With stringent, unspoken “rules” that Marvel and DC have regarding some of their characters, many books can wind up feeling just like the same old kinds of stuff that’s been published for decades. Who wants to continuously read variations on the prototypical “Daredevil needs to overcome impossible odds to beat Kingpin” or “Batman needing to outsmart an enemy in order to save the day”? These rules have kept major changes to key heroes from lasting too long.
Which is why, when Marvel began publishing a new Hawkeye comics in 2012, just after the character’s first major big-screen debut, the book felt like a breath of fresh air. Instead of just being another recycled plot, creators Matt Fraction and David Aja brought a unique tone to the book that differentiated it from anything Marvel had been publishing. Even today, their run stands as one of the best books Marvel has produced in the past decade.
What made the premise of Hawkeye so unique was the small-scale feel it developed. While many were expecting a book looking at the grand exploits of Hawkeye the Avenger, Fraction presented a look at Hawkeye the Landlord, just trying to get through his days without having major issues to deal with. From handling the installation of a new DVR in his apartment to joining his neighbors for rooftop barbeques, Fraction gave readers a very human and sympathetic Hawkeye. Even the villains he faced, the “Tracksuit Draculas,” were small-scale in nature. This wasn’t an Avenger we were reading about. This was just another guy trying to live his life.
Fraction’s writing was the initial factor to helping the book build a following. Depicting Clint Barton as just a regular guy led to many great moments that any fan could relate to. The opening line, as Hawkeye falls out of a building during an Avengers mission, is “Okay…This looks bad,” showing the human quality that Fraction imbued Clint with from page one. Over the twenty-two issues Fraction wrote, Barton makes more bad choices than good ones, and yet readers still root for him as things get worse and worse. It was this book that helped paved the way for short, quirky runs on smaller characters, such as She-Hulk, Howard the Duck, and most recently, The Vision.
Fraction also spun fan expectations by not only giving Clint the spotlight, but also using the book to feature the then-Young Avenger Kate Bishop, who had taken on the name of Hawkeye while Barton did some soul-searching after his resurrection (because comics). Here, Fraction played with the tropes of sidekicks and showed that Kate was more than just a Robin to Clint’s Batman. This was proven especially clear when, halfway through his run, Fraction split the narrative down the middle and had half the issues feature Kate on a sojourn to California. Even now, with Hawkeye relaunching for the new wave of Marvel Now! books, Kate is the sole character featured. Thanks to Fraction and his cohorts.
But Fraction was only half of the puzzle piece to crafting a great Hawkeye book. While there were several artists that drew for Fraction, David Aja was the one the stuck around the longest. Going from the first issue, Aja quickly gave the book a textured feel, reflecting the atmosphere of New York City. More importantly, he helped give each character their own style and look. From Clint’s “everyman” posture of slightly slumping over at times to the imposing stature of the Tracksuit Draculas, no two characters felt alike. With Matt Hollingsworth providing colors to Aja’s art, the book developed a slick style that based each issue around one specific color. From hazy oranges to calming purples, the art reflected the world around not only the characters, but also the readers.
Aja also managed to create a sense of motion to his pages in the way he drew his fights. Featuring characters that relied on motion (shooting arrows through the air), another artist may have not been as successful. Yet Aja boiled down the necessary details and motions to single panels and lined them together to simulate a flip book to his layouts. This all culminated in the grand finale of their run, where Hawkeye and his neighbors defend their building from invading mobsters, and featured a battle lasting two full issues.
Other artists, like Annie Wu and Francesco Francavilla, came along and provided fill-in roles on certain issues (Wu even drew Kate’s California storyline which balanced Aja’s take on Clint’s time in New York). Yet while each of these artists have their own unique style, they all managed to replicate the feel of Aja’s art enough to help give the entire series a unifying feel to the book. A strong point given the number of artists this series had.
Marvel has begun to shift it’s style of books over the past few years. While they still publish traditional Avengers and X-Men books that feature the same kinds of stories told in the past, more and more books have begun to crop up with humor and heart behind them. Starting the trend of these fan-favorite runs was Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye, which will stand as a classic take on this Avenger for years to come.