Airboy, from a 1944 comic book.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Hillman Periodicals
First Appeared: 1942
Creator: Charles Biro
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In the grand tradition of pulp magazines like Air Wonder Stories, radio shows like Captain Midnight and (of course) comics heroes like Barney Baxter, Tailspin Tommy and …

continued below

Hop Harrigan, Hillman Periodicals launched Air Fighters Comics, an anthology of comic book stories about airborne adventurers, with a cover date of November, 1941.

It promptly went down in flames, and none of its characters were ever seen again. Undeterred, the publisher put out a second issue a year later, with a whole new cast, including The Black Angel, Iron Ace, The Bald Eagle, The Flying Dutchman and Sky Wolf; and this time it clicked. The most prominent and longest-lasting of the heroes introduced in that second issue was Airboy.

Airboy was David Nelson, son of an expert aviator, and an expert aviator himself despite his tender years. Another expert aviator was Br. Francis Martier, a Franciscan monk and friend of Davy, who invented a radically new type of aircraft that flapped its wings like a bird. Martier was killed testing his invention, which then passed into Davy's hands. Davy also inherited a colorful outfit to go adventuring in, which had allegedly been in Martier's family since the French Revolution. Amazingly enough, it fit him perfectly and showed no signs of wear in the century and a half since its first use. Thus equipped, Davy adopted the "Airboy" monicker and flew off in "Birdie" (as he called the plane) to fight Nazis and Japs.

Airboy was perfectly suited to his time and venue. With the bright costume and catchy nickname, he fit right in with the superheroes that dominated comic books; and his direct participation in World War II (tho as an independent operator) didn't hurt his popularity either. Plus, the aviation theme was a crowd pleaser throughout the first half of the 20th century. With Airboy as its cover feature, Air Fighters Comics was a steady seller through the end of the war, and beyond — changing its title to Airboy Comics with its 23rd issue, it continued into the 1950s.

The character was created by Charles Biro, whose earlier creations include Steel Sterling and Crime Does Not Pay. This was not Biro's first boy hero — he'd also done Crimebuster for Lev Gleason Publications. Biro drew the early covers and wrote the scripts. The first was illustrated by Al Camy (Black Hood, Fighting Yank). Later issues were done by Dan Barry (best known for his decades of work on Flash Gordon), Fred Kida (who worked at Marvel, Quality Comics and most other publishers) and several others.

It was Kida who drew most of Airboy's meetings with Valkyrie, the sexy Nazi who became his best-remembered antagonist. Tho she only appeared a half-dozen or so times in the original series, she and Airboy quickly developed a relationship similar to Batman's with The Catwoman, only steamier. Valkyrie has been compared to The Dragon Lady in Terry & the Pirates, possibly the greatest female villain in English-language comics.

The 1950s were lean years for comic books, and Hillman was one of many publishers to get out of the business then. Airboy Comics ended with its May, 1953 issue, and its characters went into comic book limbo for the next three decades.

In 1986, Eclipse Enterprises (Ms. Tree, Zot!) acquired Hillman's characters and brought out a new Airboy series. The character was brought up to date (including moving him out of his original time frame) by scripter Chuck Dixon (Moon Knight, Robin) and artist Tim Truman (Grimjack, Wilderness Saga). Valkyrie was back too, as were Sky Wolf, The Heap and some of the other characters from the back pages of the Air Fighters/Airboy title. This series lasted until 1989, when they all went back into comic book limbo.

Since then, Eclipse has gone out of business and its assets have been acquired by Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn. Thus far, McFarlane hasn't made any moves to take Airboy back out of limbo.


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