Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Javier Pulido
Last week, instead of airing another episode of the tepid Agents of SHIELD, ABC instead aired Creating the Marvel Universe, a hour-long commercial for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. I say this as someone who whooped at the screen and side-eyed their efforts to pretend Edward Norton was never the Hulk. At the beginning, the talking heads discuss the difficulty of getting Marvel Studios up off the ground, especially since their A-list heroes—the Fantastic Four, Spiderman, and the X-Men—were (and remain!) controlled by other studios. The solution?
Turn the B team into the A team, starting with Iron Man and working their way through the Avengers. It worked, but some B listers are more B list than others. Among the Avengers that made it to the big screen in 2012, most of them seemed logical choices. A genius billionaire playboy with a flying, weaponized suit; an alien with actual superpowers; a superpowerful World War II experiment; a genius who turns into an angry green giant; a superspy skilled at manipulation and armed to the teeth; and a guy who shoots arrows. Trick arrows.
Yes, contrary to the hyperbole on the back of the trade edition of Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon, Clint Barton was not exactly the breakout star of that film. Instead, he became a bit of a joke, right down to a sketch on Saturday Night Live highlighting how useless Hawkeye would be without unlimited ammo. (It’s so weird seeing fandom jokes going mainstream!) But just months after Jeremy Renner’s take on the archer, a new self-titled comic series by Matt Fraction and David Aja hit shelves.
Fraction is a comic superstar of the new millenium. My current financial situation bars actually buying comics at the moment, but even I know of him—specifically, I know him from his turn on AV Club’s “I Made You a Mixtape,” where Fraction and artist Mike Allred cut a mixtape for an issue of their all-ages FF. When Fraction proposed that “Rock Lobster” should be our national anthem, I knew that this was a man to trust.
And my trust has been repaid a thousandfold. Hawkeye doesn’t attempt to rehabilitate Clint’s image by making him a badass. Instead, it embraces and focuses on his strange, liminal status as a superhero. He’s an Avenger, but, subconsciously, he doesn’t feel like he’s an Avenger. Despite his riches, he chooses to live away from the Avengers in a not-so-great neighborhood in New York. He doesn’t have superpowers, which the opening issue illustrates beautifully by featuring Clint taking a truly heroic fall and then going through the recovery process for his serious injuries. Sure, Iron Man technically doesn’t have superpowers, but Clint lacks Tony’s outsized ambitions; that same issue finds Clint taking on a member of the Russian mob in order to give everyone in his building a break on their rent. (It ends with him becoming their landlord.) What, then, makes Clint a superhero?
Fraction’s answer: his compassion. (This is also why Wonder Woman is a superhero.) Clint is a snarky, scruffy guy, but he wears his heart of gold on his sleeve. He’s kind to dogs—even collecting a one-eyed dog renamed “Lucky” in the first issue—and the two-parter that ends this collection is all about Clint doing the right, small thing. But his compassion is best expressed through his utter adoration of Kate Bishop, who is also Hawkeye (long story) and Clint’s constant partner-in-defeating-crime.The two are supposedly in a mentor/protégé relationship in the grand tradition of legacy superheroes, but Kate became Hawkeye after it was assumed Clint was dead. So, instead, their relationship is a lot more equal, despite their age difference. When Clint warns Kate off of accompanying him on a dangerous mission, Kate nods, but soon turns up to save the day. And that just strengthens their bond. Clint doesn’t have a fragile ego, making it easy for him to both crack jokes about being Hawkeye and take heart in the successes of others. It’s quite a light title, but it’s also quite heartening, giving Hawkeye a rich inner life lacking from his cinematic counterpart.
Adding to this caper atmosphere is David Aja’s rough, flatly colored art, which manages to capture a very sixties spy thriller tone as well as the rough edges of all of its characters. It feels like one of the earlier Moore Bond films in the best possible way. (I imagine this gets compared more to the Connery Bond films, but Clint lacks the original Bond’s brooding thuggishness.) It even occasionally veers into the grotesque, with characters sporting the occasional wall eye, but that, oddly enough, is part of its charm. The paneling and framing are both fun and inventive, and the use of an old-school Hawkeye head as a censor bar had me giggling helplessly. There are some costuming notes that felt off—Kate wearing a belt with a jumpsuit featuring exposed hip panels just made me think of the chafing—but, over all, the art perfectly serves the story the comic is telling.
Bottom line: What makes Hawkeye, the oft-mocked Avenger, a superhero? Matt Fraction argues that it’s his compassion, pitting him against crimes big and small with his beloved (platonic) protégé Kate Bishop with him at every step of the way.
I rented this book from the public library.