Monday, August 6, 2012

Comic Books You Should Be Reading: Hawkeye (?!)

I’ll admit, I never expected to be recommending a series called Hawkeye in this feature, let alone recommending it after only one issue. But there it is. Marvel Comics’ new series featuring the breakout Avengers hero is a little gem with a lot of very sharp edges.

I’ve never liked Hawkeye. He’s always been the team loudmouth, way too full of himself, and too often played off Captain America just so there was someone to play off Cap. But I picked up Hawkeye #1, partly because I liked the portrayal of Hawkeye in the recent Avengers movie and partly because Derrick Fleece told me to.

Thank you, Derrick.

Here’s a quick recap for the civilians: Hawkeye is generally considered a B-list superhero, a member of most versions of the Avengers over the years but rarely holding down his own title. He was raised by carnies and became a preternaturally good trick shot with a bow and arrow (among other things, but mostly with a bow and arrow). He ran around as a villain for a little while before changing his stripes and applying for Avengers membership. Since then, it’s basically been his job to put an arrow in the bad guy’s eye, call Captain America an idiot when it’s necessary, and in some cases be the only member of the team who uses contractions and/or slang in his dialogue. Oh, and he wears a purple costume, thus dooming him to the fate of almost all characters who wear secondary colors—B-list at best. 

Leap BEFORE you look!
The first issue of what looks to be a new ongoing series by Matt Fraction and David Aja begins with Hawkeye falling out of a building and firing an arrow upward, a lot like that much-ballyhooed shot that made it into the movie trailer. Looks familiar, right? Like you know where this story is going?

Except this time we see Hawkeye land … very hard … on his back … on top of a parked car. Six weeks in the hospital for our intrepid hero. That’s your first clue that this ain’t your granddaddy’s superhero story.  

Hawkeye's physical-therapy regimen.
 As Hawkeye (a.k.a. Clint Barton) points out, he’s the non-super guy on the team of superheroes. He’s out there as backup to Iron Man and Thor, and all he brings to table is, in his words, “a string and a stick from the Paleolithic era.” (He’s quite proud of looking up the word “Paleolithic,” naturally.) The series follows what Hawkeye gets up to when he isn’t being an Avenger, and that seems to be a lot more interesting than what he does when he is one.
Hawkeye's neighbors are so nice, they ignore the purple shirt.
Once he’s out of the hospital, Hawkeye runs afoul of his scummy landlord, who’s trying to evict all the tenants from the building so he can sell the place. Hawkeye seems to like his neighbors (they’re apparently the only people he knows socially who don’t run around in spandex, and most don’t appear to know he’s an Avenger), so he sticks his nose where it’s not wanted and the story goes from there. The rest of the plot involves a run-down casino, a duffel bag full of money, and an incident with a dog that will darn near break your heart. 

Aww, he made a friend. Sort of.
There’s plenty of action and crackling dialogue, but what’s more impressive is what you won’t see in this story. Hawkeye never dons his costume, and there’s not an arrow fired after that first page, but you don’t miss it at all. This is a story about the man under the spandex, and he turns out to be a genuinely interesting and sympathetic guy. He’ll kick his wheelchair into a busy street and break heads in the waiting room of a vet’s office, but he’ll also ask Ivan the landlord not to threaten people with murder in front of their kids, screw up breaking a beer bottle with a penny, and bribe a guard dog with a slice of pizza. He doesn’t have much of a social life outside of the Avengers and this little group of people on a rooftop, but you find yourself wishing you could be one of the people at that barbecue with him. He’s just a fun character to be around, and the comic is all about him, so you know you’re in good hands.

Spandex-free face-punching.
With visual and dialogue tributes to everything from jazz music to seventies action movies, Hawkeye is a fast and stylish thrill ride that never loses track of its heroic heart. Even if you’ve never touched a bow and arrow, even if you don’t care about whether Kang the Conqueror gets a shaft through the eye, you’ll finish this comic caring about Hawkeye, and what he does, and why he does it. And you won’t miss the costume at all. How’s that for a trick shot?

One note to the creative team, though—we’d better see more of that dog … 

"It's okay. I'm an Avenger." Well, that just makes it all better ...

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