Culture

The Third Panel: Clint Barton, Action Landlord – Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye

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Welcome to The Third Panel. Every other week, Alex dispels the myth that comics are only about superheroes by sharing comics books, graphic novels, and webcomics that are off the beaten path.

So let me lay down a few facts about myself before we get into this review:

1. Conceptually, I think Hawkeye might be one of the worst ideas for a superhero ever. He’s a former circus performer with a bow and some trick arrows (most of which are pretty dumb), and doesn’t even have the wherewithal to dress up like Robin Hood like his DC counterpart, Green Arrow. Additionally, how is “bow guy” going to compete with the rest of the Avengers, which, might I remind you, counts a hulk, a frozen super soldier from WWII, and an actual Norse god amongst its ranks?

2. Whenever I get talking about comics, there is no book I’m more excited to tell people to read than Matt Fraction’s run on Hawkeye. Fraction singlehandedly took my least favorite member of the Avengers and turned him into one of my favorite characters in all of comics.

The premise of Fraction’s Hawkeye is simple: what does Hawkeye do when he’s not fighting criminals with the Avengers? The answer, as of course you were all expecting, is that he’s the landlord of a Brooklyn apartment. While maintaining the building he’s often dropped in upon by his sort-of protégé and fellow Hawkeye Kate Bishop. This is also the same apartment where he beat up an entire legion of tracksuit-wearing Russian mob goons to order to acquire it (which in turn gets him into a lot of trouble with said goons).

What I love about Fraction’s take on Clint Barton is that he took the concept of “the most breakable Avenger” and instead of saying, “That’s dumb, he shouldn’t be fighting alongside the Hulk and Iron Man,” he said “That’s amazing and is the best thing about him.” The premise of the first issue of Hawkeye can be boiled down to: Clint Barton, slowly convalescing after falling off a two-story building, beats up some goons who are extorting his neighbors for money, and then saves a dog’s life. I hesitate to say “That’s all that happens,” because it sounds like damning with faint praise, but really, that’s all that needs to happen—everything you need to know about Clint Barton comes from those moments. He’s a fallible human being; desperately trying to do right in a world where the odds are stacked against him.

Fraction’s writing also always manages to toe the perfect line between drama and humor, and the tracksuits are a great example of this: on the one hand, yeah, they’re a bunch of goons wearing tacky tracksuits and ending every sentence with “bro,” but on the other hand, it’s a lot of them versus one Hawkeye, and they know it. As much as I love it when the tracksuit boss says, “Fine bro. Always more wife,” to explain that he’s not mad that Clint helped his wife escape from him, at no point are you ever unconcerned for Clint’s safety: he usually only scrapes by through sheer luck and the help of his friends. And I won’t spoil anything for you, but even if the tracksuits find they can’t keep Hawkeye down no matter how many times they kick him, they quickly find that there are other ways to hurt him.

I almost feel this goes without saying, but just as amazing as Matt Fraction’s writing is David Aja’s art: it’s the perfect amount of stylization and detail that seems effortless, and is a great compliment to Clint Barton and his decidedly haphazard brand of heroism.

And if I haven’t given you enough reasons to go read Hawkeye right now, that dog that Clint rescues in the first issue? He becomes a recurring character. His name is Pizza Dog, and he gets a one-shot called “Pizza Is My Business” and it is the best.

In closing: please read Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye. The first two trades just got released in a giant hardcover and it’s beautiful. There’s no reason not to read it, unless you hate having fun. Plus, Matt Fraction made it so that the Avengers’ favorite TV series is something called “DOG COPS” and that’s probably the best use of being a writer on a Big Two comic book I’ve ever seen.