As a kid, I didn’t read too many comics. But now as a twenty-six year old woman, I’ve been trying to make up for that by diving headfirst into the realm of sequential art. I’ve generally been sticking to indie, creator-owned, non-Big 2 comics since I’m afraid of missing out on important backstory and/or references to the extensive Marvel and DC universes. But as a fan of their respective mythologies via other media, it was nigh on inevitable that I would pick up some superhero books.
Hawkeye Vol. 4 was written by Matt Fraction with illustrations by David Aja and various other artists. After hearing many rave reviews about it, I picked up the four trade paperbacks that comprise the Fraction/Aja run. The first of these, My Life as a Weapon, contains issues 1-5 as well as a Fraction-penned issue of Young Avengers Presents.
Let me start off by saying that I had little to no knowledge on Hawkeye prior to reading this book. I was introduced to Clint Barton with the other comic non-savvy plebs in the MCU’s Thor (2011) and The Avengers (2012). So to me, Hawkeye was just the “normal guy” who fought alongside the powerful Avengers with a bow and arrow. Color me amused, then, when Barton himself lampshades this in the opening panels of the first issue. In fact, you could say the whole volume is about exploring this strange dichotomy. While the other Avengers are demi-gods or wear superpowered armor, Clint Barton is just a guy trying to keep his neighbors from being evicted from their building.
The opening description puts it thusly:
Unlike many superhero comics, there are no universe-ending, global-scale issues at stake here. Fraction’s Hawkeye is more of a street-level hero. But the great thing about this series is that although the stakes may be smaller scale (e.g. the eviction of Barton’s building), there is still a weight to them since they are personally important to our characters.
*Spoilers from here on out!*
Issue #1: Lucky
In this first issue, Clint discovers that his landlord, Ivan, is kicking all of the tenants out of the building so that he can sell it. Concerned for his neighbors who have nowhere else to go, Barton confronts Ivan and his “bro”-spewing lackeys and ultimately starts a turf war between himself and the “Tracksuit Mafia.” Meanwhile, we see Clint bring a wounded dog (that he repeatedly denies is his) to the vet… but it is not revealed until later in the issue how the dog got hurt or how Clint was involved.
You see, the story is told using a series of flashbacks intertwined with the goings-on of the present day. I applaud the creators for not insulting the readers’ intelligence by putting captions reading “Present Day” or “Earlier” on each of these pages. Instead, the changes in time are made evident by Aja’s character and background design and the subtle coloring changes by Matt Hollingsworth. All in all, as the first issue of this run, “Lucky” does a fantastic job of pulling the reader in and offering a taste of what’s to come.
Issue #2: Vagabond Code
Storywise, we see Barton’s troubles grow slightly larger-scale in this issue as he stumbles upon a scheme wherein a Cirque du Soleil-esque troupe would scam the who’s who of the criminal underworld. Sure, stopping the robbers who are robbing robbers seems a bit counterintuitive. But Hawkeye (and Hawkeye) are heroes — they have to stop the crime, regardless of who the intended victims are. The carnival characters and fancy hotel-turned-theater setting allowed for a cool feel for the issue, with great designs by Aja and some clever uses of the circus performers’ skills.
This issue was probably my favorite of the five included in the trade paperback. One of the biggest reasons for this: Kate Bishop. This young woman, this other Hawkeye, is a total badass (“Suck it, Domitian.”), and I have a major girl crush on her already. She and Barton have a fun chemistry filled with sassy quips and witty repartee. While I had little knowledge of Clint Barton before this series, I had absolutely zero regarding Kate. It’s great to see that she can hold her own against Barton, or even surpass him. In fact, he even calls her “perfect.” All fangirling aside, Kate Bishop looks to be an awesome character, and I can’t wait to learn more about her in future issues.
Issue #3: Cherry
The majority of this issue revolved around a high-speed chase — a scene made infinitely more exciting and amusing by the use of Barton’s trick arrows (and his consternation at not knowing which was which since he never got around to labeling them.)
Narratively, “Cherry” was quite clever in its use of a countdown of sorts. Like previous issues, the story unfolds in non-chronological order. But instead of having a more straightforward “flashback vs present day” dichotomy, the events are structured in a more thematic fashion as Clint rattles off his Nine Terrible Ideas of the day.
This issue also introduces us to a love interest with a shady past for Clint; which I’m sure will come to play heavily in the issues to come. Which brings me to our next issues…
Issues #4-5: The Tape (Illustrated by Javier Pulido)
To be completely honest, I’m not quite sure how I feel about this mini-arc. “The Tape” just feels so different from the three issues that proceeded it. A part of this is likely due to the change in artist. I adored David Aja’s work in the earlier issues, and the change to Javier Pulido’s style took some getting used to. But aside from the superficial differences, “The Tape” felt different in its storytelling as well. While the first three issues focused on Barton as a street-level hero, these issues were much larger scale. Here we see Maria Hill, SHIELD, and several big-name villains like Kingpin and Madame Masque.
The first three issues seemed to be more connected to one another, what with Ivan’s Tracksuit Mafia and the troubles in the city. With no reference to anything that happened in those issues and our Hawkeyes seemingly unaffected by the events therein, I honestly cannot tell if this particular arc is supposed to take place before or after Issues 1-3 in continuity.
It was a cool story, to be sure, but all in all, it felt like a strange way to finish out the book. I’m looking forward to getting back to the main story arc that the first three issues seemed to be setting up.
Young Avengers Presents Hawkeye (Illustrated by Alan Davis)
A fun little addition to this collected trade paperback, “Young Avengers Presents Hawkeye” gives us a glimpse into Kate Bishop’s story and reveals how she and Barton first met. I thought this issue was pretty interesting, as I was unfamiliar with how or why Kate was also called Hawkeye. Overall, it was a pretty cutesy tale of the old guard passing the baton to the younger generation. This did, however, lead me to question the age difference between Bishop and Barton. Kate seemed a lot younger in this than the Hawkeye series proper, but then again, it did take place in the past. So I’m uncertain. But I’m sure we’ll get more backstory on Kate as the series progresses, and I’m definitely looking forward to that.
All in all, Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon was a fantastic read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am excited to read more of the series. Fraction writes the characters in such a fun way yet also makes them feel grounded and real. The introduction of the main conflict throughout the first three issues was great, and when taken on its own/apart from the overall story, “The Tape” mini-arc was quite good as well. I’m still unsure how I feel about where it was placed in the order of things, but I still have to read the next trades — maybe my worrying will all be for naught!
Let’s see, what else can I say? I guess I’ll just reiterate that Aja’s artwork is amazing, and I am already in love with Clint Barton and Kate Bishop as characters.
This was a really entertaining read, and I can’t wait to dive into the next trade entitled Little Hits! Until then, see ya,… bro.