It’s sometimes hard for me to accept that Hawkeye is one of the best superhero books on the market. My inability to process this seemingly self-evident truth helps to expose one of the quirks about the comic fan/collector mentality. Far too many of us, even though we don’t want to admit it, are loyal to the characters more than the creator. Haven’t we all been guilty (sometimes every Wednesday), of trusting a fictional character more than the flesh-and-blood creators who make the book? It’s a darn good thing that the assembled roster of talent in Hawkeye Volume 1: My Life as a Weapon (which reprints the first five issues of the current Hawkeye ongoing, as well as Young Avengers Presents #6) is simply impossible to ignore.
Timing, as they say, is everything, and Clint Barton’s prominent role in last summer’s Avengers flick certainly felt timely with him getting his own book and all. Given the runaway success of the Avengers movie, a new title starring Hawkeye probably would have sold fairly well out of the gate regardless of the creative team. What’s more, it might have made a certain amount of sense to try and match the excitement and spectacle of Hawkeye’s cinematic counterpart, and maybe even load the book up with a few of his more high-profile teammates and their foes. Instead, Fraction and friends (which honestly does sound like a brilliant superhero team in its own right), bring Hawkeye down to the ground, where he takes on corrupt landlords, snarky neighbors, and his own aches and pains.
This is as entry level as it gets for a character who has been around for almost fifty years. While it’s not an origin story in any traditional way, Fraction maps out the mission statement of the book very well in that opening chapter, particularly when we get a glimpse of Clint’s “to-do” list, which focuses very much on the little details which are to small for a super team to handle. When you get down to it, Clint Barton really is kind of a lifer in the superhero business. It’s not like he’s Matt Murdock and has a successful law practice he can fall back on, he’s just a dude with some resources, no superpowers, and an apartment in Brooklyn. As commonplace as all that sounds, it’s far more compelling than many of our usual superhero slugfests. Make no mistake, there’s plenty of action in this book, from back room brawls, to car chases, to secret missions in imaginary nations with supervillains lurking in expensive hotels, all sprinkled with no small amount of smartassy humor.
David Aja’s art is reminiscent of David Mazzucchelli’s work on Daredevil: Born Again and Batman: Year One, which is just about the highest praise I can offer. I tend to believe that the whole “gritty, urban superhero” genre peaked with the Daredevil and Batman stories in question, so putting David Aja in that company is about the only way I know to praise him as much as he deserves. Forgive me, guys, I’m only a writer. But the amount of information that Aja is able to pack into a single panel while still maintaining a fairly sparse, “cartoony” style is staggering…and he does it page after page. The rooftop party and the poker game, both in the first chapter, spring immediately to mind.
Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon exists on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, but that’s part of what makes it so effective. You know that Clint is only a subway ride from Avengers HQ, and there are plenty of references to the wider Marvel Universe, but visually and tonally, this book just occupies a different space. It feels like Clint Barton and friends live just as comfortably on the edges of the dirty, cinematic New York City of films like Mean Streets or The French Connection or any combination of other seventies NYC crime flicks. I can’t help but feel that Matt Hollingsworth’s color choices have a great deal to do with that vibe. The story kicks off in August, and there’s a real sense of that hazy, claustrophobic feel that the city gets in late summer, which continues throughout.
In the last two chapters, “The Tape” which moves much of the action to Madripoor as Clint finds himself on a mission for S.H.I.E.L.D. the colors brighten a bit to more “traditional” superhero tones. This is also where Brian Pulido steps in on the art. Even reading these collected and in one sitting, there is no jarring transition from David Aja to Brian Pulido. Instead, the shift in the tone of the story itself abets the art change. Pulido draws this adventure (“The Tape” from Hawkeye issues 5 and 6) a little more brightly and open than Aja might have, and he ramps up physical comedy a little bit. Clint is now less Robert Redford in The Hot Rock and more Bruce Willis in the original Die Hard; streetwise, funny, tough, and constantly getting his ass handed to him at every turn.
Matt Fraction sure knows how to deliver a quality action movie disguised as a comic, and that’s exactly what he’s done here. Each chapter can stand on its own, and each opens up right in the thick of things. You don’t catch your breath with this book. You’re either marveling at the art, laughing at the jokes, or getting propelled along by the story. My Life as a Weapon is, in so many ways, the perfect companion to the Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin Daredevil Volume 1 which I’m sure you all own already, right? It’s the same kind of smart, fun, street-level superhero action, with some really spectacular art. As an added bonus, the long-forgotten Matt Fraction penned (and Alan Davis drawn!) issue of Young Avengers Presents that detailed Kate Bishop’s first meeting with Clint Barton is also included in here, which ties things together nicely.