Comic Crit: Hawkeye #1


by John Johnson (@johned970)

Hawkeye #1, Marvel’s third attempt in the last ten years to launch this character in an ongoing series, was released in comic book stores and digitally this past week.  While it may not be the Hawkeye I have always known, I certainly enjoyed the first issue.  Writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja have taken the Hawkeye character from the recent Avengers movie and molded the comics version to him.  This creates a very human and humane character more in line spiritually and visually with Jeremy Renner and Joss Whedon’s take on the character.

Say what you will about Joss Whedon’s The Avengers movie (I will:  it was fabulous, funny, touching and the best movie of the summer hands down), Marvel Comics has been generally very smart about handling the transitions of their properties from the page to the screen and back again.  As their movie empire has risen in the past few years, they have shed much of the convolution around their characters:  streamlining them and making them more palatable to a general audience.  When Thor and Captain America hit cinemas last summer, there were brand new print series that allowed new readers to get in on the ground floor.  This followed a pattern set by the first Iron Man movie years back.

Currently, Marvel creates I think 34 Avengers comic book.  There are so many variations of the team that you need a scorecard to keep track of who is on what Avengers sub-team.  Essentially I think every hero in the Marvel Universe is either an Avenger or a member of the X-Men, and some (Wolverine, Storm, Beast) are both.  While Marvel did launch an all-ages series that featured the team from the movie, though I think that may have been a limited series, Marvel realized they couldn’t really launch another Avengers book.  Marvel is a business and will not leave any money on the table.  They looked at film, decided (perhaps incorrectly) that Hawkeye would be the breakout character, and created a new print series around him.

They were very smart in handing the series to Matt Fraction, one of Marvel’s strongest writers.  Fraction is able to boil down to the essence of a character, and he does it with a wit and charm that is very much in the Whedon vein.  The title page of the book sums it up nicely:

Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, became the greatest sharpshooter known to man.  He joined the Avengers.  This is what he does when he’s not being an Avenger.  That’s all you need to know.

Fraction, whether dealing with high tech and Science (Invincible Iron Man), otherworldly magic (The Mighty Thor) or super hero soap opera (The Uncanny X-Men), always balances the fantastical with humanity, making his characters believable in the face of the unbelievable.  Here, however, the fantastical is taking a back seat.  Barton appears in costume in only 6 panels over the first few pages of the book, and that new costume is patterned very much after the costume from the movie.  This is the story of a heroic human, inspiring by simply being.  He’s not infallible, but he’s driven to do what’s right no matter the cost to him.  This may turn out to be Fractions’ most accessible and best work yet.

The art, handled by David Aja, is appropriately street level.  There’s literally a grittiness to the art that is reminiscent of the much lamented Gotham Central, another street level look at the world of super heroics.  The inks are heavy, but that firmer line adds a clarity of purpose to Barton’s world.  In addition, there are some nice panel dissolves as Fraction’s script jumps back and forth sequentially and a smart use of smaller panels throughout.

While it’s not breaking ground, Hawkeye is a more than solid book with the promise that this may turn into something truly great.  Marvel is in the process of launching the Marvel NOW! initiative, which will slowly rebrand their line of books.  While cynically this seems a response to DC’s massive NEW 52! relaunch a year ago, I am hoping for the best.  If they can continue to streamlining their characters, making them more palatable for new readers while NOT alienating the long time-fans, I may be making mine Marvel more than I have in the past.  I know I’m in on Hawkeye for at least as long as Fraction is.

Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

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