With the success of the Avengers movie, it’s no surprise that they’re trying to launch another Hawkeye solo series. Hawkeye is my favorite superhero, period. The creative team behind his new book is Matt Fraction and David Aja. The two of them, along with Ed Brubaker, had a run on Immortal Iron Fist that may well be my favorite run on a superhero title. They also brought Matt Hollingsworth, the colorist from that series. I had some reservations about another Hawkeye book, but this still hit my pull list the second I heard about it.
Despite being one of the longest serving and most popular Avengers, Hawkeye has been a notoriously difficult character to craft a successful book around. I love the guy, but even I firmly believed he only worked in team books. He had a few mini-series in the 80’s and 90’s that were quickly forgotten, and it’s easy to see why. Fabian Nicieza tried a solo series in 2004 that was written as a modern western. It lasted eight issues. In 2010 Marvel tried again with Hawkeye & Mockingbird, giving him a partner and an espionage vibe. This one only lasted six. His Blindspot mini-series from last year was underwhelming in sales and content and became instant bargain box fodder. The point is, they’ve tried a lot of different approaches to the character, but literally all of them failed.
The new approach to a Hawkeye series seems to be to make him Daredevil. They completely separate him from the blockbuster grandiosity of Avengers and make him a fully street-level character. In fact, outside of the opening splash (a beautiful recreation of his iconic movie shot), we don’t see a costume or bow and arrow throughout the whole issue. Instead, we have Clint Barton, a regular human being with regular problems. The villain isn’t a bombastic cosmic powerhouse, but a corrupt apartment owner trying to drive out his tenants by raising the rent. What makes Clint special isn’t powers, because he doesn’t have any. It’s what he’s capable of doing.
The Daredevil approach actually works quite well. This feels like how a Hawkeye series should. Prior writers all seemed too focused on making a high-flying superhero book. In grounding Clint like this, we get a closer look at what makes the character tick than I think we’ve ever gotten before. I’m so used to seeing him either being an Avenger or surrounded by other Avengers, that I can’t remember a time we’ve seen Clint Barton in such a civilian surrounding. I didn’t know it would be so refreshing.
The writing is great. Besides really enjoying the direction the book took the character, the story kept me engaged the entire time. Fraction nails Hawkeye’s character, from his compassion to his tendency to be hot-headed. I was surprised when I got to the end to find that it was a self-contained story, and I think that will be a great approach to this series. It’s a character piece, and I appreciate that that won’t be lost in unnecessarily complex, long story arcs.
David Aja never ceases to amaze me. His art style here is slightly different than it was in Iron Fist, which had a distinctively pulp feel to it. This is much cleaner, and feels like something you’d be more likely to find in an indie comic than a highly-hyped Marvel title. If I were to compare it to anything, it very strongly reminds me of Tonci Zonjic’s work on last year’s Who Is Jake Ellis?, only a bit more muted. That mini was absolutely beautiful, so this is high praise indeed.
I’m a little worried for the future, though. Aja does incredible work, but he seems to have issues with getting things done on time. By issue #2 of Immortal Iron Fist, there were already multiple back-up artists on a number of pages to make sure the book would remain on schedule. This continued throughout the run, with #16, Fraction’s last issue, being the only issue since the first to feature just Aja’s work. Interesting sidenote though, one of those artists who came in a lot near the end was actually Zonjic, so the two have worked very closely and you can see one’s influence in the other’s work. If they need to bring Zonjic in for a few issues to help Aja catch up, I won’t complain.
On another art-related note, I almost never give a crap about a comic’s lettering, but I have to give proper credit to Chris Eliopoulos. His work, particularly the cover and last page, really helps complete the look of this issue. His contribution is an undeniable part of what makes the style distinctive.
There was one nitpicky thing that bothered me that I wasn’t going to write about, but I can’t seem to let it go. Hawkeye starts the issue by falling off a building and ending up in the hospital, and the caption when he’s released says “Six Weeks Later.” Six weeks? That’s… a pretty long time. Dude regularly gets punched by Thanos, or a Hulk, or something powerful enough that they need Thor to fight it. I know it’s more realistic, but I guess what I’m getting at is this: how much of this poor man’s life is spent in a hospital bed? I guess it doesn’t bother me, it just worries me.
Also, I’m jaded and still worry about how well a Hawkeye book can do, even with this concept. Sometimes I felt it was almost too similar to Daredevil. While I liked the grounded approach, I’d like to see a little more bow and arrow action in the near future, if only to help make the two titles more distinct.
That said, Hawkeye is off to a strong start. It’s a fresh take on a decades old character, and is still riding the hype from The Avengers. I’m hearing a lot of positive buzz around this book and it sold out at my local comic shop. The owner sold me what would have been his copy. Hell, I loved reading it, and I liked it more every time I reread parts while writing this review. So really, I should shut up and this will probably be the surprise hit of the year.