In Praise of… Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye

Hawkeye is a rubbish character.

He’s possibly the second best ‘Modern Day Robin Hood’ character in comics. Green Arrow wins that one, as they often paint him as a curmudgeonly socialist, in keeping with where he was lovingly ripped off from.

Hawkeye is at the fringes of the Avengers, and I suspect that this book was only comissioned because he was a character in the multi trillion pound film. And yet accidentally, Marvel have allowed it to become the most visually distinctive, and most entertaining books coming out right now.

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This cracks me up every issue

So I was sad to learn that Matt Fraction and David Aja are moving on next March. It seems they have hired a good team to take over, Jeff Lemire has put out some stunning comics in recent years, Sweet Tooth and Animal Man being two I’d strongly recommend. But this book, even on a bad month, has stood head and shoulders above the other books published each month.

How did it get this good? Firstly, the focus is different to most of the books coming out. Rather than six issue arcs of “THIS IS GOING TO BE THE END OF THE WORLD THIS TIME. NOT LIKE LAST TIME WHEN IT ALL TURNED OUT OKAY. THE ACTUAL END OF THE WORLD oh wait it’s okay“, Hawkeye focuses on Clint Barton’s more pedestrian troubles. A developer is being underhand and trying to get rid of his apartment block, a place full of colourful characters. The sort of small thing you could feasibly fix with a bow and arrow. The plot is ongoing, but most of the time the individual story is an issue or two long, so you’re never really at risk of buying an issue and being completely lost.

It also makes it’s locations loom large as characters in the story. A weakness of Marvel’s world over DC’s is that, in America at least (9 out of 10 UKIP voters believe Latveria is a real place), it uses real world locations, which are usually the same tired clichés you’ve seen in a thousand Hollywood films. In this book, however, Brooklyn is a hipster paradise, and angular and you can feel an energy popping off the pages, where in contrast, LA is full of warm colours, and feels lazy, and laid back. Clearly, a lot more thought than the usual ‘It’s New York, draw skyscrapers’ has gone into this, and it works.

And the art plays a huge part in this. The book, is gorgeous, inside and out. You could frame any front cover from this series, and it would look good on your wall. And inside, the art is simple enough that the team can keep to a fortnightly schedule, but bursting with real character from clean, minimal lines, and a fairly simple palette. David Aja deserves to be one of the biggest names in comics, I know I would now buy a book on his name alone, on the strength of the art in this series.

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But most of all, the stories they tell are incredible. The overarching plot, about Clint Barton learning to be a better, more well adjusted person, and to look after his friends is great, and the second Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, learning to be an adult in that painful way you do in your early 20’s is told so well, but three individual stories stick out as reasons to buy this book. These stories (with the possible exception of the first) break so many rules of what should be in a superhero comic, and are a joy to read for the first time. From third best to best, they are;

The Hurricane Sandy one (issue #7)

Put together in no time at all, to raise money for the repair effort after Hurricane Sandy, the issue was both a deserved breather after an emotionally tense issue, and a love letter to the city that gives the book so much of it’s life. And it even finds time to say something you rarely hear from New Yorkers;

hawkeye7b“Recording Tape” (Issue #16)

The first comic to realise the alchemy in combining superheroes with the strange story of The Beach Boys, through Brian Wilson analog, Will Bryson (HA!), the love clearly held for their music sings through the pages, with it’s references to the legendary SMiLE album sessions. But it still manages to tell an exciting story too, rather than just revel in the novelty of the subject matter. Both are equally well served, and it creates a reading experience you could not get anywhere else.

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Pizza Dog (issue #11)

Silent issues have been done before. I’m fairly sure Marvel did a whole month of them once. Silent issues from the perspective of a dog which turn out to be one of the most emotionally heart wrenching things you’ve ever read? I’m fairly sure they’re a rare deal. Told from the perspective of Pizza Dog, a dog that resides in the Brooklyn apartment block the series centres round, and following a particularly nasty murder, the issue uses the panels, and simple pictograms to convey what the dog understands. The plot is a microcosm of the classic detective film, ending with the dog solving the murder. The manner in which this is done uses conventions of comics reading in ingenious ways, and you have to work to follow it. Because of this, you are drawn wholesale into the story in a way that could only ever exist in a comic book, and that is truly the magic of this book summed up.

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If you have read this book already, then you will know why I wrote this. If you haven’t, you can get all three collected volumes of what has been released thus far for about £6 each. They are so worth it. This is a book that deserves the reputation of Watchmen, or Saga, and the fact it can do this, while existing in the world of the spandex superhero is an incredible achievement.

And to leave on a note that I couldn’t shoehorn into the article, Matt Fraction seems a lovely chap too, judging by this tender and funny reply he wrote to a reader who was considering suicide. Like most of his stuff, it’s probably the best thing you’ll read all day.

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