Delay after delay kept it out of our hands for months, but with last week’s release of Hawkeye #22, Matt Fraction and David Aja’s spectacular series has come to a close. While it’s nice to finally read the end, it’s with a twinge of sadness: we’ll miss this Hawkeye an awful lot. Here’s just six reasons why.
While Fraction might currently be riding the high of his excellent series Sex Criminals at the moment, his time as a writer for Marvel Comics features some of the company’s most impressive recent comics—perhaps most notable Immortal Iron Fist, but also Fantastic Four and a run on Uncanny X-Men. But Hawkeye will always stand out at some of the snappiest, smartest writing he’s ever done for Marvel.
Fraction’s work throughout the series defines Hawkeye’s relative breeziness, a flow that goes through everything from Clint’s internal thoughts to Kate and Clint’s snappy, snarky tête-à-têtes. It’s a comic that is at times quite sparse with its dialogue, giving it a punchiness, a sort of immediacy that leaps of the page—and it’s dialogue that’s not just a pleasure to read but quite often an absolute hoot. Hawkeye is often a funny character, but Fraction nails it to give us one of the quippiest takes on the Avenging Archer there’s ever been, but tempers it with some particularly touching and troubling moments (the early two-part story “The Tape”, in which SHIELD tasks Hawkeye with securing leaked video evidence of a certain hero assassinating a terrorist) that rounds out the character to make him less of a joke machine and more of an actual, relatable human. Fraction is just as comfortable writing zingers as he is exploring what makes Clint Barton tick in a way very few writers have successfully managed to do with the character in a while (thankfully, Jeff Lemire has at least kept some of that tone in Hawkeye’s follow up series, All-New Hawkeye, which began earlier this year).
Not many writers could make a gang of Russian mobsters who punctuate their speech with “Bro” every few words be both legitimately menacing and frequently hilarious. But Matt Fraction does, and it’s pretty much emblematic of the action-comedy tone this run of Hawkeye completely nails.
Part of the reason Marvel began a new Hawkeye solo series in 2012 was to capitalize on the character’s appearance in The Avengers that year, a movie all about grandiose scale and superheroic feats. But Hawkeye was pretty much the exact opposite, which made it incredibly refreshing and fascinating to read. Hawkeye was jam-packed with action, but it was almost entirely with mobsters and henchmen, never supervillains. The main thrust of the overarching storyline wasn’t the end of the world or a gigantic evil plot—it was Clint Barton protecting the residents of his apartment block from the Russian Mafia. Heck, even right down to Hawkeye’s stripped down redesign, one of the first permanent major costume changes for the character in his entire history, Hawkeye grounded itself in a sense of normalcy, tucked away from the world of Avengers and superpowers.
I’ve argued before that characters with that human normalcy are essential to superhero teams—but Hawkeye proves that they’re just as compelling to read when they’re the main focus. Hawkeye is just as much about Clint Barton’s place in a world where he stands alongside Captain America or Thor on an equal pegging, and how that can impact on someone who doesn’t have any powers as it is about being your typical comic book story of good versus evil and right versus wrong. It’s just as comfortable with small-scale intimacy as it is with globetrotting adventures, and if anything, it’s more familiar there.
It even applies to the brief appearances of other comic book superheroes in the comics—Spider-Man, Wolverine, Spider-Woman, Mockingbird and many more all make appearances but only a handful are there for super-powered backup: they’re there as their alter-egos, as normal people rather than heroes. Hell, look at that panel up there—the focus isn’t on Hawkeye, Spidey and Wolverine teaming up to fight AIM soldiers, in fact much of that battle happens off-panel: the focus is on three friends hanging out and discussing the season finale of Dog Cops. If anything, that normality, that human side of the superhuman, is what sits at the heart of Hawkeye and makes it so special.
It should be telling how much I love the art of Hawkeye that I spent an exorbitant amount of time trying to find a single sequence of panels that communicated exactly why I liked it—not because that there weren’t many, but because it was frankly impossible to find a single one.
David Aja—with help from a variety of artists including the likes of Javier Pulido, Annie Wu, Francesco Francavilla, and more over the course of the 22 issue run—defined a frequently breathtaking art style for Hawkeye that made it just as pleasurable to look at as it was to read (few comics are just as intriguing to get textless previews of than Hawkeye ever was). Aja’s bold, thick detail lines contrasted with his minimalist detailing—a refreshing aesthetic in an age where mainstream comics from Marvel and DC focus on increasing realism and hyper-detail—to create a gorgeous look, and that minimalism combined with Aja’s masterful visual storytelling that was just as brisk at conveying action as it was at dialogue. Hawkeye lept off the page and oozed with style in every issue.
It’s also rare that colorists get a nod when discussing comics, but to discuss Hawkeye and not Matt Hollingsworth would be a grave error indeed. Aja’s line work is beautifully accompanied by a muted, slightly washed out color palette that heavily leans on different shades of purple—naturally, being the color of choice for Hawkeye—interspersed with vivid, bright tones. It’s a fantastic combination of subtlety and comic book sharpness that works perfectly with the art to create a truly brilliant looking comic.
And what does that vivid, minimalist art style culminate in? Perhaps one of the best standalone comics Marvel have put out in recent memory, focused on Hawkeye’s real star: Pizza Dog, a.k.a. Lucky.
Early on in Hawkeye’s first issue Clint rescues Lucky, a partially blind dog owned by the Russian mobsters accosting Clint’s fellow tenants, but Lucky comes to the fore at the series’ halfway point in Hawkeye #11: An issue told entirely from the dog’s perspective. “Pizza Dog In: Pizza Is My Business” really highlights Aja’s minimalist visual storytelling—there are a handful of actual words of dialogue in the entire issue, catches of sentences and words Lucky understands when he hears people talk around him, but most of the storytelling comes from the artwork itself, following Lucky as he, without ether Hawkeye, discovers a dead body on the rooftop of the apartment block.
Playing with art and color to represent the perspective of a colorblind animal while telling a gripping mystery tale, Hawkeye #11 remains as one of the most unique comics Marvel has ever released. Hawkeye was already a unique enough series at the time, without dedicating an issue to an avant-garde story told entirely from the perspective of a dog with a penchant for pizza. What other series can do that?
Hawkeye as a title was a bit of a misnomer if you solely thought it represented Clint Barton: Kate Bishop served as a fantastic foil to the slightly goofier Clint.
For all his quippy charm, Kate served as the slightly more serious character who frequently cut through Clint’s bullshit (usually to help him, but just as often to snark at him), and even at times provide some metatextual commentary to the frequently ridiculous events she and Clint found themselves in. And if Clint Barton was meant to represent a human hero who worried about his fallibility and his frequent ability to turn simple situations into ridiculously dangerous pratfalls, Kate was the opposite: She was the Hawkeye full of confidence, the hero that got stuff done when it needed to. It even played out like that visually—Kate’s action sequences were typically clean, precise, simple, while Clint often found himself flailing around up close and in the mess. Both in terms of action and character, they were essentially two halves of one Hawkeye.
Although her appearances in Young Avengers are essential Kate Bishop reading, Hawkeye was as much about Kate as it was Clint, one of comic’s best duos—a relationship that flitted between mentor and mentée, best friends and frequently weirdly romantic (despite the fact both agreeing that there was never even a remote chance of that ever happening) and remained thoroughly compelling to witness throughout the series.
I’ve already mentioned what an excellent job Hawkeye did with fleshing out Clint Barton as the badass normal of the Marvel world, but it really is what made Hawkeye such a brilliant read, what made it stand out as a comic series. Marvel loves itself an everyman hero—just look at the enduring success of Spider-Man to see reader falling in love with relatable, ordinary people. Fraction and Aja channelled that everyman persona into Clint Barton for Hawkeye, and it highlighted what made the character so important at a time when, thanks to The Avengers movie, many were just mocking him for being “the guy with the bow.” Hawkeye uncovered the man behind the bow, and showed us how interesting he could be.
But for all its emphasis on Hawkeye’s humanity, Hawkeye also frequently championed Clint Barton’s right to a place alongside the superheroes of the Avengers, and how their influence had shaped him into a better person—as he says himself in the panel above, you can’t help but be a good person when you’re next to Captain America all day. Clint may not have superpowers, but he has the conviction, the sense of justice and right and wrong, that makes him worth of being an Avenger. If anything, the frequent reminders of his fragility helped emphasis what a hero he was.
Fraction, Aja and company gave us a Clint Barton that was the star for once, rather than the support—and yet even as the hero, Hawkeye was deeply, resoundingly ordinary: he was human, and in a world of supersoldiers, mutants and gods, that was fascinating to experience.