Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: David Aja
Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: Aja (regular)/Adi Granov and Pasqual Ferry (variant covers)
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $2.99 US
It’s been two months since Marvel Studios released its box-office behemoth Avengers flick, so I’m surprised the publisher waited this long to get a new series featuring Hawkeye, a key character in the movie, on the stands. Marvel has never really known what to do with the character. Past attempts to launch ongoing titles quickly fizzled. After reading Marvel’s latest version of Hawkeye #1, I have high hopes for this kick at the can… at least as long as this creative team is attached to it. Writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja, reuniting a few years after their successful and acclaimed work on The Immortal Iron Fist, don’t disappoint. They take some real risks here. The title character only appears in costume and only wields his bow on the first two pages. There are no super-villains to be found here. What’s more, there’s really no crime committed that spurs the hero into action. Instead, Fraction’s script presents the Avenger as being a down-to-earth, well-meaning screw-up who’s pretty much always in over his head.
When he’s not traipsing around the world fighting cosmic bad guys with the Avengers, Hawkeye, AKA Clint Barton, spends his downtime in a modest Brooklyn apartment, occasionally sharing barbecue with neighbors on the roof. He lives a surprisingly understated life for such a normally bombastic guy, but it’s comfortable and he likes it. But it’s about to be unsettled thanks to a bully of a landlord with an agenda. By tripling the rent, he’s forcing his tenants out onto the street, with an eye toward making even more money. Barton, looking to solve the problem, ends up causing quite a stir, leading him to sit in a waiting room while a new friend undergoes surgery, not knowing if it’ll save his life or not.
Aja’s design for the regular-edition cover is striking, making excellent use of white space and splashes of purples and blues. It doesn’t tell a story, but it stands out as an eye-catching image, iconic and reminiscent of classic poster art. I’m pleased to see, from the advance look at the second issue’s cover on the letters page, Aja’s design sense will continue to help this title stand out. Actually, when I picked this comic up from the shelf of my local comics shop Wednesday, the store had a stack of copies of the regular edition plus a copy of the Pasqual Ferry-illustrated variant cover. The rarer edition was available for sale at the regular cover price, and some might have taken the opportunity to grab it up, just for the rarer collectability. But the inexplicably Spider-Man-centric cover was just so damn… ugly. I usually enjoy Ferry’s artwork, but the scene, featuring a hero other than Hawkeye surrounded by enemies, has no context as it rests against a blank background. It just doesn’t work in this case.
What does work, of course, is Aja’s interior artwork. His efforts here remind me a great deal of the style of Michael Lark, especially the illustrations be brought to the deservedly acclaimed Gotham Central from DC Comics a few years ago. Aja crafts a gritty, semi-realistic backdrop on which Hawkeye’s regular-guy story can unfold, and he manages to do so with a collection of relatively simple, understated lines. He makes every bit of ink count. Despite the ugly things that happen to and around the main character, the artist manages to instill a certain kind of softness in his face. Clearly aware of the suddenly wider, mainstream awareness of the title character, the opening splash page seems like it’s purposefully reminiscent of actor Jeremy Renner’s big moment from the climactic battle scene in the Avengers movie. Honestly, I didn’t care for the synergy all that much (though I wasn’t particularly put off either); everything else about this comic book is about allowing this character stand on its own, separate from the expectations created by the big-screen treatment.
I was thrilled to see Matt Hollingsworth was chosen as the colorist for this new series. He employs a color palette of dull browns and cool, melancholy blues to reinforce the downtrodden tone of the story. I also love how he includes subtle nods to Hawkeye’s classic costume, always incorporating something softly purple in his civilian clothing — a T-shirt, a tie. Hollingsworth’s participation in Hawkeye is no doubt due in no small part to editor Steve Wacker. It’s no coincidence we saw such a strong debut issue from a book Wacker is overseeing. He’s also guiding Marvel’s strongest series, Daredevil, through the creative process, and it looks as though Hawkeye could run a close second in terms of quality product from the publisher. My guess is Wacker’s strength as an editor stems from running interference. There’s no doubt creators as talented as Fraction, Aja and Hollingsworth could have offered such strong material on their own, but I imagine Wacker’s role is to ensure they’re unencumbered by other factors. Hawkeye, like DD, seems to unfold in its own little corner of the Marvel Universe. There’s no AvX branding or directive to worry about. It’s like the creative team is headed for the end zone with the ball, and Wacker’s in front of them, blocking. (If you’ve met Wacker, that image will strike you as ridiculous and hilarious).
The second page, displaying the credits and indicia, proclaims, “Clint Barton, A.K.A. Hawkeye, became the greatest sharp-shooter known to man. He then joined the Avengers. This is what he does when he’s not being an Avenger. That’s all you need to know.” And it’s true. Fraction has approached the character almost as a blank slate. The script is incredibly accessible. One needn’t have read any previous Hawkeye stories, needn’t be familiar with Marvel history or continuity. Actually, it even helps if you aren’t aware of the silver-screen incarnation of the title character, because this one is completely unlike that one.
Fraction takes an achronological approach to the plotting and script, and it’s vital to the success of this self-contained story. It adds to the drama, creates an air of mystery and even intrigue to what is, basically, a straightforward, grounded, street-crime kind of story. The writer portrays the hero as surprisingly and refreshingly vulnerable and fallible. He’s an underdog, not only because he usually exists in a world populated by gods and billionaires, but due to his own choices and lack of sophistication. Ultimately, though, what draws one into the story is the fact it’s about a guy who’s tries to do good in a circumstance that would see almost anyone else turn a blind eye, give up or shrug. He doesn’t even try to make other people’s lives better; he just sets out to make sure they don’t any worse or more difficult. 8/10
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