Every once in a while, there comes a comic series that puts everything else being published to shame. It’s that fine fusion of great storytelling from the writer and artists that set it a definitive notch above everything else. We’ve seen that with seminal series such as The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, & Fables to name a few. Now, we can add Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye to that list.
Hawkeye is not Fraction’s first collaboration with David Aja. The gem that was their run on 2007′s Eisner Award-Winning Immortal Iron Fist was the first time these two came together. It offered glimpses of storytelling brilliance and was a good, fun read unto itself. Fraction went on to other works with Marvel, but has best been known for his character-defining run on The Invincible Iron Man with Salvador Larroca. Aja has been much more selective about his works, but has been prolific nonetheless. The recently released 11th issue of Hawkeye only serves to underscore the brilliance of this collaboration.
Fraction & Aja’s run on Hawkeye began last year, when the book was the best book you were not reading. By the end of the first arc, “My Life as a Weapon“, the series was firmly established as the best book of the year. Nobody was surprised when Hawkeye was nominated for an Eisner award this year, it was merely an acknowledgement of Fraction’s uncanny ability to redefine the superhero genre.
Hawkeye is a book that, at its core, is about a somewhat-regular guy, trying to do the right thing. Clint Barton just also happens to be an Avenger. Fraction has been very good, to date, about not being gratuitous with cameos from his Avengers teammates. As the oft quoted into page says, this book is about what Hawkeye does when he’s not hanging out with the Avengers. This book really is a case of Barton’s “regular life” being much more engaging than his day job with his superhero teammates. That’s an impressive feat given who all he works with in his day job.
The neighbors in Barton’s building could be the residents of any apartment building in Brooklyn. Most of the villains encountered are not super-powered, but are dirtbags that most of us have run into at some point. At its core, Fraction’s characters in “Hawkeye” are the most relatable of any superhero comic that has been published in the last 20 years. Other than being a really good shot (presumably the world’s best), there’s not much super about this hero at all. He is a hero at his core, and his last consideration is always himself. He just wants to help his neighbors and try to be a nice guy. It doesn’t always work out like that, but his falabaility is what makes him genuine. Here, Clint Barton is crafted as the most accessible “regular guy” hero in a sea of superheroes.
Hawkeye’s relationship with Kate Bishop, the Hawkeye of the Young Avengers, is really the relationship that serves to keep Barton grounded. She’s a strong, resilient woman who can handle herself and isn’t afraid to call Clint on his bullshit. In a book titled “Hawkeye”, she’s as much the main character as Barton is. While there is some sexual tension in the relationship, her real purpose is to balance Barton and be his moral compass when he just can’t see himself for what he is. That is a situation that we all get into. Sometimes we just need one of our friends to tell us we’re either on the right track, or we’re full of shit. Kate does that brilliantly.
Overall, this is a series that can be read again and again. The first time you read it through you are nearly overwhelmed by the eloquence of the art’s simplicity and how that helps drive the story. This is intended to be a story about a relatively simple guy. This is not the story of Iron Man, or Thor, or Captain America. This is the simple everyman archer of the Avengers, just being a regular person. Clint’s stumbling through life is what endears him to readers. He is one of us. He is us.
Hawkeye shows us that heroes are not just super, but that they can be everyday people who have everyday problems. In today’s high-energy world of grand storytelling, this is a story that distills it’s main character to his true essence and makes him one of us. It makes him a regular guy who just happens to be an Avenger. As long as Fraction stays true to what makes Hawkeye a hero, this comic has the potential to be on everyone’s pull-list for a long time to come.