Hawkeye takes on a recent natural disaster in Marvel's Hawkeye #7!
"All of you people. Look at you. The world comes crumbling down around you and everybody just pulled together tighter. This could've been so much worse. This could've been so much worse."
When Hurricane Sandy combined with two other extreme weather patterns and worked its way up the Eastern seaboard last fall, it brought about a shocking amount of devastation to the New York and New Jersey. In the days after the storm, New York City felt like two different places. For much of the west side of Manhattan, it almost felt like nothing had happened. Elsewhere, though, it was a different story. The Lower East Side was blacked out and deserted. Then there were the truly devastated areas.
Red Hook. Staten Island. The Jersey Shore. Breezy Point. The Rockaways.
These places, among others, were simply knocked around in a way that they still haven't completely recovered from. Homes and businesses were leveled. Property was destroyed. The weekend after the storm, which itself was followed by a Nor'easter, people in Red Hook, a neighborhood in south Brooklyn, were literally taking their bedroom doors off of their hinges, chopping them up, and lighting them on fire outside their apartment buildings because, without power, that was the only way to keep warm. As of mid-November, The New York Times was reporting over 100 Sandy-related deaths in the tri-state area, and there are still pockets where people still don't have power back.
After the storm, there came in the media many stories about human perseverance and community bonding. Putting a human face on the tragedies became of the utmost importance for a lot of outlets. That said, it's easy to see why writer Matt Fraction and New York-based Marvel Comics wanted to try their hand at telling such a story in Hawkeye. The series establishes Red Hook as Clint Barton's home, and it's been a very grounded, street-level, people-centric take on the superhero canon. Clint alludes to that fact himself when he tells his neighbor that it's "hard to shoot an arrow at a storm." So Hawkeye will do what he can: help out the people on the ground. Specifically, he's headed for Far Rockaway, which will be one of the most affected neighborhoods in New York, to help out the father of his neighbor Grills. Grills and his father have a distant relationship at best, but the sight of the home they shared for so many years getting flooded is enough to drive them into each other's arms. Meanwhile, Kate Bishop, who also uses the moniker Hawkeye, is headed to a wedding in Jersey (the story never gets more specific than that). There, she and the rest of the guests are stranded in the hotel and it's up to Kate to go out and find some supplies. Out there, she encounters both the worst and the best of humanity. She's attacked by looters, but the citizens of the neighborhood come to her aid and corner the looters long enough for the cops to get there (which must have been a pretty long time, given the circumstances). By issue's end, the two Hawkeyes end up back in Red Hook (how they were both so easily able to get there is kind of glossed over. There's no way public transportation got them there) and greet each other as concerned friends and neighbors.
While regular series artist David Aja was unable to provide art for the issue considering the shuffling of schedules that needed to occur in order for Hawkeye #7 to come out when it did, it still maintains a unified look with the issues that have preceded it. Matt Hollingsworth and Chris Eliopolous being retained as colorist and letterer respectively goes a long way towards making that happen, but so too do the layouts by Steve Lieber (who pencils the Clint Barton story) and Jesse Hamm (the Kate Bishop story). The figure drawing and stylized panel structures utilized by Lieber and Hamm recall those of Aja, but go far beyond simply aping them. Lieber's art here is more tight but organic, while Hamm takes a more angular but expressive approach, one that's more cartoony and that works with the more light-hearted of the two stories. Lieber gets to pencil the storm as it's happening, including the tremendous flooding; Hamm draws up a lot of the immediate aftermath, with trees and cars having been tossed about and windows smashed in. Their renderings will bring back a lot of memories for readers in the tri-state areas, but they're sensitive, effective depictions of what life looked like for so many people.
The earnestness of Hawkeye #7 feels a bit derived from the many post-Sandy human interest stories in the national news that ran throughout November and December of 2012, but it's a story with a lot of heart (which is in the right place). The fact is, the days and weeks and months after the storm were particularly grueling for the people who lived through them, and it's still a difficult time for many of them. Furthermore, as anyone who lived through the storm or volunteered to participate in the many relief efforts around the city can attest, the human spirit really did manifest in this palpable and inspiring way. So many of the people most affected kept their heads up and immediately got to work on rebuilding their communities, both physically and spiritually. It's apropos that this is the Marvel comic that deals with Hurricane Sandy explicitly. Ultimately, it's a very human series, and this issue tells a very human story. There is a lot of humanity and grace to be found here, even if some of it is pretty on-the-nose. What's really wonderful about it is how easily it fits into everything that this series is about. Just as the artists in the issue maintain a tone that's consistent with what David Aja brings to the table, so to does Matt Fraction continue the work he's been doing in the series with this "very special issue." Hawkeye is probably the most playfully addled series being published by Marvel, and #7 fits right in (a highlight: Clint realizing while he's saving Grills from drowning that he doesn't actually know his buddy's real name). Frankly, it conveys what the series is really about: that sometimes, the most heroic people you're going to come across are the ones who can be found living down the street. Hawkeye's grounded, organic approach to telling superhero stories is exactly the type of thing you'd find in the neighborhoods issue #7 takes place in.