Hawkeye is my favorite comic book.
Working at a comic shop, I tend to read a lot of comic books, mixing business with pleasure in the best way possible, but admittedly I read many out of a slight sense of obligation. Every Wednesday I delve into a towering stack of funny books, sometimes putting a selection or two at the “top of the pile”, eager to devour it first. With Hawkeye, while it often has had that envied “top” designation, there are times that I’ll stow it at the very bottom, not wanting the experience of reading it (devouring it, more like) to be over and done just yet.
And then there are those comics that get read and reread ad nauseum… comics like the first issue of Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Matt Hollingsworth’s Hawkeye. It’s a superbly crafted done-in-one, and simultaneously a perfect jump-on point for folks who saw Mr. Clint Barton in those little Marvel films, or those like me, who know him only from the past ten years or so of enjoying comics (and might not have a decades-long grasp of the character).
It focuses, as the opening description declares, on what Hawkeye does “when he’s not being an Avenger.” And as the only dude on that team without godly powers, super-soldier-serumed strength, or a big ol’ fancy suit of armor, a guy like Clint is gonna take some heavy hits when hanging out with that sort of crowd. And the opening of issue one is Hawkeye telling us exactly this… as he falls down the side of a building and crashes onto the hood of a car, putting him in traction.
Focusing on this gives Hawkeye a gritty, real-life feel that you don’t see in many Big Two comics nowadays. Sure, there are the other street-level characters dealing with the less-than-cosmic problems of their more fantastic peers, but most of them still have superpowers to aid them. Not to mention, few other superhero comics feature the main character spending the entirety of an issue dealing with the minutiae of landlord-related unpleasantries…and few would introduce a character that’s come to be known famously as Pizza Dog. That’s the great thing about Hawkeye (and much of Fraction’s work): it can hit you right in the guts with realism and honesty, and still rock you with an innate sense of joy for the medium.
The art, too, is a standout in this series. At first glance, the conservative lines and flat colors could be taken for simplistic, but it’s the furthest from. It’s elegant and subdued, free of frivolity but brimming with nuance. Fraction and Aja’s use of the collaborative Marvel Method of comic-creating serves the book perfectly in this regard. It’s seamless in every way. As we move towards the action scenes, the panels get slimmer, fitting in more and more quick cuts and reaction shots (the acting, in every single panel, is never less than top-notch) until Clint finally throws the first blow, by way of a well-aimed ace of spades.
The color scheme darkens, page by page, with most of the issue taking place over the course of one day. The collaboration between Aja and Hollingsworth on the art and coloring is flawless, from communicating the sterility of a veterinarian’s office, to the seediness of an underground casino, to a gunfight in the rainy twilight. A barbecue scene on the roof of the apartment building—all conveyed in one dynamic and fluid page—has that muted monochromatic feel of the city sunlight lingering after dusk. The familial atmosphere among the building’s residents is palpable, as are their anxieties over what will happen to their homes if Ivan gets his way.
The main bad guy in the issue is Ivan, a higher-up thug among thugs with a penchant for tracksuits, brutality, and misappropriating the word “bro” in as many forms of speech as possible. When Clint returns from his six-week hospital stay to discover his fellow tenants’ rent has been tripled just before an unceremonious eviction, he finds that the residents of his building are being cleared out posthaste due to Ivan’s greed and an anonymous buyers’ will. Clint spends the rest of the issue trying, in his well-intentioned but not necessarily well-thought-out manner, to make sure his fellow occupants – and he himself – get to keep their homes.
Throughout, Clint’s colloquial, normal-dude narration is a joy. It’s such a refreshing difference from the thees and thous Thor spouts, and a relief from the clever expositories often recited by Tony Stark. Fraction’s dialogue is witty without getting too smartassy (“… are you, like, Iron Fist or something?”), and as the issue goes on and the action builds, Aja and Hollingsworth’s art takes over on the heavy lifting: clean lines, understated but expressive emotion, ever-building into explosive, inevitable violence. For a guy who tends to react before his brain catches up to think, this art style is very fitting for Clint Barton.
The plot skips back and forth between Clint bringing a dog – in very bad shape – to a vet, and all the day’s events leading up to that: six pages later Clint has brought a gym bag full of cash to Ivan’s underground poker game to cover the rent increase for everyone in the building. (“I don’t really know from casinos. Everything I DO know comes from James Bond movies. Don’t have a tux but hopefully they’ll be cool…” I find it endlessly entertaining that Clint worries more about not meeting the imagined dress-code than about walking alone into an illicit casino for criminals with a fortune in cash.) Of course Ivan refuses his offer (“Bro, what are you, bro? Fairy godmother?”), and for Clint the ensuing outnumbered-20-to-1 fight ends with a bottle to the head and being unceremoniously thrown through a window.
Clint has one ally in this predicament: a dog. The tracksuits guarding the “casino” have their dog with them, and Clint charms him on the way in with a slice of pizza (thus was Pizza Dog born). When the guards begin shooting at him after his unfortunate encounter with the window, Pizza Dog attacks one of them and gets kicked into traffic for it. Clint tries to save him, and the heartbreaking panels of Pizza Dog in the middle of a dark rainy street, next to Clint’s anguish at being unable to save him, wring my heart every time I see them.
He brings the dog to a vet for emergency surgery, soon followed by Ivan and his tracksuits. Hothead Clint immediately starts a fistfight with them in the waiting room. (“It’s okay, everybody. It’s okay. I’m an Avenger.”) Outside, Clint ends the confrontation with a bloodied Ivan with another offer of money. (“Bro. What kind of Avenger does this?”) This time Clint intends to buy the entire building, with an added not-so-veiled threat. He sends Ivan off to the airport in a cab, and goes back inside to learn Pizza Dog pulled through. Despite a list of injuries nearly as long as Clint’s had been, and covered in just as many bandages, all has ended well: Clint has bought an apartment building, and he has also adopted a dog.
Even if this was the only Hawkeye issue these guys ever released, it would be a stellar comic in and of itself. It’s intelligent without being showy, sincere without getting schmaltzy, and gorgeous in a way that’s both retro and modern. Thankfully it’s but the first in a series that has made Clint my favorite Avenger-while-not-avenging, and it turned me into a lifelong fan of Messrs. Fraction, Aja, and Hollingsworth.
Written by Matt Fraction.
Art by David Aja.
Colored by Matt Hollingsworth.
10 out of 10