By Steve Morris
Hawkeye’s appeal is, as Matt Fraction nails immediately in issue #1 of his new series starring the character, that he is the ‘normal’ Avenger. He doesn’t have any powers, only his skill with a bow and willingness to commit to a full gym schedule. However, for the past ten years his main characterisation has been ‘bit of a dick’, and that’s also something Fraction nails, for better or worse.
Hawkeye #1 is a strong issue both in terms of writing and (this will be a shock to no-one) David Aja’s art. Aja has long been one of the smartest and most creative artists in the industry, whose storytelling is without comparison. He excels here once more, with a series of scenes which could’ve looked utterly boring, but are instead visually intricate and fascinating. There are a lot of conversational scenes here, with Hawkeye barely in costume, and yet Aja manages to create diverse panels, laid out in a manner which enhances every scene.
The fight scenes are chaos when they need to be, and yet still filled with details – check the line he draws for Hawkeye’s deft flick of a playing card, which flies straight to the throat of a mafia goon from the fingers. It’s a tiny detail which builds on the rest of the panel, and yet draws all the attention. While Aja’s Clint Barton does look a little like Danny Rand with lighter-hair, his body-language and fighting style are noticeably different.
Also, he draws a lot of puppy-dogs. I know this will be a draw for many of you.
Fraction’s script reads like a Tarantino film, as it features a non-linear timeline and a small-scale look at crime in the Marvel Universe. This works for the most part, although some of the verbal tics – like a gangster who keeps punctuating his speech with ‘bro’ – are a little irritating. There’s also a lot of blanked-out swearing, which has always served to take me out of a story in the past. It just looks silly, and takes a lot of threat out of the villains who use it.
The rest of the dialogue is pretty decent, but the narration is the main driving force of the story, here. Cutting between scenes rapidly and with some great twists, Hawkeye’s narration punctuates the shifting time-line and strengthens the issue. We see Hawkeye act like a complete dick for almost the entire issue (in classic Hawkeye fashion) but his narration is blind to just how annoying he is. There’s a very interesting disconnect at play here – whether it will be explored in future issues is, however, up for debate.
Much like the previous Captain Marvel #1, this issue is very much a one-shot story which doesn’t give us much of an idea about the overall narrative Fraction wants to put in place, here. Marvel do seem to be concerned with establishing their characters by having them take part in a single, wrapped up story, which gives them some definition but doesn’t establish the ongoing threat. Here again we have Hawkeye dealing with some small-scale threats, but we see him more as Clint Barton than as an Avenger. Once the story wraps up, there’s no idea what we might have coming next, and readers looking for big superhero feats are going to be disappointed.
I don’t know if this structuring idea will pay off for Marvel – it feels like it may lead some people to drop the series, having enjoyed a concluded story with no cliff-hanger or ongoing mystery to bring them to issue 2 – but it does help build some structure back onto Clint Barton, as a personality.
As a character study for the guy who has spent the last ten years shouting randomly, swearing at people, and having sex with whichever female Avenger shows up next, it’s a much-needed story. As HAWKEYE 1, it’s perhaps a little lacking. But it’s a confident piece, which may well grow into something deeper as the series continues. Much like Captain Marvel #1, really. These are books which won’t be characterised until we’ve seen their first arcs conclude, and it’s hard to grasp them with just this one issue.
On the basis of this first issue, however, Fraction’s run looks like it’s going to be a fun, unpredictable ride, which handles the Marvel Universe from a perspective which we haven’t seen before.