The comic book medium can be intimidating to newcomers and veterans alike. Frequent reboots, crossover events and long, confusing back stories can scare even the most seasoned of readers. After his fandom waned, this author strayed away from the popular press of the comic book world, looking to find stand-alone stories, hidden gems and books slightly to the left of the mainstream.
After an introduction to a column like that, I can already hear the chuckling of readers questioning why the first review comes from the leading comics’ publisher about a character depicted in some of the highest grossing films of recent memory. Alas, Hawkeye’s character has seen a resurgence in comics, but from storytellers who give his title a fresh art-house feel.
When Matt Fraction and David Aja collaborated on the fourth volume of Hawkeye, they took the hero out of the everyday machinations of the Marvel Universe, taking him away from the luxuries of the Avengers Mansion and into a dilapidated New York apartment complex where he becomes the protector of the residents. What followed was a critically-acclaimed, though frequently delayed, story line that included adventurous style choices not generally seen in independent comics.
As Fraction stepped back from the title, I was surprised and skeptical over the announcement of a follow-up title. I felt pity for any team that might come next, until I viewed the advertisement listing Jeff Lemire as the new writer. I became familiar with Lemire’s work with Top Shelf Production’s Essex County trilogy, his subsequent Vertigo title, Sweet Tooth, and his first foray into superhero comics as part of DC Comics’ Animal Man. Fresh off an exclusive deal with DC, Lemire branched out to Valiant Entertainment and Marvel, and All-New Hawkeye would be his introductory title for the Marvel audience.
This newest installment of the title continues the theme of telling two stories at once – this time, the second storyline is told as a flashback to Clint’s childhood as opposed to two concurrent arcs. Ramon Perez distinguishes the two narratives with distinctive art styles, incorporating lush watercolors to depict the Barton brothers’ escape from foster care to an unlikely sanctuary. While the sometimes caustic relationship between the brothers unfolds, in current day, Clint’s role as a mentor (or peer, according to Kate Bishop) is tested, as the two Hawkeyes attempt to deactivate/rescue/try not to screw up a group of weaponized, umm, humans? Circumstances test the compassion and naïveté of Kate, who tries to break through the hardened layers of Clint’s psyche.
Though not reaching the Eisner-like levels of its predecessor, All-New Hawkeye continues the strong streak of this individual title, deepening the character of Clint Barton, separating it from the two-dimensional character new fans might know only from the Avengers film series. If you’re looking for a stand-alone superhero story a little outside the norm, and you don’t want to jump too far out of the mainstream, this title may be for you.