Everyone who is talking about comics has already written about what a great run Fraction’s Hawkeye is. Here at Comic POW! it was Dan’s best Marvel comic of 2012 and Kari explored the amazing art. But what is it about Hawkeye that’s so resonant right now? Yeah, Matt Fraction’s unique sense of humor helps (there’s a Sex Criminals commentary coming as soon as I find the time to write it). Yeah, Aja’s art is exemplary. But I think it’s much more than that.
Anyone who’s been reading comics for a while knows that since at least the mid-80s there has been a trend towards heroes with flaws. With perhaps the exception of Superman, everyone has had some bad behavior retconned into their past. Pre-New52 Gordon cheated on his wife in Year One. In the New52 Gordon fell prey to police corruption early in his career before a young Bruce Wayne knocked him off of that stupor. Post the 1990s Onslaught event Charles Xavier was revealed to have erased memories from his students one too many times. Eventually Scott Summers kicks him off the team. Then Summers later mind-cheats on Jean Grey before having a falling out with Wolverine over whether the next generation of mutants should be militant. When I stopped reading, Summers was essentially leading a terrorist group of mutants.
Hawkeye taps into that, but it’s more respectful of Clint Barton. For starters, he has a few lines in the first dozen issues that remind me of Eddie Murphy’s character in Beverly Hills Cop – “I wasn’t always a cop”. But even if Clint was already the “bad boy” of the Avengers, Hawkeye does not reimagine some super gritty past. Instead, we see Clint Barton as a human – something we have been craving, but which I feel the examples I listed above took the pendulum too far in the other direction. Barton is flawed, but not tragically flawed. He has a good heart and tries to do the right thing. When the others in his building are being evicted by the “Russian” mob (I think the series makes them from a country that’s almost, but not quite Russia, but maybe I misread something), he forces them to sell him the building. Yet, not only is he getting divorced with another Avenger, but he’s cheating on his Avenger girlfriend with the wife of one of the tracksuit mafia.
Hawkeye is visual Shibuya-kei (like Fantastic Plastic Machine’s first album); it is TV’s Archer, but Barton’s less of a jerk. In other words it’s the 1960s remixed into the modern era. You can see it in the visuals like the one with the Avenger women in his life. The color scheme feels like something from the 60s or 70s. There’s something in the air right now that just makes this fusion work so well.
Like Archer, Clint Barton seems to succeed in spite of himself. He’s constantly getting hit over the head and captured. Sometimes he is able to work his way out of the situation and other times he depends on Kate – female Hawkeye. Who plays a role not unlike Lana in Archer with the exception that Kate and Clint haven’t slept together. (More on this in a moment) It makes sense that he, of all the Avengers, would constantly be in trouble.
He has no super powers. Hawkeye is to the Avengers what Batman is to the Justice League. Except Hawkeye has neither the amazing gadgets nor the Marty Stu qualities of being smarter, hotter, and more physically fit than everyone around him. He’s just good with arrows and clever (street smarts, but I hate that phrase) from his time before the Avengers. Again, I think this is part of the massive appeal of Hawkeye – more than any other super hero, you could maybe be him.
I’m behind on Hawkeye because for the types of articles we write for Comic POW! it’s best to either wait for for the trades or gather up a bunch of issues to read at once. So it’s possible I’m about to look like a fool for saying this, but my favorite thing about the way Fraction has written Hawkeye is that there isn’t any real sexual tension between Clint and Kate. They have a mentor/protege relationship. In an issue in which she’s pretending to be a villain, she ends up having to reach into his crotch to get the Avengers Black Credit Card. Later she tells Clint “there are some things you can’t unfeel”. When Kate sees Clint with other girls she isn’t jealous, she is just disappointed in his selfish and self-destructive behavior.
She’s loyal and defends him from outsiders, sticking up for him when his ex-wife tells her he’s trouble. But then she turns around and calls him out on his dumb behavior. While it’s possible for Clint to have a male friend who would call him out on his dumb male actions, I think Kate works rather well as a counter-balance. Not only is it a male/female dynamic, but also an old/young dynamic. And, true to life (which is true to why fans love this series) she can be a bit hypocritical. In the second-to-last issue of the second trade she impulsively kisses a guy she meets a a function; a guy who turns out to be Grills’ murderer.
Interestingly, so far the true enemy has been the “Russian” mob. This adds another layer to the pastiche that Fraction has created here, almost Tarantino-esque. Like many good mob stories, what starts out as a simple act of justice spirals out of control as it involves much larger forces. When Clint fights an illegal gambling location’s worth of the tracksuit mafia, he believes he’s done. He bought the building and now his friends are safe as his tenants. Not only does he believe he’s dealt with these small-time thugs, but he also partially believes that no one would rightly mess with an Avenger. However, what he doesn’t realize is that, first of all, mob bosses have to take care of their underlings to prevent mutiny. Second, this mob has connections with the larger crime boss organization that includes Kingpin, Mr Negative, and a who’s who of New York-based Marvel villains. So the menace is both grounded and comic book-level. Additionally, the mob is actually more willing to kill civilians than the Super Villains who usually kill Heroes with civilians being side-casualties.
So I think Hawkeye is really hitting on a bunch of things in the zeitgeist: the 1960s mashup, the everyman hero, the desire for women to be more than just objects of desire and combining it with his trademark whit (as with the almost fourth wall shattering issue recognizing the ridiculousness of the trick arrows) and creating something we were so hungry for.
Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon (Marvel NOW!)
by Matt Fraction with art by David Aja and Javier Pulido with colors by Matt Hollingsworth.
Hawkeye: Little Hits, Vol. 2 by Matt Fraction with art by David Aja, Francesco Francavilla, Steve Lieber, Jesse Ham and Annie Wu with colors by Matt Hollingsworth.