Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

12 April 2013

Hawkeye, v. 1: My Life as a Weapon

Collects: Hawkeye #1-5 and Young Avengers Presents #6 (2008, 2012-3)

Released: March 2013 (Marvel)

Format: 136 pages / color / $16.99 / ISBN: 9780785165620

What is this?: Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and Kate Bishop (Hawkeye) team up to fight crime.

The culprits: Writer Matt Fraction and artists David Aja, Javier Pulido, and Alan Davis

Sometimes you want a break from big, event-driven comics. Something fun, lighthearted, with a lot of action. Hawkeye, v. 1: My Life as a Weapon fits that bill.

In Hawkeye, once and future Hawkeye Clint Barton enlists Kate Bishop, a teenage archer who also goes by Hawkeye, to fight crime. Clint is an amiable, normal guy, except for his facility with arrows: no super-strength, no super-intelligence, no powers, getting into scrapes partially by accident and partially through investigation. Clint’s lack of superpowers and seat-of-the-pants, haphazard superheroic style makes him more human and likeable than many superheroes.

Hawkeye, v. 1: My Life as a Weapon coverWriter Matt Fraction‘s Clint has a great many similarities to the Iron Fist Fraction wrote in the The Immortal Iron Fist. Both are normal humans who have succeeded by extreme dedication to a martial art; both are rich; both are driven by a goofy dedication to morality but not the law; both lead with their chins rather than putting a great deal of thought into planning. Common enough characteristics in comics, I suppose, but somewhat worryingly, the characters have a similar internal voice as well: self-deprecating and humorous, as if to say superheroics aren’t as serious as others make it out to be.

Despite the frequent violence, Fraction maintains a lighthearted tone throughout. Clint’s mockery his own lack of planning and mistakes is a regular feature of his narration. Kate, of course, mocks the older Hawkeye. Rather than provide translation of non-English or garbled dialogue, Fraction fills the speech bubble with Clint’s guesses as to what the language is or what he hears instead of words. Instead of blacking out obscenities or using typographical chicken tracks instead, Fraction substitutes descriptive phrases such as “derogatory patriarchal epithet” and “slang for male genitalia.”

Fraction is not a writer who helps the reader decipher the plot. He’s more concerned with hooking readers with action and intrigue than making the story read smoothly. Present and past are frequently intercut, and Fraction begins the first three issues in media res. (Issues #4 and 5 are told linearly, though, and the result is much more comprehensible.) Fraction does not bother to explain the status quo: why Clint has a boatload of money, why Kate is no longer with the Young Avengers or romantically with former teammate Eli Bradley, whether the injuries Clint suffers at the beginning of #1 are a reference to another story. As to the latter, probably not, but that makes it confusing; why does Fraction bother to inflict such injuries without connecting them or Clint’s recovery to anything else? Footnotes, which might have answered some of these questions, are nonexistent.

Perhaps Fraction will explain these danglers later. If so, they are only a few of the many ideas Fraction teases as being important. Hobo code, an acolyte of Clint’s former teacher, and a mysterious redhead are among the plot points Fraction picks up and puts down again almost as quickly. Admittedly, the redhead is in an entire issue, but she’s enigmatic, around long enough as a character only for a quick hookup — random sex that portrays Clint as dangerous? unpredictable? sexually desirable? And then there’s the weird, squicky sexual tension between Kate and Clint that I hope Fraction drops immediately and never acknowledges again.

David Aja’s art on the first three issues is one of the book’s big draws. Whereas Fraction’s writing sometimes left me scratching my head, Aja’s art is almost always clear. (Sometimes too clear: the book makes a big deal of Avengers not killing, but that’s hard to reconcile with the injuries Kate’s arrows inflict and the havoc Clint’s shots cause.) Aja’s art isn’t the sharp, larger-than-life style that gets a great deal of attention, but it’s great for telling the story and setting the tone. My favorite trick was a series of small headshots of Kate, each with one letter of dialogue beneath it, framing panels of Clint shooting three arrows at once; it shows how quickly Clint can take a difficult — improbable — shot. On a sillier note, I laughed at the drawing of Hawkeye’s face with his traditional headgear (not worn in My Life) Aja uses to conceal Clint’s naked crotch instead of a black dot or blur during a fight scene.

Javier Pulido’s art on #4 and 5 isn’t as evocative or distinctive as Aja’s, but it’s still very good. Pulido’s work is frequently reminiscent of Jack Kirby’s, but it also contains elements Darwyn Cooke’s art as well. Pulido is not as clear as Aja, but he does action scenes well, and his style is well suited for the crime story at the heart of his two issues. Pulido doesn’t make much of the exotic Madripoor setting, but that’s partially because Fraction sets most of the issues indoor.

Young Avengers Presents #6, which is tonally and visually discordant with the rest of the book, is included as the last issue in the collection. The issue is drawn by Alan Davis, and his work looks nothing like Aja’s or Pulido’s: his work is slick, fluid, with characters’ expressions and bodies occasionally exaggerated. Fraction writes the story, but the characters’ roles are completely different: Clint is “dressing like a ninja,” and Kate is trying to determine what she wants her relationship with Eli Bradley to be. The plot doesn’t connect to the rest of the book in any way except to establish the two Hawkeyes know each other. In fact, it raises questions about Kate and Patriot’s relationship and her team affiliation the book does not answer. Perhaps it’s for the best; the final issue in the collection would have been a rotten place to establish the status quo, anyway.

Despite the book’s problems — and there are problems, however much this book has been lavished with praise — it’s inherent likeability makes it worth reading. I’m willing to give Hawkeye a second look, and I’ll be reading Little Hits when it comes out.

Rating: Avengers symbol Avengers symbol Avengers symbol  symbol (3.5 of 5)

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