Relevant Review: Matt Fraction’s Hawkguy, er, Hawkeye

I promise I didn’t start this review with the intention of upselling you. It began with the best of intentions. I had read the first two volumes on Comixology Unlimited (1 and 2) way back when, then got the Omnibus for myself on the strength of that when it was on sale for 8 bucks and change. Rereading them for this review, the problem with those first two volumes, strong though they were, is they didn’t tell a complete story. It basically ends right in the damn middle, and it’s hard to accurately review Romeo and Juliet at the midpoint. It is similarly incomplete through Kindle Unlimited (1 and 2) the whole thing is available on Marvel Comics Unlimited (plus the setup issue), so there really is no pressure to spring for the fancy volume unless you want to.

Before we get into the story, a warning: I expect this series will include some of what the Hawkeye series will cover. I imagine the dialog will be less manic, and I don’t believe for an instant that Renner can be as charismatic as the Hawkeye written in here. Second, it’s good, and if you’ve a mind to read it unspoiled, you should do that first.

This is Hawkeye as he should have always been in the MCU. Full of personality, manic energy and also a self-loathing streak a mile wide; they basically stole Hawkeye’s personality and gave it to Iron Man, so when it came time to introduce Hawkeye, they made him ‘default white guy’ levels of boring. Making him a family man could have even been interesting on a team full of virgins and confirmed bachelors. But somehow that made him even less interesting, and also now harder to kill.

Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye is a flawed guy, the kind of sad sack who probably couldn’t figure out how to apply for a used car loan, let alone qualify for it, and he knows it. And I dig it. I don’t care how healthy your self-esteem is, if you hang out with Thor, Cap, Iron Man, and Hulk… there’s going to be moments when you recognize how much you can’t hack it. And Hawkeye works best when he’s that guy trying to do the job, even knowing he’d feel better if there were someone bigger, stronger, smarter, whatever who could do it in his stead. This is a Hawkeye whose feet are so firmly stuck in clay that it threatens to arrest his development permanently, but as the story progresses, you get to see him, at least in part, become the Avenger the world needs him to be.  

He’s also an arrogant, selfish, self-destructive jerk; depending on your tolerance for a protagonist who hates himself, it could be hard, but for me, at least, there’s always enough humanity inside Clint to where I get it. He doesn’t want to be a jerk, but he’s that prototypical guy who can’t get out of his own way, or stop alienating his friends and loved ones, that when he’s trying to do the right thing is when he’s the biggest danger to himself and others.

The story involves Hawkeye using some ill-gotten villain loot to purchase a building at bowpoint. This building happens to be owned by the Russian mob, who own every building in a three block radius and have a large real estate scheme cooking.

The series begins with Hawkeye taking on Kate Bishop as a ward, a trainee, to help her be the best Hawkeye she can be. Kate, for the uninitiated, is a reasonably wealthy person who picked up Hawkeye’s bow during the period when the Avengers were gone, having been disassembled by the Scarlet Witch. Hawkeye’s death, in particular, was dumb, supposedly because his quiver, filled with explosives and combustibles, eschewed any basic ideas of safety (like a catch to quickly remove it) despite his working for years with some of the best designers on his planet. I… really can’t recommend it; Avengers shouldn’t go out due to what basically comes down to an OSHA violation.

But what starts as a relatively typical junior partner relationship very quickly unravels, because Clint is in no way in control of enough of his life to be an expert on anything other than hitting a target with an arrow (which Kate’s already pretty good with). She slides more into the Alfred to his Batman role, trying to save him from himself, trying to buy him time and space enough to be able to pick himself out of his self-destructive cycle, including at one point running interference with an old flame, an ex-wife and a friend/girl whose relationship no one quite has a handle on.

But she can’t save him;.no one can save Clint Barton from himself. He starts up a doomed romance with a thief, and ends up getting himself arrested helping her try to steal something to guarantee her safety, which dovetails with the central plot about Clint’s building- they’re part of the same mob he essentially stole the building from.

This same mob gets special dispensation from the Kingpin and the other members of the underworld’s upper crust to whack Hawkguy; part of the reason is, they figure if they fail, it’ll blow back on them, and if they succeed, they get a free dead Avenger.

There’s also a lengthy subplot of Kate pissing off Madame Masque by originally impersonating her to save Clint’s butt, and then having to dodge the femme fatale across a Chandler-esque detective story set in LA. It elevates Kate from supporting player to the Other Hawkeye, as the story bounces back and forth between the two of them on opposite ends of the country, before bringing them back together for the finale.

But you don’t read this Hawkguy for the plot, because the plot is just kind of the thread linking  nearly two-dozen days in the life. The stories of Hawkguy just barbecuing on the roof with his neighbors, helping a neighbor survive a hurricane, or working with Tony Stark to untangle the cords on his entertainment center are where the book really grows on you. Just look at this page. It is a masterclass of economic but deep visual storytelling.

And sure, there’s plenty of heroics here to sate, as well, but where this book really is different is in the tragicomic moments between, for which David Aja’s beautiful, simplified art is the perfect companion. Now, that might sound like a slight, bit it’s not. I love hyperdetailed art as much as the next unfortunate soul to come of comics-reading age in the 90s, and most days I’d rather something approaching photoreal than impressionist. But Aja’s art is gorgeous, deftly giving you just the right amount of detail to beautifully craft the story, while making sure the page as a whole is functional art, too. I don’t really think I can explain it, so on that strength alone I’d suggest at least flipping through.

Want even more? My first suggestion would be Fraction’s nearly 60-issue Invincible Iron Man run; he breaks Tony down, from the fascist clown who largely instigated the comic book Civil War for what amounted to “Reasons” (with all due respect to his writers at the time), and rebuilds Tony as a humbler, but also still very Tony Iron Man. I’m honestly surprised; when I read Civil War I thought the damage was permanent, that I would never again be able to enjoy the monster that Stark became, but Fraction pulled it off (and it only took 5 years). If you’re looking for something a little more Hawkguy, the issue of Avenging Spider-Man (#4, to be precise) guest-starring Hawkeye gets at some of his stubborn, idiot pride (and sadness) that I think lies at the heart of him, and is worth a read. I believe Aja also worked on a Scarlet Witch book with James Robinson, if I’m not mistaken, so that might be worth checking out, too, though I haven’t read it yet to give an impression (though it’s likely only a matter of time before I do- and I might do a review of it to pin to WandaVision).