Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hawkeye? Yes, Hawkeye!

For some time, now, we have been hearing friendly murmurs about Marvel's ongoing Hawkeye series.  People said it was good -- very good, even great.

Frankly, this seemed unlikely.

Hawkeye is, and we are putting this charitably, the lamest of the classic Avengers roster.  He suffers from what you could call "the Batman syndrome," meaning that on a team filled with Norse gods, super soldiers, witches and robots, Hawkeye is ... just a guy.  He doesn't even have Batman's bazillion dollars, fast car and psychologically intense backstory.  All he has is a longbow and a quiver full of trick arrows, mostly borrowed from Green Arrow.

Because Hawkeye was created by Stan Lee, he does have one useful possession: a seething cauldron of anxiety, ready to overwhelm him at any moment.  This includes a difficult relationship with his father-figure, a one-time criminal called the Swordsman, which probably explains his early hostility toward Captain America.  He's also had some bad luck in love.  First he fell for the Black Widow, who led him into a life of crime, and then for the Scarlet Witch, who preferred to date an intangible android.

Oh, it's not that bad.  Compared to the psychological profiles of Bruce Wayne, Matt Murdock or even Tony Stark, Clint Barton is a model of mental health.  He could get by with a low dose of Lexapro, while those guys probably would shrug off electroshock.  Still, his angst gives writers something to work with.

And as it turns out, Matt Fraction is the sort of writer who can make the most of what you give him.

We'd seen this in Fraction's work on Iron Man a couple of years ago.  He wrote a Tony Stark who was brilliant and flawed -- the Stan Lee inheritance, with the Robert Downey bad attitude  -- but also somber, self-aware, and a little sad.  ("You can bring me back to life," Fraction's Stark told his friends in a recorded message.  "But before you do, I want you to ask yourselves whether that's something you really want."  They seemed conflicted.) It was a brilliant run, one of our very favorite recent comics arcs.

But we figured maybe it was a one-off.  Maybe Fraction just has an eye for Tony Stark.  Maybe he's just good at science fiction heroes, the way Frank Miller is good at ninjas.  That's what we were thinking.

Nope.  Fraction's Hawkeye is a funny, sweet, human guy, vulnerable both physically and emotionally.  He depends on his partner Kate Bishop, who may be a better archer and is certainly smarter.  He lives in a slum apartment building and tries to watch out for his neighbors, which somehow entails getting shot at, thrown through windows and generally beaten up. He is, in other words a classic noir hero, kinder than Spade and humbler than Spenser.  A classic noir hero who happens to use a bow and arrow and, occasionally, hang out with gods, robots and super-soldiers.

We're just digging into this series, but we can already recommend it highly.  The writing is clever and touching, the art (by David Aja and a variety of other talented people) shows a deliberate simplicity, a la Alex Toth, that rebukes the current fad for over-production exemplified by Jim Lee's many imitators.

If you like comics, buy Hawkeye.

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