5 Reasons Why Hawkeye Might Be The Best Superhero Comic I've Ever Read
If you had told me six months ago that the superhero comic I would be most excited about was a monthly featuring Hawkeye in his off hours from being an Avenger, I would have laughed in your face. For starters, I don’t read a ton of Avengers books and even if I did, I’ve never cared one bit about Hawkeye. In fact, my only significant feelings about Hawkeye since the Avengers movie released was grouchiness that he was getting his own ongoing comic while the Black Widow got a (really crappy) mini-series.
But I take it all back.
I have to take it all back because you will have to pry this book out of my cold dead hands.
So what makes it so great? Let’s do a list! 5 reasons why Hawkeye may just be the best superhero comic I've ever read...
1. Perfect Creator Sync
Matt Fraction and David Aja are the definition of a dream team. Not only are they talented and respected creators at the top of their game, they have perfect clarity in their vision for this book. One of the great things about independent comics are that frequently the writer and artist are the same person, which creates a seamlessness in the vision for the book -- there is no disconnect between the writing and the art. Perhaps the only thing better than a single creator situation is when you have two creators working together achieving that same level of seamless perfection. There is no disconnect between Fraction and Aja. They are on exactly the same page when it comes to the execution of this book. Aja’s art is tonally in sync with Fraction’s sense of humor. The pacing is spot on and plays to both Fraction and Aja’s strengths. There’s simply not a missed beat in the entire book -- really in three entire books. They are nearly perfect.
2. Continuity Free/New Reader Friendly
Marvel very smartly opens their books with a short synopsis about what’s been going on in previous issues or story arcs. It’s pretty new reader friendly in general. However, this is the opening paragraph for Hawkeye:
“Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye, became the greatest sharp-shooter known to man. He then joined the Avengers. This is what he does when he’s not being an Avenger. That’s all you need to know."
Four sentences. How simple is that? Amazing. But it’s one thing to write that synopsis and it’s another to back it up in each issue. While you’d be a fool not to read every issue (because they are brilliant) you can read issue #3 without having ever read issue #1 or #2, and so on. Issues #4 and #5 are part one and two of the same arc, and I’m sure there will be more of that as we continue, but so far it’s one of the most easy to access monthly books I’ve ever read. Sure you might enjoy the books even more if you know about some of the world and characters (like the Tracksuit Draculas that Clint fights in issue #3) but it's simply not a prerequisite to know about any of it. The book stands easily on its own.
The premise is simple, the character cast is small, and the themes are infinitely relatable.
3. It's Damn Funny
Some of the greatest comic books ever made are incredibly dark and have little to no sense of humor. I love a “grim and gritty” book as much as the next comic book reader, but it can be a real relief to read a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Fraction and Aja manage to make Hawkeye incredibly fun, and frequently hilarious, without ever making it feel slight or insignificant. Fraction has created distinct voices for Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and Kate Bishop (also Hawkeye) that are funny and self-deprecating in the best of ways. They have a chemistry that you see in only the best writing. I've seen some comments that Fraction's Clint is not a Clint longtime fans recognize, and I can't speak to that as someone fairly disinterested in the character prior to this book, but I will say that what is being done here is perfectly consistent within itself, and an absolute joy to read. But it's not just the voices that are so enjoyable, the situations Clint and Kate find themselves in have retro, almost classic feels to them, but with a modern spin. Take for example the panel seen in the header for this column, of covering up Clint's very modern nakedness with a classic "Hawkeye head" censor image. The whole book has that sense of adventure and fun about it.
It's terribly refreshing.
4. Smart Solutions
One of the single most devastating things that happens to ongoing monthly comic books is that just as they get going, there’s a creative team switch, usually in the form of a guest artist. This can completely throw off the rhythm, tone, and momentum of a book. Smart publishers, editors, and creative teams, account for these things that will inevitably happen and plan accordingly. When it comes to Hawkeye, already at issue #4 the book needed a guest artist. But rather than ignore that reality and scramble to find someone that wouldn’t fit with the book, it was planned from the beginning that artist Javier Pulido would come in and do a two-issue arc (issues #4 and #5). Not only a phenomenally talented artist in his own right, Pulido has a style and sense of pacing that fits perfectly with what Fraction and Aja are already doing. This way Pulido can effortlessly join the book without any dip in quality, Aja can get the break he needs (or more accurately, get ahead on the next issues), and the book never loses a step. It’s smart comic book making 101.
As mentioned above, one of the best things about the book is that it feels both retro and modern at the same time. Aja's simple, graphic visuals have a modern feel to them while his perfectly paced storytelling has the quality of older comics - a focus on character, action, and clarity that is sometimes lost in modern comics in lieu of flashy effects. Simultaneously, Fraction's characters and sense of humor are distinctly modern, but the capers Hawkeye finds himself involved in are deceptively simple, and almost innocent in their conceit. Issue #3 of Hawkeye is essentially a giant car chase book. However, it also manages to be funny (of course), say a ton about the relationship between Clint and Kate, introduce a romantic interest/complication for Clint, and give a hilarious look deep into Clint's quiver of arrows - showing off everything from the "putty arrow" to the "suction arrow," and using the "useless" "boomerang arrow" as a bookend for an issue. A small device that pays off hugely. If you're not left with a smile plastered across your face when the the "boomerang bit" pays off, this is not the comic for you.
Obviously not everyone has the same taste. Some people will find this book slight; I find it anything but, and it is in competition to be the best book I'm reading right now, superhero or not. If what you see here sounds like it’s up your alley, give it a try. You can buy single print issues on Amazon (for a very high price - see below), cheaper 2nd and 3rd printings of the issues at Midtown Comics, or digital issues on Comixology. Issue #4 was released on 11/21, part one of a two-part story by Fraction and Pulido, after which David Aja returns. If you can’t afford the singles, don’t read digital, and don’t mind waiting, the first trade has been solicited for February, though if you end up liking it as much as I do you’ll curse yourself for waiting that long.
So this is the book. Read it. You’ll come back and thank me, I promise.
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