Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye is one of the great breakout hits of the millennium for Marvel. I wrote a few months back about how great it was, but one aspect of the series I didn’t talk enough about was Kate Bishop’s role. Fraction elevated this “second generation” Hawkeye from being a secondary hero who had been relegated to the adventures of the Young Avengers and bouts of teenage drama, to the “straight (wo)man” in Fraction’s book who was every bit Clint’s equal as a hero.
Marvel is now positioning Kate to take over the role of focal Hawkeye in the Marvel U with a brand new series that sees her return to California to solve crimes as a non-licensed P.I. No book can really pull off what Fraction and Aja were able to, but Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero get pretty dang close to it.
Thompson, known for working on the recent all-female superhero hit A-Force, manages to find just the right voice for Kate as she begins her new adventures out in Cali. There’s a fun mix of determination, sass, a whip-smart attitude, and a put-upon mentality that elevates Kate to feeling like a fully fleshed out character in the same vein as Fraction’s take on her. Thomson does begin introducing a wider net of supporting characters over the course of this issue, from surf shop owner Ramone to maybe-a-tech-assistant Quinn, but the focus never waivers from Kate. If this is your first introduction to her, then you’ll instantly know what she’s all about by the end of this issue.
The book also works by being freely accessible for new readers to jump on board. Marvel always tries to push accessibility with their “soft relaunches” every year, but one could wonder just how that could be accomplished with everything that has happened to Clint over the past few months (spoilers in the link). Yet as someone who hasn’t read any of the Jeff Lemire-penned Hawkeye issues or the massive (and apparently mediocre) crossover Civil War II, this issue read very well. It seems that, like Kate heading for Venice Beach, Thompson is electing to leave behind the minutiae of what has happened in the past and start fresh with this book. Always a plus for new readers looking to get into the series.
Thompson also manages to find a sense of humor in the situations Kate finds herself in as a private investigator. With the popularity of Jessica Jones at an all-time high, another book about a female superhero/P.I. needs to distinguish itself in this crowded market. Fortunately Thomson (with plenty of assistance from Romero) adds a level of quirkiness that helps to distinguish Kate from Jessica. One standout scene sees Kate interviewing potential clients that range from wanting the “real” Hawkeye to thinking her office is an optometrist’s. The humor is a breath of fresh air and balances with the somewhat darker case Kate takes on.
However this does expose the one big flaw in this series so far, which is that the private investigator trope feels worn out. With Jessica Jones being so popular, it really has deflated the idea of a new P.I., even an unlicensed one, going out and digging into cases that are brought to them. This series does a lot to distinguish itself from Jones, but doesn’t do enough to shake the idea that this is the kind of story readers have seen before. I’m confident Kate’s personality and humor will help make this a great book. I just wonder how many people will want to check out a series that features another investigator working outside the confines of the law.
The creators do have to be applauded for having the first case Kate investigates be something so prevalent and important, that being online harassment. As great as Jessica Jones can be, many of her cases feel like more “traditional” and “comic book-y” stories like murder and kidnapping. By having the first case of this series be about finding a college student’s harasser, it adds a real, grounded feel to Kate’s story and tackles an issue that still affects many female comic books writers.
Romero compliments Thompson’s story with pages that mix both dialogue-heavy sequences with flamboyant superhero action. One of the highlights of his work is the idea of seeing the world through Kate’s eyes and focusing in on key points (which also adds another layer of humor as Kate’s focus sometimes wanders to some non-important items). These sequences help to showcase the details that Romero brings to his art. Even in panels that don’t see Kate’s focus on display, his attention to the details of California life are always there.
Romero’s art is also reminiscent of other top creators, such as Chris Samnee and Francesco Francavilla (who drew a handful of issues of Fraction’s Hawkeye). Romero’s line work is especially reminiscent of Samnee, and the way he draws his characters shows an ability to render the core of these characters with little or no dialogue. Mixed with Jordie Bellaire’s colors the book has a sun-soaked look that evokes the beaches and green valleys of the west coast.
The first issue of Kate’s ongoing series gets off to a great start. It takes all of the things that made Fraction’s Hawkeye work so well – fully realized characters, quirky humor, and a focused, meaningful story – but also manages to do it’s own thing. If Jessica Jones is too dark and morbid for your tastes, this new Hawkeye might just be up your alley.