Let me start by laying out one simple fact: I love this book. LOVE IT. I’ve run hot and cold on Matt Fraction; his run on Iron Man was mostly very strong, I liked a lot of his run on Uncanny X-Men (despite Greg Land’s art), and his run on Iron Fist has become the stuff of legend. But then he wrote Fear Itself, and that wasn’t fun for anybody. But when he decided to take on Hawkeye, reuniting with ‘Immortal Iron Fist’ artist David Aja, I felt like this would be one to keep an eye on. Oh boy, was I right.
Hawkeye #5 is the conclusion of the book’s first multi-part story, a two parter called ‘The Tape’. If you missed the first part, here’s where we’re at: Clint Barton has been sent to Madripoor by S.H.I.E.L.D. to recover a tape which just happens to be a video recording of a political assassination carried out by Clint in costume as Hawkeye. Of course, this doesn’t go according to plan and Clint ends up captured and about to be murdered by a group of ninjas, with the tape in the hands of Madame Masque. But the plot thickens when we see that Madame Masque has in fact been captured herself and is being impersonated by Barton’s protégé Kate Bishop.
So, that brings us up to speed. Now the big question: is this issue any good?
On of the main criticisms levelled at the last issue was the absence of David Aja from art duties. Instead it and this issue are pencilled by Javier Pulido, who will be alternating arcs with Aja on the book. I’m a big fan of Aja – he is literally half the reason I jumped on this book – but I have to say that Pulido’s style is similar enough to complement Fraction’s writing in the same way that Aja’s does. Matt Hollingsworth’s vivid, blocky colouring help give a consistent feel to the overall look of the book despite the different pencillers. He seems to keep his colours per panel to a minimum, and there’s some great use of silhouettes that really make the characters pop off the page at key moments. This book is so removed from the visual style of so many other mainstream superhero books. There’s a very pleasing scratch to the lines, a roughness to the visuals that is simultaneously reminiscent of ‘Scott Pilgrim’-esque indie cartooning and the early Marvel masters Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.
Another strong visual motif of the book that is really taken to new heights here is that Fraction and his art team use sound effects and onomatopoeia. In fact, I don’t think I can use the word “onomatopiea” to describe what appears in Hawkeye #5. I’m going to create a new word, and the word is “pun-omatopiea”. There are some fabulous uses of this in here, more than one that made me giggle: Clint shattering a window with “KGLASSSSS” or him and Kate kicking down a door with “FOOTOOMP”… this issue definitely carries that vein of humour that has been running through the series so far. Which is no surprise as Matt Fraction is a pretty funny guy.
So, Fraction’s writing… Here he strikes a very nice balance between fun, mayhem, and a look into Clint’s psyche. Hawkeye is one of a subset of characters that I personally find fascinating: the non-powered gimmick guy. Like his DC counterpart, Green Arrow, The Punisher, or even Batman, Hawkeye is a regular guy trying to hold his own in a world of Mutants, Monsters and even Gods. He doesn’t have Green Arrow or Batman’s funding, but he does have great aim. That’s his gimmick – he never misses. But even so, Fraction’s Clint Barton is a hero constantly out of his depth. He’s captured, beaten, takes a jump from a high-rise window, and even gets a John McClane-style broken glass/lack of shoes moment. What Fraction does here is similar to what I like so much about Spider-Man: he shows us Clint’s inner doubt, his fear of failure. But whereas Spider-Man has the super-strength to back up his super-determination, Clint has only his wits, a bow, a gimmicky arrow and his fists. I liked Hawkeye as a character before Fraction came along, but Fraction has made me love him.
What’s also great about this issue, and again a continuing theme of the series, is the interplay between the two Hawkeyes: Clint Barton and Kate Bishop. There’s always something pleasing about seeing an older hero teaching the younger generation. It’s why Batman and Robin works, and Wolverine’s fatherly tutelage of characters like Kitty Pryde, Jubilee and Armor is my favourite aspect of his character. But Clint and Kate’s relationship here is a little different. While still protective of her, there’s a sense (to me at least) of Clint viewing Kate as more of an equal than a sidekick or a student. They’re partners, Hawkeye and Hawkeye. Clint gets in over his head constantly in Fraction’s interpretation, and Kate’s the perfect person to pull him out of the fire. Here she faces down Madame Masque and Kingpin, not villains to be trifled with, without so much as a blink. She seems to revel in it, and serves as a mirror to the older Hawkeye, a reflection of Clint without his self-doubt. As Clint himself said back in #2, “She’s pretty great.”
There’s a manic energy to this issue, a fitting second half to last issue’s more restrained set up. Fraction takes Clint and Kate on a pretty wild ride, although a certain character’s appearance seems a little convenient, but it keeps the story moving along at a nice enough pace for me to almost forgive it. I know there was some concern over Clint’s seeming willingness to murder in the previous issue. I will say that Fraction addresses that matter here. Without wishing to spoil the events of the issue, Fraction remains true to the history of Hawkeye, and consistent with Clint’s previous characterisation.
In fact, “consistent” is a pretty good way to describe Hawkeye. Although some people have missed David Aja for the last two issues (rest easy True Believers, he’s back next issue), I feel like this book is going from strength to strength. At once recalling the best of Silver Age Marvel whilst also embracing more modern methods of comics storytelling, Hawkeye continues to be a book that you should be reading. It’s a great action book that doesn’t wear it’s superhero heart on it’s sleeve, and if Fraction and his art team can continue to bring their A-game to the title, it’ll be a book that you’ll be reading for a while.