Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Matt Hollingsworth’s “Hawkeye” is a special thing. Their book takes a B-List comic book character and proves that, even in a fantastic universe filled with folks who have unimaginable powers, there’s room to tell stories centered on the less godlike corners of the Marvel U. More than that, however, it’s the inventive nature of the storytelling and a fractured hero (both metaphorical and literal) that makes “Hawkeye” one of the most uncommonly good superhero comic books to come out in years.
Fraction and team focus on Clint Barton’s life when he’s not being an Avenger and the troubles he gets into when he acts the part of impulsive hero, a guy who does the right thing but possibly not the right way. The hero is rarely in costume in “Hawkeye, Vol. 01” (collecting issues #1 through #11 and “Young Avengers Special” #6) and the result is a series of episodes in which Clint does a pretty terrible job keeping his personal life uncomplicated. Of course, that’s the fun of reading “Hawkeye”.
Clint’s lack of good judgement is on display immediately as the frustrated Avenger tosses his wheelchair into the middle of traffic, though he’s quick to realize that he’s made a boob of himself. Clint really is only human and, like any human, he’s apt to let his temper get the better of him. “Hawkeye” is so readable because Fraction is adept at bringing those human qualities to his characters and he does so with believable characterization and his trademark natural dialogue and amazing humor.
Aja, the book’s primary artist, delivers a memorable offbeat visual style for “Hawkeye”. Aja’s layouts are fun and he employs unique elements to keep his pages stimulating. When Kate Bishop, the Young Avengers’ Hawkeye, observes an arrow trick by Clint, Aja captures her face fourteen times as it goes from blasé to stunned; under each profile is a single letter, spelling out “Well that’s cool”. Aja’s imbues life into his characters, always finding thoughtful expressions based on what is occurring in Fraction’s script.
Hollingsworth ties most of the book together by coloring the series with the same saturated tones (minus the tenth chapter which was drawn and colored by Francesco Francavilla). Hollingsworth’s colors at times help to give the series a 1970’s action-movie visual style that Fraction and Aja may have been going for (à la “Bullitt” or “Death Wish”). What is charming about the colorist’s choices is the amount of purple that is used. If it belongs to Clint or Kate, you can be certain that Hollingsworth is going to use some shade of purple to color it. This would include Clint’s shower curtain, boxers, and Converse All-Stars, as well as Kate’s blankets, sleep mask, and Volkswagen.
This first volume of “Hawkeye” is made up of mostly one-and-done chapters tied together by an overarching story featuring a group of ambiguously Eastern European thugs and the crime lords of the Marvel Universe. Clint repeatedly finds himself at odds with with the thugs who seem at first to not totally be a match for the archer. Things change after famous baddies such as the Kingpin, Madam Masque, the Owl, and several others grow weary of Hawkeye’s interference in their criminal machinations. But these things are all small potatoes in comparison to Clint’s love life, which is chronicled in one uncomfortable scene after the next. Fraction writes Clint as a man who aims to do the right thing when he’s playing the part of the hero, but he often lets his libido take charge when it comes to women.
Kate seems to be the only constant in Clint’s life these days and there is something between them that the hero has chosen not to act on yet. And neither has she. She tells a potential fling that being around Clint can be depressing, but actions speak louder than words and Kate finds herself back at Clint’s apartment soon after. If Fraction has plans for these two to connect, he’s playing it low and slow. This scenic route allows for their chemistry to simmer as Fraction builds a believable connection between these two characters.
Fraction has grown into one of the most innovative storytellers during the past few years and “Hawkeye” affords the writer many liberties that aren’t found in the bulk of mainstream superhero comic books. The writer constructs a compelling tale involving Clint and the criminal elements who are closing in on him, but we keep reading because the way Fraction and Aja tell their stories is so damned infectious. When Clint comes back to his apartment from the hospital he overhears an argument but it’s spoken in another language. Rather than translate it, we understand it from Clint’s point of view. Fraction writes “Some Spanish-sounding stuff!” coming from a word balloon off camera. In the terrific closing chapter to the first volume, the entire story is seen from the vantage point of Clint’s canine, Pizza Dog. Fraction and Aja use few words of discernible dialogue opting for faces and visual indicators to take us through Pizza Dog’s thought process.
Clever techniques aside, “Hawkeye” works because Fraction has created an interesting grounded world for the hero to inhabit. I don’t know that I ever imagined where Clint Barton hung his hat, but his Brooklyn Apartment feels right. Fraction establishes that Clint has a camaraderie with the other tenants with whom he spends some of his free time gambling, barbecuing, and generally leading a normal life. These sequences are some of the best in “Hawkeye” because Fraction and team simply treat it like a snapshot of real people living in a real world. There’s a scene in the first chapter where all of the tenants are having separate conversations and it reads quite naturally as the camera pans across the rooftop of the apartment building as the characters casually chatter.
Though Aja doesn’t work alone on “Hawkeye”, his artwork is the standout in this excellent first volume. There’s an attractive symmetry to the way Aja structures his panels. In the second chapter, the story opens with Clint and Kate making their escape into a swimming pool while gunmen shoot at them. There are twelve panels that take us to extreme vantage points in the action and almost no dialogue. There’s a large panel featuring Clint and Kate diving into the pool, one close-up of the submerged bullets, one of the casings as the guns are fired, and more. Aja presents every corner of the action to draw the reader into the deadly chase that opens the story. Aja builds incredible suspense in the third chapter, which features a long car chase sequence through New York as Hawkeye shoots every trick arrow in his arsenal at the Eastern European mobsters coming after him. Aja displays a close-up of each specific Arrow tip and it’s definition (“rocket arrow”, “suction-tip arrow”, etc.) before the archer uses it against his pursuers. Aja uncharacteristically inverts the panels into one another then begins tilting them to build suspense as the actions blows out of control.
Whether the men of the women, Aja fills “Hawkeye” with attractive characters. The artist’s character design for Clint Barton fits Fraction’s approach to the character. He’s a grizzled but handsome man with a serious case of bed head who only looks comfortable when he’s in a t-shirt and loose crumpled pants. When Aja introduces Natasha Romanov, Bobbi Morse, and Jessica Drew (aka Black Widow, Mockingbird, and Spider-Woman, respectively), he gives them all a 60’s style makeover that is both sexy and works beautifully with Hollingsworth’s palette.
Javier Pullido brings a retro style to the book’s sole two-part story involving a video tape of Clint that has gotten into the wrong hands. Pullido’s cool thin line work is energetic and works well with Fraction’s high-octane story featuring plenty of ninjas, chases, and fight scenes. Francavilla’s chapter, centering a deadly new villain, is stylistically different than any other chapter in this volume of “Hawkeye”. Francavilla is one of the most visually arresting artists working today, with his collage layouts and his fiery use of bold colors.
“Hawkeye” wakes readers up and reminds us that unconventional storytelling has a place in the wide world of superhero comic books. Fraction, Aja, Hollingsworth, and team have gently pushed all the rules aside to tell a wonderfully engrossing story that will long be remembered as one of the most entertaining books of its time.
“Hawkeye, Vol. 01”
Written by: Matt Fraction
Art: David Aja, Javier Pullido, Steve Lieber, Jess Hamm, Francesco Francavilla, Annie Wu, Alan Davis
Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Original Publication Date: August 2012
Pages: 272 pages