Today I want to shine a light on Matthew Rosenberg and Otto Schmidt’s awesome Hawkeye Freefall mini-series, a 6-issue series about a habitual screw-up that almost was screwed-up in real life, only to complete its journey in its own screwed-up fashion. It’ll really screw you up.
Seriously, though, this is a great book by Rosenberg and Schmidt.
To my knowledge, this is the second time Rosenberg has had the chance to write Hawkeye, the first being the Tales of Suspense story involving Bucky and Black Widow. That book is pretty solid in its own right, but its big down-side is that it’s too wrapped up in the goings on of Secret Empire. That’s not the book’s fault, but in hindsight, it takes away from the awesomeness slightly. It’s just too much of its time, continuity-wise.
Tales of Suspense also ended too soon for whatever reason. I would really have enjoyed seeing the story with those characters play out much longer instead of the handful of issues they got, just like today’s focus with Freefall.
Originally, Freefall was solicited as a new title. Then, after the first few issues did not light the world on fire sales-wise, it was revealed it was actually a mini. My heart was sad because I really enjoyed those first few issues. Theeeen, during the height of the first wave of the pandemic, when the word was on metaphorical fire, the book was cancelled–at least the print version. Marvel announced they would release issues 5 and 6 only digitally. My heart was sad again. But huzzah, either based on positive digital performance or fan outcry or who-knows-what-reason, Marvel decided that issues 5 and 6 would be printed! Yay! I wasn’t going to have to wait for them to show up on the Unlimited service I subscribe to, but could pay a comic shop to let me read the story earlier! Not as early as the online version, which had already been released, but earlier than waiting for the subscription service or eventual trade release!
Comics can be strange like that, I guess. If you’re patient, you get to read stuff a lot cheaper or in a more prestige-y collected format–or both. But if you’re patient, you miss out on all the initial buzz and excitement surrounding a book. It’s like waiting for the home release of a movie–back in the olden days when we had theaters still. Sure, John Wick was fun, but I don’t think it was as great as the hype. Had I been there day 1, maybe I would have been swept up in it and telling you how awesome John Wick is right now. As it stands, those movies are fine. I digress.
What makes Hawkeye: Freefall great is that it’s the perfect combination of what makes Marvel comics work: it’s not only entertaining, it has enough references that you feel rewarded for knowing your background stuff, but no so much that you’re lost without it. It has captivating art filled with excitement and kinetic energy from Schmidt. And as far as characterization, Rosenberg nails it.
Rosenberg really captures the feel of your favorite screw-up friend with his version of Hawkeye. Characterization-wise, this is an extension of the Matt Fraction version, except, dare I say it…better? Don’t get me wrong, I love the Fraction/Aja/etc. run on Hawkeye from the early 2010s. I would still put it above this mini series if we are arbitrarily ranking awesomeness. But Rosenberg demonstrates he knows what screw-up friends are like in real life. Your screw-up buddy doesn’t get that reputation by making good decisions or course-correcting when things go wrong or by using their fortune to buy a building. He (or she) earns that distinction by making bad choices and doubling down on those bad choices until it results in even worse choices, and no matter how much other folks in his or her life try to help, bad choices keep happening until they don’t. Hopefully your friend stops at some point and digs their way out of their holes they’ve dug the hard way.
Then, years later, coincidentally, after your formerly-the-screw-up friend has been making positive choices for a good long while, your water pipe breaks and you don’t have insurance and end up calling that friend to see if they can loan you some cash to bail you out of a jam and you realize you’re the screw up friend now. Not like anything like that has ever happened to this guy. We all have our burdens to bear. Some of us may have just already maxed out our credit cards along the way :-).
Back to Hawkeye. The story starts with Hawkeye going up against the Hood–who coincidentally, this book is going to push again as a big-time player. The Hood succeeds within the system here, prompting Hawkeye to muck around in that same system.
I can understand why Rosenberg paired these characters up for this book. Sometimes, depending on the writer or the time period, the Hood is a big-time jobber, but not here. That ambiguity makes him tough to take seriously at first–kind of like Hawkeye.
Hawkeye is also in a relationship with the Night-Nurse, and it is made clear early on that he has outkicked his coverage there, too. Their early interactions show you everything you need to know about Clint Barton. He knows better. He knows he’s going to screw things up.
He knows he’s only hurting his own chances at success–but he can’t help himself; he’s going to screw it up anyway.
From there, it’s back to superheroing, and someone shows up wearing Clint’s old Ronin costume, tearing through the Hood’s bad guys. This allows some of Clint’s Avenger pals to get involved, and we see Bucky (hey! From Tales of Suspense!), Falcon, Spidey, Daredevil, Mockingbird and Night Thrasher (?!?) pop up throughout the book to make heads or tails of what’s going on.
There’s time travel, there are hacker kids, there are shape-shifters, there’s life model decoys, and there are new friends and accomplices along the way. Rosenberg demonstrates he knows his way around the Marvel Universe and has that touch of making his own story special while still being able to connect it to the bigger universe around it. Honestly, it reminded me of early Bendis New Avengers comics, where interactions were fresh and fun and entertaining.
Even the baddies that pop in the series like Bullseye and Count Nefaria and the Kingpin are all played to perfection.
Of course, it’s not all light-hearted jokes. When things get serious, they get really serious. As everything was being set up, I was guilty of thinking that Rosenberg was building a new supporting cast for Hawkeye, setting this book up for a long run. Then, pieces started being taken off the board, and I didn’t see it coming. It’s heartbreaking each time. It’s in those moments that the reality sets in and Rosenberg elevates beyond Fraction’s characterization. It’s those moments that show you that, no, this isn’t just all jokes and everything won’t be back to normal or even better after the hero wins the day.
It’s a bit of a spoiler, but it’s there in the title so I’ll spoil it anyway, this book isn’t about Hawkeye’s heroic rise above his problems, it’s about his freefall. He doesn’t win the day. He screws it up. Bad. Every aspect. Relationships, friendships, professional contacts, reputations–he screws it all up. At the end of the book, Hawkeye the character is devastated.
When does he come out of this? How can he come out of this? If this is just a mini-series, where is the rest of this going to shake out? Rosenberg can’t just leave Clint Barton like this!!! I know he put him back in the classic costume, but the rest of it–this can not stand! Sure, he bests the Hood (maybe), but there’s so much to this story that is yet to come…argh, it’s driving me crazy. Especially because this book was so close to the brink of not finishing. It’s a great comic book. Everything you want in a Mavel comic is there. Action, yep. Breathtaking art: yep. Schmidt (whom I haven’t discussed nearly enough) is a great talent. A balance between humor and heart: Rosenberg’s got it. All they don’t have right now: enough sales to justify an ongoing.
Or maybe this is part of a broader plan. I just want to see what happens next. So, if you like good comics, go out there and pick this one up in some form: either digitally, print, or hang in for a trade collection soon. It’s worth it. It deserves to be a top-selling book in the market in my opinion.
Grade-wise, I’m going to give it a contingent A+. As a first act, I am so excited for what’s next. But that’s if I get to see what’s next. If that doesn’t materialize, I reserve the right to go back and drop the bejeezus outta that grade, and probably hold a grudge against all involved parties while doing so. They can’t leave me hanging like this! They’ve done such a great job with this part. Rosenberg and Schmidt have managed to take Marvel’s screw-up character Hawkeye and put the ball in Marvel’s court from here. Let’s hope Marvel doesn’t screw it up, Hawkeye-style.
That’s all, folks!