by Patrick Ehlers and Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
X marks the spot.
treasure map, traditional
Patrick: How do you know where to look? I’m asking a holistic question here. When you’re walking down the street, what draws your eye? When you’re deciding what to do next with your life, how do you decide what people and what activities are of value to you? Maybe we’re following signs, or bright lights, or that warm feeling of belonging. It’s something. Hawkeye 16 shows both Kate and Eden coming to terms with what they’ve been looking for, all while Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero expertly show the reader where to look.
It’s a neat little dovetailing of thematic ideas. Kate Bishop, after being abandoned by her father (again) and her presumed-dead mother, finds a sort of family in her band of misfit semi-heroes. At about the same time, Eden realizes that she’s been looking for love and acceptance in the wrong place, and re-centers herself on the version of her own daughter she’s able to summon out of the past. This power is a thinly veiled metaphor for the strength of memory, and Romero does us the favor of dropping the veil entirely during the most tender moment in the issue.
Romero and Thompson achieve the biggest emotional moment without copy and without explanation, just a panel with no border and an extremely limited color palette. This is part of the visual language Romero has been using throughout the issue, drawing the reader’s eye to important points of interest. Interestingly, he seldom uses the same technique twice. There aren’t any other examples in this issue of this sort of memory-vision that we see in the third panel above.
Instead, Romero will leverage any visual anomaly to guide the reader’s eye to what is important. Early in the issue, it’s largely to establish our heroes as heroes. The very first page has Clint’s head cresting a panel divider, giving him a close-up on a page that’s already crowded with other action. Our Hawkeyes are about to take on a whole army of half-forgotten baddies, so we need to have these hero moments asserted in whatever way we can. Page three gives us one hell of a cool low-angle hero shot.
Check out the composition of that last panel — it could almost be a cover. Romero allows this panel to cross the margins, which are pretty persistent throughout the rest of the issue. When the last panel on a page extends to the right or bottom-right of the page, the idea is that forward motion is implied. The reader sees the image continuing off the page in the same direction they were already reading, and it’s like you’re being lead in that direction. This panel is slightly different, pulling down but not past the right gutter. This also plays into the idea that this is some kind of internal cover for what’s about to go down.
Romero’s mastery over your eyes throughout this issue is absolutely stunning. There is so much to see on every page, but he somehow guides the reader through the noise in an orderly fashion. Sometimes he achieves this with handy Hawkeye targets that indicate what kind of trick arrow is being used, and sometimes the targets just reveal useful information about their surroundings. In the fight between Clint and this Pinky Purple Knight guy is a particularly good example of Romero’s control.
Each row in this nine-panel gird represents an individual beat of the conflict, the second panel always shows PPK getting the upper hand, and the third panels all show Clint succeeding despite this set back. The action also simplifies as we move down the page. Check out how there’s like a 90 degree camera turn between the first and second panels (from the combatants in profile to behind PPK’s head). The second row hold to a simple horizontal perspective on our fighters, but drifts from a low angle to a high angle. By the time we’re in the final row, camera movement is muted, now just casually zooming out. It’s like Romero gains control of the page as Hawkeye gains control of the fight.
My absolute favorite example of this has to be when Kate drives under some falling wreckage to save a child. It’s pretty standard hero stuff — she risks her own life to save a kid. Romero commits the entire top third of the page to Kate’s horizontal leap and then splits up the middle of the page into progressively thinner panels, before giving us one solid black panel, which maybe suggests Kate’s been crushed?
And then there’s this empty white space. What’s that doing there? Well, a couple things. First of all, we’re only allowed to see Kate’s “huh?” panel directly below the crushing panels. The fact that it’s unrolled to fill the width of all three of those panels fights the narrative that she’s been seriously harmed. While it doesn’t transgress the margins, this panel also pulls the reader’s eye to the right side of the page, encouraging the quick page turn. There’s also something very neat about a panel of black followed by a panel of white — it’s like a blink. (Side note: if you’re reading in guided view, the app skips right past that blank white space, which feels like a missed opportunity to me.)
I guess what I’m getting at is that Romero expertly guides the reader’s experience all the way through. Kate and Eden aren’t quite as lucky, and while they do eventually see their families for what they are, it’s always a matter of accepting what is actually there, instead of getting what they’ve always wanted.
Man, it’s just a solid book with clear, compelling visual storytelling. Drew, what sorts of things caught your eye?
Drew: Patrick, you already covered Romero’s command of the geography of the page pretty thoroughly, but I’ll add that his command of the geography of the setting is just as remarkable. This issue takes place entirely on one short section of Kate’s street, and Romero takes care to place the action in relation to whatever landmarks we might pick out of that location — the Spider-Ham mural, the awning of Moe’s Pizza, the BMW parked across the street, the car (bearing the model name “CAR”) in front of Kate’s place, the building with the arches opposite Hawkeye Investigations. And one of those landmarks is visible in pretty much every set-up in this issue.
And actually, that may speak to a more impressive feat than consistency with the geography of the location: Romero is remarkably clear about how characters are moving through this space. Check out this wide-screen panel, which is kind of the closest thing we get to a full layout of the actual setting:
We can’t make out that Spider-Ham painting or the “CAR” parked in front of it, but all of our other orienting details are clearly visible. More importantly, crammed over on the bottom right corner of this panel, we see Masque and Eden retreating from the hood of the beemer where we last saw them, putting them directly in front of that building with the arches, which is where they’ll be when we catch up with them in a few pages. Romero is so deliberate with showing us each movement between locations in this way, it really feels like this is a physical space where action is unfolding in realtime.
And sorry to dwell on Romero (I promise I’ll move on in a moment), but I’m in love with that panel composition. As I mentioned, it does fulfill some function as an establishing shot, orienting us in space, but it gives us a much more thorough layout of the narrative space. The Hawkeyes have the literal high ground, and their initial volley of flares and nets puts the entire scene in chaos. Meanwhile, the night sky perfectly frames the arcs of their arrows, putting Masque and Eden well within their sights. That’s just good storytelling.
Of course, any discussion of storytelling in this issue would be remiss to neglect Thompson’s contributions. As ever, I’m enamored of her knack for patter (Patrick, I was sincerely hoping you’d give me a prompt for which “hard same” would have been an appropriate answer), which is on fire in this issue. Double the Hawkeyes means double the patter, and Thompson has fun with every damn line. They’re all great, but what the heck, here’s my favorite:
It’s kind of a smartass response, but it’s somehow also guileless — Kate’s not being sarcastic, even if she knows what Rivera actually meant.
Heaven knows I could praise Thompson’s dialogue until I’m blue in the face, but the more remarkable writerly feats might be the two big twists that I sure as heck didn’t see coming. The first is that Johnny has superpowers, which is a fun surprise that I regret this series can’t dig further into, but the second is SO MUCH BIGGER: not only is Kate’s mom alive, but she’s the one actually behind Masque’s machinations all this time. That’s such a gigantic, unexpected revelation, I know it will be picked up down the line, but it’s kind of the perfect ending to this series. Eden’s reunion with her daughter has enough similarities to help Kate accept her own mother’s absence (even if she may still hope or suspect that she’s alive), but all because we’ve been viewing the mother as the victim in all of this. She may well still be a victim, but we now see that she has a heck of a lot more agency than we might have assumed — enough to boss around who we thought was the big bad. It changes the context for us, making for a great cliffhanger even as Kate thinks things have somewhat resolved.
So: I’m excited for what comes next. Or maybe cautiously optimistic is the right phrase? We don’t really have any details on what form that will take, other than that Thompson and Assistant Editor Alanna Smith will still be on it. I’m sure they’ll continue to be as great as they are now, but it’s hard to imagine the story continuing without Romero. I know, I know, it’s silly to fear change, but it’s hard to imagine anything living up to this series.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?