EVEN SUPERHEROES have scandals.
That’s the plot behind Skyman, the politically fueled tale from Dark Horse Comics that sees a government-funded superhero exposed as a bigot and a murderer.
To catch you up: The American public finds out that its tax dollars have been funding a maniac instead of a “hero” when Skyman goes on a drunken, racist rant at a bar, killing a man in the process. The incident goes viral thanks to a cellphone video (of course) and the government has a publicity disaster on its hands as it desperately tries to find a new face for its Skyman program before all funding is lost.
Skyman writer Joshua Hale Fialkov says the story concept was handed down to him from Josh Williamson, writer of Captain Midnight. (Skyman as character, of course, was created during the Golden Age by Gardner Fox and Ogden Whitney.)
“The idea for me was to just extrapolate out from there,” Fialkov tells Comic Riffs. “[Skyman] is super-jingoistic, doesn’t like the current administration’s politics, [is] mean and drunk.
“To some degree, it’s also about the weird casual racism of our current day, where for some reason, it seems like our society has been marching backwards to the 1950s.”
After the tale’s Skyman PR disaster and the rush to find a replacement who will be viewed positively by the public, President Obama makes an appearance in Skyman’s first issue — declaring that all information on the Skyman program be released to the public. The turn of events has eerie echoes of recent headlines about the NSA — similarities that Fialkov can see, but he says that the Snowden affair was not an outside influence on his story.
“Funny as it sounds, I wrote most of this before the Snowden stuff happened,” Fialkov tells us. “So, I guess you can consider it wishful thinking at the time that Obama would just come clean, in a way that sadly he didn’t — or, rather, didn’t without a lot of prompting, right?
“That being said, the real joy of the modern era is that secrets and lies don’t stay hidden for long anymore,” the L.A.-based writer says, “especially when they hurt so many people.”
In the comic, an immediate search for a Skyman sub begins. Fifteen of the most highly trained and qualified individuals are brought before Gen. Abernathy, who immediately looks past every qualified candidate, who happen to all be white. The general says because of Skyman’s racist remark, a soldier of color is needed to regain some of the public’s trust. But that’s an idea that Lt. Sharp — who is more directly involved with the Skyman program — does not approve of.
This perfect storm of racial politics and affirmative action — so rarely seen in the pages of a comic book — drew Fialkov to the Skyman story.
“Not to go back to the casual racism thing, but I’ve seen firsthand the attitudes that some people in comics have towards characters of color and their role in a publishing line,” Fialkov tells Comic Riffs. “I had a previous employer who suggested replacing a character of color with another character of color because ‘it wouldn’t make much of a difference anyways...,’ like they were just filling a quota.
“I wanted to explore that, and to put a character in the middle of it, and have him prove his worth in the face of not just his character’s situation, but within the comic industry as a whole,” notes Fialkov, who creates the Skyman books with artist Manuel Garcia.
The belief that black superheroes don’t sell has long bedeviled the comic book industry, but Fialkov says such thoughts don’t concern him.
“This is a very, very diverse market, and if we don’t commit to embracing all of our fans, no matter their color, creed or persuasions, we can’t survive,” says Fialkov, 34, who is white and whose parents left South Africa amid the racism of apartheid.
So who is the soldier of color who is tabbed to clean up the Skyman program’s image? That would be Eric Reid, a wounded warrior whom readers meet midway through Skyman’s first issue.
Reid can’t walk after injuring his legs in a plane crash during a war mission. He is introduced as a soldier trying to get his life, and his body, back in working order.
When presented with the chance to become Skyman, Reid can see through the politics of the hiring. Yet how could he refuse when he learns that the Skyman armor enables him to walk again.
“I suffer from chronic pain,” Fialkov says. “And to have had to struggle with medication to help treat it, and the idea of finding a magic bullet that fixes it all, and the price I’d pay for it. ... To put that into use as a literal device of the story just felt human and real to me.”
Once Reid hits the skies for the first time as Skyman, he faces a catch-22. With the armor on, he can walk, fly and be a hero. But once back on the ground, he’s a handicapped wounded warrior working with a superior (Sharp) who doesn’t think he’s right for the job.
Fialkov says the relationship between Reid and Sharp will be a big part of the Skyman series.
“I hope that their relationship stands as one of the more interesting in the book,” Fialkov says. “Sharp hates Eric — he hates him for, well, kind of a good reason. Sharp had been training for years for a job, only to have it taken out of his hands for something that had nothing to do with him. And, now, insult to injury, he has to follow the new guy around and show him the ropes.
“When they put the suit on Eric, they’re effectively ending Sharp’s dreams. That’s not about prejudice or racism or anything, but a man getting screwed.”
Despite working on a comic that deals with so many issues that most comics don’t, Fialkov says that being a part of creating a new hero is what intrigues him most about Skyman.
”Getting to introduce a character like Eric, with all of the things that make him so unique, has been experience enough,” he says. “There’s not a lot better than getting to create a new hero — and to help build a legacy for a classic character like Skyman is pretty damn exciting.”
You can follow David Betancourt on Twitter: @aDCfanboy.