Hawkeye: Little Hits by Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pulido, Steve Lieber, Francesco Francavilla, and Jesse Hamm
Reviewing the middle collections of serialized comics is hard for me. Despite my new and eager devotion to longform media (I’m currently picking my way through Star Trek: The Next Generation; the sheer number of episodes left in the real Star Trek canon is heartening and terrifying), I’m unsure how to review something in progress. Book and film series, of course, are the exception, since each installment should be a satisfying story in and of itself. I suppose I should take my cue from those, but individual comics and television episodes are still too fine for me to parse in my journey as a critical consumer of pop culture.
Surprisingly, however, Little Hits offers the perfect thing to cut my teeth on—an individual issue from the perspective of Lucky, Clint’s newly acquired dog. (The Unwritten did a similar same thing while I was still able to purchase it in individual issues; an issue that explored a character’s backstory by being a choose your own adventure comic.) Fraction eliminates the bulk of the dialogue and focuses on canine logic to flesh out the world in which Clint and Kate live and operate. Firstly, the dog’s name actually isn’t Lucky—it’s Pizza Dog, one of the two dozen or so English words Pizza Dog knows. Secondly, the dog thinks in logic trees with blocky, road sign-esque illustrations. As an admirer of graphic design and dog lover, this couldn’t be aimed harder at me if it tried.
This could be cutesy, but Fraction and Aja play it off by having Pizza Dog investigate a murder and attempt to thwart the Russian Mafia members out to get Clint who were, in fact, his original owners. It offers an oblique perspective on Clint’s own life; both are good, true, and a little broken—Clint emotionally and the one-eyed Pizza Dog physically. Pizza Dog even gets his own Kate, in a smaller dog that both helps and hinders him. And, most importantly, Pizza Dog never finds out what happens, although he dreams of mauling his previous owners, whom he suspects. Kate dognaps him on a cross-country trip to LA, severing two of the series’ best relationships.
It’s certainly a disappointing ending, given how wonderful and central Kate and Clint’s relationship is to the new Hawkeye. It’s a wonderful and unique mentor/protege relationship that we don’t see much of in general, let alone in mainstream comics. Distance, of course, doesn’t prevent them from being friends and Kate definitely had a good reason to get out of Dodge, but it does prevent a lot of the little things that color both their relationship and their world. Kate staying up until 3 AM for Clint; meeting back up at Clint’s place after a disastrous storm; Kate correcting Black Widow that Clint hangs out with her, not the other way around. (Later, Kate declares herself the hero of the story. Uh-mazing.)
This is probably why the issues collected in Little Hits focus on Clint’s other relationships. The aforementioned storm has Clint giving a ride to a guy in his building to go evacuate his dad. There’s nothing superheroic about it—just the guy and his father coming to terms with the death of the mother, and Clint helping out how he can. And then there’s the return of Penny, a Russian Mafia-connected woman seeking Clint’s help to secure some incriminating evidence. That issue brings into focus Black Widow, Clint’s ex-wife, and a on-again, off-again love interest of Clint’s. The execution made me nervous at first, but the issue is essentially about how much they care about Clint and how they don’t want him to get hurt because he’s got an easily distracted bleeding heart. It also gives us a classically sixties Black Widow hunting a woman down in a town station, which is so atmospheric I could faint with delight. (I mean, to the point that I have to call her Black Widow instead of Natasha.)
The series remains as charmingly scruffy as ever—Hawkeye’s delight at his inexplicable command of boats (“I’m great at boats.”), the dichotomy between Clint’s discomfort at being an Avenger and the regular life he’s most comfortable with, and, of course, his rumpled, broken kindness. Black Widow isn’t the only guest Avenger; Tony Stark stops by during a Christmas issue and offers to upgrade all of Clint’s audiovisual equipment after Clint finally unpacks it (to watch the finale of Dog Cop, a show also followed by Spider-Man and Wolverine). It’s a cute gag, but Clint refuses, because all of the equipment might be crappy, but it’s his. And he has a duty to try and do what he can.
Which is, of course, what Hawkeye is all about—Clint trying to carve out something that is his, because he doesn’t think he’s an Avenger. Another running gag is Clint being mistaken for other C-list heroes, which just drives that home. I imagine this is what the series is running with, now that constant shenanigans with Kate and Clint is no longer an option.
Bottom line: Little Hits sees Hawkeye remain scruffily stylish, funny, and heartbreaking as ever. Highly recommended.
I rented this book from the public library.