Launching a new Hawkeye series that follows Matt Fraction’s landmark, critically-acclaimed, award winning run on the title is not a task I envy – except, you know, in the literal sense. Writer Jeff Lemire with art team Ramon Perez & Ian Herring have even a riskier feat to pull off, though. Matt’s Hawkeye isn’t even over yet! The last few issues of that run have suffered so many delays that Lemire’s All-New Hawkeye #1 hit shelves before the Fraction finale. There’s a hell of a lot of pressure on the book, but knowing Lemire and his penchant for off-kilter, quietly fierce narratives focusing on underdogs, I bought the book with hopes that he’d maintain the momentum of Hawkeye while adding his own flair to the everyman within a team of giants – the Avenger who could be that socially stunted guy living in the apartment above yours whose dog’s barks wake you up way too early every morning.
All-New Hawkeye is for sure different than the Fraction/Aja/Wu run, but the core of it is still there. I love that Kate Bishop is treated as the Hawkeye the same way that Clint Barton is the Hawkeye, rather then a sidekick thing. What Lemire adds, though, is the sense that there is a third main character – Clint’s brother, Barney, who gets as much page time via flashbacks as Clint and Kate. The narrative smoothly moves between the purple watercolor world of Clint and Barney’s past and the present day narrative of Clint and Kate on a mission for SHIELD. Ramon Perez, with help from Herring, creates a wholly different art style in these two narratives – the cleaner, sleeker present and the hazy past – though the best parts of the story are when Clint’s memories of Barney bleed into his present.
This happens in both art and dialogue. As the issue races toward its shocking end, Clint is running to stop Kate from endangering himself – and the wall of the hallway has become panels of his younger self and Barney running away from their abusive foster home. The present and the past begin to merge into a hybrid world toward the end, creating an emotional, nostalgic effect while never blurring the coherence of the story. Perhaps my favorite touch of this, though, is the repetition of dialogue. Clint remembers Barney asking him, “You okay? Your ears?” when he didn’t hear something… and Kate, years later, the one person who he cares at a depth comparable to the love he feels for his brother, asks him the exact same thing in the exact same way. It’s moving, subtle, and clever.
Lemire, Perez, and Herring have created something amazing here. They’re using what Matt Fraction built to tell a completely different story with a completely different feel, while keeping the characters and the heart of the story 100% consistent. What’s astonishing to me is that Fraction’s take on Hawkeye felt more like a creator-owned series than a Marvel superhero book… and now, the same feels true about Lemire’s story, but it doesn’t for a moment feel derivative. Lemire clearly has something to say about Hawkeye, and I’m listening.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Robyn Hood, Charmed: Season Ten, Azure) and pop culture journalism. You can follow his Twitter (@PatShand) where he posts pictures of cats, unsolicited opinions, and triumphant cries of #ChickenFriesAreBack.