There are many ways to tell a story — it can be spoken, written, sung, acted out — but what makes comics unique is that they combine skillful storytelling (if done right) with skillful artwork. More and more, I find it is the art that attracts me to a comic book over the plot. And when I saw a few examples of Aja and, later, Pulido’s work online, I knew I had to pick up this first collection, regardless of who it stars.
As if to further deter me, I was never too keen on writer Matt Fraction. His run on The Mighty Thor was never more than “okay” to me, and I thought Fear Itself was a mess. But the art pulled me stronger, and I’m glad it did. I’m tempted to say that this is the type of fun, slick, smart story that superhero comics should do more often, but A) there’s actually a lot more of these types of story than cynics would like to admit, and B) it hardly feels like a superhero series at all. And that’s not a bad thing.
Weapon shows us Clint Barton in his downtime. Between getting caught up in organised crime and international espionage, we get a more fully rounded portrait of the Avenger. Fraction gives Clint’s trademark humour just enough of an edge to stop it being tacky, and makes him very relatable and human. Even when other superheroes do show it, it feels much more like a down-to-earth spy adventure.
“Adventure” being the perfect word to describe it. When not dealing with deceptively engaging drama, this series is all go. Breakneck chases, grounded fight scenes, and the stunning visuals make this one of the best action series out there right now, with plenty of very amusing comedy too. Fraction and the artists work perfectly together with pacing and angles to create just the right tone for each moment.
Kate Bishop, a one-time Hawkeye herself, also stars in a supporting role, and Fraction again does an excellent job of fleshing her out and making her more than just another hanger-on. The relationship between her and Clint is teased, but in a realistic, lampshaded way that speaks to the reader on the level and does not become a distraction. We see her more for the professional she is, and her and Clint are a triumph to watch in action together.
But yes, the real stars here are the artists, complimented beautifully, inescapably by colourist Matt Hollingsworth. Aja’s work on the first three issues has the hint of Michael Lark about it; striking and atmospheric, with a great display of body language and movement. He adds a further depth to these characters, but also captures a moment amazingly, the first page being a spectacular example: Hawkeye suspended in mid-air, much like a shot from the Avengers film, glass raining down around him, bow aimed, arrow loosed. We really feel the gravity (pun intended) of the situation and yet Hawkeye’s calm at the same time. There are many such “in the moment” panels in this collection.
While Pulido is looser and does not do faces as well, I feel that this lack of rigidity creates some more relaxed body language in his characters, especially Clint, and a freer-flowing dynamic to some fast scenes. He definitely captures the same bold, strong style of Aja, and has the same skill in creating those little moments.
If anything, I now think Hawkeye works better solo, calling the shots himself, with no one to play off of. To my own surprise, I find myself excited for this next volume, and not just because of the art. Although that helps.
(This collection also comes with Young Avengers Presents #6, also written by Fraction with art by Alan Davis, in which Kate meets Clint for the first time. To be brief; it is not as remarkable as the main issues here.)