Spider-Buggy claims that Hawkeye is one of the finest comic books released this year.
Spider-Buggy writes for the Outhouse.
Critics have joked that there are two Matt Fractions currently working for Marvel. The first is the brilliant and zany writer responsible for The Immortal Iron Fist, Casanova and The Five Fists of Science. The other is the weary feeling writer behind Fear Itself and a mediocre run on Uncanny X-Men. To me at least, it seems that Fraction is at his strongest when he’s not writing a book that kowtows to constant editorial influence.
So what of Hawkeye, then? Hawkeye is a character that went from cannon fodder during Brian Bendis’ first major Avengers event (which helped push the franchise back into prominence) to one of the breakout stars in the monster mega-hit The Avengers. The character, who was dead less than a decade ago, is now the leader of an Avengers team and is a cast member of about a dozen others. Hawkeye is not exactly some C-list character that can be tossed around and broken without consequence. He’s a movie star and a growing part of the Marvel Universe.
Luckily, Matt Fraction has a history writing great stories about this type of characters. Invincible Iron Man, an Eisner Award winning series, was kicked off right after the release of the first Iron Man movie. At the time, Iron Man was seen as a tarnished character, one that won Mark Millar’s Civil War at the cost of being demonized by the majority of comic book fans. Fraction took that character, redeemed him, and consequentially put him through a grueling gauntlet that’s set to wrap up in the next few months. While Invincible Iron Man has its hiccups, the book remains a solid read and is one of Marvel’s top tier books in terms of quality.
While Invincible Iron Man focuses on the character’s superheroics with great aplomb, Hawkeye does not, which fits the both the tone and the character well. As Hawkeye mentions during a dialogue on page two, Hawkeye lacks any sort of superpower or dramatic backstory. Fraction seems to recognize that focusing on contrived supervillains or evil family members like Marvel’s last attempt to write a Hawkeye series would only lead to early cancellation.
Instead, we get a book starring a hero that doesn’t wear a costume and doesn’t use his super abilities. After the first two pages, Fraction puts away the bow and costume and instead focuses on showing an Avenger trying to live his life outside of Avengers Mansion. Instead of some C-list villain to fight, Hawkeye’s antagonist is a Russian landlord in a tracksuit. Instead of trying to save a city or the world, Hawkeye instead has to deal with saving a crummy New York apartment building and a dog. It’s a fantastic concept, one that plays right to Fraction’s strengths and gives the character a way to shine without trying to make the book matter in the larger Marvel Universe.
Joining Fraction is Immortal Iron Man collaborator David Aja. Rob Liefeld recently commented that Aja, among others, had a style immune to criticism. Liefeld is absolutely correct in that regard. Aja’s art is near flawless. Averaging eight panels per page, it seems that every line and every panel is a necessary one, giving the book a mature, grounded feel that matches Fraction’s tone brilliantly. Even more importantly, Aja’s artwork tells such a great story, Fraction’s dialogue at times seems like window dressing, confirming things that Aja’s art says on its own. Matt Hollingsworth, the colorist, deserves praise as well. His colors, while muted and understated, cause the art to come alive.
This is the sort of book that I wish Marvel would make more of. It’s a high quality book that sacrifices neither characterization nor plot to push along a greater agenda for the Marvel Universe. Hawkeye is an Eisner Award caliber book that ranks second only to Daredevil in terms of the best book released by either Marvel or DC this year. It’s a highly enjoyable read and stands as a testament of what a good comic book should look like.