Growing up, Hawkeye was always one of those comic book characters that I appreciated from a distance. I was into a lot of fantasy and roleplaying games as a kid… well, as an adult, too… so the idea of a super-hero that goes toe-to-toe with aliens, criminals, and gods armed only with a bow and arrow appealed to me. However, he never really struck me as the type of character who could hold his own title, at least not for long. Solo titles and mini-series have come and gone, and I’ve held by my opinion.
Until now, that is.
In August 2012, writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja launched an ongoing Hawkeye title that made me sit up and take notice. Fraction’s Hawkeye focuses on the disheveled, reckless, and self-destructive behaviors of Clint Barton as he tackles the street-level crime that impacts the other tenants in his apartment building. He is assisted (and chastised, and enabled) by Kate Bishop, Barton’s protege who also wears the Hawkeye mantle.
It is this deviation from traditional super heroics that lets the title shine; gone are pitched battles with killer robots or impossible aliens. In their place are a gang of Russian gangsters called the Tracksuit Mafia who refer to each other as ‘bro’ and dress in, well, Adidas track suits. Often played for comedic effect, the Tracksuit Mafia offers very little threat to Hawkeye – until he crosses them, and they target his neighbors.
Fraction writes the title with a bit more polish and energy than you might expect from a title that relies on gritty realism. Hawkeye is allowed to be effective, allowed to play things cool, and the result is a comic that reads almost like a modern-day imagining of James Bond. With a bow. And a stellar supporting cast effectively placed to highlight all of the poor decisions Barton has made in his life. Kate Bishop provides a fantastic foil to Barton, providing discipline and a level-head to counter his recklessness. Between capers, Barton’s rapidly deteriorating personal life is showcased by a trio of women who comic book fans should be familiar with – Ex-Wife Mockingbird, ‘Work-Wife’ Black Widow, and Girlfriend Jessica Drew. Add to the mix a smoking hot red head with a mysterious past and you’ve got the recipe for an amazing title filled with action, drama, and real-world stakes. It is Fraction’s ability to combine these elements with engaging, sometimes funny, sometimes profound dialogue that never seems forced that makes Hawkeye a hit for me.
David Aja handles the bulk of the artwork for the title superbly, bringing an element of simply-fucking-cool to every panel. Aja heavily draws influence from 60’s mod art and pulp features, which gives Hawkeye an artistic style that is different from anything else on the shelves right now. Even fill-in artists like Steve Lieber, Jesse Hamm, and Francesco Francavilla keep with a mature style that would be at home in an indie comic. Aja’s cover art is simple, yet focused in design; instead of focusing on sprawling battles, Aja instead strips the cover down to effective iconography that speaks to the tone of the character and of the book.
If you aren’t very familiar with the character, or even if you only know him from The Avengers movie, you can easily dive into Hawkeye without missing a beat. Every one of the 10 issues released to date have been top-notch, but issue #3 holds a special place in my heart. It features a bare-ass naked Barton fighting off a bunch of bad guys, an exciting car chase, and creative uses of Hawkeye’s signature trick arrows. This is a creative team that gets it, that knows how to bring action and comedy in a way that invites the audience along for the ride. I highly recommend that you check out Hawkeye if you’re looking for a title that feels a bit different from anything else being released by Marvel or DC, that features stylishly cool art, witty dialogue, and situations that go from bad to worse to ‘how the hell is he gonna get out of this?’