Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing All-New Hawkeye 2, originally released April 8th, 2015.
Drew: I’m sure many folks have forgotten Cursed, the one-season NBC sitcom about a man cursed with bad luck in its pilot episode, but I’ll never forget it. Not because it was particularly good — I’ve actually forgotten almost everything about it — but because of its abrupt title change. Suddenly, Cursed, the high-concept sitcom about bad luck had become The Weber Show, a series so generic, its most distinctive characteristic was apparently the presence of former Wings star Steven Weber. That was my first lesson in the dangers of a narrative tying itself to a limiting premise, a problem I’ve found to be relatively ubiquitous in modern culture. All-New Hawkeye is far from the disaster that Cursed was, but as issue 2 strains against the flashback structure that worked so beautifully in issue 1, I find myself wondering if that structure is more of a prison than a springboard.
That sounds kind of harsh, so I feel like I should clarify: I actually enjoy both the present-day and flashback stories quite a bit. Indeed, my discomfort isn’t in any failing of either component of the issue, but in the way they inform one another. The parallels between them are obvious — Kate rescues the children from Project Communion in the present, while Clint and Barney are similarly rescued from an abusive foster parent in the past — but I found myself wondering what the connection was for the characters. That is, this particular flashback quite satisfyingly establishes why Clint would be so committed to rescuing some abused kids, but he has virtually no say in the matter. In fact, his only reference to the kids at all is about how they relate to Kate.
He’s hardly leading the charge to save them, which seems at odds with the flashback all about how important his rescuers were to him when he was a kid.
Not to sidetrack this discussion into inane hypotheticals, but I’m struck by two obvious solutions to this dissonance: 1) Clint should have been the one rescuing the kids, or 2) Kate should have gotten the feature flashback here, digging into what might make her so adamant about rescuing them. Obviously, neither hero really needs an excuse for rescuing children, which maybe brings me to the third, most obvious solution: get rid of the flashback altogether. The present-day story is relatively light on event — boiling down to “Kate takes the kids outside” with an important wrinkle of “the kids reveal themselves to be capable of killing lots of people with their minds (or radiation or something)” — and might have benefitted from extending beyond the departure from the Hydra compound. Conversely, if the flashback is essential, this issue could have focused on that story entirely. The flashback thread feels similarly thin, carrying the brothers Barton from getting to the circus to staying at the circus, so extending the story a few more beats might have given it more substance.
I bring those up mostly to suggest that this issue’s weakest point might be its commitment to the flashback structure. Part two of a five-part story is never going to feel particularly satisfying, but dividing that space between two narratives only exacerbates the problem. The result is an issue that feels more tied to its storytelling conceits than to being a meaningful chapter of a story, which is always disappointing. It reminds me a great deal of the middle chapters of Batwoman‘s “To Drown the World” arc, where the structure similarly bound the story to checking in on multiple threads, often to the detriment of all of them.
But as I mentioned earlier, this issue is far from a failure. Writer Jeff Lemire finds a great voice for both Kate and Clint, allowing for some fun banter between the two, and artist Ramón Pérez once again demonstrates a stunning range between the present-day and flashback sequences. The storytelling is crystal clear in both, but the approach couldn’t be more different. While the present-day sequences are typified by chunky lines and clean layouts, the flashbacks are awash in watercolors, flowing freely without any hard panel borders.
This sequence is the perfect distillation of both the strengths and weaknesses of this issue. Pérez’s shots are chosen to convey maximum clarity, even as he alternates styles and time between them. The parallels between these stories is at its most obvious here, as Clint and Kate are both “named” in the final two panels, but they still feel oddly disjointed, with the present-day connection to Clint or the flashback connection to Kate feeling either tenuous or nonexistent.
Spencer, I’m curious to hear your thoughts here. I really loved the first issue, but this one felt like a bit of a letdown. Am I making too big of a deal out of what may be a typical second-issue pacing, or did this feel a little slow to you, too? Oh, and how many more times will Clint call Kate “Hawkeye Junior” before she smacks him?
Spencer: I’m sure Kate will find a suitably subtle and menacing way to get back at Clint — perhaps she’ll steal his dog again? — but I get the feeling that Kate would be much more insulted by the typo in the issue’s title page that introduces her as “Kate Barton” than any of Clint’s quips.
The Marvel editorial pool might wanna watch their backs for a little while, that’s all I’m saying.
All joking aside, I share many of your frustrations with the issue, Drew (even if, much like you, I also enjoyed most of it). I get nervous anytime any kind of story adheres to such a rigid format, especially when it comes to flashbacks (while Arrow, for example, managed to make its mandatory flashbacks feel just as vital and exciting as the present-day action in Season Two, they’re forgettable and often boring in Seasons One and Three). When we discussed issue one, one of our commenters dismissed All-New Hawkeye‘s flashbacks as a story they’d already read before; I try to never be outright dismissive in these reviews, but when it comes to flashbacks/origin stories there’s always the risk of them coming across as a derivative retread.
I’ve actually never read a Hawkeye origin story before (though I do know the general beats from Wikipedia/comics culture osmosis), so I don’t know how faithful Lemire’s retelling here is. I do know that it’s damn engaging (both as a story and on an artistic level), even if it doesn’t yet feel like the most vital part of the storyline. Drew’s right to point out how the parallels between the two stories can feel a bit disjoined at times, but I think that might be at least partially intentional — if nothing else, I think the differences between the two tales might be just as important as the similarities.
For example, the parallel between Clint and Barney being rescued by the circus and Project Communion being rescued by Clint and Kate are about as explicit as humanly possible, but we can’t really read Clint as having grown into the role of a rescuer because he has no part in actually rescuing the kids. I think, though, that Clint’s inability to grow into that role may be the whole point; Clint’s always been a bit of a child in an adult’s body, and what better way to demonstrate that than by showing how little he has to do with either rescue mission?
Likewise, I think that we’re meant to draw conclusions about the fate of the Project Communion kids based upon what we know of Clint and Barney’s futures. Since Clint’s origin is familiar to many readers, Lemire may be counting on most of us knowing that the circus ends up training Clint and Barney to be criminals (and while Clint reforms rather easily, Barney doesn’t fully come around until it’s too late). The Barton brothers’ shiny escape isn’t as shiny as it appears, and the ominous narration on the last page seems to indicate that the Project Communion kids may meet a similar fate.
(Just as an aside, whose narration is that? The bullseye logo seems to indicate one of the Hawkeyes, but context doesn’t point towards either Clint or Kate).
Yet, this parallel is also a bit disjointed, because while Clint and Barney’s saviors led them astray, in the case of the Project Communion kids, it seems like they’ll be the ones stirring up trouble. I can see how these seeming discrepancies may seem a bit distracting or perhaps even sloppy, but I’m curious to see if these parallel stories are supposed to become less and less parallel as the storyline proceeds. It would certainly be a fun twist on the way this kind of format often plays out.
But then again, maybe Lemire decided to feature these parallel storylines simply so he could show off Ramon Pérez’s versatility. If so, it’s probably worth it just to witness Pérez’s two different-but-equally-gorgeous art styles, but I also want to throw some much deserved love towards Pérez and Ian Herring’s colors. The present day sequences look great enough, but I’m particularly impressed by how Herring and Pérez tackle the flashbacks — freed from “realism,” the flashbacks are colored more as if they’re a dream or a memory, with colors that reflect mood and emotion above all else.
For example, whenever violence erupts the scenes explode into this rich, vicious shade of red, but I love the way that the red retreats in these panels, representing the threat of violence Duquesne’s sword poses rather than the actual physical act.
Likewise, Herring and Pérez use color to differentiate the Barton brothers’ old lives from their new. Their foster home and the land surrounding it are all represented by one oppressive, monochromatic hue, but the circus is alight in varied, bright colors.
This final image makes it more than abundantly clear — the color represents, not the circus itself, but freedom as a concept. Freedom isn’t necessarily good or bad, it’s just freedom, and what these frogs, or the Barton brothers, or the Project Communion kids do with their newfound freedom is all on them.
But we’ll get into that more throughout the rest of this storyline, I’m sure. For now, I admire much of what this issue does and look forward to seeing where Lemire, Pérez and Herring take their story next. I still worry about whether the flashback structure is a good fit for All-New Hawkeye in the long-term, but I think the creative team have earned a few more issues to prove its merit before I reach any final conclusions.
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