Monday, 6 January 2014

Hawkeye, Volume 1: My Life as a Weapon (Marvel Now)


Hawkeye Volume 1: My Life as a Weapon (Marvel NOW)
Shooting arrows off buildings? Yeah,
that's normal...

Writer: Matt Fraction

Artist: David Aja and Javier Pulido

Collects: Hawkeye 1-5 and Young Avengers 6

Owned as trade paperback.

Background Info:

Whatever some comic fans may say about DC’s new 52, they have to admit that financially, it’s been a big success. And what publisher wouldn’t want to jump on a financial success, right?

In response to the new 52, Marvel launched its own “new-reader-friendly” approach called Marvel NOW. Unlike DC’s initiative, which involved a soft reboot of the entire franchise, Marvel took a large slab of their characters and put them in situations so unlike anything that would be considered “normal” for them that is would have the same effect as a reboot.

What? Oh yeah, about Hawkeye. Writer Matt Fraction tells us little more than this about Hawkeye:

“Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, became the greatest sharp-shooter known to man. He then joined the Avengers. This is what he does when he’s not being an avenger. That’s all you need to know.”

And, well, it is.

Review:

Sometimes I lament the push for dark and edgy stories. Don’t get me wrong; I loved The Dark Knight as much as the next man, but every time I hear “dark and gritty” get used as an indicator of quality, I die a little inside.

Which is why I’m so glad that Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon doesn’t play the “hardcore” card. My Life as a Weapon seems to find the perfect ground between being totally accessible to adults and being fun and light-hearted.

As suggested in the background story, this is what Clint Barton, or Hawkeye, does on his time off. And if that sounds like an awful story, you’re going to find yourself pleasantly surprised. Clint, it turns out, gets into a lot of trouble on his time off. He gets takes on nasty landlords, on the wrong side of low-level mafias, busts small-time thieves and tries to get his dog a slice of pizza. It’s all pretty inconsequential-sounding stuff, and if this were written and drawn like a regular superhero book, it would probably be a rather pathetic excuse for a normal superhero book.

Thankfully, this isn’t a normal superhero book, in fact, but for the fact that Hawkeye is kinda a superhero, it’s barely a superhero book at all (okay, let’s make a deal; I am never typing “superhero book” again in this review, starting… now).  In fact, My Life as a Weapon plays out more like a classic cop drama. There are elements here that remind me of Starsky and Hutch, Hawaii Five-O, and other dramas that are difficult to ignore. Regular chase scenes, outfits that look less-than-contemporary and a “partners” dynamic happen again and again in Hawkeye, giving the book this great nostalgia. It’s backed up by artwork that looks like it was from a time when comics weren’t in a financial slump, and as such, looks great.

Matt Fraction does an amazing job writing the two main characters in this trade. If you only read this book, you’d be surprised to find out that Hawkeye was a member of a team like the Avengers. He makes frequent mistakes (one issue is even devoted to mistakes he has made), he’s often out of his comfort zone and talks himself into a hole so regularly that he barely seems like a superhero at all. In the process, he becomes one of the most relatable characters in comics. The real money here, though is the way Fraction writes the relationship between Clint and Kate “Younger Hawkeye” Bishop. Fraction manages to create a dialogue between the two of them that has just enough sexual tension to make it funny, but enough brother-and-sister tropes to stop it from being creepy- Kate is a lot younger than Clint, after all. Kate is a great character in her right, she’s somewhat sarcastic, and enjoys making fun of Clint in ways that actually makes you laugh out loud.

Even the other characters in Hawkeye are handled amazingly. The Russian gang that have become popularly known as the “tracksuit draculas” (even though that’s a name they never give themselves in the trade), speak in hilarious broken English and use the word “bro” where a full stop should be. Clint’s neighbours all ooze personality and even Clint’s dog seems to have life in Fraction’s story.

I have spoken about the art briefly, but it needs to be said again: the art is brilliant. The best way I can describe it is that it’s beautifully understated. Not much bother has been taken with intricate details and lighting, and as a result, it’s one of the boldest-looking comics you’ll ever read. Panelling is also done particularly well, allowing for Fraction’s dialogue to take on extra life. It’s rare that artist and writer work this well together.

I only have two complaints about this collection. Firstly, after the first three issues, the quality does seem to drop in both art and story. Hawkeye reads best when it feels like a collection of short stories; when each issue has its own story to tell and doesn’t need to fit an “arc”. This is something that was nailed in the first three issues, but issues 4 and 5 seem to take a step backwards, telling a two part “arc” that isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the beginning of the book. What’s more, a different artist in this arc is definitely noticeable; it’s comparatively lifeless. Second major complaint is the shoehorned Young Avengers 6 that finishes this volume. It investigates the time that Kate and Clint met, but it feel unnecessary and it’s conventional style of art clashes sharply with the understated work in the previous issues.

That said, My Life as a Weapon is the perfect antidote for those tired of conventional comics’ “dark and gritty” approach, and for that it gets for and a half out of five superhero books.

…Dammit.

**** ½

+ Superbly written.

+ Light-hearted done right.

+ Art is awesome.

- Quality dips slightly toward the end.

- You don’t need to read the Young Avengers tie-in… like, at all.

Alternate Option: Hawkeye: Little Hits

Not one that I’ve read yet, but the only thing on the market form the big that’s anything like Hawkeye is another volume of Hawkeye.