As Todd Macfarlane once did in the early days of Spawn, Marvel has skipped over issue #15 of Hawkeye, and gone straight to #16 to allow regular artist David Aja more time to finish his instalment. Given that the issues are currently alternating between Clint Barton (Hawkeye) on the east coast, and Kate Bishop (younger Hawkeye) on the west coast, this means that nothing is missed, it just means that the running order of the stories is no longer Kate, Clint, Kate, but Kate, Kate, Clint.
Writer Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye series has always had its pop-orientated tendencies, but probably no more than this issue. Kate Bishop, now stationed in LA, encounters a Brian Wilson-type musical star from the sixties (Will Bryson – I just got it …), and a case develops around his infamous lost recordings. Anyone at all familiar with tortured pop/rock geniuses will get the references here, but Fraction and artist Annie Wu manage to put their own ‘spin’ on things to fit it into the Hawkeye world, and manage to tell a good little story in the process. Kate has become just about as engaging a character as her more famous namesake, often as straight-shooting, stubborn, and as witty as Barton (which might speak as much to Clint’s immaturity as it does to Kate’s maturity). This issue itself has two LOL moments relating to Napster and a short-lived LA-related 1970s Marvel comic book series. But it is by no means all light and breezy, with the end of this issue suggesting that events will take a more sinister turn going forward.
Venture Bros. animator Annie Wu definitely has a more cartoonish, and probably less stylish, look to her art than David Aja, and this works well with the younger protagonist. It also works well with this story of innocence lost – with musician Will Bryson’s family life not being as sunny as his songs – and it works with the world that Bryson retreats into to deal with his pain. Kate’s cast of supporting characters in LA has also given Wu essentially her own environment to play with, distinct from Aja’s New York neighborhood and its denizens. Having said all that, Wu’s art still fits with the look that Aja has developed, in that both are able to depict a fairly minimal and scaled-down superhero story that plays out more like your favourite afternoon TV series than a sci-fi tale or an epic battle of the gods.
Along with Casanova, Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye is his best work to date, giving him free rein to try out his ‘too cool for school’ ideas, some of which fall flat, but many of which work brilliantly. Like Mark Waid’s similarly exuberant and scaled-down Daredevil it is hard to know when the novelty and charm might wear off. At the moment though, while I always like seeing the interaction between Clint and Kate, separating them has helped keep the title from getting stale too quickly. Hawkeye is certainly self-consciously hip, and its use of pop history in this issue (such as name-dropping the sixties LA band Love) continues in that vein. However, in a superhero milieu of ret-cons, rehashes, and every ‘70s superhero joining the Avengers, it is refreshing to have a series that wants to forge its own path forward.