Two months ago, I reviewed Hawkeye #8, a Valentine’s Day-themed issue that found our hero, Clint Barton, attempting to deflect a cadre of women who actually care about him so he can help one woman who has ulterior motives. I enjoyed Hawkeye #8 quite a bit, as it was a bastion for character development and overall thematic subtlety. In fact, I was positive that Matt Fraction had a very clear and purposeful direction going forward with Hawkeye that seemed to get more focused and cohesive each month. Unfortunately, that direction wasn’t as clear and purposeful as I imagined.
Part of what makes Hawkeye so great is Matt Fraction’s amazing writing style. Yes, David Aja’s artwork tends to be the glue that holds everything together, but Fraction’s dialogue and organic-sounding narrative situations make each issue of Clint’s adventures feel less like an ongoing comic and more like a TV serial giving it’s audience bits and pieces of the story in a specific and paced fashion. The first eight issues can be read as individual morsels; of course it’s going to taste better if you eat the whole meal from the beginning, but Fraction’s style for this title makes each issue like it’s own mini-caper, worthy of being devoured individually or as part of a greater whole.
This is the main reason why I’ve been so disappointed with Hawkeye #9 and now Hawkeye #10. It’s not reasonable to expect every single issue of a comicbook series to be as welcoming and new-reader-friendly as Fraction’s Hawkeye has consistently been. But equally, it’s not unreasonable to want a new narrative after three issues. Pushing the envelope in a way that don’t readily feel like it’s pushing the envelope, Fraction has spent the last three issues of Hawkeye generally covering the same events from different perspectives, and building up to a single moment that foreshadows Clint’s showdown with his newest nemesis. Hopefully, I’ve made it sound more captivating than it reads because after three issues, I’m ready to move on to the next storyarc and this one is still in full swing.
Issue #8 told the story through Clint’s eyes, #9 gave us the women’s point of view, and Hawkeye #10 leads readers through the life of an assassin, Kazimierz Kazimierczak, as it relates to Clint’s less-than-stellar relationship with the Eastern European mobsters affectionately known as the Tracksuits. While Kazi’s backstory is compelling enough as a justification for the man’s violent tendencies, it’s nothing extraordinary or overly original. The entire issue is basically a series of flashback sequences highlighting important moments in Kazi’s life that have bearing on his current existence but do little to make any real connections to Clint Barton. Just like in real life, not everything is connected or shares some underlying element, but if Fraction is going to spend an entire issue introducing a new villain who might actually be a match for Clint, there’s got to be more than just a simple business transaction going on underneath it all. At this point, though, I can’t see it.
The real shining star this issue is Francesco Francavilla, one of the brightest stars in the comicbook industry today. His artwork tends to take on a life of it’s own, finding ways to integrate with the scripting I’ve never even thought of before. Thankfully, Francavilla brings his same innovative aesthetic to Hawkeye #10 with amazing panel layouts, incredibly emotional facial expressions, and a purposeful color pallet whose stark contrasts make every page look more thrilling than the last. Every aesthetic decision has a purpose and the proof is how enjoyable it is to read this issue from beginning to end despite the narrative stumbling.
For regular readers of the series, this specific plot might start to feel a bit long in the tooth by issue’s end, and new readers wont understand what’s happening and why a book called Hawkeye is focusing so intently on a man not named Hawkeye. All that being said, Hawkeye #10 is still one of the best single comic book issues you can buy this month. Francesco Francavilla’s artwork alone is worth the cover price, and Matt Fraction’s writing is still leagues better than most.