Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Hawkeye 12, originally released July 10th, 2013.
Drew: What is it that excites you most about a narrative? Or, what element of a story is so important to you that you might overlook other issues? Obviously, there’s a baseline for quality, but in a pinch, some of us might excuse weak plotting if the character work is good, or flat characters if the story is exciting enough. For me, that magic element is form. I’m willing to excuse wrote plotting or stiff characters as long as the story is told to me in a new way. Hawkeye has never suffered from either of those problems, but its recent discursive plotting and focus on seemingly every character except Clint has the potential to bore plot- and character-philes. Its form, on the other hand, has been absolute crackerjacks. Issue 8 kicked of a series of issues — each from a different perspective — that have revisited scenes time and again, each offering a different perspective on the events. It’s part Roshomon, part A/B plotting, creating a hybrid form that keeps each episode emotionally satisfying, all while weaving an incredibly dense chain of events. Hawkeye 12 adds Barney Barton to the mix, mining a great deal of pathos from the brothers’ childhood.
The issue opens with a vagrant Barney calling Clint from a payphone to make plans for coffee at nine the next day. Barney shows up outside of Clint’s place bright and early, but Clint doesn’t seem to be in. Maybe he meant nine pm? Barney runs into some tracksuits outside of Clint’s building, who offer him five dollars to beat him up. This is where Pizza Dog shows up (as seen in Hawkeye 11). The tracksuits catch up with Barney later, and offer him a whole wad of cash for “two minutes” to wail on him. They attempt to skip the bill again, but Barney ably puts them in their place. He then calls Clint to figure out their plans, and the issue ends with a happy reunion.
The events here take place within the time frame of issue 11, but the real story is told in the flashbacks, where Barney teaches Clint how to throw a punch (while simultaneously teaching himself to take them), snap nickels, and pick his battles. Clint obviously owes a great deal to Barney’s guidance, which makes Barney’s hard times all the more harrowing. It also puts a finer point on how Clint treats the people he cares most about, which seems to be a recurring theme in this arc.
Those flashbacks also illustrate some unfortunate similarities between the brothers Barton and their dirtbag father. It’s hard not to see the parallel between Barney’s “bottle of anything,” and whatever their dad is drinking at the dinner table. In fact, the bottle itself seems to symbolize their father’s drinking (as well as providing an outlet for their anger about it).
This kind of character work is typical of writer Matt Fraction, but he actually goes a step further, having their father mutter something about Clint being the “Identified Patient” — that is, the member of a dysfunctional family who most obviously manifests the family’s dysfunctions. It’s a psychology term I wasn’t familiar with, but it seems to come up in family psychology quite often, and could very easily explain Clint’s emotional distance.
The fact that these flashbacks happen within the circuitous, overlapping form of this arc adds to the emotional density. It’s no coincidence that every one of Barney’s actions in the present is either repeated later or directly mirrors something from the flashbacks. The thrust of the action here takes place between nearly identical calls he makes to Clint, suggesting that his life is on a continuous loop. That notion of history repeating snaps into focus as Clint himself echoes Barney with his own “same ol’ Barney, huh?” We might expect our heroes to repeat the same battles over and over again, but we don’t necessarily consider why they would be willing to do so.
Artist Francesco Francavilla picks up on these loops, returning to the phone motif throughout the issue, and littering the scene changes with match-cuts. It’s his dramatic sense of lighting, though, where he really shines. Fraction makes a point of setting most of the issue immediately around 9am and 9pm, where Francavilla can really cash in on the slanty, reddish early morning and late evening sunlight without jumbling it all together — he generally lights the morning scenes from the left and the evening scenes from the right, but there’s no hard-and-fast rule. He does play hard-and-fast with the panel borders — grid-like throughout, with rounded corners for the flashbacks — but he breaks the pattern for both car-crash scenes, effectively tying them together, in spite of the intervening pages.
It’s a beautiful issue, but I could see how it might be frustrating if you’re anxious to start the hunt for Grills’ killer. Me? I can’t get enough — this might be my favorite issue so far. Spencer, there’s obviously a lot of room for disagreement here, so I can’t wait to hear what you thought. Was now an okay time for a detailed character study, or do we need to get on with the show already?
Spencer: Honestly, no, I don’t think this was the best time for a detailed character study. Hawkeye has never really been a series concerned with ongoing plots, and that’s fine—the one-and-done stories from early in this run are still easily my favorite issues—but Grills’ death demanded a response that just hasn’t arrived yet. And while Kazi’s backstory was obviously important, and Pizza Dog’s spotlight revealed new layers of the Tracksuit Mafia’s infiltration of Clint’s life, this issue—as good as it admittedly is—feels like a distraction from the very important stakes that Grills’ death created.
That said, I’m leery to criticize this issue’s timing too much. Creating a nonlinear storyline with this much complexity isn’t something done haphazardly. If Fraction felt the need to place this issue within the ongoing Tracksuit Mafia storyline, then some aspect of it—be it elements from the flashbacks or just the arrival of Barney himself—is obviously going to be important to the resolution of that storyline (Chekov’s Barney, if you will). So I’m going to wait until I get to see that payoff before I criticize the placement of this issue any further.
Regardless, it’s a shame that this issue had such unfortunate timing, because it really is an excellent story; it just took me until my second or third read to work past my frustration and realize it. Barney and Clint’s relationship is surprisingly realistic and fascinatingly complex, and after just one issue I’ve become completely invested in it. What’s impressive about that is the fact that, going into this issue, I knew absolutely nothing about Barney besides what the recap page told me:
What it tells me is that Barney’s spent most of his adulthood as, if not quite a villain, than at least on the wrong side of the law. Yet the Barney Barton I see in this issue comes across as a pretty sympathetic, down-on-his-luck character. I mean, Barney could easily use his archery skills to hold up a few convenience stores if he’s that hard up for money, but instead he simply asks politely for spare change. Even when he petitions the Tracksuits for money he only places himself in harm’s way, and only attacks the Tracksuits when they renege on their deal.
That doesn’t seem very villainous. Likewise, the flashbacks paint Barney as the more stable, peaceful brother, while Clint is full of rage—completely understandable rage, considering the circumstances, but rage nonetheless. Based on these flashbacks alone I would have expected Clint to grow up to be the criminal and Barney the hero, but instead, while Clint did have a short stint on the wrong side of the law, he’s spent most of his adult life as one of Earth’s mightiest heroes; Barney, meanwhile, despite brushes with do-gooding, has spent most of his life as a criminal and a vagrant.
Yet, the more things change, the more things stay the same. It seems that Barney’s lessons on picking your battles weren’t that effective, since Clint’s been throwing himself at the Tracksuit Mafia with the same reckless abandon and lack of judgment that he showed when he attacked his father as a child.
(Also, as seen waaaayyy back in Issue 1, Clint still hasn’t quite mastered that nickel-snapping trick either.
Did you pay any attention to your brother’s lessons at all, Clint?)
In many ways Barney hasn’t changed all that much either. He’s still the guy who chooses his battles, but over his life he hasn’t exactly chosen the best battles, and it’s left him in a rough position. So Barney turns to his brother for help. Clint and Barney are ostensibly enemies, on opposite sides of the law. They’ve fought each other, they’ve stolen from each other, but when Clint opens that door, none of that matters.
In the end, isn’t that what sibling relationships boil down to? I’m an only child, but I’ve seen my mom deal with her sisters. She’ll complain, she’ll hold grudges, but as soon as they see each other again all that falls away and they’re best friends again. It’s elements like this that makes Clint and Barney’s relationship so compelling and relatable.
Honestly, I’m just thankful that Clint still has Barney right now. His marriage has failed, his relationship with Jessica is on the ropes, and Kate and Lucky have left for greener pastures. Clint’s going to need Barney, and I look forward to seeing these two interact further with great anticipation.
But please, let’s finish this stuff with Grills and Kazi and the Tracksuits before going on any more detours, okay?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?