Marvel gave us something really special in Hawkeye, and they really didn’t need to. With the character gaining recognition from The Avengers movie there was already a natural direction and audience for a revamped Clint Barton, but Marvel rarely do anything by the numbers these days.
Matt Fraction, David Aja, Annie Wu and team deliver something to get excited about, and something that couldn’t be more distinct from the character Jeremy Renner plays in the MCU. Starting with the ‘My Life as a Weapon’ arc, the story focuses on Clint Barton’s life outside of his work with The Avengers. It’s the less glamorous side of a person who, with no superpowers, alien abilities or billions of dollars in technology, still fights to make a difference in the world. And it starts with Barton falling out of a window.
The opening panel, Hawkeye falling backward from the building as he fires up at an unseen enemy, strongly echoes a scene from The Avengers movie. But something is different in this variation of the character to the one we’ve seen on screen, and we are immediately made aware of this through Barton’s inner monologue telling us, “This is bad”. His point is driven home on the subsequent pages when we see Clint, hospitalized, heavily bandaged and in traction, is visited by the other Avengers.
Taking time off from his Avengers duties, Clint can’t step away from a fight even when he’s supposed to be taking it easy. We rarely see him without bandages or at least multiple band-aids. Aside from an eastern European/Russian gang with questionable fashion sense and cartel of corrupt billionaires, the main enemy he faces is his own penchant for self destruction.
What really makes this story stand out, though, is that it’s not about Hawkeye. It’s about Hawkeyes. Plural.
Kate Bishop took over the Hawkeye mantle while working with The Young Avengers. Now both she and Barton are using the name and both are given equal weight in Fraction’s narrative. While Clint is a mess with few friends, fractured relationships and an apartment still full of boxed possessions, Kate is together, centered and not prepared to put up with Barton and his issues. At the end of the second arc, Little Hits, Kate walks out on her partnership with Barton and leaves for Los Angeles, taking the narrative, and his dog, with her.
The third arc in their story, L.A. Woman, is all Kate’s. Finding herself out of funds and in trouble she proves herself more than capable, invariably looking as beat up and bandaged as Barton as she sets herself up as a private investigator. Kate Bishop kicks ass, and the story is far too smart to do anything other than take tired genre cliches and flip them on their head. Pop culture and Raymond Chandler references sit in adjacent panels, and at no point does Fraction even consider dialing in an issue and never gives us anything less than a fantastic story.
The title tells us we’re reading Hawkeye but, with Barton and Bishop, it delivers so much more. When you compare this to the gender imbalance in comic book movies*, it’s clear that the source material is far more progressive.
*yes, we’re finally getting Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel movies, but have you tried to buy any Black Widow or Gamora merchandise? They’re always excluded from any set.