Friday, May 9, 2014

The brilliance and boringness of Hawkeye

Matt Fraction's Hawkeye is the sort of comic book that everyone in comics is talking about. It's a superhero comic book--sort of. As the opening lines to each issue tells us, Hawkeye is the non-powered, sharpshooter for the Avengers, and this is what he does when he's not doing Avenger-y things.

As people have pointed out, Hawkeye is less about the wish fulfillment that goes with superheroes, than he is about something like wish bafflement. He's a normal guy, who happens to have a barely epic skill--sharpshooting--whose weapon of choice is the bow and arrow, and who has some trick arrows. (But not like the really awesome toys and gadgets of Batman. Hawkeye is a working-class or low-class character, without any of the Richie Rich fantasies of a Batman or even a Green Arrow.) Who would ever want to be Hawkeye?

Hawkeye may be a hero when he's with the Avengers, but when he's off the clock, we see him as a guy with problems, both emotional and physical. It's the kind of side-story that gains resonance and is only possible as a side story to other stories going on elsewhere. It's like the first "Blink" episode of Doctor Who, where the Doctor is involved in other adventures just on the periphery of the episode; or "The Zeppo" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: because we know what sort of stories are going on off-page, this comic can feel free to go off the usual path.

And it really does, in some great ways. The first issue, for instance, shows Hawkeye dealing with some unscrupulous landlords, who happen to be Eastern European gangsters who wear tracksuits all the time and say "bro" most of the time. (In an interview, Fraction notes that the "bro" joke came out of the fact that we don't really care what the mooks say in a gang fight: we know they're just going to threaten Hawkeye and we know that they're not going to win.) Fraction plays with time here, flipping back and forth between the aftermath of the adventure and how Hawkeye gets involved, which is mostly interesting for how great the transitions are.

For another example of the fireworks brilliance of Hawkeye, there's issue #11, which tells the whole story from the POV of the dog that Hawkeye has adopted. There's a Far Side-level joke where the dog can't understand anything people say except for certain words: "bad dog," "pizza," etc. There's a Chris Ware-esque iconography as the dog smells certain things in certain places. And there's even some advancement of the plot as we see Hawkeye and his brother and Hawkeye's young partner/replacement (also known as Hawkeye).

But for all the critical acclaim of this comic and of issue #11--it's up for and I think will win the 2014 Eisner for best single issue--there's something a little too clever, sometimes, particularly when it comes to time games. I've already mentioned how #1 jumps back and forth, which is fun, and a nice statement of how Fraction will do things differently here. But does it add much? Similarly, issue #6 plays with time, covering several out-of-order days in the lackluster life of a guy with issues; but that out-of-orderness feels like a dodge, a way to gussy up something that isn't very interesting. I can kind of stretch and say that Clint Barton has trouble with cause-and-effect--he hovers between loveable rogue and ne'er-do-well, making people's lives more complicated rather than better--and so that's why the story is told out-of-order. But it feels like a stretch.

And while "Blink" and "The Zeppo" were fun single issue stories parallel to a whole other story, Hawkeye has some trouble as an ongoing comic--which is probably why several of the later issues ditch Clint entirely and follow his protege as she makes a way for herself in L.A.

No comments:

Post a Comment