A Different Set of Stakes in Old Man Hawkeye 1

by Drew Baumgartner

Old Man Hawkeye 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

There are plenty of valid critiques of individual prequels, but I’ll never understand the argument that prequels are robbed of stakes because we know who survives the story. This ties into my wariness of spoiler concerns that privilege plot over all other aspects of consuming a story, but with the added twist of fetishizing death as the only stakes a story could possibly have. It falls apart under even the slightest scrutiny — the protagonist’s survival can be assumed for the vast majority of stories, and I reject the notion that this fact inherently makes those stories inferior. We know Vito must survive the flashback story in The Godfather Part II, but it is also regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time — held in higher esteem than virtually all movies where the protagonist might maybe die in the third act. Not all stories are life-and-death stories, and not all life-and-death stories require us to actually believe that the character might die. Such is the case with Old Man Hawkeye, which tells the story of Clint Barton before he went on that fateful road trip in Old Man Logan. (So, you know, heads up about spoilers for that series after the jump.) 

Which is to say: we know Clint must survive whatever adventure Ethan Sacks and Marco Checchetto are sending him on. Indeed, we already know how Clint meets his end, and a bit about his life leading up to those events. But there’s a whole lifetime of stories between the villain uprising and Clint’s death that could make for a compelling series. Sacks and Checchetto have zeroed in on the events surrounding Clint’s blindness, but smartly lean into the dramatic irony — the blindness isn’t caused by violence at the end of this maxiseries, but by the inevitable creep of glaucoma. (At least, that’s the setup: Old Man Logan suggests that Clint was blinded by Avalanche, but that may or may not hold true here.) Like us, Clint knows that he’ll lose his sight sooner rather than later, which gives an urgency to the issue that might not exist if this wasn’t a prequel.

Of course, Clint keeps that info to himself, which makes the dramatic irony all the more bitter. We know he just wants to see his daughter because, well, he might not be able to in a few months, but everyone else thinks he’s just up to his old self-serving schemes. Our sympathy is the only sympathy he gets, again driven by the information we already have about his life.

Sacks and Checchetto also set two villains on a collision course with Clint. One is a Venom-ized Multiple Man, hoping to exact revenge on Clint for wounding him (and killing his clone brethren) after a botched heist. The other is Bullseye, serving as a kind of anti-superhero lawman. Both of those reveals are fun, but Chcchetto really draws out the latter, building up this mysterious Marshal before pulling back to reveal that signature scar.

Bullseye

Or maybe I’m just excited at the prospect of seeing two of the Marvel Universe’s greatest sharpshooters facing off in a good old-fashioned duel. What better way to embrace the Western trappings of the Old Man… setting? Sure, we know Clint will survive whatever shootout comes, but that hardly detracts from the thrill of seeing it happen. I can’t wait.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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One comment on “A Different Set of Stakes in Old Man Hawkeye 1

  1. The idea that a prequel is robbed of stakes because we know who survives the story is a bad take, but I feel that it is an example of the problem with tangible details, in that I think that the critique is a superficial attempt at trying to express a greater problem.

    Firstly, that you know where all prequels end. While ‘the Avengers stop Loki’ is a meaningless spoiler, you can make the case that the specific emotional reality of a character is meaningful spoiler.
    But more importantly, I think there is also the problem that the point that prequels end is at the beginning. At a starting point. Which is, by its nature, not a traditional place to end. The fact that all prequels have to end at a point where the characters are supposed to be unformed and starting their journeys is a big challenge.

    Which is why I don’t believe there has been a truly great prequel, not truly (Godfather II doesn’t count. Godfather II is half prequel, half present. And that matters). And there is probably a reason the most successful prequels have tried to push away from that. Rogue One, as flawed as it is, told us the story of Jyn Erso. Or how Life is Strange: Before the Storm told a story largely about Rachel that had nothing to do with her disappearance that informs events in the main game.
    Prequels aren’t inherently bad, but they are very, very hard. At their best, they can use dramatic irony to great effect while telling a story that doesn’t let itself be constrained by being something else’s beginning. But I think the criticism that ‘we know everyone survives’, as bad as it is, is an attempt to express a more complicated problem with prequels that people have been struggling with for some time

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