Today, Drew and Jack are discussing Hawkeye 22, originally released July 15th, 2015.
Drew: Endings are hard. Whether they break our hearts or leave us wanting more, even the most satisfying ending must face the bittersweet truth of being the end. “The End” takes on a peculiar meaning in the world of month-to-month comics (especially where the next volume may already be a few issues in), but whatever we’re saying goodbye to — whether its a paradigm or a creative team — can still have an almost hallowed air of significance. This makes talking about comic book endings in a issue-by-issue format particularly difficult, as its tempting to use the final issue as a platform for talking about the series as a whole. I absolutely want to talk about Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye run as a whole, but I want to first give issue 22 its due respect as perhaps the perfect distillation of what made his run so remarkable.
At the risk of being totally reductive, I’ve broken down the key elements of Fraction’s run into a few key elements that this issue illustrates beautifully. Perhaps the most obvious is the way Fraction writes to the strengths of his collaborators. It may be odd to offer Fraction the praise for this issue’s immaculate artwork, but it’s no coincidence that issues drawn by Javier Pulido, Francesco Francavilla, Annie Wu, and Chris Eliopoulos were just as successful. Those artists have vastly different styles and approaches to narrative, but the themes of this series have managed to sing through at every turn. Again, that’s not to dismiss the talents of these artists — this run has been particularly blessed in that regard — but to emphasize how smart the writing has been.
But, of course, the strengths of those artists is just as important. For David Aja, those strengths are built around an eye for detail and an almost schematic sense of clarity. Clarity becomes particularly important as this issue breezes through a number of key callbacks, from the boomerang arrow of issue 3 to the tv cables from issue 6. Many of those amount to little more than cute references — inside jokes we can all share in — but that clarity also offers one of the darker moments, as Penny’s escape to anonymity is ominously shared with that of Clint’s traitorous tenant and the head of the tracksuits.
It’s not clear whether they’re there to harm Penny, or are just hoping escape their troubles in the same way, but it’s a downer note, either way. Importantly, that’s not a moment any other artist could have pulled off — in part because Aja is able to fit so much information into every panel, and in part because he’s the only one who has ever drawn these characters. Our recognition of both of these characters is key to the meaning of this panel, and Aja pulls it off perfectly.
The downer tone of that reveal brings me to what may be the biggest theme of this series: rotten luck. When we were discussing issue 21, I remarked at how incompatible this particular theme was with a happy ending, but Fraction manages to wrangle both, giving us a happy enough ending that still leaves plenty of bad luck for Clint. Much of that bad luck lies in physical wounds — both Clint and Lucky are shot, though both survive — but the most tonally appropriate is the sudden-but-inevitable betrayal of the not-quite-dead Barney.
This manages to leave Clint as the butt of the joke while still offering a happy ending, albeit for Barney and Clint’s neighbors. Or maybe that trick is achieved as Clint revels in the camaraderie of his friends and neighbors while some of the biggest street-level villains of the Marvel Universe scheme to kill him.
Or maybe, just maybe, none of that bad luck matters. Maybe this series has always been about the joy of being Hawkeye, no matter how hard it got for either of our Hawkeyes. This issue ends with a beautiful, almost poignant celebration of just shooting some arrows.
That’s all the victory lap either of these characters need — they’re still battered and bandaged, but they continue to fight in an elegant synchronicity. Wrap that up with a beautiful visual reflection of the way every scene in this issue opens, and you’ve got one hell of a fist-pumping ending.
Jack! I’m leaving a hell of a lot of key Hawkeye themes on the table here, from the parity of Clint and Kate to the casual nudity of Clint’s hospital gown. I also meant to make some kind of grand comparison to Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s runs on Daredevil and Batman, but maybe establishing “key Hawkeye themes” is enough to emphasize the seminal nature of this run. Did you have any favorites that I didn’t mention (or, you know, different perspectives on the ones that I did)?
Jack: Sure do, Drew. You mentioned rotten luck, and I think that’s something of a modest understatement. We’ve had 22 issues to figure out what kind of a world Clint and Kate live in, and Matt Fraction pulls no punches in admitting that it is a wildly unfair one in which terrible things happen.
Random, sick, awful, godless things happen without warning, without explanation, without fanfare, and usually without justice. Your father has agreed to have you killed, no big deal. The mobsters broke your nose for the hundredth time, they terrorized your neighbors, and now they have actually put a bullet into your dog, which renders them the worst humans since time began. It’s best to be upfront about this, or you’ll have a very rude awakening. The terrible people are terrible, and sometimes they win.
Fortunately, Clint and Kate also live in a world in which you can rely on your friends – bonus points if you live in a world of superlatives, and your friends happen to be the best at what they do, because they’re literally the Avengers. As Drew observed, Kate is not re-entering the scene in New York as Clint’s budding protégé; she is, in fact, dominating the scene. Neither Hawkeye could have achieved this victory alone, and neither of them has to, despite the tragic timing of Kate’s generally ill-fated westward adventure. I should add that while Kate’s stage-presence in these episodes has always had a certain amount of swaggering bravado, it has never been so authentically bad-ass as it is here:
But before we write the whole enterprise off as a buddy flick, it should be noted that the Hawkeyes live in a world where even the good people aren’t THAT good. The heroism of Kate’s triumphant return is only as great as the selfishness of her abandoning Clint during his hour of need and kicking him while he was down. Barney may have come out of the woodwork to help his brother fight the good fight, but we should not put it past him to fake his own death, then abscond with Clint’s money. Even Lucky must periodically be reminded not to gnaw on the tracksuit mafia. And let’s not forget that Clint ultimately created this mess in a fit of cowboy vigilantism, then refused to turn to the apparently-helpful-after-all NYPD or, I don’t know, his good friends, the Avengers?
All told, that is not a difficult world to imagine. Part of the charm of this series is that it really has not made much up. So long, Hawkeyes, you will be missed.
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