Spencer: Why 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:
That 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.
Clint’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?
Here, 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.
Layout-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.
Even 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?
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