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BOOK REC: Hawkeye – Matt Fraction, David Aja
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BOOK REC: Hawkeye – Matt Fraction, David Aja

Author/Artist: Matt Fraction (website), David Aja (website / twitter), Matt Hollingsworth (website / twitter)

UK Publisher: Marvel/Panini UK

Genre: Superhero, action, graphic novel

Like a lot of people, I watched the new Hawkeye series when it came out at Christmas. I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest Marvel fan – if anything at this stage I’m eking out the end of the sunk cost fallacy in that I need to see the end of a lot of characters I invested a lot of time in, but otherwise I am checked out – BUT. Hawkeye is a weird exception. I have a lot of friends who love Hawkeye, the character. They didn’t even know each other beforehand, it just happened. And after the entry-level drug of the first Avengers movie, they found their way into fanfic, and lo! They were no longer happy with the MCU Hawkeye, and would only really accept the One True Hawkeye – the absolute garbage fire of a human being we meet in the Matt Fraction run. Between my friends (and, bizarrely, my MA Dissertation supervisor – shout out Dr Dan), I eventually read it. And it was good! Great! As someone who occasionally thinks “maybe I should read comics” and then looks at the comics and goes “oh no that’s way too much”, Fraction’s Hawkeye was neatly collected, required very little additional knowledge, and generally shied away from the sort of art that inspired the Hawkeye Initiative (ironically). I read this and approved, agreed with the sentiments re: the MCU Hawkeye, even dabbled in some fanfic, and that seemed to be the end of that.

Until the series came out.

A few years back I went to see Sister Act: the Musical, and when I came out of it, all I thought was that I wish I’d just spent the money buying Sister Act on DVD instead. A similar thing happened when I watched The Rook TV series, where I just wanted to read the book instead and remind myself what I loved about it. Hawkeye was fun, (better than The Rook and Sister Act: The Musical that’s for sure) but all the bits I loved about it were nods to the comic, and bits that the comic did better because that version of Clint was a different version from the MCU Clint. I got frustrated they gave all his best bits to Kate – and don’t get me wrong, I loved Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop, I thought she was perfect – and felt like the screenwriters were just trying to course-correct after the studio realised they’d missed a great opportunity with a character they’d not really considered deeply enough at the beginning, at the expense of Clint getting his day, but also at the expense of Kate’s character too.

So, after watching a show that did a lot of things I liked, just not quite as well as when I first liked them in the source material, it only seemed fair to buy the source material instead of mooching off my friend again. I think it helped that Matt Fraction was one of the consulting producers, and I thought that matching the credit art to the cover art for the series was a nice touch, but it just left me wanting the little bit more I got from the comic.

This isn’t a review of the show, however, it’s a review of the comic (okay, I guess it’s sort of both, but this is a book blog – I did have ideas of reviewing film and TV, but let’s be very honest I barely have time to review the books I read so why make more work for myself).

I, theoretically, love comic books. Or rather, I love a lot of the concepts, and character tropes, and design aesthetics explored in them. But – and hands up here if you agree with me – some of them have just got so big that it’s hard to find an entry point. You research where to start and end up with umpteen different timelines, twelve different universes, and four different super pets, before you even get into the children who have returned from the future to correct the past and co-exist with their own grandparents, or any reboots that happen because it’s all got too complicated. It’s a LOT.

The wonderful thing about the Fraction and Aja Hawkeye run is that you don’t really, actually, need to know ANYTHING, really. You can pick it up from the first issue – Clint (Hawkeye) is dead, apparently, so has been replaced by Kate (Hawkeye). Clint isn’t actually dead, but is cruising around as Ronin, stabbing people instead of shooting them, but he wants to check Kate is a good replacement Hawkeye. That’s how they meet. And then they sort of become mentor-mentee BFFS (Clint thinks Kate’s amazing, Kate thinks Clint is a trainwreck – they are both correct, but also both epithets are mutual), and this comic follows what happens on the days they’re not being Avengers. Or, as Fraction put it, “he’s the Just a Dude of the Avengers, these are THOSE stories. About what he does and who he is when he isn’t punching the clock.

And, guys, you know, I’m WEAK for the domestic stories. The stories between the big End-of-the-World issues, where we get to explore character relationships and dynamics. It’s a great way to really look at a character’s core when they’re not under the same levels of pressure. The apocalypse will bring out certain things in a person; but when you’re an idiot who pissed off Russian mobsters because of a dog, that’s on you.

This book isn’t without plot. There are character threads which join Kate and Clint, and give you things to care about; the thing about it is that they’re almost irrelevant to the wider Avengers and Young Avengers plots. I don’t need to buy any other comics to enjoy what’s happening here. And while I may be curious about where it goes after? I don’t need to hunt down another series to find the resolution. In some ways it works as well as a standalone graphic novel, along the lines of Watchmen, or V for Vendetta. The difference is, because it’s not a standalone that’s been adjusted to have different characters because the publisher baulked at the last minute, it feels lighter. Perhaps that’s why the publisher didn’t baulk, perhaps their control made it feel less intense. But it is a nice relief for people who like a bit of comic book design and nonsense, but who don’t really want it to feel as intensely bleak as some of the standalones can.

This is a fun, lightweight caper book in a way, with Kate and Clint showcasing their flaws almost more than their skills, and making them wonderfully human and delightfully relatable as their mistakes make their stories, and gives the plots their emotional weight. These guys aren’t untouchable gods or superhumans, they’re absolute trash fires of human beings, and it is compelling reading about them around that. They are good at precisely one thing, and that is shooting an outdated weapon of war at people with science fiction lasers, and somehow they come out on top. Ish.

It’s an underdog-pizza dog story, and it’s a lot of fun.

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