As of this writing, Marvel’s most recent event story, Secret Empire has concluded, and the sentiment seems to be… poor. I did not read it; I have a bad habit of only buying comics in trade because then I can cherry-pick stories that I have already heard good things about. It’s almost a shame… Marvel does event stories more often than I eat three meals a day, but they don’t seem to do, you know, a very good job at it. What Marvel Event Story was the last that was actually mostly acclaimed and had good word of mouth? Was it the original Civil War? Was Civil War well-liked? I liked it, at least. Better than Secret Invasion or Siege or Avengers vs X-Men, anyway. Or, ugh, Secret Wars!
That said, Marvel does seem to have a lot of luck with the “Minor Character Mini-Series Handled Like An Indy Book” market. I can’t say enough nice things about Superior Foes of Spider-Man or Vision (unless I get around to randomly drawing them as something to review for you, at which point, I will say the correct amount of nice things, don’t worry). Not being as in-touch on these things as I’d like to be nowadays (because, seriously, Marvel and DC each publish approximately twelve thousand titles, and I never have any idea what is going on), I usually wait for a buddy to give me a recommendation on them, and then I seek them out.
And that brings us to…
Writer and Artist: Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido, and Steve Lieber & Jesse Ham
Protagonists: Hawkeye (Barton) and Hawkeye (Bishop)
Antagonists: Madame Masque, some Russian mobsters, The Clown
Sometimes you can’t trust your first take on a book. Sometimes, you read a book and you LOVE IT, but a subsequent reading makes you realize that it’s not as quality as you remember. Other times, you read a title and it doesn’t resonate with you, but if you come back to it later, it manages to tickle a part of you that didn’t initially respond. And there’s a third response where you put down a book and don’t know what to think. Maybe you sit there and mull over “Did I like this?”. Maybe you’ll tell your friends, “Yeah, I read it, but… I don’t know. You know?”. But with works like that, if you let them marinate a while and return to them, usually you’ll figure it out one way or the other.
That’s how I was with Hawkeye. I bought the first two trades last year on my way to vacation, and I was extremely excited to get into the series. I read them, and I very distinctly recall having that “I have no idea if I enjoyed that or not” feeling, and onto my bookshelf they went. I came back to those two trades for an unusual reason—I wanted an inexpensive Halloween costume last year for our Avengers themed party, and I thought I’d go as Fraction’s bandaged and beaten Clint Barton. So it was research! And when I reread it, it became much clearer to me: this is a pretty damn good book. I’m not sure why it didn’t click with me at first, but after a second helping, I was much more engaged.
Fraction’s Hawkeye is more than flawed; he is frankly barely competent at all. Not only does he continually hurt and disappoint the people close to him, but he barely makes for a good “super”hero while he is doing it. How often do we see heroes—particularly street level characters whose reps are built on their ability to wade through danger and threats—just enter an unwindable situation, find something deep inside, and overcome the odds. That’s not really this iteration of Clint Barton. He gets his teeth whitened by such illustrious foes as… some Russian mobsters! Ringmaster’s Circus Of Crime! and a few AIM soldiers! with alarming regularity. Reading this book doesn’t give you some wonderful portrait of Hawkeye as win-against-all-odds Avenger, and perhaps that was one of the aspects I couldn’t get into at first; I’m not used to heroes coming across so, for lack of a better term, weak. But Matt Fraction isn’t here to pump Hawkeye’s tires; he’s here to tell a fun story.
The dynamic of the Hawkeyes Bishop and Barton is a gem in this series with Clint being the mentor and trainer while Kate is the seemingly more mature and responsible. Clint may be tutoring her, but it’s often Kate that has to look after him. And while that is their role, make no mistake, Kate is still portrayed as the young woman with all the hang-ups and attitude and rebelling that comes with it. There is a lot to enjoy in the handling of a snarky teenager mothering her mentor. The book is called Hawkeye; Clint may be the narrator of most issues, but this is a two character show.
Art! Let’s talk about the art. I usually don’t spend nearly enough time discussing the art in these reviews beyond an “I like it” or “I didn’t like it” and a few words, but David Aja takes Fraction’s scripts and turns them into a juggernaut of a book. It’s a shame he doesn’t do every issue, but even the fill-in talent for the ones Aja misses are up to snuff. But Aja’s pencils are a cut above. It’s quite minimalistic and short on detail, but his imagery and the style that he plays with are beautiful. The characters’ exasperation at the circumstances in which they find themselves is palpable, and the tense scenes are frantic. And as an artist, he is a tremendous storytelling, with his layouts and design moving the pages from moment to moment. I often read comics that make me want to find other titles the writer handled; Hawkeye made me want to seek out other books of Aja’s (which… doesn’t appear to be much, but he worked on Iron Fist: The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven? Now I have to re-read that; it’s been a while).
Last point before the TP and the wrap up in Overall: After re-reading this, all I want in the whole world now is a scene in the Infinity War sequel where Thanos threatens the world with a flood, and Hawkeye saves the day after declaring “I’m great at boats!”
Talking Point: Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, Spider-Woman, Vision. Lots of Avengers have had great solo series in recent years. Who’s an Avenger who hasn’t had one recently you’d like to see be given a shot to float their own book and reinvent themselves?
I regret that it took me two attempts to really “get” this story, because it’s a blast to read. Fraction writes enjoyable, witty, lively characters, and Aja’s art is phenomenal. Now I just have to find me the last few volumes of this run the next time my store has a big sale. Absolutely worth your time if you’ve only heard of this run before now.