‘A Stick and a String from the Paleolithic Era’: Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye

Hawkeye #001: 'Lucky'

Hawkeye #001: ‘Lucky’

I’ve had a couple of people ask me lately what I thought about former Immortal Iron Fist collaborators Matt Fraction and David Aja’s new Hawkeye ongoing for Marvel. Short answer? I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be reading more of it. Long answer? Blog post!

Hawkeye’s first page removes us from the abstract spaces of superpowered heroes in dramatic fashion, our hero plumping to earth in a splash page recalling one of the character’s more iconic moments from Joss Whedon’s recent big-screen Avengers. However, unlike the Whedon/Renner Hawkeye, the Fraction/Aja incarnation isn’t quite so… well, ‘lucky’ isn’t the right word, because on one level being lucky is what this first story (titled ‘Lucky’) is all about. No, Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye isn’t so Hollywood. That said, neither is he as “comic-book” as previously depicted in Marvel titles. Gone are the goofy boots and the headgear of old; there’s no mention here of having once died and come back to life. Instead, this is the story of what Hawkeye ‘does when he’s not being an Avenger’, and, as the title page informs us, the result is more of a Clint Barton adventure than it is a Hawkeye one.

In fact, the biggest surprise of ‘Lucky’ is that it plays out on street level along with the rest of us. It’s the story of a regular guy who worries about his insurance, a guy who can lose his temper which faced with disappointment. In many ways it’s the most grounded thing Fraction has written in a while. His version of the character embodies something we can all relate to: being ordinary in an extraordinary world; being good, but not being as good as the best. Yes the ‘world’s greatest sharp-shooter’ aspires to heroics but he knows that the world is full of moving targets. Such messiness is definitely reflected in Aja’s gorgeous art, a ragged, atmospheric depiction of big-city living which makes – in a way that’s almost clichéd – New York as much a character as the protagonist himself is. Aja’s Brooklyn is a backdrop brimming over with human life, all rooftop barbecues, and garbage cans, and honking taxis. You can practically feel the heat of late summer off of Chris Hollingsworth’s bold, simple colors, though the distinct palette choices are more than simply aesthetic; they play a crucial role here in differentiating between the two timeframes of Fraction’s narrative.

And of course there’s the dog. Sure the loner-hero-bonds-with-dog routine is a bit stock by now but it’s one of those clichés which has, if you’ll pardon the pun, a very long pedigree. Personally it’s my favorite part of the book and I think I’d be hard-pressed to find another line from comics this year which landed for me with the same effect as Barton’s ‘Lady… Fix. This. Dog.’.

In all, Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye has all the makings of a rich, surprisingly realistic run rooted firmly in a simple question of character: Who is Clint Barton, really? Because he isn’t just the guy with a bow and arrow who pals around with the super-powered Avengers. Instead he is a hero which ordinary people can aspire to; a hero people can recognize from real life, a world-weary wise-cracker who spends most of issue #1 in a rumpled suit. He is, like the dog which motivates the second half of ‘Lucky’, something of a wounded animal: fierce when backed into a corner and yet tremendously loyal to those who show him any measure of affection (or, like the residents of Barton’s building, feed him).

While not necessarily the most “modern” of comic books (in many ways Hawkeye feels distinctly old-fashioned), Fraction and Aja’s new monthly is a solid, stylish, and very enjoyable take on a popular character. A done-in-one story (I’m a big fan of those), this debut issue establishes not only the tone of the series but also hints at future plotlines. A case in point would seem to be that circle-and-arrow graffiti which appears in the background of several panels; bullseyes, perhaps? Or am I reading too much into that…?



7 Responses to ‘A Stick and a String from the Paleolithic Era’: Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye

  1. wwayne says:

    Thank you for keeping your promise! I’m a big fan of done-in-one stories as well.
    There’s a big Daredevil influence in Hawkeye (which thrills me a lot, since I’m a big fan of the man without fear). I instantly thought to Matt when I recognized Aja’s art: he drew some issues of Daredevil, and his style perfectly ties with the noir atmosphere of the series. Then I recognized some wonderful tributes: Hawkeye uses a card as weapon, exactly like Bullseye used to do, and he throws a wet dog on a counter, which really reminds of the panel in which Daredevil throws a wet Nuke on a table, in the last chapter of Daredevil: Born Again. Hawkeye has the kind of magic that makes you say “This is an instant classic”, exactly like I thought when I started to read Lemire’s Animal Man.

    • Happy to oblige! You’re certainly not the only one to remark on the Daredevil influence here. I reckon there’s definitely something to it, especially the few examples you picked out (admittedly the wet nuke reference passed me by). I was just saying to someone yesterday that Aja is master of the line really, isn’t he? He’s a tremendously talented artist and it’s a joy to see his work on the page!

      • wwayne says:

        I love Aja as well, but not for his tecnique: I appreciate him for the atmosphere he manages to create, for the “pulpy noir feel” his art has. From a technical point of view, there are plenty of better pencillers, from Capullo to Ramos, from Mahnke to CAFU… but Aja is one of the very few artists that makes me fall in love instantly with the stories he draws. Thank you for your reply! : )

  2. I didn’t love the first issue–I thought it made Hawkeye look like a stubborn douchebag, an overplayed hero type in American stories–but I admit the new few have grown on me, especially the one with all the trick arrows as structuring gimmick. Fraction is an agile, facile writer, but this facility helps him pull together done-in-ones with a snap. Still, call me a grammar cossack, but I do hate it when a writer trying to sound intelligenter-than-thou picks grammar to do so with, and then gets it wrong. Learn to tell “to” as a preposition from “to” as part of an infinitive… other careless errors a cursory google could have fixed are largely limited to French (Cirque “du” nuit?), so I won’t complain there. But really, is there any reason to commit yourself to preventable blunders things in the google age? Maybe Axel Alonso is to blame.

    • Hawkeye a stubborn douchebag…? Portrayed by a facile writer…? I knew there was a reason I took to this book so readily!

      Also, Grammar Cossack? I am totally stealing that.

      Yeah, the trick arrow issue is my favourite too. Joyfully paced, lots of fun, and with a terrific energy fueling it all. Plus I find the back-and-forth between Hawkeye and Kate Bishop to be great (probably because it leans so heavily on that will-they/won’t-they dynamic American pop-culture has trained me to think of as normal!). I was a little worried when ‘The Tape’ departed form the done-in-one structure but I’m not making my mind up until I’ve read Part II. Will be interested too to see what Mr. Fraction does with his Hurricane Sandy issue, surely a big test for his superficiality?

      On a related note, have you checked out Cornell’s Saucer Country or Hickman’s Manhattan Projects? I’m really enjoying those of late too, the latter in particular.

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