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Location: Lancashire
Member Since: Sat May 17, 2008
Posts: 39,777
Subj: Skyman #2 - Choosing Right over Wrong.
Posted: Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 08:17:24 pm EST (Viewed 159 times)

Currently an ever growing movement in comics the notion of Super-heroes as accessories to the military and security services is one that has been handled in rather positive broad strokes by the medium as a whole, that it has swiftly subverted the original concept of the tights n' cape brigade as either vigilante's or private citizens independently upholding the law is something of a sign of the times, not only is America more security minded today but the readership for Comics has shifted as well. Youth by nature always rebels at authority, adults do not.
The original target audience for comics was either small children or intelligent 14 year olds, neither audience having much interest in being controlled and disciplined, hence surely no interest in watching their heroes be controlled and willingly subservient to the authorities either. Thus was the appeal of the likes of The Shadow, Sherlock Holmes, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, Teen Titans... all heroes doing it for themselves, free spirits.

Published by Darkhorse, and a spin-off from their successful Captain Midnight series, the underlying message that drives Joshua Hale Fialkov's Skyman is not all that convincing. However the premise is simple and much promises more than it actually delivers, a crippled war veteran drafted in by the military to the be the new Skyman. The wrinkle is that Eric Reid has been drafted because he is black, and the previous Skyman was disgraced due to an exceptionally violent and excessive outburst and murder along racist lines. So Eric is the Top Brasses chosen stooge to play media darling and act as damage control. Eric's reasons for accepting this job are a little vague, but one incentive comes in the mobility Skyman's suit gives him and the strong possibility that it might repair some of the damage to his back and legs over time. This is a tantalising possibility to Eric obviously but Fialkov adds pepper to the tale by showing us a deeply racist and hypocritical side to the military, one so noxious it scarcely seems credible by todays standard. But as things develop Eric is proved to be no dummy...

Last Issue showed us the premise and cast, this issue shows us Eric taking a strong moral stance and responsibility for the Skyman role he was chosen to represent.
Having embarked on the Governments good-will tour we learn Eric has been on the road for two months now since last issue, today he arrives in Cairo and in spectacularly rendered scenes from artist Manuel Garcia a game of aerial cat & mouse with the countries airforce. Garcia delivers this aerial pursuit a dynamic and kinetic movement not often seen in mainstream comics, and certainly unusual in the more experimental Indie sector. His illustrations of Cairo are a particularly convincingly rendered environment this issue, hence his is a talent that makes Skyman well worth coming back for, even if some of the underlying themes in the premise fall well short of being believable. For the thrust of this issue is Eric Reid's discovery of a dark truth behind the motives and intentions of his employers in the Skyman programme, and his decision in the aftermath of this revelation will either court martial him or see him take control of the programme's future direction.

Fulfilling his press obligations and shaking hands with dignitaries sees Eric able to take downtime, and a walk through the busy Egyptian suburbs leads to a fire at a block of flats, in a confusing scene switch we then see Eric instantly back at command looking for his handler Sharp the Skyman suit he should be watching over, neither are present. Instant scene switch again and Eric is once more in front of the burning building - this is a very poorly constructed sequence, the editor should have managed the communication between writer and artist as this is a book eschewing narration and captions, hence the storytelling is reliant on the writer and artist being able to render a sense of location between pages. One can only assume that as we saw Eric in the street he must have stepped out of whatever building he and his team are housed, it is the only way to make sense of the timing.
With Sharp absent and the suit with him Eric faces a dilemma common to all bystanders in such a situation, people are screaming for help from the windows, the just arrived fire service declare the building too badly damaged to help immediately... so what then can someone utterly reliant on crutches do? Why if you're Eric Reid you can manfully hobble forward past the firemen and police and just shimmy up the sheer wall to the desired floor window above, smash glass, grab a citizen while clinging on the sill, and even when an explosion blasts you loose you can just grab onto the next sill down below and then your still falling casualty with your free hand.

By any standard this is a preposterous sequence to watch unfold. And yet the tone of Skyman is not of an exaggerated reality, Joshua Fialkov and Manuel Garcia's world is one broadly of a grounded sense of reality where the incredible is represented by the wonders of the Skyman armour itself. Eric himself is a good hearted man, but not superhuman. Still, this IS a comicbook in the end, and coming from Darkhorse a surprisingly very conventional and old fashioned superhero parable.
Joshua Hale Fialkov's premise for the book uses a cynical military creation and marries it to a principled and rather liberal ex-soldier who's wartime disability helps define his simple everyman heroism. Despite enormous trauma and pain Eric's attitude to life is remarkably positive, no doubt his loving wife has been a great support in his darkest hours but there is nonetheless a whiff of artificiality about him as a character concept, as the other players in this book are presented as manipulative military men, racists and opportunists. On the one hand this arrangement makes Eric's honest man on the street persona all the more appealing and heroic to the audience, on the other it creates a jarringly simplistic world for Skyman to inhabit. For all the attempts to present a believable and complex world for Eric Reid to navigate in Joshua Hale Fialkov's finished result is actually a very traditional Super-Hero world - the everyman rejecting the uncertain and shifty motives and control of the authorities in favour of everyman morality and justice. And yet, despite the artificialty of the setup Skyman works. There is an undeniable appeal to these superhero fables, and Falkov and Garcia's treatment is slickly presented with a very likable central character. Despite his too simplistic nature.

Having just about outdone any Superman with this daring rescue Eric glances up to see 'Skyman exit the burning rooftop...
The reality of his situation as the new Skyman candidate has never been far away from Eric's mind, he does know he is seen as a tool for propaganda purposes, but now his thoughts are on a broader picture and a realisation that his role is as much stooge as public face for Skyman. Even as his sponsor, General Abernathy, pays him a surprise visit as he recovers by an ambulance there is the sense that Abernathy's role is not so much as controller of the programme but is on another level playing a game of manipulation. He personally selected Eric as a fellow black man but also because of an as yet unseen history between the two, so did he hire Eric for his strength of character as well as his flying experience?
Eric certainly isn't naïve, he knows that Sharp was in the suit, and he has by now guessed that the World tour is a cover, the block was targeted for a reason by Sharp and using the suit to facilitate the mission. So given the attack on the building was at least partially sanctioned by Top Brass the implications are that Eric isn't just a public distraction but potentially a very real scapegoat if and when things go wrong. This is an interesting moral quandary to be set into, but rather than let it lie in the air to be endured as a background element Fialkov chooses to have Eric Reid confront it directly as he returns to base and confronts Sharp over his actions, leading to a predictable, but somewhat disappointing outcome as Eric asserts a moral authority rather too easily. Sharp confirms Erics suspicions about the role being essentially black ops and that the building was targeted as it housed key players in a local militia which was challenging the government, that innocents were killed is of no concern to Sharp.
Eric being the hero takes a strong moral objection and it all gets extremely violent between the two...

The fundamental dilemma with reading Skyman is that it adopts a style and tone that falls inbetween two stools of comicbook - on the one hand this is as conventional and simple a Super-hero tale as you would find from DC or Marvel comics, with its finely detailed art and upstanding central character this isn't a book that fits with traditional Darkhorse values. As if recognising this the book is duly filled with bad language and much vicious racism but it clashes with the simplistic moral quandaries Eric duly confronts and manfully brushes aside due to his inherent superiority as the titular hero of the piece.
If this was a book written by a John Ostrander or James Robinson then these themes would be handled in a much more mature and believable way, which is not meant to diminish Joshua Hale Fialkov's work as such, but this book really does seem aimed at a contradictory audience seeking traditional simple superheroes but who are in fact adults. Surely the sensible thing to do is adopt an all-ages policy or aim straight for the adult market looking for sophisticated intrigue...

Skyman is enjoyable, thanks in no small part to Manuel Garcia's fine work and an ability to create convincing environments. This issue is set in Cairo and Garcia rises to the challenge of realising this with great aplomb. In this colourist Marta Martinez is an important all, supplying a bright but sharp pallette which lends Skyman a very optimistic and positive atmosphere. The page where Reid is visited by General Abernathy outside the still smouldering building are a particularly impressive visual as Martinez adds subtle smoke effects to the backgrounds to show the still chaotic aftermath of the fire.
Skyman is noticeably very much a daytime book, this is not some vigilante operating in the shadows and at night only. Which is potentially an interesting hint as to the struggle going on between the role which Eric Reid was sold on and the Military's real agenda focusing on the dark arts of espionage and counter-terrorism.
If this was the Military in charge the book might slip into darker murkier waters and the lighting alter to conform to that. But despite his army background Eric is far from being an unquestioning servant. His view of the world is still curiously romantic in nature, a positive figure he possesses little of the cynicism of his fellow military men in this book, and while this is about what you would expect from a superhero in the making it nonetheless still seems out of step with the context he is operating within...

Manual Garcia's remarkably detailed art brings to life a typical Cairo street.
Rich in detail and aided by colourist Marta Martinez such scenes are one of the delights of this series...

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