Hawkeye_Vol_4_21_TextlessBy Molly Jane Kremer. It feels almost strange to be holding a new and unread issue of Hawkeye. It’s never not a good feeling, mind you, but since five months have passed since a new Hawkeye comic has peeked out from my pile of Wednesday comics (and a whopping seven months since we’ve seen an issue with either hide or hair of Clint and his bro – but not that kinda bro, bro – Barney), I guess I’m just not used to it.

While the three Kate-centric California issues we got last year were absolute delights, it was weird to to see so little of our titular Hawkguy, having only two issues take place back in Brooklyn (three if you count the doggie-filled “holiday issue” that came out in, um, March). In fact, only six issues of Hawkeye came out in 2014 at all, and I must admit, this reader’s reserves of patience were nigh spent.

However, it’s hard to be indignant about the tardiness of a book this damn good. You can argue that this is a serialized genre, and that it’s neither right nor fair to have a book be this late (it was originally solicited for June of last year) when plenty of other creators can get their miscellaneous issues of Amazing Deadpool Team-Up Wars out on a (sometimes twice) monthly basis. But, to be honest, I just can’t be mad. This is a comic at least on par with many of the creator-owned titles Image has released to fervent acclaim, and no one tends to mind a few months’ wait on an Image book when there’s such a rich reward in store for them. (Well… some do.) I certainly don’t – and I feel the same way about Hawkeye.

As it is with every single issue writer Matt Fraction, artist David Aja and colorist Matt Hollingsworth have in the bag, Hawkeye #21 boasts a simplicity that belies an incredible depth. The art at first glance is unshowy for a superhero comic – no-muss, traditional and very subdued, with flat, similarly-hued colors and clean, thick inks. The dialogue is sparse, but with every utterance utterly necessary, it brings Aja and Hollingsworth’s incredible storytelling to the fore. A panel of theirs can contain no more than a single facial expression from a certain angle, with three words of narration, and it says more and (has more meaning) than entire pages from other comic books out there, ones that are crammed full of ultimately throwaway and pointless word-bubbles. This creative team’s output defines the old adage of “show, don’t tell,” and man, they’re showing us some really moving shit.

8676971675-a648dPart of the scant dialogue and narration is due to our ol’ Hawkguy’s lack of reliance on, well… words in general. Clint Barton has never been much of a talker (or even a thinker) in this book, and most of his best lines in the series haven’t exactly been eloquent ones (“Aww, coffee,” and “… because… boomerangs,” spring to mind). And in this issue, Fraction artfully communicates Clint’s oft-dunderheadedness without making the book itself seem as thick as its lead, and instead makes his doofier tendencies an endearing character flaw. (Clint apologizing to his ex-girlfriend: “… nothing’s gonna excuse it but I want you to understand it. And — and I want you to understand that… I understand it?” Priceless.)

This is the second-to-last issue of the series – the penultimate chapter! if we want to get hyperbolic about it – and all twenty pages are imbued with the melancholy of farewell. Thematically it takes us directly back to that first issue, with Clint attempting to ensure his building’s safety (and that of its tenants) from the Tracksuit Draculas. But with twenty issues between now and then, the stakes feel astronomically higher. Aja makes sure to show us nearly every character Clint has come into contact with since the series began, especially all of his neighbors, each and every one visibly recognizable (even after all the series’ hefty delays).

While Clint remains deafened (which comes into play constantly), this issue is much, much easier to follow than issue #19, which focused directly on this handicap and was almost completely in sign language. While it was admirable and ambitious to make a comic reflecting the confusion and disorientation of losing one’s hearing and the sudden need to rely on the visual, the final product ended up an artistic exercise that more often than not got in the way of a compelling story. This issue remains more linear and is less laborious of a read, while never letting us forget that Clint has lost his sense of hearing: instead, Clint’s handicap now adds to the story instead of muddling it.

0102219224-1e66aThe action sequences in the comic are top-notch as ever, with Aja capturing dynamic movement in the tracksuit bros’ attempt to lay siege to Clint’s Bed-Stuy apartment building. Live coals falling from the roof, gunshots, car crashes, and of course an arrow or two peppering the fray make for a fast paced and exciting sequence, with a few expressive close-ups to keep up the suspense. Chris Eliopoulos’ lettering quality really shines in these panels, as do his excellent sound effects.

Colored all in sepia tones, the last few pages of the book take place after Clint has taken a baseball bat to the head a few times, and compounded with his deafness, the confusion (and intermittent consciousness) is communicated perfectly: black panels are effectively interspersed with silent story panels as Clint unsuccessfully tries to suss out what’s being said, his scattered narration making it clear that coherent thought is nigh impossible. The creative team is so good at making you care for the characters (and making you feel fully everything they’re going through), that this sequence becomes heartbreaking in a couple of different ways.

But Hawkeye is and always has been a comic about heart and keeping it in the right place (even if our hero still tends to louse things up more often than not). Though we only have one more issue to enjoy from this Eisner Award-winning team, Fraction, Aja, Hollingsworth and Eliopoulos are at least giving our favorite archer a send-off worthy of all that’s come before. All good things must come to an end – which is doubly true in comics – but every once in a while, that end is truly worth the wait.

Marvel Comics/$3.99.

Written by Matt Fraction.

Art by David Aja.

Colors by Matt Hollingsworth.

9 out of 10.