Hawkeye 22

Alternating Currents: Hawkeye 22, Drew and Courtney

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.

Bad Luck Penny

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.

Barney and Friends

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.

Hawkeyes

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.

But really:

Don't Stop Fighting Boy

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:

Fixin to

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?

Stop eating the Russian

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.

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?

4 comments on “Hawkeye 22

  1. I love Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye. It’s not only a classic run (that I think will be looked upon even more fondly in the future when people discover it without the shipping delays between issues), but it’s the run that finally got me buying Marvel monthlies. It means a lot to me, but I think I’ll always be slightly miffed by how weak Clint and Kate are here. I get that they’re “normal people” as far as Fraction is concerned, but it’s hard watching them get taken down by random thugs and an assassin who would be easy prey to the Hawkeye that runs around with the Avengers.

    I also admit that I was ever so slightly disappointed with this finale on my first read, but the more I read this issue (and I think I read it four times in one sitting; it’s that compulsively readable and good), the more I liked it. There weren’t really any big twists outside of Barney, but that’s because Fraction already played all his cards last issue — all we had to do is watch the dominos fall (to mix metaphors). And fall fantastically they do — Clint, Katie, and even Lucky the Pizza Dog himself are all fantastic and in character, and Aja’s art…god, Aja’s art. I think we could spend an entire AC just poring over his composition and use of shadow and parallel scenes and stuff — its’ almost mesmerizingly gorgeous.

    Once I got over the snare of expectations, this wound up being a beautiful finale, and I can’t wait to plop down some afternoon soon and read the entire run in one sitting.

  2. “Once I got over the snare of expectations, this wound up being a beautiful finale, and I can’t wait to plop down some afternoon soon and read the entire run in one sitting.” – I came into this title kicking and screaming. I leave satisfied. It could have been great – Aja has become one of my favorite artists, I can’t find any Fraction work that I liked better than this, I found him engaging when I talked to him (he even complemented my Replacements t-shirt), and while I am moderately color insensitive, this is one of the few comics where I could see color actually as part of the story.

    But…

    The delays killed this is a monthly story. Since it wasn’t monthly. I’ll enjoy rereading it, but I just didn’t have enough of an emotional connection left with these characters to have this mean much of anything to me. It did help in one way; I’m not a Kate Bishop fan, but this story was a great Kate Bishop story. But otherwise, this comic should have just been put out as a trade because in floppy form, while neat to look at on my shelf, it failed because of its broken schedule.

    So, as to why I quoted Spencer: I think I’m going to really dig rereading this story in one, two or three sittings. As it was, it had moments of greatness as a comic, but I believe creators (from writer/artist/etc to editor and publisher) have a responsibility to put out monthly comics monthly, and to do less lessens the story, which is sadly what happened here.

    (Damn, when I’m on summer break, I get wordy)

  3. I re-read the entirety of Hawkeye prior to reading #22, so the delays had zero effect on me. I’ll take five months in-between issues like this over a dozen of those corny, boring Lemire/Perez Hawkeye issues, frankly. This is a great comic, a shining example of what you can do with the Marvel superhero book in the 21st century, and a year from now nobody will give a fuck about the delays. Nobody brings up Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns delays during its initial run either. Because it has ZERO effect on the craft and power of the story itself.

    • “This is a great comic… and a year from now nobody will give a fuck about the delays.” – Well, I will. Glad that the schedule didn’t ruin it for you. It sure took it down a couple notches for me.

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