The Legacy of Hawkeye

Faith D’Isa ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Marketing Officer

Hawkeye #22 cover. Image Credit: Marvel.
Hawkeye #22 Image Credit: Marvel.

After a successful run overlapping several years, the acclaimed Hawkeye comic by Matt Fraction and David Aja with Matt Hollingsworth and Chris Eliopoulos finally reached its conclusion in Hawkeye vol. 4 #22 released July 15. The book, like all its predecessors, shone in its storytelling ability and beautiful art—as said in the final “Arrow Mail” at the end of the issue, “Congratulations. You are holding in your hands the most hotly anticipated comic of 2015. And 2014. And maybe 2013. But it’s all good, by now you’ve relished the last few pages of Hawkeye and realize the wait was worth it.”

Anyone who was a big fan of Marvel comics before 2008’s Iron Man can tell you that many of the Marvel characters we know and love were not the big shots they are now in the comics before the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (really!). But even now, with three film appearances under his belt, Clint Barton, a.k.a. “Hawkeye,” has never been the star of the show, left off of merchandise in favor of the “big four” (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Hulk) as a result of his smaller following. It’s very easy to credit Hawkeye with the extreme rise in popularity of the sharpshooter, Clint Barton, the first Hawkeye.

But Hawkeye did something different that helped the story stand out—the book was not just about Clint Barton, but also Kate Bishop, a younger woman who takes on the name “Hawkeye” after being attacked. She’s “practically an Avenger,” and despite being Clint’s protégé in some ways, is always on equal grounds with him. Hawkeye does not push Kate aside for Clint or try to invert the stereotype and make Clint the damsel in distress to Kate. They stand side-by-side with one another, sharing the title “Hawkeye” on equal footing and getting equal opportunity to shine, even when they’re separated.

That wasn’t the only instance that made this book shine. No, Hawkeye’s biggest charm probably came from its premise—what do Avengers do when they’re not being Avengers? From the start, this wasn’t going to be Clint Barton and Kate Bishop in uniform working for the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D.; in fact, from start to finish, the main conflict focuses on the apartment building Clint lives at in Brooklyn that a small section of the mafia is looking to take, as they are the landlords. Clint doesn’t really appreciate these guys trying to kick him and his neighbors out of their building unfairly, so from the start, he gets the mafia out (temporarily) and takes over management of the building. That’s right. Clint Barton, landlord.

The supporting cast of characters we meet are charming and interesting, and unlike many minor comic book characters, they feel like real people. The other people living in Clint’s building are people that could live next door to anyone, having their own stories and charming ticks that make even the most minor of character deaths completely devastating. Clint Barton fixes broken appliances and has barbeques and deals with petty problems, and readers are just as interested as they would be with any big fight between a hero and his or her arch-enemy, because the team behind Hawkeye captures the spirit of a character who has always been a hero, but not necessarily the hero. Fraction’s Clint Barton is an extraordinary everyman to whom any reader can easily relate in a way that is often difficult with superheroes. The book starts with him saving a dog. That’s his motivator, and it just works.

Hawkeye #1 Image Credit: Marvel.
Hawkeye #1
Image Credit: Marvel.

Kate Bishop, meanwhile, is a perfect match for Clint and his often “down” self. Though often she is there to pick him up or set him straight, he isn’t belittled and she isn’t his babysitter. In fact, Kate’s big solo arc (in the collected editions, called “L.A. Woman”) begins when she decides she can’t take any more of Clint and his drama and takes a road trip across the country. There, she works as something of a private eye—a “hero for hire,” if you will—and has stories of her own, paralleling what happens to Clint across the country. She makes enemies of her own, forms relationships with locals and kicks serious butt in an arc that could easily distract from the forming plot back in New York, but instead is a breath of fresh air that gives some much needed solo character development to a character often overshadowed on teams. Sound familiar? Kate Bishop is a character with flaws as a result of her youth but determination that seems to make that all irrelevant, and she’s captured perfectly.

Another pit this book never fell into was becoming entirely reliant on “guest appearances.” Yes, there is a name drop of Captain America here and a visit from Tony Stark there, but there’s never any question as to about whom this story was written. Clint and Kate’s world supports them, but never needs to rely on them for anything. The characters never worked seamlessly as a pair; Fraction never tries to lie about that because it’s not in their nature. Clint often makes dumb choices and Kate is often overambitious and they don’t always win at first. But they balance each other out; Hawkeye and Hawkeye.

Hawkeye as a book has also inspired an entire community of fans through its brilliant visuals by the never-failing David Aja. Aja must not have known at the time that his choice in color scheme and art for this book would change so many. It’s distinct. You can look at an Aja Hawkeye page and know immediately what it is, and find so much complexity in a very simple scheme. The style draws you into this world, making it not overwhelming, and the shifts in location shift colors just enough to make you know you’re someplace else; but you’re still in Aja’s world.

The language also used in Hawkeye has become so trademark; the way the characters curse through beautifully changed words (futzing is a personal favorite), the Tracksuit Draculas and their “bro” titles, and perhaps most iconically, “Hawkguy,” a name given to Clint by a dear friend and a title that will live on forever. The voices of the characters are brilliantly consistent to the point where readers find it difficult to imagine them any other way, simultaneously breaking the box with characters we’ve seen before but still keeping true to them at their cores. Even chapters that had few-to-no words, like one completely from the point of view of Clint’s dog, Lucky, were brilliantly narrated, keeping in mind the point of view from which we were reading.

Similar is the brilliant way Fraction brings back the concept of Clint Barton being a deaf character. It is not forced or disregarded after the fact; it is a real struggle with which Clint has to live, balancing out issues with his past and his family in time, too. The visuals done in sign language and misinterpreted lines as Clint attempts to read lips for the first time since he was young was unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and it made the book that much more moving and accessible while you tried to step into Clint’s shoes.

With a book like this having twenty-one issues that were hit after hit—and with a wait this long—the bar set for the final issue of Hawkeye was extremely high. It’s as if the team leapt over that bar and then some, pushing this run into what could arguably be a Marvel classic. They didn’t try to shove too much content into it or add any last minute twists; this felt like one more Hawkeye book that we so desperately needed. It wrapped up the story perfectly while still leaving room for its successor, the also fantastic All-New Hawkeye, to grow from it and still exist within the same universe. The last three pages of this book, without words, could bring readers to tears with the end of this era.

Hawkeye is often credited as changing the way Marvel wrote comics. And it should. The more books we get like Hawkeye, the better. Sure, it’s great to see big superhero fights. But there was something so special about Hawkeye of which all comic creators should take note. A normal guy and girl with no powers can go a long, long way.

Rating: A+

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