After slogging through some mythology-rich issues of Marvel Comics, I finally tripped across a Marvel title suitable for casual comics fans and even non-superhero comic readers. You don’t need to know much about Hawkeye, or his history, to love this title. A second viewing of the recent Avengers movie is over-preparation.
Here’s the sum total of what I recall about Hawkeye from my teenage years as a comics nut:
- Hawkeye wields a bow and arrow with extreme accuracy, which seemed like a lame superpower.
- Hawkeye has a blisteringly hot girlfriend.
- How does that make any sense?
When confronted with galactic menaces, overpowered mutant threats, or even when challenged to an arm wrestling match by Valkyrie,
there was a good chance that Clint Barton was going to get his hinder handed to him. So how does that guy become a compelling super-hero?
Finding the answer to those questions, writer Matt Fraction brilliantly brings Hawkeye into the present by calling on the past. A guy in over his head , constantly receiving severe beatdowns by average henchmen, yet too dumb to stop fighting? Someone call 1972 – we need Steve McQueen on the set.
In each of the first three issues, Fraction wisely dumps the reader smack into the middle of the action. Issue 1 opens with the archer falling from a building. Who was he fighting? Why? The answers don’t matter in this two-fisted homage to the adrenaline fueled actioners of the past. All that matters is that when Barton crashes to the ground, it immediately results in a lengthy hospital stay.
In the new Hawkeye series, Barton’s main “power” appears to be his hard head – literally and figuratively. He’s the kind of hero who is going to get pummeled mercilessly, but cares more about rescuing a stray dog from oncoming traffic than protecting his jaw. A crowbar to the back of the head is merely a temporary setback to this pitbull of a man. And, if 70s cinema has taught us nothing, it’s that the ladies dig hardheaded guys who take a beating and come back for more.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t heap lavish praise on the artwork of artist David Aja and Colorist Matt Hollingsworth. I was vaguely aware of “an Alexandre Aja” going into this title. I recall browsing a single issue of an Iron Fist title several years back at a Border’s store and being impressed with Aja and Fraction. Maybe if I had bought every comic I browsed there for free, Border’s would still be around today.
Sorry, back to the art. This is probably the first time I’ve ever been conscious of the contributions of a colorist to a title. Many of my friends in the visual arts fields are much more in tune with the impact a good colorist can have on a title. Not me. I’m pretty thick-headed on that kind of thing. So it’s got to be something extremely special to register with me.
I wish I knew how to describe the technique Hollingsworth uses. The flat colors and thick, chunky lines remind me, somewhat, of the work Matt Wagner was doing early-on in the Grendel series. But it’s so much more than that. The way Aja frames the action, lots of small panels filling in the notes between the broad phrases of an action sequence, combined with Hollingsworth’s colors recall classic cinema, perfectly complimenting the story.
As a writer, I usually come at a comic from that point of view – how good is the story? The art has to (almost) literally jump off the page and punch me in the eyeballs to make an impression. Aja and Hollingsworth are that good.
None of this is a slight to Fraction’s storytelling. Through three issues, he’s got me hooked on this version of the archer – a real life guy trying to do the right thing in the midst of making terrible decisions regarding his personal safety and future well-being. Right away, he rescues a dog at risk to his own life which – face it – is kind of a stock way to create sympathy for a hero. But it’s one of the first weapons in the writer’s toolkit because it works.
And it works here. I love “Pizza Dog” and look forward to more of his (and Barton’s) adventures. This is the rare series that has me convinced to buy all the back issues and read up to the current issue. As I understand, issue #14 is told entirely from the point-of-view of Pizza Dog. That should be special.
As a casual comics guy, it excites me to see that Marvel is still producing the odd title that I can comprehend, not to mention love. In my transition from hardcore comics guy to casual comics guy, I dropped the weekly trip to the comic shop. My mantra became, “I’ll wait for the trade paperback”.
Starting now, on the rare occasion I get to a comic book store with my girls, I’m going to grab every back issue of Hawkeye I don’t own. There’s no waiting for the trade paperback on this title. It’s just that darn good.
I’m officially giving Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye series my first “Certified Casually Awesome” rating. It’s a great comic for casual fans looking for a good read.