Hawkeye in the Heroic Age

Hawkeye is one of the most iconic members of the Avengers, and has appeared in more issues than probably anyone but the big three. Nevertheless, he can’t seem to avoid getting the short end of the stick. Whether it’s his brainwashing in the first Avengers film, an inferiority complex driving him to become Goliath, or his string of middling solo series making it hard to sell the idea of Hawkeye having a life outside of the Avengers. He is undoubtedly a fan favorite, but his role in the Marvel Universe is sometimes in flux.

Before reading any of this Heroic Age material, it helps to know what Hawkeye has been up to for the past decade, so here’s a brief recap. Warning, there are definitely some *spoilers* for the 2002-2010 timeframe, beware! Clint Barton had a rough beginning to the 21st Century, he was killed in the Scarlet Witch’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs bonanza in Avengers Disassembled, only to be reborn in the House of M alternate reality excursion and find his alias had been taken up by a Young Avenger (Kate Bishop, who’s great btw), forcing him to take up a different identity as Ronin (shmeh). Then, in case that’s not enough, Clint finds Mockingbird in the Secret Invasion storyline, who had been long dead in the Marvel canon, only to find out she was a Skrull impersonator, making the loss fresh all over again. He and Bobbi do eventually reunite at the end of Secret Invasion, but even that reunion isn’t all sunshine and happiness. Bobbi’s traumatized by years of imprisonment and torture by her Skrull captors and she can’t bring herself to trust Clint. They had a weird kind of resolution in the four-issue New Avengers: The Reunion mini-series, which led directly into this time-frame, but the flawed nature of their relationship really comes to a head during this time period.

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Cover Artist: Paul Renaud; Source: Marvel.com

Hawkeye and Mockingbird: Average arc overall. The writing has some decent humor and the relationship between Hawkeye and Mockingbird, which is the central focus of the title, is done fairly well. The author (Jim McCann) references their past pretty well, bringing back baddies that have haunted the two in earlier arcs. The art, primarily penciled by David Lopez, was solid, but not spectacular. The supporting cast was pretty underdeveloped and the rationale justifying their involvement in these arcs was thin. Just inventing a tiny quasi-governmental agency with five people in it just seems kind of lazy in order to enable hi-tech gear and bad guy chasing, but I guess that’s not really the point. I think the plot was average at best, but it’s slightly better than that because of the character interactions which sow the seeds for future stories involving the two. The complicated relationship is basically made into a mutually-detrimental spiral that made both of them into worse versions of themselves. The resolution to end their highly flawed romance is a reasonable conclusion that McCann builds to pretty well. It makes the six-issue arc an important read for fans of either title character, though it’s still probably not good enough to buy the book. Rating: 6 of 10

Widowmaker: A weird, four-issue follow-up to the Hawkeye and Mockingbird series. This arc can’t make up it’s mind whether Hawkeye or Black Widow is the main character. The first-person narrative jumps between the two of them. It’s really abrupt and felt like a rushed, half-developed story. I’m not entirely sure what the writer, Duane Swierczynski, was thinking here, and the artist team of David Lopez and Manuel Garcia did an okay job, but the result is just average fare. I didn’t like the bags drawn under Black Widow’s eyes. It made her look like she was always half asleep, it’s an odd look for a superhero. I think that the whole purpose was to set up a situation for Hawkeye to get hit in the back of the head, which sets up for the following arc, which is far superior to this one. Black Widow is a great character, but her team up with Mockingbird and Hawkeye here seemed like a stretch. And her character had no personality. She just seemed really flat. The new team up of Hawkeye and Mockingbird so soon after their “conscious uncoupling” was just kind of awkward. It undid some of the character development of the previous arc, which was its whole selling point. I’d say Widowmaker is worth skipping, as there aren’t really any other plot lines that ripple through later beyond Hawkeye’s one bonk to the head. Rating: 4 of 10

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Issue #4; Cover Artist: Mike Perkins; Source: Marvel.com

Blind Spot: This four-issue arc is a little hit and miss (pun very much intended). With writing duties back with Jim McCann, and art by a team of David Lopez and Paco Diaz, the series regains some of McCann’s earlier tone in the Hawkeye and Mockingbird series. Conceptually, Blind Spot is pretty interesting: what if Hawkeye went blind? How does the world’s best marksman deal with not being able to see his targets? It’s a pretty cool examination of Clint Barton’s character as he struggles to do without his greatest asset and deals with some long-repressed family issues at the same time. The problem is that while this arc is intriguing, it’s not really all that innovative. It basically riffs on Ed Brubaker’s inventive run on Captain America almost a decade earlier, except it swaps out Bucky for Barney. The whole brainwashed vengeance using a childhood best friend/brother to become the evil version of the hero themselves isn’t particularly original, but in McCann’s defense, it does allow for an interesting look into Clint Barton’s past and his strength of character. Barney acts as a Baron Zemo and Barney’s interactions were all pretty well done. The only problem I had was that with Tony Stark’s tech, Clint never really went blind. It would have been much better to see him fight unassisted than to have the hi-tech bailout. It seemed like a cheap way to deal with the culmination of the blindness problem. Otherwise, this arc did accomplish a lot in a relatively short period of time. Rating: 7 of 10

During this gap, there’s a wonderful, incredible series by Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Annie Wu that covers both Clint Barton and Kate Bishop in a 22-issue instant classic. Go read it now! Or check out the review here.

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Cover Artist: Ramon Perez; Source: Marvel.com

All-New Hawkeye (2015): After making his name with Marvel’s Distinguished Competition writing for another swashbuckling archer, Jeff Lemire came to Marvel to try a turn on Clint Barton. Partnering with Eisner Award winning artist, Ramon Perez, this series seemed like a good choice to follow up on Fraction’s run. A quick five-issue series here tried to tell two different stories simultaneously. One was a retelling of Clint’s origin story through some beautiful, purple-hued flashbacks, and the other was an odd arc involving Clint and Kate breaking into a Hydra base for a secret weapon. The flashback sequences were clever and helped to showcase more of Hawkeye’s origin story. Perez’s artist style in these memory sequences was absolutely beautiful, all washed purples and sketched in a really wonderful way. The cover art, especially in Issue #1 (to the left) was also stunning. The interior art outside of the flashbacks was also good, but Perez’s flashbacks scenes were definitely the highlight. The banter between the two Hawkeyes was also pretty good (though nothing like Fraction’s in the preceding Hawkeye run). Unfortunately, the primary arc (at least the present day one) was nothing special. I never really understood what Barton or Bishop’s relationship to SHIELD was and what the whole point of those weird kids was. The resolution seemed even more bizarre, as they were about to allow Hydra to just take them back, until the kids went all Raiders of the Lost Ark on the Hydra agents. This arc is a decent read, but I was not really impressed with the plot development in Lemire’s primary story line. There is hope for future runs, but this is worth flipping through for Perez’s art, though I’m not sure if I would buy it. Rating: 6 of 10

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Hawkeye by Fraction, Aja, and Wu

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Issue #1; Cover Artist: David Aja; Source: Marvel.com

Wow. I don’t even know where to start. This run is incredible. Both Hawkeyes are great characters. Clint Barton is one of my favorites, but Kate Bishop is a tremendous character too. Both have a lot of snark, skill, and luck that makes their adventures so much fun. David Aja is my favorite artist. He is a minimalist magician. Fraction’s blend of smart and snappy writing is an absolutely perfect fit for Hawkeye. I can only hope this team keeps churning stuff out. I’ll read it all.

First, the series starts out with the soon to be classic line: “This looks bad.” Hawkeye’s first page shows him falling off a building and botching the landing. He spends a few weeks in a hospital because he doesn’t have super strength, fast healing, or any of the other particularly super superpowers. The premise from the outset, as the title page states, is to cover what Hawkeye does when he’s not being an Avenger. This gave the creators an out from participating in the never-ending string of tie-in events (see eventification of Marvel), and allowing Fraction and co. to develop some good, old fashioned solo material. Even in the first issue, there’s a lot going on, but there is no background really needed. Clint doesn’t have much money, so he grumbles about cab fare, lives in a crappy tenement apartment building, and doesn’t really dress all that well. His adventures involve some pretty small-time thugs and crooks who are trying to raise rent unfairly. The tone, including his rescue of an injured dog (later to be named “Lucky” or “Pizza Dog”), really makes Clint out to be the everyday Avenger. He really lives among the general population and isn’t a celebrity like many of his contemporaries.

Following the incredible start in issue #1, some of the other early issues that Aja did not draw were kind of odd. I didn’t really like “The Tape” as an arc, but after that, the run really found itself. I think that maybe the who concept for Clint and Kate’s partnership was still forming, so some of the earlier adventures weren’t quite as strong as the later ones. Once it found its stride around issue #7, the arc really took off. Aja’s art is just beautiful, and Fraction’s The alternating issues between Barton in NYC with Aja’s wonderful art, and Bishop in LA with Wu’s art showing another clever style really made this whole run seem like a beautifully crafted story experience.

The rest of the arc is honestly incredible. It is somehow the perfect blend of comedic shenanigans and genuine adventure for two lovable but down-on-their-luck superheroes. Both Clint and Kate are continually tested and seem out of their depth but their persistence and grit, not to mention teamwork get them through. Another reason to love this series is the number of truly innovative styles and concepts that are explored through creative storytelling. Oh, and did I mention that this arc won two different Eisner Awards in 2014? Best single issue and best covers. Both of them are definitely deserved. Just look at those covers! Though all of the issues are great, there are a few that stick out particularly as feats of creative genius:

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    Issue #22; Cover Artist: David Aja; Source: Marvel.com

    Issue #11: This is one of the best single issues I’ve ever read. I know that I am not alone in this opinion since this issue, titled, “Pizza is my Business,” won a 2014 Eisner Award for best single issue/one-shot. The story is told entirely from Lucky (the Pizza Dog)’s perspective. Each character is shown with an accompanying series of smells and their dialogue shows only the few words that the dog understands. It is truly amazing how well Fraction and Aja capture the life and thoughts of a dog.

  • Issue #17: This issue is actually just a silly dream sequence where Hawkeye falls asleep watching a children’s Holiday special. The artistic style and story end up being a fun blend of the children’s cartoon along with  and the story blends the style of children’s cartoon with some of the recent events in Hawkeye’s life, making for a fun and inventive story.
  • Issue #19: Most of this story is told in sign language. I don’t want to give much away, but this seems like a truly groundbreaking comic achievement. For those that don’t know American Sign Language, I recommend a translation for the issue. It’s very powerful and shows some impressive character development.

All the way through to the final issue (#22) this series kept its tone. This is one of the best comic runs out there. Easily enjoyable for die-hard Marvel fans or even newer readers. It’s largely free of the continuity eventapalooza that often limits story arcs, giving this wonderful creative team the leverage it needed to make something truly amazing. Please, just go read this comic. You won’t regret it.

Rating: 10 of 10