Fresh from his star turn as ‘the other bloke’ in the Avengers Assemble movie, Clint Barton aka Hawkeye is embarking on new series of adventures under the watchful eyes of writer Matt Fraction and artists David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth. Barton has something of a chequered past in the Avengers mythos. As one of the few non-super characters in the Avengers roster he has often been used as an emotional exclamation point to give resonance to stories and as such has become something of a sacrifical lamb being killed off more times than Tony Stark has had martinis. But in the wake of his central role in the new Marvel movie and after re-establishing himself as leader of the Secret Avengers covert team he is now set for another re-invention, this time as… an ‘ordinary guy’?!
Instead of just another super-hero spin off, Fraction’s take on the Hawkeye story is to give it a very human heart turning it almost into a superhero indie book. Instead of fighting Thanos and some pan-dimensional beings, this first book focuses on him hunting down a Russian mob boss who is attempting to evict his neighbours from their down town apartment building. There are no building shattering fight scenes here though, just simple, well thought out character and story all within a single issue story arc. For some, this may not sound like the thing of greatness, but it is so well executed that you can’t help but love it. Just like Avenging Spider-man, which has breathed new life into Spider-man by keeping the stories simple and fun, Hawkeye reminds you that comics don’t have to have a universe altering multi-part crossover storyline to be effective. Sometimes a simple story about an off-duty superhero and a dog can be enough!
While Fraction delivers a story of subtlety and depth it is the stylish, almost photographic art of David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth that gives the book it’s real soul. With lingering close-ups and tight panel structures this is closer to the noir tales of Ed Brubaker’s Criminal than Brian Bendis’ Ultimates and that is the biggest compliment a book can get from us. If it continues in this vein, Hawkeye could well be one of the sleeper hits of 2012 and is definitely one of the smartest Marvel books in years.