My Misspent Youth — Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

I can’t really speak to Hawkeye’s place and stature in comic book continuity at the moment his starring series written by Matt Fraction and drawn by David Aja made its debut in the late summer of 2012. I do know that the uncommonly skilled archer had grown in broader pop cultural prominence because he was officially one of the big-screen Avengers, a crew that collected one billion dollars at the global box office after a mere nineteen days in theaters. Hawkeye had taken his turns at the forefront of series in the past, and it obviously made sense for him to get a fresh star turn at that moment. The simplest approach — and maybe the smartest approach — was to put out a nice, safe Hawkeye comic, one that smacked of familiarity to anyone who scooped it up, whether they were longtime Marvel mavens or movie fans daring to venture deeper into fandom. Fraction and Aja had a different idea.

The Hawkeye delivered by the duo is daring in conception and artful in its design. The story locks in on the idea that the purple-clad alter ego of Clint Barton is an anomaly in the world of super-soldiers, demigods, and people who are especially strong because they have radioactive blood. He’s just a working-class schmo who happens to be better than average at shooting arrows; significantly better than average, but still. In the writing, Fraction emphasizes this down-to-earth aspect of Hawkeye’s existence. Other Marvel series had striven to be more ground-level adventures as fantastic collectives streaked across the galaxy, but none had been quite so committed to the mundane as Hawkeye. It’s filled with dingy apartments, bandaged wounds, and adversaries whose costumes are no more elaborate than store-bought track suits. It’s not for nothing that the title picked up the adoring nickname Hawkguy.

In investing the series with a wry, hardscrabble charm, Fraction had at his disposal a secret weapon more formidable than a projectile tricked out with explosives yoinked from a well-stocked quiver. A few years earlier, a new character stepped sideways into the Hawkeye mythos, and Fraction inherently understood that including her in the new comic was a must. She could serve as compatriot and verbal sparring partner, allowing for more of the snappy patter that would be a major component of the comic’s personality. As much as the title character, Hawkeye is a showcase for Kate Bishop.

Hawkeye feels splendidly self-contained in its downbeat milieu. The references to the greater Marvel saga come with a dash of weariness, just a little bit of an eye roll at the convolutions that Hawkeye and Kate are occasionally wrenched into. It’s like the Marvel Universe version of The Rockford Files, tinged with can-you-believe-this-stuff self-amusement even as it takes its own mysteries and complications seriously, committing to the story because the bow-toting do-gooders deserve no less respect than the more ornately enhanced beings zooming through whatever booming behemoth of an event was dominating the publisher’s line elsewhere.

Fraction writes the series splendidly, but, as much as at any time since Stan Lee turned his rough plots over to certified geniuses Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, storytelling credit needs to go to the artist, too. Working with invaluable colorist Matt Hollingsworth, Aja gives Hawkeye a distinctive style. The line work is understated and exquisite, and Aja lays out the pages in clever, dynamic ways. The upending of convention is never at the expense of clarity, though. With every page, Aja clearly thinks through the best way to convey what’s happening to the reader.

Over the course of the twenty-two issue run of the series, a few artists stepped in to spell Aja now and then. They all followed his model, and the stylistic choices started to seep into other Marvel series that were hoping for a similar vibe. And why wouldn’t other creators seek to transfer over some of the special mojo found in these pages. To borrow a descriptor that Clint was known to apply to Kate, Hawkeye is perfect.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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