Mild-mannered reporters by day, Greg Phillips and Nick Duke share an intense love of comic books that has made them the Hard-Traveling Fanboys. Over the course of their travels through comicdom, they have encountered numerous stories via the wonder of trade paperbacks and graphic novels. Once a month, Nick and Greg will review one of those collections in The Longbook Hunters.
Nick: We’re back again, beloved readers, and it’s time again for the Hard-Traveling Fanboys to dig into their own bookshelves and give you a review of a trade paperback or graphic novel. This time around, we’re taking on one of recent history’s most critically acclaimed books around, Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye.
Greg: Indeed, Marvel capitalized on Hawkeye’s big-screen popularity in “The Avengers” by launching a solo series for Earth’s Mightiest Archer in August 2012. The book took the comics world by storm, garnering Eisner nods and a cult following along the way.
This week, we’re delving into the first collected volume of this run, “My Life as a Weapon.” It collects the first five issues of the run along with a special bonus issue of Young Avengers. David Aja provides the art for the first three issues, while Javier Pulido takes over for the two-part tale “The Tape.” Alan Davis handles art duties for the Young Avengers issue.
I read this book late last year, while Nick has just recently finished his first reading. Before taking on “Weapon,” I’d never read a Hawkeye solo series and only had limited exposure to the character in the comics. I was familiar with the West Coast Avengers as a kid, and I loved playing as Hawkeye in the old “Captain America and the Avengers” video game, but beyond that, I never knew much about him. As I got older, I found myself turned off by his gaudy purple costume (strange for a pro wrestling fan to say, but it’s true), and truthfully I never even considered the possibilities Clint Barton could offer.
Nick, what are your thoughts on Hawkeye as a character, and what did you know about him going into this book?
Nick: My exposure to Hawkeye was very limited. I had read a lot of his 1970s and 1980s tenures with the Avengers thanks to a fairly comprehensive Thor reading project I took on, and from that I only really gleaned the basics of Clint Barton — villain turned hero turned giant turned archer again. It was the 1970s, so while the idea of character evolution and development was starting to take root, there wasn’t much meat on the storytelling bones, so to speak.
I’m much more familiar with the Ultimate version of Clint Barton, who I have followed and cared about since his first appearance. However, that’s a completely different character from his 616 counterpart. The most glaring difference is the sarcastic sense of humor that Clint possesses, something that was nonexistent in his Ultimate version. That sense of humor wound up drawing me into Hawkeye almost instantly.
Greg, how about you? How did this book’s characterization of Hawkeye strike you?
Greg: It was truly eye opening. I certainly enjoyed Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of Clint on the big screen, but this was a take on the character that at once made him seem relevant and relatable. First of all, the aforementioned gaudy costume with the giant eye horn things is gone, replaced by a sleek purple-and-black outfit modeled largely after the Avengers look.
And, like you said, he’s loaded with personality — simultaneously snarky, self-deprecating, aloof, selfish and sympathetic. This version of Hawkeye likely owes a lot to the versions that came before, but Fraction imbues him with a “charisma” that was lacking in other versions I’ve encountered.
From virtually the opening page, I found in this Clint Barton a character with whom I could identify, largely because he finds a way of screwing up seemingly simple tasks. Sure, he’s the world’s greatest archer, but he has a lot less trouble fighting supervillains than, say, paying the bills or taking out the garbage.
Uh, not that I can relate to those struggles.
Nick: Yeah, that’s a common praise of the series I heard before reading it, and honestly, that had me kind of worried. I’m all for a little levity in my superhero books, but the praise I heard made me worry that Clint was going to be portrayed as a constant screwup.
I’m glad to report that while Clint is portrayed as an average guy with amazing skills, he isn’t completely inept. Sure, he may stumble or fall from time to time, but he isn’t tripping over himself on the way to the grocery store. It’s more like he just continues to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But I’ll agree with you on several fronts — the charisma being the top one. I’d also say he’s fairly identifiable, almost what I could imagine myself being like if I were the best archer on the planet and if I were in prime physical condition.
Greg: Or me if I still had a full head of hair.
One of the things that drew me to this portrayal was its unique tone. I’m a huge proponent of diversity in tone among superhero books, and since I’m largely a DC Comics fan, recent years have seen a litany of dark, serious series focusing on tragedy and its effects on the titular characters. That stands in stark contrast to Hawkeye, which never takes itself too seriously. Though I’d classify the book as somewhat of a comedy, it also keeps things grounded. The world of Hawkeye is established early, and throughout “Weapon,” it remains sensible. Clint behaves in a believable way throughout, he just does so with a sense of humor and a run of bad luck that feels all too real to many of us.
Nick: Completely agreed. So, let’s talk a little bit about the “other” Hawkeye in the book — the much less well known Kate Bishop, a former Young Avenger who took up the name and bow of Hawkeye during one of Clint’s many gimmick changes.
I had only read Kate Bishop in one miniseries that occurred during Civil War and found her largely forgettable there, but I wound up absolutely loving her here. She may have been my favorite character. I thought she balanced a realistic element of badassery with self-deprecating humor and an innate charm that almost bleeds off the page. Clint may have been center stage, but I found myself loving whenever Kate got the spotlight.
Greg: Dude, I couldn’t agree more. Kate Bishop has to be one of the coolest characters I’ve “met” in the last several years. I’d never read any books involving her before this one, but she jumped right off the page. Superhero comics aren’t exactly synonymous with strong, well-written female characters, but Kate defies all stereotypes and expectations.
It’s established early on that she’s even wittier than Clint. She can talk circles around him, and she finds a way to win nearly every argument between them. She’s also a major badass who can hold her own with a bow. Like Clint, humor is a huge draw of the character. She has some of the book’s best one-liners, but also feels more heroic than the often-selfish lead character. Well, I say “lead character,” but Kate never comes off as a sidekick in my eyes.
What did you make of the dynamic between the characters? It felt more like Hal Jordan and John Stewart than Batman and Robin, at least to me.
Nick: Yeah, I could see the Hal and John dynamic, but I think it actually kind of mirrors the early Green Arrow and Black Canary dynamic more. While the relationship between the two is not an official romance due to many complicating factors, it seems to me that the seeds have been planted for a fantastic future relationship.
Much like Ollie and Dinah, Kate makes it very clear that she doesn’t “need” Clint to watch her back. She’s every bit Clint’s archer equal and pretty close to being his physical equal. That doesn’t mean she won’t take his assistance or watch his back when necessary, but she’s far from the damsel in distress.
Greg: I was actually going to ask the romance question. While it’s left largely unspoken here, I definitely get the vibe throughout that Clint is (against his better judgment) falling for Kate, though I’m not sure the opposite is true.
Nick: That’s funny because I actually got the opposite impression. The vibe I got here is that Clint has written off Kate as a love interest long ago because of the age gap between the two characters, and thus doesn’t realize the signs that Kate has a real interest in him. I think there was actually a scene where Clint says he doesn’t want to sleep with Kate, and that seems to bother her a bit.
If anything, I think the relationship could have the potential to deliver a twist on the typical hero/hero relationship and have Kate be the one to pull Clint’s ass out of the fire on most occasions.
Greg: Very interesting that we read the dynamic in completely different ways. I think that’s a testament to the good storytelling here, because relationships often work that way in real life — each side misunderstanding the other’s interest level, never really sure what signs to pick up on.
But when it comes to that storytelling, Fraction’s writing is only part of the equation. One of the book’s most distinctive characteristics is its visual style. When I first opened it and saw Aja’s art, I was somewhat taken aback. It looks more like a Vertigo book than a superhero story. Certainly you would’ve had a tough time finding a Marvel or DC book like this on the shelves a decade ago.
Aja’s style reminds me a lot of an artist we both enjoy, Andrea Sorrentino (Green Arrow). The unique combination of realistic figures and surrealistic panels leads to a quick-reading book that I kept going back to after the fact.
What did you make of the art style of the book?
Nick: Aja’s art was admittedly offputting at first. I found myself not really enjoying the heavy lines and limited facial features at first, but as the first three issues wore on, it began to slowly grow on me. By the time the first story arc had wrapped up, I was completely comfortable with Aja’s art and the ways it complemented the story.
However, the last two issues aren’t Aja’s work. Rather, the art duties transition to Javier Pulido. Now, while Pulido certainly does other books that are enjoyed by many other comic fans, I’m not a fan of the guy’s art style. I find his faces to all be roughly the same — an oval shape with understated noses and thin, almost slit like eye shapes. I wanted to warm up to Pulido, but I never have, whether it is here or in the other samples of his work I’ve seen
Greg: With Aja, did you see any similarities to Sorrentino, or was that just me?
As for Pulido, I have to disagree. The style’s certainly different — more cartoonish, perhaps. But it worked great for the comedy that serves as the book’s backbone. And most importantly, Pulido maintained the pace Aja established early in the book. The panels are laid out cleverly and lead the eye quickly from scene to scene. In fact, the panel layouts were particularly inventive throughout the book. Much in the same way a Sorrentino or Greg Capullo can suck me into a story with their creativity, Aja and Pulido kept me engaged throughout.
Nick: Well, I’m glad you liked Pulido’s art! I didn’t like it!
But to answer your initial question, I don’t see any overt similarities. I agree that the panel layouts of both are less traditional than most, but I think Sorrentino’s layouts are so far removed from traditional that they deserve a category unto themselves, whereas Aja’s layouts are a more conventional form of unconventional, if that makes any sense. I find Sorrentino’s facial work and depiction and implication of emotion to be much more effective as well.
I think that reads like a criticism of Aja, which it isn’t. I think Sorrentino is one of if not THE best artists going in comics today. Aja would be in that next tier behind the Sorrentinos, Capullos and Esad Ribics of the world, in my opinion.
Greg: Moving on, it’s difficult to review the narrative, because each Hawkeye issue pretty much tells its own story. There are themes and characters uniting the issues, but they’re largely individual adventures or outings. The exception is the two-parter drawn by Pulido, which involves SHIELD, the Kingpin and others.
I felt the Young Avengers issue (which shouldn’t really count, since it’s mainly thrown in as a bonus) was the weakest chapter. What was your favorite of the bunch?
Nick: It’s tough to answer that because of the art conundrum. I certainly enjoyed the art in the first three issues more than the subsequent two. However, I enjoyed the plot and writing more in “The Tape,” which was the two-parter that spanned issues four and five, I’m admittedly more of a writing guy than an art guy, so I’ll give the nod to “The Tape,” but the gap between the two is almost nonexistent.
I think I enjoyed issues four and five more because Kate had more of a chance to shine. Her motivations in “The Tape” were believable and she pretty much singled handedly made a fool of a fairly major Marvel villain in the story.
Greg: I have to echo your sentiments that the gap between the issues is a small one. I have to give a slight nod to the third chapter, though. Clint and Kate going on the run from gangsters with only his arsenal of outdated trick arrows and a muscle car made it feel like a souped-up version of “Bonnie and Clyde.” The suspense was palpable, and the verbal barbs from Kate were sharper than most of Clint’s arrows.
I also enjoyed several of the side characters, be they villains (the Tracksuit Mafia) or even animals (a lovable dog Clint picks up early in the series).
Nick: Yeah, the tracksuit guys were hilarious. Good example of villains who can be humorous and threatening all at once.
Greg: Probably my favorite eastern European accents since the villains in the last Liam Neeson flick I saw.
All right, I suppose it’s time to wrap this bad boy up. What’s your final recommendation on “My Life as a Weapon,” and do you think you’ll pursue future volumes of Hawkeye?
Nick: I think anyone who’s interested in a book that has a more street-level approach and a focus that’s less on spandex-clad, mustache-twirling villains will enjoy this. It’s set in a much more realistic world than most comics you find these days, so I’m going to go ahead and give it a pretty high recommendation.
For me, my reading list these days is pretty packed and I’m about to see my amount of free time severely decrease. So, I plan on checking on Hawkeye from time to time using the excellent Marvel Unlimited subscription service, which provides subscribers a library of more than 10,000 on-demand comics, with new issues generally added six months after their initial release.
Greg: I’m going to continue my trade-waiting ways, but make no mistake — Hawkeye’s going to be near the top of my list. I also recommend it, both for its unique tone and its focus on the everyday minutia of superhero life. I’ve often wondered what these guys do in their spare time away from fighting Galactus-level threats, and this book shows that, deep down, they’re not all that different from you or I.
So check this book out, whether through your local comic shop, a bookstore, your favorite digital provider or even the local library. It’s a keeper.
We hope you’ve enjoyed the spoils of this month’s Longbook hunt. Join us next month when we delve into “Kick-Ass” by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.
Nick: Indeed! Kick-Ass is one of my favorites, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Greg thinks of it. In any case, we welcome your feedback on Facebook, Twitter (@gphillips8652 and @nickduke87) and on our PTB email accounts (GregP@placetobenation.com and NickD@placetobenation.com).
Also, be here next week when we bring you all the comics news that’s fit to rant about in the latest edition of The Rundown!