Occupy Avengers

Today, Ryan M. and Taylor are discussing Occupy Avengers 1, originally released November 2nd, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Ryan M: We are at the end of a very trying election season. Many elements of the political climate have built to this, but perhaps the most powerful is the competing narratives. Each presidential candidate has been reduced to a nearly binary status. In previous elections, the term “lesser of two evils” was a shorthand to say that neither candidate was perfect. This fall, both sides actively see their opponent as a force for evil. There is a political expediency to this. It’s an easy story to tell yourself and a great reason to go to the polls. What’s lost in the simplicity of the good/evil dictotomy is the true nature of humanity. When a person is reduced to an idea, we lose the ability to connect or help them.  In Occupy Avengers 1, writer David F Walker shows the contrast between the simple stories we tell about each other and the true complexity within.

Hawkeye comes to New Mexico with the intention to help. It’s implied that he’s been on a bit of a road trip, trying to help people and annoying law enforcement along the way. In the wake of his shooting and acquittal for the death of the Hulk, Clint has become a bit of a folk hero. His uneasiness with that role coincides with the way that the book itself presents Clint’s mission to investigate the contaminated water on the Sweet Medicine Indian Reservation. The local sheriff dismisses Clint as just another “well-meaning activist” and her perspective is confirmed by Clint’s astonishment at the state of the reservation, saying “it’s not supposed to be like this in America.” Clint’s internal conflict over killing the Hulk dovetails nicely with his naiveté about the reality for the people of Sweet Medicine. Yes, there is also a gun fight that Clint wins with arrows along with an assist from Red Wolf on horseback with an axe, but the true conflict of the issue derives from ideals being marred by reality.

The opening scene with Clint at the diner exemplifies that sense of hidden complexities. The people who line up to spend a moment with Hawkeye think of him as a hero who defeated a monster. A man without a mask or powers who stood up to a dangerous threat. Certainly that’s a more digestible narrative than the truth. Clint is still uneasy with his choice to follow through on a promise to kill a friend. For the people like the little old lady that embraces Clint below, there is no need to muddy the waters, he is a good guy

diner

While he is being celebrated by the people for being the David to the Hulk’s Goliath, those same people don’t treat him like an ordinary man. When a man becomes a myth, he loses some of his humanity. For Clint in the panels above, that means he doesn’t get to eat his cheeseburger in peace. The center panel above sets up a triad to Clint’s life.  He holds a sweet old woman like a noble hero while longingly staring at his lunch and thinking about the pain of taking the life of a friend. We have base stakes, human stakes, and super-hero stakes all in one panel. Carlos Pacheco puts the burger in the foreground, but Clint’s expression shows that he is carrying the weight of all three roles in his mind.

Walker doesn’t condemn the people who embrace Hawkeye the unblemished hero. Instead, they are a prelude to exploring Clint’s own ignorance. This is an explicitly political book and Clint is not presented as a perfectly “woke” hero of the people. In fact, while he is on the trail of the source of contaminated water, he is unprepared to see the reality of Sweet Medicine.

sweet-med

Hawkeye is unprepared for this poverty and when he questions why people stay there, he betrays a level of privilege that is quickly countered by Red Wolf. There is some merit to allowing the protagonist of a story to be rebuked and shown the error of their ways. Hawkeye is positioned to be a hero of the people, but he himself is not of these people. There is a long history of stories that feature an outsider, usually a white man, who appears on the horizon to save people of color. Walker is able to side-step this trope by giving Clint real human flaws and by not allowing him to save the day.

That honor goes to Red Wolf, who gets the glory shot astride his horse, axe in hand, flanked by two fierce-looking wolves.

scary-wolves

Pacheco is able to convey grace, power, and beauty in a single image. Red Wing is the hero of the issue and this panel reinforces that, while Hawkeye is there to help, the reservation already has a hero in residence.

Taylor, what did you think? How well did this story balance post-Civil War II storytelling, social commentary, and the plot of this single issue? Hawkeye has a brief interior monolgoue about why he loves the arrow. What is the significance of the scene and how does it reflect the way Clint sees himself? Also, could Hydro-Man be the solution to all of Sweet Medicine’s problems, he’s like 100% water, right?

Taylor: I guess Hydro-Man could be the solution, but since he’s a bad guy I assume he’s part of the problem. Maybe since he lives in the water he’s the cause of the contamination. You know, peeing in the water supply and all that.

More interesting than Hydro-Man is Clint, of course. His soliloquy about arrows certainly is a reflection of how he sees himself. To Clint, an arrow represents elegance and simplicity. It is old, yes, but it also does the job of other weapons but with a certain grace and style.

straight-forward

Ultimately, he compares an arrow to a love letter because it is so personal and old fashioned. It’s not difficult to see that the way Clint talks about arrows is a veiled metaphor about who he is as a hero. He likes things simple and he finds beauty in this. He may not be as flashy as Iron Man or Thor, but he gets the job done. What’s most interesting about Clint’s self-conception is that he sees himself as part of a bygone era, much like his weapon of choice. Clint feels like he belongs to an earlier age where things were simple, unlike the complicated age he finds himself in now. Much of this complication comes from Clint having killed Bruce Banner and the fallout he has experienced from having basically killed a hero.

Pacheco wonderfully enhances our knowledge of Clint’s self-perception through the use of character design. When Clint is reminiscing about the older, simple times he enjoyed before killing Bruce he envisions himself and his fellow avengers in their old school duds.

a-simpler-time

Everyone pictured here is depicted in their Silver Age garb, which lends the memory a sense of whimsy. This isn’t just an incidental choice on Pacheco’s part. The comics of the Silver Age are known, among other things, for their simplistic story telling. Heroes are good, villains are bad, and that’s that. By choosing to depict the Avengers in Clint’s memory in their Silver Age costumes Pacheco is showing us how Clint views the past in rosy colors. Clint likes to think that before he killed Bruce things were simple — that they were black and white. Whether this is true or not is beside the point because for Clint the past is so much easier to fathom than the present. Pacheco’s subtle use of character design reinforces this emotion.

This penchant of Clint’s to glorify the past paradoxically makes him a perfect and terrible fit for a comic sporting the “Occupy” moniker. The Occupy movement in recent memory has been many things, but perhaps the best way to sum up the movement is that it’s an effort to curtail those things which are difficult take down. Wall Street is one of these things, as is the use of violence against black men by cops or the building of a pipeline over sacred Native American land. None of these situations are easily solved and much of what the Occupy movement is is bringing attention to are these longstanding problems in our society. All of this is to say, they aren’t situations you can solve with the usual superhero bravado. Hawkeye, however, doesn’t know how to tackle things with tact. He’s old fashioned, as his attempts to find out why a water supply is contaminated show.

occupy-this

Predictably, Clint’s attempt to solve this mystery ends in a high speed chase followed by explosions. This is the antithesis of what the Occupy movement is about, and it’s hilarious to see a complicated issue like a contaminated water supply reduced to superhero theatrics. While this action might horrify those who pledge their allegiance to the Occupy movement and the issues it takes on, there’s no denying it’s satisfying in a way. With the Occupy movement there rarely is a climatic moment that creates change. Evil isn’t defeated with a punch to the face or an arrow to the arm. Here, however, it is. And even if it is the stuff of fiction, it’s deeply satisfying to see the movement victorious for once.

In this way Clint is both the best and worst poster boy for the Occupy movement. While he might care about sensitive social and political issues, he lacks the grace to confront them in a realistic way. This is all spurred on by Clint’s desire to relive the glory days of the past in his modern life and it will be fun to see how it plays out in future issues.

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?

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One comment on “Occupy Avengers

  1. This book was interesting. There is a lot I liked. Clint is done really well. That mix of his uncomfortable position as a hero of the people and his understanding of just how little he knows about the many complex issues facing America is great. I love how instead of falling into the trap of somehow suggesting that these issues are more important than Thanos destroying the universe (I understand the intent of scenes like that is Green Lantern/Green Arrow and similar books, but it cheapens the argument by taking such an absurd stance), it instead depicts the situations as requiring a completely different set of skills. If CLint wants to become the Hero of the People everyone thinks he is, he is going to have to work for it (and it is going to be interesting to see what happens to public perception. Could be an interesting look at two very different definitions of Hero of the People). And Walker is putting the effort into exploring it.

    But this issue felt like it ended wrong. For an issue about problems that can’t be solved in a fight, most of it was a fight. That is not to say that Walker is failing to live up to that ideal, it really seems like he knows what he is doing. I do think Walker wll commit to an idea that the problems don’t get fixed with a fight. But I also wish the issue wasn’t one long fight, followed by a Hydroman reveal.

    Honestly, this series felt like the sort of series that ought to have begun with a done in one story, that sets the basic idea. A single story of Clint’s mission, pre complciations and additions like Red WOlf, doing a short, iconic version of what this book will do. Set up the book and sell the entire premise in the first issue. Because without the rest of this arc, the first issue doesn’t feel right.

    Oh, and Occupy Avengers is still a stupid name

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