Too serious about comics.

David Aja

Best Comic of 2012: Hawkeye

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hawkeye 2Admit it. You all saw this one coming. While there are some books from 2012 that we haven’t got around to reading yet which could have given some on this list a run for their money (Prophet and Manhattan Projects spring to mind), there was only ever one book that was going to top this list, and that’s Hawkeye. It’s done more in six issues than some series manage in six years.

On paper, this project was in serious danger of being a dud. Fraction’s form at Marvel has been inconsistent at best, Aja was never going to be available for every issue, and historically, Hawkeye has proven unable to support a title. His last solo series died after eight issues, while his recent team-up series with Mockingbird managed only six. Expectations were low. So it was a double surprise when Marvel put out one of the best superhero series, not just of the year, but of the century. If it lasts long enough, maybe even of all time.

That’s because Hawkeye isn’t just entertaining, although it is that. It’s also experimental and aesthetically coherent in ways that few comics are. It’s got all the spirit and originality that Marvel’s best runs display – Lee and Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man, Gerber’s Howard the Duck, Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men. Comics this good don’t come around very often, and when they do, you cling to them and hope the ride never stops. They’re the books that cast a shadow over everything that follows. There are enough techniques and ideas in Hawkeye to keep an entire decade of writers and artists inspired for years to come. You’re going to see them again and again, and each time you’ll remember where you saw them first.

Somehow, what Fraction has managed to do is metabolise the slicker-than-thou, medium-bending action of Casanova into a Marvel Universe superhero title. Aja displays a complete mastery of the page (it’s tough to imagine anyone else cramming 20+ panels onto a page and still make it look so fucking gorgeous) while guest artist for issues 4 and 5, Javier Pulido, proves that a lighter, Kirby/Steranko-influenced style can work just as well, illustrating a hotel gang war like it was a 40s screwball comedy and somehow maintaining the tone. Colourist Matt Hollingsworth, meanwhile, is the best example of what the right colourist can for to a series, complementing the pencils with deliberately limited palettes, never overwhelming them.

The basic idea behind Hawkeye is a simple one: he’s the man on the street who’s an Avenger in his spare time. Sometimes, that means he’s dealing with extortionist landlords. Other times, it means he’s being abducted from a rooftop cookout by SHIELD. The series reads like an action movie about a street-thug turned secret agent, as the unflappably down-to-earth Hawkeye and his Girl Friday Kate (also code-named Hawkeye) bicker and fight, as much with each other as with the villains they’re trying to defeat. The book’s pace is relentless, but it never seems like a slight read. Every panel and piece of dialogue seems to do two jobs at once. It’s dense, but not fatiguing. Simple but not facile. It’s not a gritty series, but the character study is intense and realistic. When Hawkeye thinks he’s falling to his death, he’s not sarcastic or scared: he apologises, even though no-one can hear. It’s a subtle reminder of the context of everything Hawkeye does. Of his practical, hands-on, one-day-at-a-time approach to achieving the redemption that he doesn’t feel he deserves, and doesn’t realise he’s already attained.

In 2012, Hawkeye released only six issues, but you could pick up any one of them and make a case for it being one of the best individual comics of the year. And that’s why it’s our favourite series of 2012. Realistically, nothing else even had a chance.

Daredevil #500

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daredevil500Marvel’s raft of high-numbered anniversary issues continues with this week’s Daredevil #500. It might be a fairly transparent renumbering stunt, but if I’m being honest, I prefer reverting to the original numbering over restarting from a new #1, so I’m going to let it slide without complaining.

The issue caps off Ed Brubaker’s run on the character, which followed Brian Bendis’ wildly popular turn. If I’m being honest, it’s my opinion that Brubaker’s run didn’t really live up to its predecessor, and only became interesting in the last year or so when things became a little more self-consciously superheroic. Still, Andy Diggle has already got some good Marvel comics under his belt, so I’m not sad to see the baton handed to him.

But before then – Brubaker gets to deliver his finale. It was fairly obvious from the start where this storyline was going in terms of a “shocking revelation”, but that makes the realisation of it no less brilliant. Brubaker spent a long time setting up his board, from the White Tiger and Black Tarantula, to Fisk, Foggy, Milla and Dakota. Seeing the culmination of that reminds you why Brubaker is one of Marvel’s most valued writers, and it’s just a pity it took so long to get to this point. The new status quo for Daredevil isn’t a million miles away from what Bendis did with the character, but it does feel like it’ll explore new territory, rather than simply continue the tone of the book – and if we’re being honest, that change in direction doesn’t come too soon.

As good as the writing is, it’s Lark who truly excels with some superb action scenes that display their sense of acrobatic movement exactly as a Daredevil book should. The issue is interspersed with flashback scenes, and one in particular, to Matt’s childhood, gave me a genuine jolt, when the art style switched to Romita Jr.-esque “Man Without Fear” look, apparently Klaus Janson’s inks over Lark’s pencils, although you’d be hard pressed to say it wasn’t Romita Jr. himself. It’s not unusual to concentrate more on the writing than the art when reading a comic, but that makes it a much nicer surprise when the art alone manages to shock you.

The rest of the issue is rounded out with a new story by Ann Nocenti and David Aja, a reprint of Daredevil #171, a pin-up gallery and a cover gallery of all 500 issues. Since it culminates a multi-year storyline, the lead story might not be particularly interesting to readers who turn up for the anniversary alone, but the rest of the issue should more than justify the price. Definitely worth a look.

James Hunt | 20th August, 2009

New Avengers #50

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Finally, the Dark Avengers meet the New Avengers for the match-up you’ve been waiting for!

Or rather… they don’t. You can colour me slightly miffed that the meeting I was looking forward to – the one that was advertised in all the material and on the cover of the book – DIDN’T ACTUALLY HAPPEN. It makes complete sense, of course, and shows exactly how formidable Osborn is now that he’s in a position of power, but, well, it’s not exactly the comic that was advertised…

That aside, there’s much to love about the issue. The issue does, at least, feature the New Avengers reacting to the first appearance of the “Dark” Avengers, and that scene plays out with some of Bendis’ funniest dialogue for ages – although Phillip Tan’s artwork for the same scene leaves much to be desired. As improved as Tan is, he’s not really in the same league as the book’s previous artists. On a title like New Avengers, readers deserve top artistry.

On some level Marvel do understand that – this issue, extra-sized, has a unique gimmick of having single page character focusses during the big fight scene, drawn by artists associated with that character, including some brilliant spidey art by McNiven and an always-welcome glimpse of Gaydos drawing Jessica Jones. It’s a unique approach to a fight scene, and a welcome “event” to mark the book’s 50th issue – even if that does mean seeing some of Greg “got the” Horn’s laughable attempts at rendering an interior page.

Of course, as good as the plot is, and as special as the extra artwork is, there’s one fact that deeply overshadows this entire issue, and that’s the price. If part of you doesn’t wince at the idea of paying $4.99 for an issue of New Avengers, then, well, you’re lucky that you’re rich enough not to care. I used to pride myself on buying comics with scant regard for how much it actually cost – but when one comic costs almost 4 quid, it’s genuinely hard not to complain. I actually bought a *NEW* TPB containing 8 issues of Fantastic Four for less than twice that price. I don’t want to stop buying singles, I’m sure Marvel don’t want me to stop buying singles, but this is getting ridiculous.

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