God of Comics – Hawkeye
Hawkeye is one of the strangest comics to ever come out of the Big Two.
This isn’t a knock on its quality – we’re doing a full-on God of Comics on this title, and we’re doing it because this comic is amazing – but that doesn’t dismiss the fact that this title did a lot of things that were very strange to Marvel or DC Comics style thinking.
It’s hard to imagine a comic where people share a name, for example. There’s been various comic stories based on the battle of identity, and that’s not even the first place this title diverges from everything else. Hawkeye stars two people that claim that name, presented as equals for the whole of the series.
Clint Barton and Kate Bishop are both presented as equals, Clint with more experience and Kate with her life much more together. Both call one another Hawkeye and playfully riff on one another for the whole twenty-two issue run. Their relationship as friends and partners without a hint of romance does a lot to tie the whole book together, and is a large part of what makes these comics as good as they are.
I’m coming at this disjointed, but with purpose – Clint Barton is a disjointed man in these pages, and this comic confronts that head on. He’s an archer and tactical genius who is skilled enough to hang around with super soldiers and genius millionaires and gods. He’s a child who ran away and joined the circus and made a good run of things, and this comic is all about what he does when he’s not an Avenger.
Which turns out to be crime, mostly, perpetuated against criminals.
Clint steals the rights to his apartment building from an East-European Mafia, which goes about as well as you’d expect. They keep coming after him, which gives him a constant enemy that, while not-superpowered, never stops being a threat.
He does this to save the people he lives with, and ends up becoming the building manager on top of everything else. Half the comic feels like community building, with the reader becoming familiar with the people Clint hangs around with that are just folks, and when one of them dies about halfway through the story, it’s horrifying. We know that character is never coming back, that the price of that character’s life was bought because of who Clint is.
And who is Clint? Clint is a mess, a man thoroughly invested in the moment who is not good at long term planning or weighing the consequences of his actions. He’s very much about who he is and what he’s doing right now, and he figures whatever is coming can wait until he gets there.
Likewise, Kate Bishop has her own and equal arc, tied into not only Clint’s special brand of madness, but her maturation as a hero, detective, and person. She comes from an estranged rich background and we get to see the crux of that strangeness, a thing that Kate herself doesn’t understand at the beginning but will fully embrace by the end.
Kate also earns herself an archnemesis in the form of Madame Masque, a terrifying woman best known for putting Tony Stark through the ringer. We get to know some more of Masque as a person and see just how much influence she has over the underworld, ranging from the Kingpin to the various wealthy elite that creep around the shadows of the Marvel Universe.
She takes Kate’s existence personally, the things she tries to do are chilling – and Kate’s ultimate victory over her is both thrilling and hilarious and perfectly in character. She’s learned a bit too much from Clint, really, and his personality and viewpoint is affecting her as much as hers is affecting him.
Also, there is pizza dog.
Here’s where we start looking at the trick of his story; at it’s heart, Hawkeye is a coming of age story, a man-child and a young woman both fully coming into their own through sheer talent and stubborn determination. There’s a host of writers that could have told this story and done it well, but this is a series of comics that excelled.
The question is, how? The story is good, certainly, but it isn’t anything new or groundbreaking. X-O Manowar got the God of Comics treatment for the breadth of theme that it embraces and then digs deep within, and Coffin Hill was recognized for the complexity of its narrative flow. Hawkeye does something completely different by making the style of the story an extension of the substance.
A lot of writers look at style as flourish, something to add spice to the meat of what it is they’re working on. Comics are unique in that their storytelling relies overmuch on style, which is to say art, which makes them a visual medium that is quite unlike anything else. Never in the history of comics has their been a title that played with that concept quite like this one.
The second issue, for example, looks at what it’s like to be an archer. Take a look:
This one simple page allows us to understand what it’s like for Clint and Kate whenever they have a bow in hand. It gives us a sense of time, motion, and breath. We can begin to understand, on a visceral level, that the way both of them view the world is fundamentally different from how we view the world, while still being imminently relatable.
Writer Matt Fraction had to have a world of trust for his artist, David Aja, to explain that with nothing but artistic presentation. It plays with moments, with heartbeats and words and body language, and it turns two people that look strictly human into people that deserve to be hanging shoulder to shoulder with super soldiers and genius millionaires and gods.
That gimmick used once would be enough for most comics, but Matt and Dave aren’t willing to stop there. We get into the silliness and utility of gimmick arrows, an entire episode from the point of view of a dog, a recap issue that is also a Christmas special cartoon, an entire issue in ASL when Clint goes deaf.
I’ve sold people on this comic just by telling them that Clint is deaf and uses ASL to communicate from time to time. Parents of deaf children will buy this comic just for that, so that their kids have someone to look up to and inspire them.
The amount of creativity at play in this book, the noirish elements, the inherent silliness of two archers standing strong against every possible odd while being pretty odd themselves is every kind of win. The sketchy art allows for a surprising amount of depth and detail, and there’s more to discover in expression and body language every time this comic is read.
It’s charming and the building blocks for one of the best buddy-teams in comics. It’s spawned a Deadpool / Hawkeye crossover that had some of the best moments in any modern Deadpool comic (which is saying something) and inspired a spin-off series by Jeff Lemire (and we’ll be getting back to him sooner rather than later). It’s been one of Marvel’s best comics for the past few years, a frequent winner of our weekly Top 5 Comics, and it deserves all of your attention.
Hawkeye is magic. It’s everything that comics can be, that weird nebulous region that embraces the inherent strangeness of the medium with some superhero elements and some noir elements and some heist elements, drawing from all without ever being clearly defined as anything but itself.
Hawkeye stands on its own, on its own terms, and we cannot recommend it enough.