This contains the first five issues of Fraction & Aja's Hawkeye
series, a clever, quippy, sometimes unexpectedly moving grunge noir comedy of a superhero comic. It is notable for the intricacy of the structuring and the superlativeness of the art and layouts -- they are both complex and clear, theatrically artificial and naturalistically meaningful. The layouts -- whose style continues in the two issues with guest artist Javier Pulido -- is the kind of thing you only get with a brilliant writer/artist or writer/artist collaboration: they are perfectly designed to guide you through the beats of the story, and so perfectly designed that sometimes they stop you dead. It is the kind of thing you can hand a design tyro to show design is art and the kind of thing you can hand a master to make them feel like a tyro.
The writing, too -- there's one two-issue arc, but otherwise these are all done-in-one stories which you can come to cold, no knowledge of the characters or the continuity necessary. The knowledge is nice -- you get to see characters revealed and relationships developed over time -- but it isn't necessary
. This series pulls off a lot of paradoxical balancing acts like that. I don't know how long Fraction & Aja can go without falling off that balance beam, but for now they are putting out pretty much the platonic ideal of an episodic narrative.
Clint Barton (Hawkeye I) is rough edges and a soft heart, bumbling through his life and awkward in interpersonal interactions and absolutely focused in the moments he aims and fires. His protege and partner, Kate Bishop (Hawkeye II), is Nora Charles as a 19-year-old, a brilliant surface and a fierce heart and a quick mouth. Together they fight crime.
Sadly also included is the Young Avengers
one-shot in which Matt Fraction established my most hated bit of Kate Bishop backstory: She was raped, something which no one else but her therapist knows. I hate this because rape is the cheap drama default backstory women characters always get. I hate this because I liked that Kate Bishop was the one Young Avenger (and one of the few superheroes) who had no inherent or inherited link to the Avengers and who became a superhero because she could and she wanted to, not because trauma drove her to it. (The other Young Avengers hunt a supervillain who invades Kate's sister's wedding, and Kate joins in the fight.) I hate this because, according to Fraction, Kate was assaulted by a stranger with a knife while walking through Central Park -- and while rape is underreported, this is exactly the kind of rape that matches our social narratives of rape and exactly the kind of rape that does tend to get reported, and it just adds to the impression that Fraction just slapped together "want trauma for superheroine backstory" and "1 in 6 women in the US are sexually assaulted" and "rape tends to be underreported" all out of cultural and narrative defaults, without bothering to think about the implications or consequences of his narrative decisions -- or how this individual person (as opposed to "A Girl") would react to the particular circumstances he put her in.
I have now spent more words on the one thing about this book I hate than all the things I love. I do love them! I am buying this book! But man -- I could have lived with that entire plotline being relegated to the "silently written out of the continuity" bins. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. And its inclusion here makes me afraid Fraction is going to bring it up again.
ETA: And now that the book has come out I see that I was completely wrong about which backstory issue was included, and instead it's the one where Kate Bishop first encounters Clint Barton, which I quite like.