So I read a lot of old comics. That's kind of one of my things as a comic reader, that I dig into comics by creators like Carl Barks and the DC roster of cartoonists, of Willard Mullin the great sports cartoonist and Bill Everett the great mainstream cartoonist.
The thing is, the history of comics has been stripmined to a great extent, so that the very best of the old comics have been repackaged and republished for a welcoming audience – here we get a long run of classic Wonder Woman, there we get the first few dozen issues of Marvel Mystery Comics. Here a collection of Jack Cole comics, there a collection of Eisner or early Ditko or very early Jack Kirby.
It's seemed like the top 10% of comics from the first decade or two of the comics industry have been systematically republished in gorgeous deluxe hardcover editions, to the extent that it can make even the most empathetic reader, confronted with a pathetic collection of stories from Silver Streak Comics or a dull collection of tales from From Beyond the Unknown!, ponder if that's all there is; if everything that was good has been made new again and from now on we're only going to start to get more and more abysmal material.
That may still be the case – and if you listen to Sturgeon's Law, then we may be approaching the end of our 10% of greatest material.
But then a book like The Complete Golden Age Airboy & Valkyrie comes along to restore a reader's hope that there are more great old comics out there, waiting to be rediscovered.
The Complete Golden Age Airboy & Valkyrie isn't the most brilliant comics ever created, but it's fun, thoroughly professional, thoroughly vivid and charming and entertaining adventure with beautiful women, delightful heroes battling evil Nazis (we meet a good Nazi in this book!) and brainwashers, a creature that could be the devil, and other nefarious foes.
Under the wonderful pen of Fred Kida – an artist I barely knew from work very late in his career – this collection has a surprisingly friendly feel. Far from feeling like a resurrected gem of the Golden Age, this book feels resolutely casual and professional. It feels more like a lost 1970s classic than a forgotten 1940s gem somehow. Some of the element s of this series – the beautiful femme fatale Valkyrie who abandons her love for the Third Reich for her love for Airboy, or the mysterious Misery, a bizarre villain with a flaming skull and a bizarre concrete airplane – feel like lost story elements from an issue of The Invaders or All-Star Comics, from an era where brilliant comic book work would sometimes sneak through from excellent professional cartoonists.
Kida's art is vivid and charming, with a wonderful mix of charming cartoonishness and Milton Caniff -style chiaroscuro that creates a fascinating sort of tension on the printed page. It’s not that Kida draws cartoon characters against vivid backgrounds; more, especially in the later stories in this book, he uses the animated style to bring life to intriguing faces and uses the noir style to add energy and life to his action.
And this book is full of action! In the first story alone Airboy flghts a dogfight in his winged plane Birdie, then survives jail, a whipping and a near execution while a gorgeous raven-haired Nazi dame fights to save his life. It's quick and breezy and pulpy and fun as hell – a thrillride of good versus evil that still reads vividly today.
This 130-page hardcover, squarebound and Smyth Sewn collection boasts wonderfully clear and vivid reproduction from the original comics. The only part about this book that disappointed me was that Kida didn't illustrate the last two stories in this collection (which were created a decade after the first stories). This book has made me a fan of Kida and his work on Airboy. I hope I get to explore more of this great "lost 10%" of great comic art!