Way, way back in the day, in these pages, we discussed Hillman Periodicals’ stable of slightly jingoistic characters published during World War II, military aviation heroes like Airboy, SkyWolf, the Flying Fool, the Iron Ace, Black Angel and the Heap.
But what we didn’t discuss is how the character matured once the war was over and there were no longer Nazi Panzer to strafe and Japanese Zeroes to shoot out of the sky. Let’s take a look, specifically at AIRBOY COMICS Volume 5, #4, published in May 1948.
The story, illustrated by Fred Kida, opens with Airboy landing his amazing wing-flapping, radio-controlled plane Birdie at the Shanghai Airport, to meet up with an old friend. Before long, Airboy is bewitched by a beauty in the local casino:
Right away, the change in the series’ tone from the old days is noticeable. There’s much more of a globetrotting TERRY AND THE PIRATES feel to the story, and Airboy, as opposed to the brash kid pilot seen at the series’ inception, has matured a lot, now portrayed as a capable, mature young man.
At first, it looks like the racial caricature of the series’ early days was a thing of the past, based on Airboy’s Chinese friend Suiyang. That is, until you see the Chinese mechanic at the airport:
Anyway, Airboy goes to take Birdie out for a sightseeing flight around China, only to find the fabulous babe from the casino the night before waiting for him in the cockpit.
Man, Airboy should really know better. It’s never that easy.
Anyway, after taking her on a little sightseeing flight, they had back to the casino, where she quickly gambles away a small fortune, including the family jewels.
Naturally, she loses it all, and as Airboy tries to console her, an offer is made: the nearby millionaire Tungchan (who also just happens to be a slaver and the leader of an ancient cult) offers to buy back her jewels in exchange for renting out Birdie for a month.
A month? And what is Airboy supposed to do sitting around in China for a month. Anyway, Airboy, apparently smitten (although to be honest, he doesn’t seem to show it much) agrees.
So Airboy gives the cultist slaver millionaire instructions on flying Birdie, and he’s on his way, only for Suiyang to arrive with the news that Airboy’s been duped, that the girl is an accomplice of Tungchan’s, Who coulda seen that coming? Man. It’s a good thing Airboy’s a good pilot, because on the ground he’s about as sharp as a box of rocks.
Airboy and Suiyang track down the cult’s temple, where they discover that Tungchan has disguised Birdie as a flying dragon, in order to deceive his followers in to continuing to believe in his power. They sneak into his cargo carriers to discover that he’s planning insurance fraud (a surprisingly grounded scheme for a cultist slaver millionaire), and make plans to turn him in to the authorities. But before they can, they’re discovered, and are about to be shot by one of Tungchan’s guards when Airboy uses his remote control to call Birdie, slamming the plane into the hull of the ship.
In his attempt to cripple Birdie, Tungchan accidentally cuts the line tethering his carrier to the doc, and it is soon swept up into the rapids, killing him, his thugs and Airboy’s would-be girlfriend, who makes a surprising revelation with her final words:
Luckily, Airboy doesn’t seem too broken up by it:
But I have to confess, my favorite thing about this comic is the advertising. Who did they think was reading AIRBOY? First off, we have this, the “Mickey Mouse-Donald Duck Weather Forecaster.”
It’s used by “laborers, doctors and lawyers” according to the ad copy. Gawrsh!
Then we have this gem, for the “Sensational Ready-Made Electric Bow-Lite Tie”
“Wow the women,” claims the ad. Yes, I’m certain nothing makes the panties drop like a light-up novelty bow tie.
And finally, I’m sure this is just what the overwhelming majority of the AIRBOY readership was looking to purchase: a “Once-in-a-Lifetime Dress.”
Then again, women who purchased their clothes in the pages of AIRBOY may have been impressed by the light-up bow tie…