Today, Suzanne and
Spencer Drew are discussing Hawkeye 20, originally released September 10th, 2014.
Drew: Of all the ways a writer can use to emphasize their storytelling beats, shuffling the chronology of the events always demands my attention. I almost called it “distracting” but I think I mean “demands my attention” — I absolutely appreciate that it’s a handy tool in the savvy writer’s toolkit, but we’re so used to perceiving events one after the other that flipping them around feels noticeably alien. Again, I don’t want to imply that it’s inherently bad — there are lots of compelling reasons to tell a story out-of-order — but that it draws attention to itself in ways that aren’t always accounted for. Fortunately, Matt Fraction has routinely proven himself capable of handling (and justifying) these types of stories, making Hawkeye 20 an excellent example of nonlinear narrative done right.
The story itself is fairly straightforward, or about as straightforward as a story involving Life Model Decoys can be: Madame Masque runs some kind of illicit LMD business which allows her to extort all of her clients indefinitely, and Kate hatches a plan to bring it all down. It doesn’t end up working out quite like she intended, but it’s the path we take to get to those plans that really interests me. The issue opens with Kate confronting her father about something via phone. We don’t find out what that something is, but we do learn that she’s in jail. Smash cut to a Kate posing for her mugshot in true Hawkeye bandaged fashion.
But that’s all we get for the time being. Those bandages help orient us in time, as Kate’s appearance in the next scene is sans any of these cuts and scrapes. Immediately, we know that this issue (or at least part of this issue) is going to be about explaining how Kate got into her predicament.
We quickly see Kate being arrested, but again, without those bandages, we know this isn’t the arrest. But again, that’s all we get. We immediately jump again to her planning to take infiltrate Masque’s office. Does this happen before or after she’s arrested? It takes Gary the florist (who is helping her pose as a serving platter at Masque’s next naked sushi girl shindig) to ask how Kate can count on a diversion sure to draw Masque from the room — though not before we jump ahead to seeing that much of the plan in action. To answer Gary’s question, Fraction takes us back to central booking in that first arrest (that is, first chronologically; not the one she referenced on the phone with her dad).
This arrest in regards to Harold H. Harold’s murder (remember how he was found with a purple arrow sticking out of his chest?), even though she seems to have an airtight alibi. Fortunately, Finch and Marcus are there to post her bail…only it turns out that her bail was actually paid for by Harold H. Harold himself.
What? Turns out, this has to do with that LMD racket I mentioned earlier, and Harold has finally decided to stand up to Masque, which all takes the form of their plan to extract info from her office. That catches us up to the naked sushi business, but Fraction teases us again with images of an imprisoned and beat up Kate. How do we end up there?
Well, Kate’s escape plan wasn’t as solid as she thought it would be. Moreover, her tit-for-tat revenge-arson on Masque’s mansion didn’t account for the stockpile of LMD robots Masque had ready to beat Kate up. So Kate is having her ass handed to her when S.H.I.E.L.D. shows up, just in time to keep Kate’s brains in her head. Unfortunately, S.H.I.E.L.D. interceding means Kate doesn’t quite get the closure she was hoping for — though we do finally get to see a now thoroughly battered and bandaged Kate asking to call her dad. Moreover, it looks like it was Harold who called S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place. Essentially, he was just using Kate to extract the information to give to S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m not entirely sure why he couldn’t be up front with her about it — helping S.H.I.E.L.D. definitely seems like something Kate would willingly do — but the deception definitely doesn’t sit well with her.
Fortunately, Kate gets a moment of victory at the very end of the issue — that phone call with her dad, though this time we hear her side of the conversation.
It’s a moment of true power — she’s finally in control of the situation as she heads back to deal with not only her dad, but the hit out on Clint, too. It’s thrilling to think that the next time we see her, she’ll be bouncing off of the brothers Barton, but this is also a remarkably satisfying ending to her LA story. The city may have chewed her up and spit her back in the direction of New York, but it’s also given her a purpose that she maybe hasn’t ever had before. She’s seen some shit, and is prepared to take control of whatever she can.
So I guess that’s the long way of saying I thought the non-linear elements really worked here. I meant to leave room to rave about how effectively artist Annie Wu manages to distinguish all of the different points on the timeline (Matt Hollingsworth’s colors help add some specificity, too), but I’m afraid I’ll have to leave that to you, Suzanne. Were you as delightfully distracted by the timeline as I was, or did you find it frustrating? This certainly isn’t the first time Fraction has played with the chronology of one of his issues (heck, do you remember all those issues that retraced the days immediately following Grills’ death?), but all of the smash-cuts here seemed designed to draw attention to it. Did you enjoy that affect, or was it too much?
Suzanne: Matt Fraction’s love of all things non-linear has been a running plot device from the beginning of the series, with Clint saving Lucky from the Tracksuit Mafia. In this issue, abrupt transitions between scenes and time detracted from the overall cohesiveness of the story for me. When a revived Harold H. Harold reveals himself to Kate, there is nothing to separate their conversation from Kate’s monologue about their plot to expose Madame Masque. Reading through again, I pieced together that Kate essentially narrates her story from what looks like a holding cell talking to S.H.I.E.L.D. agents as she jumps back through time. Having some sort of break in the panels would have been helpful as a cue to readers. Matt Hollingsworth manages to ease these transitions a bit by contrasting darker tones and shadows with warmer hues in the action flashback scenes.
Drew, I completely agree that framing the issue with a conversation between Kate and her father is the most powerful moment of her Los Angeles story. She manages to detach from her family of origin and take another step toward her identity as a hero. It helps to get off of her shady father’s payroll once and for all. Fraction purposefully ends the issue with her empowering herself, returning to save the day in New York with renewed purpose.
Other parts of this issue felt anticlimactic, since the conflict between Kate and Madame Masque began in Hawkeye 4 (over a year and a half ago, but who’s counting?) Kate makes a final stand against Madame Masque and her legion of zombie butlers only to be set up by Harold H. Harold. Where’s her agency in this conflict? Does S.H.I.E.L.D. really need to swoop in and save the day for her? This doesn’t provide the kind of resolution I’m used to as a reader of superhero comics. By the same token, witnessing Kate’s growing pains as a young hero can lead to greater agency (and payoff for readers) in the series finale.
Readers bid goodbye to Annie Wu’s contributions to Hawkeye with this issue. Her sense of comedic timing with Kate and Detective Caudle is perfect. Wu gives Kate a range of vivid expressions — like her reaction to melting zombie butlers attacking her. With the sushi girl party, Wu creates a scene that is equal parts bizarre and hilarious. I’m game for a Kate Bishop spinoff series drawn by Wu anytime.
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I’ve never been the biggest fan of the more nonlinear aspects of Hawkguy, but I found this one especially hard to follow. I love opening and closing on the different sides of Kate’s conversation with her father, but other than that, I think the story would have had more effect if told in order.
There’s also some stuff that just didn’t make sense in this issue to me. What’s up with Kate’s father, exactly? Is he using the LMD’s as well to keep himself young? Or does this have more to do with his involvement with Kazi and the Tracksuits? How is Masque involved with the Tracksuits anyway? Kate found out about the hit on Clint by looking through the Weed Lord’s phone/e-mail, right? But what does he (and, in association, Masque) have to do with the Tracksuits? There’s just some pieces of the puzzle that are missing, and I don’t know if this is something that’s going to be further explored in the future or something I was supposed to piece together but haven’t yet.
Also, I agree with Suzanne that this felt a little anticlimactic. Fraction plays both Hawkeyes as super street-level, which benefits the book in the long run, but occasionally I’m frustrated at how an Avenger who consistently sharpshoots his way through world-ending threats can be taken down by some tracksuit clad thugs, or how Kate, who recently was fighting off alternate versions of her superpowered teammates, can be so consistently beaten by a bunch of bellhops. It would have been nice to see Kate get a solid win — even if SHIELD had to swoop in to arrest Masque, at least have Kate not wind up beaten in a fight yet again.
That said, I do like the message of this issue. Kate moved out west to be self reliant, basically denouncing her family and Clint in the process, but in the end she couldn’t succeed by relying solely on herself. Some of her alliances went sour, like her team-up with Harold, but others bore fruit, like her new friendship with Marcus and Finch. I think was sent out west to learn the same message Clint had to learn in New York: “don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Clint and Kate both had to come to learn to rely on their extended families for help — be it Barney, his tenants, and the Avengers in Clint’s case or Clint, Marcus and Finch, and even the Young Avengers in Kate’s case (I’d love it if they showed up, especially since Kate was talking to who I assume was either Billy or Teddy on the phone in this issue). Kate may not have become a one-woman ass-kicking machine, but she’s found a new kind of self-reliance in the fact that she knows who her “real” family is now, and knows that she has strength to build the family she wants instead of being stuck with her pretty lame one.
This wasn’t my favorite issue of Hawkeye–I just reread all of the “Kate in LA” issues counting the annual, and in fact this may be the weakest of them–but there was a lot in it I appreciated.