Review: ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #1

HAWKEYE2015001_DC11ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Ramón Pérez & Ian Herring
Published by Marvel Comics
Release Date: March 4, 2015

Team Hawkeye lives on! The adventures of Clint Barton and Kate Bishop continue, as the star studded creative team of Jeff Lemire and Ramón Pérez relaunch one of the most beloved and critically acclaimed titles of the past decade. With the first issue of All-New Hawkeye, Marvel shows that the spirit of Hawkeye extends beyond the vision of a single creative team. The issue isn’t perfect, but if you loved what came before there’s a great chance you will enjoy the first issue of the new series.

Seemingly out of the blue Hawkeye has become one of the most important characters in Marvel’s stable over the past few years. Part of it can be attributed to his role outside of the comics, but from the perspective of a comic book fan it was the work of Matt Fraction and David Aja that changed everything. Over the course of twenty-plus issues (with the final issue yet to be released) Hawkeye gave readers a fresh take on the eponymous character that caught fire with fans and critics. Clint Barton’s popularity reached levels that had he had never seen before, and Kate Bishop became the most popular Young Avenger. With Fraction and Aja’s (as well as Annie Wu’s) character defining run coming to an end many questioned whether the title should continue under a new creative team. Armed with critical praise, and a passionate fan base, Marvel wasn’t about to just let the title go. Enter Jeff Lemire, fresh off an instant classic run on DC’s Green Arrow, and the great Ramón Pérez.

When Lemire was announced as writer for this series I had two main concerns. The first was that taking on one archer in Hawkeye almost immediately following a run on another archer in Green Arrow would be a mistake. I was worried that the similarities between Clint Barton and Oliver Queen would mean lead to Lemire covering the same ground he already did. Luckily for readers Lemire seems to have more than enough archer stories to go around, as All-New Hawkeye is nothing like his Green Arrow. This is a testament to Lemire’s ability to stretch different writing muscles depending on what he is writng, even if the characters seem similar on the surface. It’s a double edged sword however, one that plays right into my second concern. I figured if anybody could follow up the work that Matt Fraction did during his run it would be Lemire, but I wasn’t sure that anybody could actually pull it off. Well, as I mentioned, Lemire is a varied writer. He can write the deeply personal indie book like Essex County or the big superhero team epic like Justice League United. He also proves that he can write a pretty damn good “Matt Fraction Hawkeye.”

If you came into this issue with hopes that Lemire would bring his own style to the proceedings then you may find yourself disappointed. If you wanted more of what Fraction brought to the table, and were afraid that it would be impossible after he left you may be relieved. Lemire’s plot is fairly light, as we bounce back and forth between flashbacks to Clint and Barney as children in a foster home, and a raid on a Hydra base by both Clint and Kate “Don’t call me Katie” Bishop. The flashback story is pedestrian, but well executed. The strong bond between brothers is well established, and despite the stereotypical foster home qualities, the tragic look back is effective.

Lemire’s script in the present day has a bit more zip to it, as Kate and Clint trade zingers back and forth. Much like the bond betweens brothers in the flashback, the relationship between the two Hawkeye’s is firmly established. Kate and Clint care for each other like brother and sister, are more or less equals, and the strong willed younger Hawkeye won’t let her elder forget it. As a favor to S.H.I.E.L.D. they make their way through a Hydra base looking for an unknown weapon, and trading barbs back and forth. As usual things don’t go as planned, and the characters are forced to figure it out. Until the last page the plot of the issue is pefunctory though, as the main thrust of the issue is Lemire establishing the tone of the series, and the relationships Clint has with Kate and Barney. Lemire does touch on some character traits, like Clint’s hearing problems, but it feels more like Lemire establishing that he knows the character rather than leading to anything. By the end of the issue the flashbacks begin to intertwine with the present day, and we can see a glimpse of how Lemire will be able to put his own stamp on the series, but as a single issue the script is fun, and works well on a fundamental level, but doesn’t stand out beyond showing that Lemire is capable of carrying the Hawkeye torch.

What does stand out however is the work of Ramón Pérez. Anybody familiar with his work on Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand at Archaia knows the man is talented. For those more familiar we his brief stint on Wolverine & The X-Men you will find that the work here blows that away. Sometimes art can elevate a good script and make the overall product great. That has never been more true than it is here. Part of what makes the Fraction/Aja run so great is that they were on the same page to an almost frightening degree. This led to some unique, beautiful issues. I’m glad to report that the creative team here seems to be headed in that same direction. The highlight of the issue are the wonderful watercolors Pèrez uses for the flashback scenes. The watercolors, along with the red and purple palate used are absolutely beautiful. The work gives off a whimsical feeling that that screams nostalgia. When contrasted with the subject matter of these scenes the art becomes even more powerful. Whether it’s a double page spread of Clint and Barney’s reflection coming off the water as they attempt to catch frogs, or the ominous addition of the color red smeared across the page as events take a turn for the worse, the watercolor work is a special sight to behold.

When the issue hits the present day scenes Pérez’s style takes a complete one eighty into something entirely different. Although different, the present day scenes are still beautiful, as Pérez and colorist Ian Herring make the Hawkeye house style all their own. The action is kinetic, the facial expressions are especially strong, and the colors from Herring help make the pages standout from the flashback scenes. As the issue draws to an end the flashbacks start melding into the present day by having a mix of watercolors and the more traditional style on the same page. The last few pages include some  the most beautiful comic art you will see in a comic in this, or any month. If this issue is a sign of what we can expect from this art team every month then Ramón Pérez is a name you will be hearing a lot of in 2015.

This first issue shows that Fraction and Aja don’t have a stranglehold on crafting a well made Hawkeye series. This review keeps bringing up the previous series for a reason. The new creative team of Lemire and Pérez have a lot to live to, and readers want to know whether they succeed. They succeed so well that it could almost be considered a bad thing. Lemire writes a great “Fraction Hawkeye” and Pérez carries on with the general house style established by David Aja. Hopefully in subsequent issues we won’t have to rely so much on the comparisons as Lemire finds his feet, and makes the book his own. Right now however it feels as if Lemire is successfully doing his best “Matt Fraction writing Hawkeye” impression. That may make some people happy, but others may have wanted to see something a little different. Pérez’s work might even surpass that of his predecessor as the addition of the watercolors might be the only aspect of the book that makes this series truly feel “All-New” at this point. All of this doesn’t mean the issue isn’t good. I’d even go as far to say that this issue is a great read that has so e flaws.

As a single issue All-New Hawkeye #1 is solid. It may seem that I’m being harsh on Lemire, but in reality he captures the tone that has made Clint Barton and Kate Bishop’s adventures so popular under the last regime. The dialogue is sharp, and there are signs that the story will become something great. This doesn’t change the fact that the plot here was bare, as Lemire seemed to forsake it in order to establish the character dynamics. Some of these flaws are hard to harp on when you have art that looks like the art does here. The work of Pérez and Herring is simply astonishing. The writing could be some of the worst in comics (it isn’t) and this would still be worth the buy simply to look at the pages. The art really does elevate the issue, and makes a good script seem amazing when everything is put together on the page. If this issue was done by almost any other art team it would be mediocre, but Pérez and Herring make it great. The last few pages had me excited for what’s to come, and left me almost positive that Lemire will be focusing more on a character driven plot heading forward. When you add that to the already A+ artwork I can’t help but think this debut might end up being the worst of the story. Whether it remains a similar take to Fraction’s or not, I’m looking forward to Wunderkammer becoming another great addition to the Hawkeye mythos.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

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