80s TV Series AIRWOLF Takes Flight Again In Comic Books

"Airwolf" preview
Credit: IDW Publishing / Lion Forge
Credit: IDW Publishing / Lion Forge

With Airwolf Airstrikes, one of the the more memorable 1980s TV franchises is getting an overhaul.

Scheduled for release September 3, this anthology collection from Lion Forge and IDW Publishing follows the tough-as-nails attack chopper from the hit television series and brings it to the 21st century. The high-tech helicopter's anthology features a wide range of creators including writers Marc Andreyko, Barbara Randall Kesel, Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman, Mike Baron, Rob Worley, Jeff Mariotte as well as artists Renato Arlem, Fabiano Neves, Jason Johnson and Jean Froes.

Several of Airwolf Airstrikes creators, as well as series editor Shannon Eric Denton, spoke with Newsarama about the revamped Airwolf vehicle, technological advances all around, a possible team-up with Knight Rider, and reclaiming the nostalgia of their favorite episodes for both new and returning readers.

Newsarama: Shannon, first off, tell us a little bit about this Airwolf Airstrikes anthology, and how you managed to get such a wide list of creators involved. Are these stories connected in any way, and what was your approach in terms of assembling this team and reworking Airwolf for a new generation?

Shannon Eric Denton: Working at DC Comic’s WildStorm as an editor and having my own publishing company Komikwerks led to a lot of great relationships over the years. I simply reached out to established writers I love working with and mentioned Airwolf, and the rest was easy! The ‘80s TV show had such a simple but amazingly fun concept. So my idea was to run with the super-chopper story the guys in St. Louis came up with (that was part of our digital launch), do some episodes-of-the-week that built up the world with our all-star creatives, and eventually deconstruct the story back to the mythology we all know and love… a helicopter that’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing flown by pilots who are saving the world but never losing sight of their mission to rescue one of their own. Artists Jean Froes, Fabiano Neves, Renato Arlem, Jason Johnson and cover artist Billy King did an amazing job bringing everyone’s stories to life, as well!

Credit: IDW Publishing / Lion Forge

Nrama: Marc Andreyko, what can you tell us about your story? And what made Airwolf as a property the kind of project you wanted to jump on?

Marc Andreyko: My story is filled with Michael Mann/’80s goodness: drug cartels, kidnappings, double and triple agents, black ops, and exotic locales! While I was more of an A-Team kid growing up, Airwolf allowed me the opportunity to get my action movie jones on! And working with Shannon is always a joy!

Nrama: Now for Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman, you two have collaborated in the past, and Marc, in particular I know you've written a ton about pop culture thanks to your work in Playboy. For you two, what does Airwolf mean to you, and what kind of angle did you take on your story together?

Adam Freeman: For me, Airwolf represents the golden age of our formative TV years. Action/adventure of shows like Airwolf, the A-Team, Knight Rider, the Incredible Hulk and all those Spelling-Goldberg shows. They were the television equivalent of B-movies but as kids we didn’t know any different. We ate them up. And then we ran outside with our friends and pretended to be them. My Schwinn Stingray 5 speed was Airwolf more than once (and KITT, and the General Lee, and a CHiP cruiser, and the Batmobile and…) In regards to our story, we had discussions with Shannon about it being contemporary. A “reimagining” if you will, not to go the camp route. We wanted it to have the action of “then” with the story-logic of “now.” Kinda.

Credit: IDW Publishing / Lion Forge

Marc Bernardin: Airwolf was one of the first shadowy government agency stories that I ever ingested. In the same way I can trace much of my adult dispositions back to The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider and Wonder Woman — a fondness for dynamite arrows, mechanics in spandex and spinning in place as an effective clothes-changing technique — I can look back to Airwolf and see where I fell in love with codenames and conspiracies and lone-wolf heroes. Also, aviator-glasses and eyepatches.

Nrama: Now Rob Worley, you've been on both sides of the equation here, having started off as the founder of Comics2Film, before branching out into comic books in your own right. You've probably seen your fair share of reimagining of cherished properties, so what was your approach in terms of making sure Airwolf stayed true to its '80s roots while still working for today's readers?

Rob Worley: It's tricky, I gotta say! But the lessons learned from my Comics2Film days, and specifically from watching the Marvel movies evolve, is that the fans generally have the right idea. They are the ones who have recognized what's great about Airwolf, sparked to it and kept it alive. They know what's good. So once you learn what the critical core ideas are, you have some freedom to build and grow as Lion Forge has done with their take on Airwolf.

Credit: IDW Publishing / Lion Forge

For my story, "Air Shark," we wanted to put the wolf in sheep's clothing aspect at the fore, so Airwolf is flying as a U.N. observation vessel. The other aspect that was critical to me is the loyalty between Hawke and Santini, and O'Shaughnessy and the rest of the F.I.R.M..

In terms of the reinvention, we get to do things in comics that were outside the budget of a ‘80s-era TV show. With that in mind, I wanted to create some new enemies that would challenge Team Airwolf. In my story, we introduce A.P.E.X. as a dark counterbalance to the F.I.R.M., and we get to see some of the war technology they create.

Nrama: And the relative veteran in all this is Mike Baron. Mike, you've worked on properties that often lend themselves to being particularly vehicle-centric, including your work on Star Wars. With Airwolf being a comic that's just as much about the chopper as it is the people piloting it, what was your approach to tackling Airwolf the machine as well the crew?

Mike Baron: I know just enough about choppers to sound like I know what I’m talking about. I did ride in a helicopter to the Grand Canyon. I’ve always loved helo-based entertainment including Airwolf and Blue Thunder. I’ve always been fascinated with tactics, as most writers are. And I felt I knew the protagonists.

Credit: IDW Publishing / Lion Forge

Nrama: And Barbara Kesel, you're no stranger to working with licensed properties, as well, having worked with Star Wars, Aliens and more. Can you tell us a bit about your story in this anthology, and how working with this licensed property has been different than the others you've worked with?

Credit: IDW Publishing / Lion Forge

Barbara Randall Kesel: Each license has a different life in a new medium. What thrills the viewer on screen might be dull on the page, so you’re looking for things that are both exciting on a story level, make the most use of the visual area, and keep to that perfect goal of “the same, only different” to feel right. This new take on Airwolf had me doing a tightrope walk between keeping the relationship between Hawke and Dom familiar (that relationship is my favorite part of Airwolf), with “voices” that sound right to people who love the series, while reinforcing this new Dom’s more dynamic role. Plus I got to research how to race a helicopter through a forest fire—it’s not the flames that’ll down ya first, it’s the particulates in the smoke choking your engines. So in case you ever need to know…

Nrama: I understand that Jeff Mariotte's story is based somewhat on the film The Conversation. Airwolf was always supposed to represent the cutting edge in military might, so Jeff, do you think that in this day and age, the new cutting edge is surveillance?

Credit: IDW Publishing / Lion Forge

Jeff Mariotte: Absolutely. My story isn't really based on The Conversation, but it does harken back to it. That movie was ahead of its time in that respect--the level of scrutiny we're all under now would have astonished and terrified those characters (and those filmmakers). There are cameras almost everywhere we go, particularly in heavily traveled cities like Las Vegas and London. The N.S.A.'s not listening to all our phone calls, but data about them is being swept up and stored, should they decide they need it. Internet searches? Emails? Texts? Tweets? Those are being data-mined constantly. I'm not paranoid, but I pay attention to what's going on. Some of it is being done to keep us safe. Some of it's being done to separate us from our wallets. And some of it's just being done because it can be done, and I think that's most sinister of all.

Nrama: Do any of you have a favorite episode of Airwolf that helped guide you on these stories?

Denton: I liked “And They Are Us,” as it further added to the mystery that Sinjin was out there somewhere and that for Hawke the F.I.R.M. was his means to an end.

Credit: IDW Publishing / Lion Forge

Kesel: I never like picking favorites, because there are always moments from each, but I nominate “Mind of the Machine,” which probably had totally nothing to do with my chapter. Sierra Magazine probably influenced me more: I remember I was reading an article about fighting forest fires. And something from somewhere else about subversive hate groups that made me realize racists are usually portrayed as neckless older men, not young women. That sparked a character. And rock climbing. I just made crazy connections between things that don’t otherwise connect, and then tossed in the main characters.

Worley: There are obvious thematic similarities between my story and “Daddy's Gone A Hunt'n.” We have a father trying to save his son, and his goals may or may not align with those of team Airwolf.

Nrama: Shannon, I understand there's also more Airwolf coming, with a potential team-up coming up with Knight Rider? What can you tell us about that?

Credit: IDW Publishing / Lion Forge

Denton: Adam Warren wrote a fabulous techno-thriller, spy-fy epic for me. The end of this trade paperback sets the stage for this legendary meet-up between these two amazing franchises. Look for that in 2016 from Lion Forge and IDW Publishing!

Nrama: Lastly, for everyone - what would you say to anyone still on the fence for Airwolf Airstrikes?

Denton: Get to the choppa’! Seriously, this book is all the action and thrills we could pack in from an insanely talented group of comics professionals from our writers to artists Jason Johnson, Fabiano Neves and Jean Froes to our print partners at IDW Publishing and NBC! Airwolf is back!

Mariotte: Shannon's right. How could anyone not want to pick this up? It's a beloved franchise, with an amazing chopper, great characters, and a fantastic set of creators. Anyone who passes on it deserves what's comin' to 'em!

Freeman: It’s a little slice of your childhood with a fresh coat of paint. And no pox marks.

Bernardin: Who else is giving you heavily armed helicopter warfare? No one.

Kesel: Hey, people can fire missiles at you all day, but how often do you get to attack a blazing forest?

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