Several months ago when Hawkeye was released, I was quite glad. How glad? I gave issue #1 some enormous praise, as I felt that Matt Fraction captured the essence of the character: he was an Avenger and he proved it. I enjoyed issue #3 as well, but felt that it was a little detached from what was going on with the character in the remainder of the Marvel Universe. (I did read issue #2; I just never reviewed it.) Now we arrive at issue #4, the first half of a 2-part story entitled “The Tape”. And I will be a bit honest… I was a bit outraged, and not in a good way. But I have to look at the book from various angles.
So what happened? It turns out there was a video tape (quite literally – you can see on the cover the VHS tape that is referred to here) which shows Hawkeye killing someone with arrows through that individual’s eyes into his brain. (We know the individual is dead because of the question posed by Kate Bishop, “You ever kill anybody, Clint?”.) Clint then has a sit-down with Captain America and Maria Hill to discuss the tape, which evidently he and S.H.I.E.L.D. knew about and was the organization’s responsibility to keep quiet about. Somehow, the tape got out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. vault and made its way to an auction block in Madripoor, which as any Marvelite knows is the Marvel Universe’s equivalent to the Mos Eisley Cantina. Clint decides to take it upon himself to retrieve the tape and heads to Madripoor to see who else wants the video. Once arriving, he is kidnapped by some various goons and comes to face to face with Madame Masque, who is trying to determine why Hawkeye is there. He reveals his master plan: use a S.H.I.E.L.D. credit card and buy the tape back. This takes Madame Masque by surprise, and she lets Clint live, albeit trussed up so he cannot attend the auction. It turns out the buyers are well-known to Marvelites – Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk, the Mandarin, Madame Hydra… it’s a veritable villainous who’s who, missing only Doctor Doom. Masque wins the auction and proceeds back to her room, presumably to view the tape, where we see … Well, that’s for you, the reader, to discover.
First, what was good. As a more noir-style tale, this was good. Take a character who embodies the term hero and show his dark side, show him making a mistake. It happens; he’s human (well, at least this hero is). Matt Fraction has done a great job in personalizing Clint Barton and making him the everyday-man’s hero. He lives among them, he has no powers… He’s someone that anyone can aspire to be, as his talent is his skill. The story flows well, and at least it’s done as a 2-parter instead of trying to force it all into a single issue, which would definitely seem forced. Clint’s embarrassment and worry when it is discovered the tape is leaked is definitely within character and the artwork around that scene is done well. Speaking of artwork, the simplicity of David Aja’s cover art is sublime, yet again. He shows the minimalist approach again here and it works to a tee. Hawkeye has had some of the most brilliant and beautiful covers I have seen in a long time.
Now for what could have been better. The interior art for this issue was not done by Aja, but instead by Javier Pulido. I am not saying it was bad, but there were some spots which really didn’t do it for me and actually served as a detriment. For example, page 8 has Clint leaning forward to talk to a cab driver with his arm extended. His arm looks… off, almost as if it is off-joint and broken, sitting at a bad angle (as you can see to the right). Page 12 is similar, with some goons lifting Clint off the ground but he looks more floating than lifted. Don’t get me wrong – overall the artwork was great and I do like Pulido’s style (which is reminiscent of 1960s Marvel – take that as a HUGE compliment) but those few panels looked off. That’s why I did not say bad, just what could have been better. I look forward to Pulido’s work in future as I do like his style; perhaps this issue was a bit rushed, I don’t know.
But where is the outrage? This is directed at Mr. Fraction. I’ve publicly stated that I’m a long time fan of Hawkeye. I mean, a long time fan. So why the outrage? Although we saw Hawkeye embarrassed about killing someone and it getting out, he wasn’t angry enough. I mean, how much did he flip out on Mockingbird when she didn’t kill someone but let a man fall to his death back in West Coast Avengers? He went ballistic! It brought him to the verge of divorce, which lasted as a mainstay throughout the remainder of that book. Here? He shrugs it off. This is not Clint Barton – at least not the one who’s been portrayed since the 1960s. This is a new Barton, which very well could be after the House of M and his return from the dead. But I don’t think that’s it. I mean, this book (only 4 issues in) has shown Clint as a womanizing guy, but we’ve never seen him like that before; in fact, we’ve seen him to be one of the most loyal characters to whomever he is with (and currently he is with Spider-Woman in the pages of Avengers). This isn’t his DC counterpart Oliver Queen; Clint Barton is a man loyal to his beliefs and his team, and in his personal life his team includes one Jessica Drew. I think Fraction needs to go look at where else the character currently is and where he has been and get a sense of that before continuing as I just cannot see this as Clint Barton. (I’ll be posting some additional comments on characterization and back story in future as I see many writers either ignoring or not paying attention to what has previously occurred…)
As I said earlier, as a standalone story, I enjoyed it. Had I not been as familiar with the character, I wouldn’t have had issue with the story on its own, but as a long-time Hawkeye fan I have some concerns. I cannot give this issue a great review because of this, which is too bad because I did enjoy it. This change in Clint is too drastic to be a simple growth of the character, which is why I may end up dropping the book in future. But I really don’t want to. I know there has to be some leeway to tell a good story, but if the character who stars in the book is not himself… There are concerns.