With the turn of the New Year, I’ve decided to do a short series of articles looking back at last year’s titles and spotlighting my three favorites. They’re all books that were started last year, and actually none of them have even reached the double-digits yet. They’re also all pretty much smaller titles and even though they’re generating a lot of buzz right now, I know that we fanpeoples tend to have a hard time deviating from our tried and true favorite characters and titles, so I’m hoping that by talking about these books in my column I can encourage some of you to take a chance on them and boost their readership. Because, you know, I’m such an opinion leader and all. And honestly, if you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ll pretty much be able to guess which ones I’m going to talk about.
Last year saw a massive tectonic shift in the books I had on my pull list. I walked away from titles and creators that I had followed for years and started looking outside my comfort zone for new material. This was largely brought about by my move to New York City, which allowed me greater access to smaller titles, in addition to bringing me closer to the industry itself, which changed my perspective on comics collecting quite drastically.
When you can not only buy any variant cover of the new Spider-Man book that you want but also go out later in the week and get it signed by the guy who wrote it and shake his hand and tell him you had fun with the comic, it moves the whole hobby to a totally different place in your head. Suddenly, you start to see where all these little packets of paper come from. It sinks in that they didn’t just blink into existence, that they actually started somewhere and that someone is on the other side of the page coming up with this stuff.
So there’s that. The other thing is that as the year went on I cared less and less about what was going on in the DCnUniverse until finally I got to the point where I didn’t care at all and walked away entirely. Last year really just felt like Marvel’s year for some reason, at least on my end, and although I love Grant Morrison’s writing and I love Batman and I was super into the new Wonder Woman series, I just felt like Marvel is my team. My party. And between Marvel NOW!, The Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man, and Sean Howe’s awesome book about the history of the House of Ideas, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, I was completely and totally swayed. I went from just picking up Spider-Man books to wanting to know what was going on in the fictitious lives of all the Marvel heroes. Which brings me to my first pick of 2012 and my personal favorite title of the year, Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye.
Personally, I never really gave a crap about Hawkeye before. I got that he was a lot of people’s favorite character, but he wasn’t a part of the X-Men and he wasn’t… well, Spider-Man, so I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on him, since those two lines are really where my interests usually lied with Marvel stuff. He was an Avenger, and not even one of the major ones. I mean, I thought he was a total badass in Mark Millar’s The Ultimates, and I was happy that Jeremy Renner got to play him in “The Avengers” because I really liked him in The Hurt Locker, but I really didn’t know very much about him and never would’ve thought I’d be interested in his solo title.
What really got me curious about the Hawkeye book was the artwork. I would get on Tumblr and start seeing the stylish, minimal designs of the covers, which looked more like good advertising than superhero comic book covers, and David Aja’s interiors, with his strobe-effect layouts and Mazzuchelli-esque renderings, and it looked like my dream comic. It took me totally by surprise. What I was looking at was way more artistic and sophisticated than any book about the bow-and-arrow-guy from The Avengers has any business being. It looked more like something Image Comics would be publishing.
So I picked up the book and instantly got why so many people like this guy. He’s not a super-hero, just a good dude who’s really skilled with a bow and he wants to help people and he has good intentions, but he’s not a thunder god or a super soldier. So he messes up. A lot. But you still love the guy. He lives out in Bed-Stuy (home of that boy, Biggie) where he watches out for his neighbors and protects his building like a modern day Robin Hood. He wears purple chucks and he sleeps around a bit and he has a dog and he has to have Tony Stark come over to fix his DVR for him. I know we all like to imagine that if we were superheroes we’d be like, Spider-Man or something, since he’s supposed to be the everyman and all, but in reality, at this point in life, we’d be somewhere closer to Clint Barton. He’s the everyman superhero for the modern twentysomething male. So yeah, it’s an easy book to relate to.
And it’s funny as hell. Probably the last book I thought was this funny was Warren Ellis’ Nextwave, but where that book was funny because it was parodying the Marvel Universe and characters like Devil Dinosaur and Fin Fang Foom, “Hawkeye” is funny because of the hell that writer Matt Fraction puts his character through. Hawkeye, being a regular guy who is expected to participate in the same missions as Wolverine and Captain America, gets his ass kicked. A lot. And the result of that is a hero that just feels like he can’t catch a break. He’s kind of a bullshit magnet and he reads like a guy who is just totally over all the drama that keeps coming his way. After all, this series is what he’s doing on his time off from being a superhero. These are his days off from getting thrown 30 stories onto a parked car by Hydra goons, and the poor guy can’t get a moment’s rest.
So when he hears people speaking in another language, you don’t get a translation, instead you get “Some Spanish sounding stuff!” or “French stuff. Wait, maybe some Italian, too?” And he doesn’t just fight regular mobsters, he fights the Tracksuit Draculas, Russian guys who dress in color coded tracksuits to denote their rank in the gang and who begin and end every sentence with the word “bro.” Even his recap page is asking you to take it easy on him: “This is what he’s doing when he’s not in the Avengers. That’s all you need to know.”
And then in between the comedy are very cute, poignant moments where Clint saves a stray dog’s life and decided to adopt it, or when he struggles to tell his sidekick/apprentice (Katie Bishop, the Hawkeye of the Young Avengers) that he likes her without sounding creepy or dickish. Endearing moments that allow you to empathize with the character and make the funny moments that much funnier because you really like all the characters in this book. And then on top of that each issue is full of break-neck action scenes, some of the best paced action in comics, a talent that Fraction and Aja honed years ago back when they, along with Ed Brubaker, were working on The Immortal Iron Fist. I mean, really, this series has everything. And nearly every issue is a done-in-one with the exception of the occasional two-parter. There’s no writing for the trade here, so you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.
I guess above all, the thing that I enjoy most about Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye is that it’s so smart that it makes me feel smart. And it’s so hip that it makes me feel hip for reading it. Like I read it and I get the same feeling that you’d get when you’ve discovered a band that no one else you know is really into, but they’re amazing and you get the feeling that in a few years everyone is going to be into them. Or at least you hope so. I read it and I want to talk more like Matt Fraction and I want to draw exactly like David Aja and I want to start wearing purple chucks and saying “bro” every other word, and no one will know why unless they read “Hawkeye.” So hopefully, now that you’ve read my column, you’ll be one of those people. Bro.