Thursday, February 19, 2015

My Year With Marvel: Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye

Three panels depicting Clint Barton falling off a roof. The captions read, 'You cowboy around with the Avengers some. Guys got, what, armor, magic, super-powers. Super-strength. Shrink-dust. Grow-rays. Magic. Healing factors. I'm an orphan raised by carnies fighting with a stick and a string from the Paleolithic era.'

A superhero-shy friend recently asked me for comics recs. "Read HAWKEYE!" I said. “It’s about non-superpowered superheroes not being superheroic.”

It's a good soundbite and one I've stuck to in the intervening weeks, but it's also a touch misleading. Clint Barton and Kate Bishop, the two Hawkeyes, are most certainly heroic, caring people in the non-super sense. It’s just that HAWKEYE focuses on the smaller stories that happen between the earth-shattering missions.

No one goes to outer space in HAWKEYE. They don’t tangle with evil mutants or face off against vengeful gods. Instead, they clash with tracksuited mobsters from Little Irkutsk who harbour dastardly intentions towards small Brooklyn communities. They help regular people deal with devastating floods. They ensure soon-to-be weds have at least one orchid at their wedding. They fight street-level battles to keep folks safe.

If their heroism occasionally falters... well, they’re people as much as they're heroes. And sometimes people mess up.

Clint and Kate were the first new-to-me superheroes I really connected with when I got Marvel Unlimited. I love them both to death.

Y’all know Clint Barton as a hotshot archer, but it turns out he’s pretty inept at everything that doesn’t involve shooting arrows into stuff. He can’t hook up the DVR he borrowed from a neighbour. He has to call his ex girlfriend on his landline when he comes across a word he can’t spell. Said ex girlfriend became his ex because he pushes people away as a matter of course, and because he maybe doesn’t entirely understand romantic exclusivity. He's a train wreck1.

Thing is, I’m pretty sure he’s so bad at all this stuff because he expects himself to be bad at it--and that, in turn, is because there’s like a 95% chance he’s clinically depressed.

And as if that weren't enough, he kind of took possession of a large quantity of stolen money which he used to forcibly purchase a building from the maybe-Russian mafia, so he’s in a fair amount of physical peril alongside the mental health stuff.

*worry for Clint intensifies*

Three panels of Clint meeting Pizza Dog. In the first panel, someone off-screen says, 'He bite, bro. Not good idea, bro.' In the second panel, Clint says, 'Who's a good boy that likes pizza? You are, aren't you, Pizza Dog? I dunno, man. Dog likes pizza. How bad can he be?' In the third panel, a person in track suit says, 'Bro, what you want here, bro? Feed dog? Go $#@#@ you, bro.'

I’m horribly worried about Clint's mental and physical wellbeing, but I’m not at all concerned for his soul because he’s good people, plain and simple. He's the kind of guy who'll bust his ass to save an abused dog who's just been thrown into traffic. He looks forward to the nightly summer potlucks on his building's roof because they bring people together. He helps a friend’s father move all his stuff upstairs during a flood. During one his borderline-superheroic adventures, he swears he’ll never give a crap about anything every again--then promptly tries to save the ninja who just attempted to assassinate him, because as if he's gonna let anyone die on his watch.

Clint puts other people first, always and forever. His inability to keep everyone safe at all times is obviously a large trigger for his depression.

So maybe I’m a little concerned for his soul, because his soul seems to be hurting him.

Three panels of Kate Bishop drinking coffee. The captions read, 'This is Kate Bishop. Kate took over from me as Hawkeye once upon a time when I was, well, dressing up like a ninja, sort of, is the short version. She is without a doubt the finest and most gifted bowman I've ever met but she's like nine years old and spoiled rotten. She's pretty great.

Kate Bishop--the light of my heart, the breath in my lungs--is Clint’s foil. She’s young and rich, and her youthful richness has made her, um, a bit spoiled in some respects. Don’t you think that makes her a hapless sidekick or a damsel in need of rescue, though. She and Clint are partners, each just as likely to save the other when shit gets rough. Clint is sort of Kate's mentor by virtue of his greater age and longerstanding experience with this whole hero schtick, but Kate’s wider range of practical knowledge means she often has to step in and steer him in the right direction. They complement each other very well indeed2.

They also share custody of Lucky, aka Pizza Dog, who is the second best animal companion in comics3 (by a really narrow margin). Y’all want to meet Pizza Dog.

A large chunk of HAWKEYE’s appeal comes from its characters and its (slightly more) realistic storylines, but it’s the creators’ distaste for linear narratives that really sets the series apart. Writer Matt Fraction and regular artist David Aja (ably assisted by Javier Pullido and Annie Wu, who guest-art for several issues each) play fast and loose with their timelines. It's a rare HAWKEYE issue that proceeds from point A to point B; instead, the creators flash forward and backward, illuminating key parts of the story when they’ll pack the biggest punch rather than when they actually happened in relation to everything else. It can be confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it it’s effective, affective, and utterly addicting.

HAWKEYE sneaks up on you. One moment, it’s a really good comic with some great characters; the next, you’re grinning your arse off and gasping over Distressing Character Deaths and being bitterly, bitterly sorry your budget doesn’t allow for monthly issues, because damn do you ever need more HAWKEYE in your life.

The whole thing is bloody brilliant. I want you to read it as soon as you possibly can.

Find me on Twitter when you’re done so we can gush, but be aware I haven’t read past #20.


While I always advocate your local library as the absolute best source for books, I recognize this may not be an option for everyone where every book is concerned. If you're in search of another way to read HAWKEYE, you can try:

I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy a comic through one of the above links to Kobo, The Book Depository, or Amazon.

  1. There's this amazing panel in the first issue of LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD (written by Al Ewing and drawn by Lee Garbett) where Clint kicks back with a video game at Avengers Tower and ends up with zero health while he's being chased by the army and falling out of a plane--only the game is a bass fishing simulator, not a shooter. These things just happen to him.

    I read the comic earlier this week and had to put my Kobo down because I was laughing too hard to concentrate on the rest of the story. I haven't stopped laughing since.

  2. Okay! Geek-out time! During their first meeting in YOUNG AVENGERS PRESENTS #6--also penned by Matt Fraction, with art by Alan Davis--Kate bets Clint he can't make the Robin Hood shot. Y'all know the one: archer shoots an arrow into a target; archer promptly splits said arrow with a second arrow.

    Clint makes the shot. Kate doesn't, so she loses the right to call herself Hawkeye. She's heartbroken, but then they make up and she gets the name back and they settle into the whole sorta-mentorship thing.

    And, early on in HAWKEYE, there's this great scene where they're shooting together and Kate makes the Robin Hood shot. The significance went over my head the first time I read the series, but it was totally squee-inducing during my recent reread. Look at Kate, improving her skills!

  3. Lying Cat from Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s SAGA takes the top spot. She's sentient, though, so she's kind of got the advantage over Pizza Dog, who is a non-uplifted canine who doesn't often assist with investigations or anything like that. He basically just hangs around, being great, and he eventually gets an entire issue devoted to his adventures in Clint's old building.


  1. I have absolutely no excuse for not reading this - you recommended it to me last year and I still haven't gotten around to it. It's next on my list. I have to finish Ms Marvel first.