male lead didn’t seem mysterious and cool; he seemed, I don’t know, like a lesser Antonio Banderas character. Some very unsubtle sex metaphors don’t make up for that.

All the usual Vertigo critiques apply. The main character’s design is DRAB. It’s not enough to feature a female main character, and think the job done. Comic book characters, the great ones beg to be drawn. Artists sketch endless variations of those characters; fans get tattoos; grown-ups play dress-up. A great cartoon character is more than just a drawing of a person; it’s a symbolic gateway into an entire fictional world. All of the successful Vertigo series have starred comic book characters. Agent Graves, Jesse Custer, King Mob, Spider Jerusalem, Yorick Brown; as a SCALPED fan, I’d happily argue on behalf of Dashiell Bad Horse. And I personally don’t think that’s a bug to comics; I think that’s a feature.

The lead character of AIR is an ugly blonde in a neckerchief, and a severe ponytail. What’s comic about such a miserable creature? I’ll grant you, this matches the image in my head of the vast majority of the unpleasant, soul-dead flight attendants I’ve had the misfortune of dealing with in the United States. Air travel was drained of any drip or drop of glamour in the late 70’s and early 80’s– the airlines stopped hiring Pierre Cardin after a while (so did the nurses). Was anyone alive for the Coffee, Tea or Me days? If that’s a problem for you, fly in Asia. Fly in Asia where sex harassment lawsuits have apparently not yet found a receptive audience.

AIR exists in that glamour-of-flight-is-dead world. Which I actually find extremely interesting, so interesting that I almost want to forgive everything.

While some have derided the book for being vague as to place, I would argue that’s the book’s greatest strength. The reality of travel is once you step through security, once you’re separate from your home, your luggage, your clothes, your supplies… Who are you anymore? You’re anonymous; you’re an ID in your wallet. You cross over to some fuck-ugly phantom world of Cinnabons, Au Bon Pain, magazine racks, uncomfortable seats, crying babies, identical anonymous spaces. Wondering, “Who the hell buys porn magazines in an airport? And where do they, you know, *use* it?” But someone does buy it and that means someone invariably uses it somewhere, and often too because there’s vast swaths of porno in every airport you’ve ever been in. You could be US Senator, but step into an airport and anonymous gay bathroom sex suddenly becomes a reasonable, logical option.

Travel enough, and the whole world blurs. Here’s Pico Iyer describing a Kazuo Ishiguro novel:

“[F]ive hundred pages of action, or its abscence, had taken place more or less in a hotel, in some unnamed foreign town through which a touring artist works through a labyrinth in a dream, surrounded by people and passions he can’t begin to fathom. The book is a novel about a state akin to jet lag, a nightmare of disorientation and disconnection, and its main character, at some level, does not know who he is, whom he’s among or who he is taken to be.”

Or, of course, if you prefer a more vulgar reference, there’s FIGHT CLUB, I suppose: “You wake up at Seatac, SFO, LAX. You wake up at O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, BWI. Pacific, mountain, central. Lose an hour, gain an hour.”

Is there a comic to be set in that world? Maybe there is. Is that comic AIR? I had hoped that it would be, but the first issue’s dream logic and fantasy conceits don’t leave me encouraged that it’s a good fit for me and my personal interests.

MK Perker’s art is not competitive with other artists on the stands. Perker’s storytelling is weak, his compositions are dull, his drawings only rarely have energy, and his characters lack appeal. The idea of the lead characters having sex is more gross than hot. For some unknowable reason, his editors leave him to ink himself; I can’t guess why from the results. I truly, truly dislike being harsh to comic artists since they have a difficult job, especially where, as is the case here, the art on Perker’s website is noticeably better than what can be seen in AIR #1 and this might be a poor example of what he’s capable of…

Vertigo’s typically indifferent colors don’t help, of course: strap in for the color brown, everybody! Do they get a discount on brown? Is that how they keep the costs down? Seriously, dead seriously: What is with these people, and the color brown? Does anyone even know? This is an open invitation to any Vertigo colorist willing to do an interview about the color brown. Please explain.

Why don’t Vertigo books look as good as Image books, if they have editors and can pay artists a page rate ahead of time? Of course, some might be asking why they don’t have first issues which clearly explain a premise that retailers can repeat to potential customers, either, but… But I admire that they gambled on a challenging premise like AIR features, Salman Rushdie quotes and all, however ambivalent I might be about the results. I find the lack of a clear high concept here truly encouraging, personally.

There’s this supporting character called Fletcher that’s pretty much horrible; the reader’s early hopes that he’ll be obliterated in an air disaster are cruelly denied. A flashback isn’t plainly indicated as such (though I think that can be chalked up to being a feature of the book’s dream-like aspirations). The book focuses on some nonsense about competing secret-societies, which… call it Pynchon-esque all you want, it’s dull and played-out material. That’s all if you can successfully avoid thinking about the poisonous market realities that hover over this book long enough to enjoy it. The less said of the book’s final essay, the better, though I would agree with the goodly Mr. Hibbs that having a final essay is something that can only help sell a comic to me.

Plus, the book’s commentary on air travel isn’t one I can relate to my own experience. The book is fascinated by air travel’s relationship with terrorism, but… My own personal experience of air travel after 9/11 (and, heck, before) is not having to cope with terrorists or a fear of terrorism, but with bureaucracy, an endless, numbing bureaucracy. Sure, I have a healthy fear of terrorism, and crashing, and the fact they don’t put enough fuel in the fucking planes. But I have more than a fear– I have a fucking certain expectation when flying that I’ll be negatively impacted in some way with the decaying, failed apparatus of the airlines, endlessly arrogant, propped up with government hand-outs, manned by underpaid illiterates, certain to delay and delay and lose luggage and delay some more, awful, awful, awful. A state of affairs which I don’t actually blame on terrorism and 9/11, much at all, though reasonable minds can differ who’s to blame…

So, I don’t know. The book’s one big visual moment– the opening image, that worked, at least. As unbelievable as the rest of it was, that moment still worked. And the book’s setting is interesting to me. The premise– an intelligent adventure comic starring a stewardess? There’s something there. The idea of ignoring its problems, having some faith, and looking at #2 anyways has a certain allure.

I don’t know how this review sounds– shit, I don’t know how any of them sound, but… I really do want to like it.

One Response to “ Abhay Writes about AIR #1, While Eating Wontons ”

  1. […] Beyond that my budget only stretched to one issue of Roger Langridge’s Snarked (22 pages of gorgeous mischief for £1, yaasss!!), and a whole bundle of 25p comics, including: Strange Embraces #1-2 (which might actually look more unsettling in black and white!), a couple of random issues of the Kelly/Mahnke JLA (enjoyably formulaic superhero comics, both – I’ll probably pick up a few more at some point), a random issue of Steve Ditko’s Machine Man (good fun when the captions give Ditko’s art enough space to do its thing), Frank Ironwine #1 of #1 (in which Carla Speed McNeil makes a slightly clunky Warren Ellis script work by drawing some of the best character reactions in comics) and the last few issues of G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker’s Air, which proved to be every bit as intriguingly unsatisfying as the first. […]

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