It’s no secret that similar superheroes exist across multiple imprints and company lines. Of course, there are enough differences between these characters to make them unique. Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark each have their own family fortunes that fund their heroic exploits, they both hold prominent positions on their respective superhero teams, and they both have severe personal problems—Bruce’s family issues and Tony’s alcoholism. Captain America and Superman are both iconic figures in a world they don’t understand but want nothing more than to make better. Then, of course, some are more obvious than others, like Aquaman and Namor.
What surprises me is how little people draw comparisons between Green Arrow and Hawkeye, two heroes who wield bows and claim to never miss. Marvel has handed the relaunch of Hawkeye to Matt Fraction, a writer who deals in universal human nature and base emotions as foundations for character-driven stories. What’s most interesting about Fraction’s take on Clint Barton is how much he almost recaptures a sense of earlier politically-charged and left-leaning storylines from the ‘70s. Those stories however, starred Oliver Queen’s Green Arrow, rather than Clint Barton’s Hawkeye.
Hawkeye is a rarity in comicbooks. He has starred in almost every Avengers book over the last ten years, was killed then resurrected, changed aliases, and went on to be included in Marvel’s big-screen adaptation of The Avengers. Yet, Clint Barton is rarely written about past his dealings with Earth’s Mightiest. While the big-hitters like Captain America, Iron-Man, and Thor enjoy their own regular series as avenues for character development and growth, Hawkeye struggles to gain traction in the pages of Avengers.
Take Avengers vs. X-Men, for example. Clint’s big appearance comes when the X-Men set him on fire. Before that, during “Avengers Disassembled”, his most memorable moment was when a mentally unstable Scarlet Witch horrifically killed him. In essence, this makes of Hawkeye mostly a blank slate. The character has the potential to be whatever the writer desires—just like a brand new character—but he still enjoys “top shelf” status as a hero that a broader audience recognizes. Fraction’s particular spin sees Clint Barton is a hero of the people, a champion of social justice, and a proponent of real truth. That doesn’t sound so different from a certain emerald archer from Star City.
Case in point, Hawkeye #1 is about Clint’s home. Aside from his incredible archery skills, Clint is a normal human being living in New York City with a less-than-perfect apartment in a less-than-perfect part of town and amazing neighbors. Unfortunately, eviction day has come as the building’s less-than-perfect landlord hikes up the rent 300%. Of course, Clint doesn’t stand for this.
Is this issue an homage to Green Lantern #76? While the motives behind Clint’s actions differ a bit, the story is almost exactly the same. In Green Lantern, a greedy landlord attempts to evict and/or force out all of his low-income residents so he can level the building and install a profitable parking lot instead.
Green Arrow shows up, and quickly defends the building’s residents, explaining to an ever-naïve Green Lantern Hal Jordan that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is all relative, and that the landlord’s avarice is the real crime in the situation. Soon, Green Lantern sees the light and sides with the residents. This results in Hal’s bosses, the Guardians of the Universe, admonishing him for defending a group causing chaos and disorder in his space sector.
The issue ends with one of the Guardians traveling to Earth and posing as a human to take a road trip with Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen; no powers, no abilities, just an old fashioned American road trip to rediscover how the lines between good and bad are blurred and often hard to define.
While Fraction and artist David Aja don’t involve intergalactic police forces in their tale the social conscience angle certainly is a touchstone in both stories. Moreover, what does establish Hawkeye #1 as an instant classic is some of the most fluid, natural dialogue and inner monologue I’ve read in a long, long time. “Who’s a good dog that likes pizza? You are, aren’t you, pizza dog?” might seem a rather unimportant line, it speaks to how Matt Fraction has keen ear for both modern city living, and characterization.
Green Arrow is an incredible character. But his recent revamp has had its detractors, and maybe rightly so. Oliver Queen is being written as self-possessed, nihilistic and narcissistic to a far greater degree than ever before. It’s certainly jarring, for me personally, to read this rebooted Green Arrow against the character’s historical background of the past 40 years.
Fraction’s art in Hawkeye lies in not dismissing outright the overt similarities between the two characters, but in leveraging these overt similarities to tell a deeper story. Clint Barton, in Fraction’s hands, resonates with the social conscience of the Denny O’Neil-Neal Adams Green Arrow. Fraction’s Hawkeye rekindles our faith in street level-stories and reclaims psychic territory lost to grittier shows like The Wire or the Mike Grell Green Arrow of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. Even to the point where Pizza Dog becomes an emotional tether for Clint.
Hawkeye is shaping up to be an incredible series. Matt Fraction’s natural, organic writing partnered with David Aja’s minimally gorgeous artwork proves that you can write a superhero comicbook that’s not all mad scientists (which, as a side note, I find there is a lack of these days), alien overlords, or mystical threats. Sometimes, the best stories are the human ones, the tales that deal with real people overcoming real situations. For Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, that means standing up to what is wrong, no matter how convoluted and messy it gets. The real Ollie Queen would be proud.