God damn it, Fraction.
Just. Damn it.
After reading issue #21, I honestly feel like the above is the extent of my feelings, but for you good people, I’ll try to break it down just a little bit more.
As most of you know, we’re coming to the end of an absolutely amazing run with an absolutely amazing creative team on the Hawkeye book. This issue marks the first of the two-part climax in which Clint and his neighbors face off with the tracksuit draculas for the soul of their Brooklyn apartment building. This is the Battle of Bed-Stuy.
For a little bit of context, Hawkeye was the first Marvel book that I ever put on my pull list. I saw a lot of it on my Tumblr dash and though it looked cool, so I decided to check it out. Like pretty much everyone else, I fell in love. It’s been a great experience for me, though, not just because the book is great but because Matt Fraction’s version has become the definitive Clint Barton for me. Everything I know and think and love about this character is entirely because of the work that he and the rest of the creative team have done. I say this because I’d like to bring up Clint’s brother, Barney.
With Marvel, I have remained almost willfully ignorant when it comes to backstory and relationships between characters because I want to find these things out organically. I try not to look anything up because I want to comics (or in the case of the MCU, the films) to build the world for me. As a result, across this run of Hawkeye, I’ve become incredibly attached to Barney Barton and his relationship with Clint. I love narratives about brothers and Fraction writes these two heartbreakingly well—especially considering how little Barney appears in the series as a whole. We only get exactly what we need to love and care about these two brothers and how they grew up together. Even on the very first page, I was struck by the degree to which I had been drawn into the two of them and what their closeness meant to me.
And this is actually true with almost every single secondary character who appears in the book. In this issue, we get a brief reappearance of Jessica Drew—about whom, I admit, I know next to nothing—and yet I still really, really, really cared about the two pages she showed up in.
Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that Matt Fraction is so good at his job, it literally hurts.
We’ve seen the ‘ordinary-citizen-defends-their-territory-with-a-series-of-clever tricks’ before. Fraction even lampshades this with a reference to the classic Home Alone. Still, even though this isn’t unfamiliar territory, the issue is still incredibly engaging. I think this is because the issue isn’t really about the actual clever tricks. We see some of them, certainly, but I never got the sense that the battle was the focus of the issue.
It’s much different from, say, Moon Knight #5, which is an homage to The Raid: Redemption and involves Mr. Knight going in and making a glorious mess of the bad guys. I found some of the action—who was doing what where and why—just a little bit hard to follow at times, but I also didn’t particularly mind. Hawkeye remains a character-driven book so this raid by the Tracksuit Draculas is much more a vehicle for Clint’s development than it is an opportunity to show-off how cool everyone is.
And of course, this is exactly why this issue and this book succeed. Hawkeye has only ever been about what Clint is doing when he’s not out being a hero and this issue stays true to that theme, even when we see him doing heroic things.
Going into just the mechanics of the dialogue, I think we can all agree that the style is truly one of a kind. Fraction hasn’t forgotten that Clint was partially deafened in issue #19 and we still see him having some occasional difficulty with reading lips. This is annotated in such a unique but clear fashion that communicates the ambiguity and the guesswork that’s often required. I love it. But I also love the little moments, like the actual scripting of how difficult it is to talk while hefting a man in a wheelchair up several flights of stairs.
Fraction writes Hawkeye in such a way that you almost wonder why everyone isn’t scripting things that way. Somewhere down the line, we writers (and I say ‘we’, because I’m the same when it comes to writing fiction) learned “the way” you were supposed to write dialogue. We didn’t think about what made sense; we thought about the way we’d learned to read. But then you read this book and you realize, Fraction either never learned it that way or said, ‘Nah, this seems more right’ and found something that’s much truer than what we typically see on a page.
Need I go on? I must go on.
David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth deserve a few goddamns of their own. Every single page is a work of art and nothing like anything else that is happening on another book. Every issue, I always find myself really wanting to see Fraction’s scripts, because I’m dying to know how these things are communicated, how much guidance Hollingsworth and Aja are given, how much is them just running wild. This one is no exception.
These two have always been really effective storytellers of their own right, and I’m fairly certain that you could have an amazing experience of this issue even if you didn’t have any words. Everything has a function and everything contributes to the story such that not a single scrap of the page is wasted. There’s an amazing sequence when the Tracksuit Draculas arrive in their vans that’s communicated with the appearance of headlights. It’s beautiful, unique, and incredibly effective.
One of my favorite panels is a close up onto a person’s mouth when Clint is trying really hard to lip-read. His focus is our focus—and the character whose lips he’s reading comments upon the fact that he’s doing it. We’re put in the shoes of the main character in a way that is relatively rare. In most cases, we see a focus placed on the reader seeing the whole scene—but Aja often chooses to limit your view in favor of what the main character would be seeing. It’s so effective and so obvious that again, you wonder why everyone else isn’t doing it.
Hollingsworth is also responsible for a great use of shadow throughout this issue. He knows just the right times to cut away, the times when expressions aren’t important and instead simply the shapes are enough. In fact, I’d argue that more than the shapes being enough, they’re actually preferred to their “real” versions. For example, I find the silhouette of a kiss to be much more romantic and significant than the scene of the kiss itself. It adds just a little bit of mystique and romance to the whole thing that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
And, just in general, I love that we rarely, if at all, get plain white backgrounds. The reader is smart enough to know that the backgrounds aren’t actually changing color and Hollingsworth capitalizes on that by using that space as yet another way to communicate emotional content. We get red, orange, and purple backgrounds that establish a tone for a given panel, despite that not being the “reality” of the scene. It’s a really effective conceit that makes sure that story and nuance are wrung out of every single page.
And speaking of pages, the last two? All I can say is: prepare yourself.
Hawkeye #21 is everything that we’ve all come to love about this series. Heartbreaking storytelling that’s achieved not just with dialogue but also with brilliantly crafted art. The thought that this run with this team is coming to an end so soon is genuinely painful—but I am breathless with the thought of the next issue.
The Verdict: 9.5/10