Hawkeye 15

hawkeye 15Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Hawkeye 15, originally released February 26th, 2014.

SpencerWhy do we love Clint Barton so much? I could probably devote my entire word count to the reasons, but the one that sticks in my head is that he’s heroic, but still endearingly flawed. Clint screws up a lot, but he’s always trying to do the right thing, no matter how badly he goes about it. Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye 15 reveals that Clint’s attempts to save his building are less than legal and have only pushed the Tracksuits to more desperate measures. But despite it all, I can’t help but like the guy even more; his heart’s in the right place.

Mockingbird and Black Widow have been looking into the Tracksuit Mafia for Clint (and his crossword puzzle-solving brother Barney), and have discovered that the Tracksuits own all the real estate surrounding Clint’s building for blocks and are looking to sell, which makes his refusal to vacate a major thorn in their side. Kazi, the Tracksuits’ enigmatic assassin, discovers that Clint has no legal claim to the building and decides to forego his planning altogether. While Clint and Barney fight their way through a troop of Tracksuit goons (who literally catch Clint with his pants down) Kazi infiltrates the building; when they realize it they chase him down, but it, well…it doesn’t end well:

FRACTION HOW DARE YOUThat looks pretty final, doesn’t it? One thing that really stood out to me is how Kazi reacts when Clint, Barney, and Jessica storm the room. Kazi’s prepared for Clint; we never even see his face, he just shoots Clint the second he turns the corner. When Barney appears Kazi looks annoyed, but still finds time to shoot him; when Spider-Woman comes next, though, Kazi freaks and takes off. I can’t tell if Kazi seems scared because he wasn’t ready for a third victim or because that third victim is a superpowered Avenger, but Jessica’s presence as the only superpowered individual in the issue — and specifically her presence at Clint and Barney’s “death” — seems significant, as if it’s opening the street-level world of Hawkeye up to more sci-fi concepts that could potentially save the lives of the brothers Barton.

There was so much more to the issue than that traumatic ending though, and what stood out to me the most was the insight about Clint himself. There were two scenes in particular that seemed to cut to the core of who Clint is as a person.

stupid real world with its stupid rulesClint’s buying of “his” building was always suspicious. He basically just threw some money at some Tracksuits while threatening them; no papers were signed or anything! It’s no surprise, then, that his occupation of the building is less than legal, and that the way Clint went about trying to save it probably ended up bringing more heat down on the tenants than if he had just left things well enough alone. But I feel for Clint. How was he supposed to just stand aside and do nothing while the Tracksuits strong armed his friends?

but on the other hand you have a better relationship with your brother than ThorHere, though, is the other side of Clint’s coin. For all of his irresponsibility, Clint knows he’s a screw-up and he absolutely hates it. He wishes he could be somebody different, somebody better, someone who could take better care of his friends and family. As I mentioned in the introduction, I find this dichotomy to be one of the most compelling and relatable elements of Hawkeye. We can all aspire to be as kind-hearted as Clint, but we can all see ourselves in his foibles and failures as well (except for maybe the belt breaking. I’ve never broken a belt!).

While writer Matt Fraction has created a compelling lead character and voice for Hawkeye, artist David Aja, colorist Matt Hollingsworth, and letterer Chris Eliopoulous deserve as much praise as possible for their contributions to the book’s success. I never get tired of marveling at Aja’s pages. I’m continually impressed by how many panels he can fit into a page without losing coherency.

A portrait of Kazi in whiteLayout-wise, the above page is perhaps my favorite. I love how Aja never shows the faces of any of the businessmen Kazi interacts with, cleverly concealing them in shadows or behind other panels. Eliopoulous gets in on the act as well, having some of the businessmen’s speech balloons drift off-panel, ultimately reinforcing just how unimportant and interchangeable these characters are. Instead of their presence distracting the reader, they become a part of the background, a constant din that helps better flesh out and sell the setting of the high-class business meeting.

The one aspect of this issue that I don’t quite know what to do with, though, is the puzzle motif. I mean, the presence of the puzzles is enjoyable, especially when the answers to Barney’s crossword puzzles provide small jokes to break up the possible monotony of Bobbi and Natasha’s exposition, and I enjoyed finding gaming elements hidden throughout the issue, such as how the apartment building’s floor in the first image I posted has a  checkerboard/chessboard/crossword design (which the restaurant where the Bartons meet with Nat also has), but ultimately, I can’t figure out what exactly these themes mean to the issue itself.

My first thought was that the “fun and games” tagline applied to Kazi, who is no longer playing games with Team Hawkguy and has gunned in for the kill, but that seems too easy. Beyond that, though, I admit I’m a little stumped. I even scrutinized the answers to Barney’s puzzles, and while there’s some fun Hawkeye easter eggs hidden among them (clown [likely referring to Kazi], hobo, bro), I can’t seem to apply them to the going-ons of the issue itself.

Drew, this exercise seems right up your alley! Did you get anything out of the puzzle motif, or am I just thinking about it too hard?

Drew: Indeed, I love puzzles — both the pen-and-paper kind and parsing meaning from my favorite art, so this is indeed right up my alley. I don’t know if you’re much of a crossword puzzle fan, but I picked up the habit of doing the New York Times crossword puzzle while I was in college, and haven’t missed a weekday puzzle in the past two and a half years. All of that experience with crosswords has given me an appreciation for how they’re solved — specifically, when you can’t figure out one-across, you might need to move on to one-down (or two-down, or three-down), which in turn might require you to figure out fourteen-across, and so on.

That kind of regular retracing of steps (always with a slightly different perspective) has obvious parallels to this series, which notably spent four whole issues retracing the immediate fallout of Grills’ death. More pertinent to today’s discussion is this own issue’s looping sense of chronology, where a problem is left unresolved, only for us to return to the scene later to see the solution. The pantsless standoff is broken into four different chunks — a level of repetition that is very familiar to a mediocre crossword enthusiast like myself or (apparently) Barney Barton.

Beyond that kind of structural parallel, I believe this series shares a great deal in the aesthetic of a crossword puzzle as a complex whole made up of seemingly simple parts. Answers to individual crossword puzzle clues are typically 3-7 letters in length, and — aside from the occasional cleverly misleading clue (hello, “A male rapper”) — are generally pretty straightforward. The puzzle as a whole, though, is remarkably complex. Have you ever tried to make a crossword puzzle? Do yourself a favor and give up on that dream now. That greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts quality is obvious in this series, which has managed to weave what seemed like one-and-done stories into a surprisingly complex through-story. Who would have thought the central conflict of this series would hinge on Clint’s insistence that he bought his building in issue 1?

Hey, speaking of the Tracksuits’ master plan: how cool is that? The “street-toughs aim to become legitimate real-estate barons” reminds me of The Wire in the absolute best ways possible. BUT, it also makes their logic here a bit hard to follow. If Clint’s claim to the land is illegal, why don’t they take legal action? Doesn’t a double-homicide make whatever comes next more suspicious than if the apartment’s ACTUAL landlords had ACTUALLY evicted its tenants? Like, Clint couldn’t call the cops because they would take him away, so why didn’t the Tracksuits just call the cops? Why was doing something even more illegal the reasonable course of action?

Whatever their reasons, I think the fact that they have so much riding on this makes the situation much scarier. I mentioned The Wire, and one of the things that series did so well was reveal corruption at every level of city government. The thought that anyone might have something to gain from this deal is particularly disturbing, which gives me a slightly different read on the “faceless” suits from the meeting — it’s not that they don’t matter, but that they matter so much that we’re only teased as to who they might be. Indeed, one of those drifting-off-the-panel bits of dialogue is someone introducing “Mr. Bishop from the investment group” (thanks, Google Translate) — I’m pretty sure Kate’s wealthy father (last seen in the annual) is one of the Tracksuits’ investors. How’s that for some juicy corruption? That’s the kind of detail seeding that makes this series so special — and another example of this issue paralleling the structure of puzzle-solving.

Spencer, I’m glad you mentioned Aja’s layouts, because I think he’s aiming for some puzzle parallels there, too. He keeps to a pretty strict grid system throughout, and while that isn’t particularly unique to this issue, it takes on a new meaning here. Aja’s choices are always rich in meaning, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out my favorite moment — a direct allusion to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

Batman and BarneyEven the scenario is similar — from the gunman holding a kid hostage, right down to the hero’s grim admission that he killed the guy basically out of convenience. I knew Fraction was a fan of Frank Miller’s work from that same time period, but this simple homage makes that connection even more explicit.

As ever, I love this series. It continues to mix superheroes with everyday life in a charmingly relatable way. While I’d like to detail how much of that comes from its specificity (indeed, Fraction and Aja have paid special attention to make sure that the location of the apartment building is consistent with the directions Clint gives the taxi driver back in the first issue), I’m afraid I’ll need to leave that for the comments. Hi all! Were you as keen on this issue as Spencer and I were?

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 Comixology and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

12 comments on “Hawkeye 15

  1. I didn’t spend a ton of time looking at the word search on the cover, but “Amanat” and “Wacker” are definitely on there. I might need to set aside some time today to really dig into that thing…I may have a puzzle addiction.

    • Okay, so this basically happened to me — I wore out the hole on the belt that I wear every single day. Rather than just getting a new belt, I just started wearing it one hole tighter, which required me to pull my pants significantly higher on my waist (one looser would have caused my pants to fall down like Clint’s here). It’s not cost — it’s laziness mixed with just enough indifference to accept a shitty new normal. I can totally relate.

        • Or repair it. I have a bright bright bright pink belt that I’ve repaired with super glue and duct tape so many times that I could probably reverse it and wear it as a silver belt.

        • Both of these options would require motivation on my part that simply doesn’t exist. As Chief Wiggum so eloquently put it, “I’d rather let a thousand guilty men go free than chase after them.” It’s a terrible attitude, for sure, but it’s also pretty deeply-sown. The front door on my parents’ house has never worked properly (like, since we moved into the house over 20 years ago), but they never even thought about fixing it. It was either get better at learning to open this door with a broken latch, or wait outside. I’m pretty sure this is why I’ve allowed every bedroom I’ve ever had devolve into an absolute mess. I’m the worst.

  2. Anyone else thrown for a loop when Kazi suggests that “Manhattan hates” the use of Clint’s neighborhood when it’s been so specifically been placed in Brooklyn? Maybe that group is referring to themselves collectively as “Manhattan”? Maybe some editor thought it was better to change “New York” to “Manhattan” in a misguided attempt at being more specific?

  3. Drew, thanks for posting that final image. I loved that scene so much and knew it seemed familiar to me, but didn’t even make the connection until you posted the TDKR image. Also loved Barney trying to make this action movie quip about it and totally failing, resorting to “I threw those guys off the balcony”.

    I’m not sure why the Tracksuits haven’t gone to the police to take care of Clint either. My immediate thought was because they’re mafia and probably broke a ton of laws in acquiring all that property, not to mention Clint got their actual, name on the lease owner deported, but at the same time, with their connections I’d think the Tracksuit would have enough connections within the police to be able to call them on Clint.

    Likewise, I found it curious that Kazi, the mafia’s hired hitman, was the one leading their business meeting, but then I remembered his showing up at Kate’s father’s fancy party, which makes him not only fancier and more refined than he has any right to be, but also means that Kazi was probably AT that party in the first place to make deals with Kate’s father. Interesting, interesting.

    • You know, none of us batted an eye when it turned out the Tracksuits’ hitman was in attendance at Kate’s dad’s party, but that seems to have been more than a coincidence. Or rather, that it is just a coincidence. I always thought the point of that was to drive a wedge between the Hewkeyes, but maybe to Kazi, Kate was just a girl at a party. Or it could be both readings. Point is: Kate’s dad knows Kazi.

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