Too serious about comics.


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.

The Sunday Pages #68

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This week, we’ve got capsule reviews of Dark Reign: Hawkeye #4, New Avengers #55 and Ultimatum Spider-Man Requiem #2 (punctuate that title however you prefer) – and a quick reminder to pick up the a copy of Phonogram Vs. The Fans, if you want to see what we contributed to it!

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Alternate Cover Team | 2nd August, 2009

Dark Reign : Hawkeye #1

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I’m not quite sure what made me pick this up – I still remain to be convinced that Dark Reign has much in the way of potential for interesting stories beyond the inherent “Heh, that’s quite cool” of its central gimmick, and I’ve never been particularly bothered about either Hawkeye or Bullseye. I suppose it must just be down to Andy Diggle, who in his career in American comics so far has shown an affinity for the unpleasant that makes him an ideal fit for something like this. And what do you know, it actually turns out to be a rather worthwhile read.

After all, if there’s one aspect of the Dark Avengers setup that’s the most troubling, it’s the placement of Bullseye in the fold – having the murderer of Gwen Stacy feted as a national hero is one thing, but you suspect that Osborn will be due for his comeuppance at some point or another; and indeed, Diggle explores here the Lex Luthor-esque situation of the one-time Goblin simply demanding respect from the proles, and seeing the role of the hero as just another way of attaining it. The completely amoral Bullseye, however, represents the biggest threat to the sustainability of the status quo – and it’s a situation that Diggle immediately sets about dismantling.

And in rather gleeful fashion, too – there’s no attempt by Diggle to reconcile Bullseye’s established character with his new role. He’s a cold-blooded, murdering bastard, and spends the entire issue quite happily either killing bad guys, or allowing through inaction the deaths of civilians. He does make a quite reasonable (well, relatively speaking) point when being chewed out by Osborn about the latter, actually – he’s not a hero, he’s an assassin with a casual disregard for human life. If anything, letting him loose on the public and giving him license to roam is a huge mistake on the part of HAMMER’s new leader – and if the events of the closing pages are anything to go by, with a really quite shocking twist that even goes beyond the behaviour that you’d expect of Bullseye, it’s one that could be his undoing.

And it’s here that the main problem with this miniseries comes to light – on the one hand, putting it in its own series means that it can be written by Diggle, and not Bendis, and he’s so far well-suited to tackling this character. On the other hand, there doesn’t really seem like being enough story here to spread over five issues – yet what story there is feels too big not to be happening in Dark Avengers itself. Unless there’s going to be an almighty (and unbelievable) bit of cover-up going on, then the closing-page cliffhanger (itself rather excellently played) means we should already be seeing the beginning of the end for Osborn’s Avengers – and it’s not something that should really be risked not being read by the followers of the main series.

Still and all, it’s a decent read, with solid – if slightly inconsistent – art from Raney. Bullseye remains a terribly one-dimensional character, but Diggle at least has fun exploring his one notable facet to rather gruesome effect. It won’t do anything to sate the apoplectic rage of those who can’t bear to see such a villain dressing up as their favourite purple-suited Avenger, but for those interested in just how far you can push the idea of bad-guys-pretending-to-be-the-good-guys, it does the job. Let’s just hope the writer can find enough story to fill out the next four issues.

Seb Patrick | 13th April, 2009