Spencer: Hawkeye writer Matt Fraction calls Wednesday “the worst day in comics.” Why? Because it’s the day all the writer’s mistakes “become fixed and permanent.” Yeah, it can be hard for any creative individual to put their work out there and be satisfied with it; personally, sometimes I even have a hard time not going back into these articles after they’ve published to fix them up. Hawkeye 16 provides an object lesson on why we should put our work out there anyway through the life stories of Will and Grey Bryson, brothers and musicians whose relationship has been ruined by the forty years they’ve spent composing their magnum opus.
Our hero, the intrepid Lady Hawkguy Kate Bishop, discovers a disoriented Will Bryson, one half of the legendary music duo the Bryson Brothers, wandering down a highway. Will believes that his producer brother, Grey, has been leaking “unfinished” pieces of his forty-years-in-the-making masterwork, “Wish”, in order to humiliate him; although Will appears to be suffering from mental and perhaps even drug problems, Kate takes the case, and after a series of slightly embarrassing scuffles, discovers that Will is absolutely, 100% correct.
Kate’s too depressed by the tragedy of the Bryson Brothers to even follow up on the case until Magic-Cat-Food-Guy turns her on to something amazing—after Grey’s death, Will has begun playing “Wish” in front of live audiences. For a second everything in Kate’s life is perfect…until Madame Masque finds her.
Any creative person can probably relate to Will’s struggle bringing “Wish” to life. As I mentioned, the urge to criticize and change finished works can be overwhelming, but it’s even easier to get caught up in perfecting something—be it a song or a story or a painting—that’s still unfinished. I know I’ve done it myself, obsessing for weeks or months over the beginning of a story, just going back and changing and changing and trying to make it “perfect” instead of ever finishing, until I get sick of it and bury it away somewhere. It’s not a way to move forward as an artist, and in this issue Fraction seems to specifically argue that it’s a crime to rob the world of those works. Will spends decades caught up in trying to bring his grandiose vision to life, and in doing so he misses his chance to become the “American Beatles”, he frustrates his brother, who spends his entire life caught up in Will’s endless project instead of pursuing his own dreams, and most important, he’s robbing himself of happiness.
The next page points out that even now, 46 years later, nobody has ever heard him play another note. This was the last time Will would ever feel happy…until he finally plays “Wish” live, and artist Annie Wu beautifully mirrors the above panel.
Will and Grey obviously had problems beyond this album—be it mental illness, drugs, or their abusive childhood—but it’s hard not to wonder how much their life could have changed for the better had “Wish” come out decades ago, had Will never forgotten the joy performing his music brings him. It’s certainly something I’ll try to keep in mind.
Speaking of Wu, she’s absolutely on fire this issue. Her facial expressions and body language bring Kate and the rest of the cast to life as something beyond just drawings on a piece of paper; there’s a three-panel shot of Kate swinging her bow where we can see determination, then joy, then panic flash across her face that’s absolutely masterful. I also find myself impressed by the gags she squeezes into the background—I don’t know whether the ideas to have Will dive frantically beneath his piano bench when a fight breaks out or for Will to perform his concert while sitting in a kiddie pool come from Wu or Fraction, but they’re genius. Likewise, I don’t know who to credit the idea of depicting Will’s paranoia about his brother by showing Grey literally crawling all over Will originated to, but it’s inspired, and Wu nails the execution:
But I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Will Bryson and Matt Fraction and Annie Wu at this point; isn’t this book supposed to be about Kate Bishop? It certainly is, and it’s a joy to watch the story unfold with her in a starring role. It’s always a ton of fun to watch Hawkeye work, and Kate is very much a Hawkeye; even if she’s far more competent than Clint in many areas (she’s quite skilled with computers even if she hates them), she still snarks and flies by the seat-of-her-pants just as much as her counterpart ever did.
While we’re on the subject of Clint, this issue has me wondering more about his and Kate’s relationship and the rift currently dividing them. Clint and Kate obviously aren’t related, but they’re still connected in an important way, and I can’t help comparing them to the Bryson Brothers. Kate talks about the tragedy of those two guys, locked in a house together slowly going mad; was it Will and Grey’s proximity and working together that drove them apart? If we apply that to Kate and Clint, would it mean that Kate made the right decision by leaving for the West Coast? Or are the Bryson Brothers omens of what might happen if Kate and Clint never make up and just let this rift between them get bigger and bigger? No matter what, I’m curious to see how the lessons Kate’s learning in L.A. come into play when/if she and Clint reconcile.
Kate also spends a lot of time in this issue criticizing the tabloid-crazed lifestyle in L.A., but I’m not quite as sure what conclusion Kate comes to about it—or what Fraction’s trying to say about it. Ethan, you’re from L.A.; do you have any insights into these matters? Are you enjoying Kate’s adventures in your home city?
Ethan: To be honest, I do enjoy the time we get to spend with Kate in LA. New York’s great, but one can only take so many scenes of superheroes and villains crashing around Mathattan and Times Square. And if they aren’t in NYC, they’re in a different dimension or planet – why range so far afield when you have more great locations right on the same continent? So yes, shout-out to LA: my favorite city / megasprawl concrete-and-steel monster. It’s always a nice little moment to see the things you recognize from your area. Even when it’s traffic on the freeway.
I did do a double-take, though, when I saw Kate trying to navigate the busiest stretch of road in the nation on a BIKE. What the hell? I know cycling is a much more valid form of transit in the Big Apple, but it takes a special lack of common sense to try to get around on one on the 405. Everyone’s driving 80+ mph, cutting each other off, and generally disregarding the brutal physics of speed that kill so many people each year. Or everyone’s, you know, sitting still in traffic. Either way, Kate’s little impromptu Ciclovia doesn’t help my impression of her intelligence. Damn cyclists are bad enough on surface streets – strap yourself onto a combustion engine and burn some fossil fuels like God intended.
Overall, though, I didn’t really get the sense that Fraction was trying to say anything about LA as much as he was reiterating Kate’s fish-out-of-water feeling as she struggles to survive and find a place to fit. Sure, she makes the off-the-cuff statement that “people can be so mean to each other,” but at the same time, she’s growing herself a little family out here: the couple who first sort of took her on as a P.I. to recover their stolen wedding orchids seem to already consider her some kind of little sister, or maybe some kind of baby bird they’re sheltering until she figures out LA for herself. Heck, I’m betting that even the grumpy Detective Caudle is going to end up tolerating her, though definitely more in a bratty-baby-sibling kind of way.
Moving on to the art, I want to heartily second Spencer’s praise for Annie Wu. She manages to fuse a bold, sexy, original style with the necessary task of pulling the user through the narrative in a clear, understandable path. I think most of us take the latter goal for granted when it’s occupying the same space as the flashy visuals of the former. It only struck me on the third reading through that we’re jumping around quite a bit in space and history, but it never seems unnatural. Because when Wu wants some flash, she doesn’t stop to worry about whether everything makes perfect sense, she just hauls back the hammer and pulls the trigger. The scene of the mini-Greys that you included, Spencer, was one example, and the very first panel of the issue is another one that I really enjoyed:
Now, I’ve never personally been into a professional recording studio, but I’ve seen pictures of them, and I can tell you that they do NOT have that many microphones. The wonderful thing is that it doesn’t matter, because it’s such a great way to craft the tone of the scene. A young musician hunched over a piano, lost in his opus of joy and its terrible cost, a spark of light being swallowed up by the dark forest of mics hanging down like withering, rotten fruit. All the while, his brother looks on, already ago consumed by despair and bile, the edges of his features barely visible in the dark, like a corpse floating in the night sea.
What I’m trying to say is, I love you Annie Wu, can we be best friends? Oh, and please keep doing the awesome art with that Fraction fellow, you guys are tearing it up.
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