I love comic-book superhero movies, and I love graphic novels. But I’ve never managed to bring those two interests together because comic books seem to have a pretty high bar for entry. The mythologies for the characters go back for decades upon decades, and even though I know the stories get rebooted now and then, if you’re not in the comics world, you won’t necessarily know about the reboot until several issues have gone by. And, to be perfectly honest, the whole process of buying comics—deciding what series to follow, knowing when new issues come out, and finding a store that’s nice to newbies, especially middle-aged female newbies—just intimidates me. Plus, I’m not sure I want a bunch of paper comics cluttering up my small apartment. I have enough trouble keeping the book situation under control!
But I’m still interested enough to want to try, and the Hawkeye series by Matt Fraction with art by David Aja and Javier Pulido (among others) is a great place to start because the series is new, the issues are being released as trade paperbacks, and the need for background information is low. The premise is simple:
Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, became the greatest sharpshooter known to man.
He then joined the Avengers.
This is what he does when he’s not being an avenger.
That’s all you need to know.
That really is all you need to now. Easy enough, right? Thanks to the movie last summer, it’s common knowledge what the Avengers are, and the new series doesn’t dig particularly deeply into Hawkeye’s past or his work with the Avengers. I’m sure there are in jokes for those in the know, but newbies like me aren’t going to get lost.
This series first came to my attention on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, but it was Other Jenny’s review that convinced me that it was worth checking out. You really should head over and read her remarks because I agree with just about everything she has to say (with the exception of Hawkeye’s relative lameness in The Avengers movie. He was my favorite, but that was mostly because I was impressed that a guy with absolutely no super-powers was a central player in the group. It’s true that the script didn’t give him enough cool stuff to do, but extreme competence appeals to me, and the regular guy fighting among and against superheroes has to be extremely competent. Also, Jeremy Renner has really pretty eyes. So.)
Anyway, this series shows Clint getting in all sorts of trouble outside with work life. Most of the time, he brings it on himself by either being a ridiculously good guy or being a bit of a knucklehead (so perhaps not extremely competent at life but still extremely competent at his job). The storytelling is really clever, employing flashbacks and amusing bits of narration. And then there’s Kate Bishop, the other Hawkeye. Here’s how Clint explains her presence:
Kate took over for me as Hawkeye once upon a time when I was … well, dressing up like a ninja, sort of, is the short version.
She is without a doubt the finest and most gifted bowman I’ve ever met but she’s like nine years old and spoiled rotten.
I love that little nod to the sometimes ridiculous complexity of comic-book mythologies. But mostly I love that Clint and Kate are partners in extreme competence and that they enjoy giving each other a hard time without the relationship feeling like banter meant to lead to romance. (It really needs to not go there.) The trade paperback, which includes issues 1–5 of Hawkeye, also includes issue 6 of The Young Avengers, which provides context for Clint and Kate’s relationship, but the quote above really tells you all you need to know.
As for the story, the five issues in the trade paperback contain mostly self-contained stories, although the last two issues are a two-parter, and the same villains show up multiple times.
I enjoyed the issues in the trade paperback so much that I decided to read more, and thanks to the Gender in Comics MOOC, I’ve discovered Comixology, a site that offers digital comics, so finding and storing hard copies isn’t a concern. The series is now up to nine issues, and the storyline is getting more complex, but there’s still no great need to delve into Avengers mythology. Clint tells readers what they need to know as the story goes along—in a couple of cases, I’ve wanted to know more, but Google has been good for that.
So if you’re interested in superhero comics—and perhaps even if you’re not—this series is a great way to dip into the genre without having to educate yourself on years of background. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.
On a related note, I also read Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid for the MOOC, and although it was sufficiently entertaining, I don’t see myself becoming a big Superman fan. I think he’s just too powerful to interest me much. This series was an updated version of his origin story that puts him in a more contemporary context, with Ma Kent running and website and the Daily Planet focused on being the first to post a big story online.
Some bits of the story were clever, and I liked the way Clark struggled with people treating him differently because of his powers. The Superman persona is developed as a way for him to use his powers to do good while still being able to live in the world as Clark. The trouble is, Clark is as much (perhaps more) of a faked persona as Superman is. So the poor guy never really gets to be fully himself. That aspect of the story is never explored as well as it could be—I think maybe the Superman persona is meant to be the real him, but he only puts on the costume when needed, and he still has to be a guy who pays the bills and buys groceries and all that. So if Superman is his real identity, he hardly ever spends time being the real him. It’s a sad state of affairs, and if that aspect of his life had gotten more attention, I would have found this series fascinating.
Instead, there’s a lot of time focused on his past with Lex Luthor, and I’ve just never bought the idea that they knew each other as kids. I didn’t buy it on Smallville, and I didn’t buy it here. Here, it seemed especially goofy because Lex claims to have forgotten all about knowing Clark, which may or may not be true. Either way, it doesn’t make much sense, and I felt like Waid really wanted it to be true, so he just breezed past the logical problems. It was fun to read, but seemed to fall apart the more I thought about it. However, it’s always possible that when I think about it some more and read the comments on the MOOC discussion boards, I’ll be able to put the storyline back together in a satisfying way.