Okay, if you’re a comics fan, or a sci-fi/fantasy fan in general, you’re probably pretty comfortable with time being less of a straight line, and more a mixed-up ball of timey-wimey… stuff. That said, it probably threw you a little bit to see All-New Hawkeye launch negative six weeks after the conclusion of its predecessor, Matt Fraction’s beloved Hawkeye. Oh well; Book One’s use of flashbacks helps you take the odd ordering in stride.
In any case, the adventures of Clint & Kate are now in the hands of Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez, under the editorial guidance of superstar Sana Amanat. Amanat—now Marvel’s Director of Content & Character Development—headed up Fraction’s Hawkeye, and her portfolio includes Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel, Daredevil, and of course, Marvel’s emerging flagship, Ms. Marvel herself, Kamala Khan.
All-New Hawkeye tells two interwoven tales, both about Clint Barton. In the present, he and Kate Bishop infiltrate a Hydra base, crackin’ wise all the way. This is presumably set up for the major plot arc of this run, but for the most part, it’s a relief to see that we get Hawkeye and Hawkeye back with their personalities intact.
I mean, how can you not love these guys?
But New Adventures of Hawkeye & Hawkeye are intercut sharply with the childhood of Clint and Barney Barton, back in Iowa. Superficially idyllic, the Barton boys catch frogs out of a puddle without the barriers we adults put up against shoving your hands into the mud to pull out a slimy amphibian.
Note the sharp difference in artistic style—the present looks like a comic strip—bright colors, sharp black lines, cartoonish people, neatly organized panels. In the flashbacks, the art is more detailed, but color is gone, replaced by washed-out purple. It sets up an air of melancholy around Clint’s youth, so that the reader is not surprised when the hard truths of the Barton childhood emerge: Young Clint wonders aloud how long they’ll be able to stay with this foster family, before they’re pushed out on the road again.
The boys go home—unexpectedly, their foster father got there first. He’s furious that the grass remains unmowed, and he beats Barney, but the elder brother resists. A sudden flash of color—red—and Clint and Barney are on their bikes and on the road, the foster father in hot pursuit. They escape him and reach the carnival, the known training grounds for Clint’s archery skills.
Originally a separate narrative, these flashbacks appear more as memories to present Clint, resonating as he and Kate push through Hyrda goons. Briefly separated, Clint’s anxiety for Kate’s well-being mirrors his fears for his brother’s safety, and in both cases, he struggles to match his partner’s bravado in the face of danger. The flashbacks infuse the panels in the present, breaking the tightly-regimented format of the present scenes.
Past and present mix uncomfortably. Color starts to flash into the past, illuminating the boys’ hair, while the ever-colorful Kate takes on the washed-out tones of the past. We’re feeling Clint’s panic here, Kate and Barney linking up in his mind. He acutely experiences the danger both of them are in, but he’s unsure how he can help either, other than by tagging along.
By the end of the book, the young Bartons have arrived at the carnival, but we’re denied the usual feeling of relief by watching the before-to-after transition of an origin story. Distorting all perspective, our only glimpse of the Carson Carnival is upside-down, the boys clutching each other as they take it in. This is the look on their faces:
This does not bode well. Never mind the horror of what Kate’s seeing, Kate’s colors are entirely gone, except for the purple of childhood trauma. We look at her through the tank that’s holding these kids, adding a sickly greenish-blue tint to her purples and blacks. You have the same impulse she does, to cover your mouth and close your eyes. The comic ends here, letting you off the hook, but only for now.
One book in, and I have every hope that Lemire and Perez can do justice to the Hawkeyes. The fun, easy banter between Clint and Kate is present, and that, more than anything else, defined Fraction’s run with the characters. Further, we get the sadness that’s so central to Clint Barton’s persona. This is not a darker, edgier superhero, whose inner torment pushes him to do terrible things in pursuit of higher goals. Instead, we get self-doubt: Clint’s devoted loyalty and admiration for Barney and Kate, and fear that he can’t deliver what he thinks he owes them. His easy humor is an effective disguise for his likely depression, and it gets right to the heart of what’s worth reading about the non-superpowered Avenger.
Meanwhile, Kate Bishop remains the modern comic heroine she needs to be. We spend a lot of time in Clint’s head this time around, but Kate takes the front line. She’s the one calling the shots, she has Clint as an audience for her jokes, and she’s the one who uncovers Hydra’s secrets. Clint’s the worried sidekick, struggling to keep up. This is a team, after all, not her special appearance in Clint’s story.
New writers, you’ve won me over so far. Let’s keep it that way.