Man, I love 100 Bullets. I’ve said it about a billion times before, but it is literally the book that made me start reading comics again (100 Bullets #8, to be exact). I also loves me some Batman. Good gracious do I ever… so you’d think that I would have absolutely been in awe of this issue.
And to be perfectly honest, I expected to be. But it just didn’t happen.
Batman swings into action right away, searching for the savage killer who put a young girl’s half-eaten corpse in the Gotham City dump. Naturally, he focuses his sweep of the city on turning up Killer Croc, the animalistic killer-for-hire that he’s tangled with so many times before, and apparently does so rather quickly: Croc is already in Batman’s clutches when the issue opens, dangling by his feet at the end of a rope. Questioning the Croc and in no mood to play games, Batman resorts to simply beating the teeth out of Croc’s head (literally) in a vain attempt to gather information about the reasoning behind Elizabeth Lupo’s murder. Getting no satisfaction from Croc (aside from the satisfaction that apparently comes from brutalizing a cold-blooded killer), the Dark Knight makes his way to the apartment of Angel Lupo, the used car salesman brother of the deceased. After some sexually charged banter with Lupo’s busty girlfriend, Margo Farr, the Detective departs, waiting for Farr to run to Angel to tell him that he’s being pursued by Gotham City’s resident urban legend.
En route, Farr is accosted and nearly sexually assaulted by a street thug, forcing Batman to drop his silent pursuit and take action to protect her. He deals with the would-be rapist with violent efficiency, but not fast enough. Farr cries out a warning to her fugitive lover, who Batman suspects paid Killer Croc to murder his sister (though he can’t piece together the reasoning behind it), who bolts down a refuse-strewn alleyway. Giving chase, Batman hears two rapid shots of handgun and brings his pursuit to a screeching, slack-jawed halt when he is stopped by a scene that is only too familiar to Bruce Wayne.
Azzarello’s story is gritty, overly violent, meaner than hell and practically coursing with barely subdued sexual energy. So what’s not to like here (’cause Lord knows, I love violence)?
Well, it’s my understanding that this story originally began its life as an original graphic novel, but was split up into serialized chapters to serve as a stopgap between Loeb / Lee arcs. And if that’s true (and I’ve no reason to suspect that it’s not), it’s really rather apparent, because about the time the story gets moving, the issue ends. Which, in all fairness, makes for a striking final panel / page for the book, but it’s also quite irritating, because nothing really happens over the course of 22 pages. Batman catches Croc to get information, but doesn’t learn anything. Then he meets Margo Farr, but doesn’t learn anything there either. He follows Farr to catch Angel Lupo, but doesn’t catch him. And then it’s done. Thanks for coming; we’ll be back in four more weeks.
So forgive me if I feel a little stiffed here.
It should be mentioned, I think, that this issue proves the long-touted theory that the Comics Code Authority seal means sweet fuck-all. It’s on this book and if I were a parent who bought this issue for my child, thinking (quite naturally, I should add) that Batman is something kids are supposed to enjoy, I’d be pretty pissed off when I got home and found Batman knocking a defeated villain’s teeth out, then leering after a barely clothed woman who is later nearly raped. Not at all appropriate for all audiences, which is what the seal is supposed to guarantee.
Now, I don’t want to sound like a prude here. I’m all for sex and violence. Love it, fucking love it. And I have no problem with it being in a Batman book. Hell, there are few places in comics more appropriate. But I just can’t see the point of ratings systems if they don’t actually help you gauge the content of the book at a glance. Maybe it’s just me though.
At any rate, I feel as though I’m coming off as overly harsh here. This is an outstanding issue; make no doubt about it. It’s a Batman story much more akin to Frank Miller’s work than Jeph Loeb’s, a Batman that’s bitter and mean and not afraid to keep his aggression on a long leash. The banter between characters is tight and snappy and you get the impression that Azzarello has a pretty good feel for Batman’s fairly distinctive “voice.” As well, he’s clearly riffing on film noir, a genre that suits the character so well that it’s almost criminal that every Batman arc isn’t done that style.
At the same time though, I can’t help but shake the feeling that this arc is just going to read so much better when it’s finally collected into a trade. And that’s just sad, since that’s what it was meant to be in the first place. It’s still a good issue, just not as good as I expected it to be.
Let me say something first, in the interest of full disclosure: I can’t stand Fabian Nicieza. He wrote a whole load of X-Men books during the ’90s and, hence, is responsible for producing some of the worst comic books ever printed. But I went into reading and reviewing the first issue of Hawkeye with some closely approximating an open mind, mostly because I have a slight soft spot for the character (being an eternal fan of B-list Marvel books, I have a pretty good-sized run of West Coast Avengers), but also because I figure he’s had a pretty good hiatus from comics to reflect on his past creative misdeeds. I’m thinking to myself as the open the book, “Maybe this is where Nicieza starts down the long road to atone for X-Cutioner’s Song…”
Clint Barton is an orphan, raised by the circus along with his older brother Barney (Barney Barton? Worst comic book character name since Bobo, Namor’s best friend from the Bill Jemas / Andi Watson collaboration), with a single-minded devotion to archery. While his brother does his best to convince Clint to pursue more scholastic endeavors, Barney’s energy is wasted. Flash-forward an indeterminate amount of years and we find Clint on the road, alone. Cruising the lonesome American highways on his Harley, Barton makes a road trip to Dirty Chet, a roadhouse that claims to serve the hottest chili east of the Mississippi. Upon arriving in Myrtle Beach, Barton immediately interjects himself into the melodrama of the bar scene, rescuing a stripper from a strong-armed underworld thug via a miracle shot (he uses a barmaid’s hair band to shoot a spoon across the crowded floor of the bar). Following the working girl, Barton takes it upon himself, as a “professional problem-solver,” to find out what’s troubling her and from there finds himself getting tangled in a sordid web of mob bosses, their mistresses and their potentially very angry wives.
Yeah, I don’t think so either.
So let me boil this down and be as blunt as I can. This book is fucking pointless.
When I say that Barney tries to convince Clint to be an educated man, what I’m really saying is that Nicieza spends two clichéd pages where Clint whines about how he doesn’t have the chance to be anything in life and Barney talks like an after-school special, telling him he has options other than being a circus sharpshooter. We’re never given a reason for why Barton is on the road alone, or why exactly he considers himself a professional problem-solver (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean). The most irritating part of the story is where he just decides to help out the stripper, then even more randomly makes it his business to track her down (hitting a dozen strip joints in the process) and have a heart-to-heart (which he then seems completely uninterested in).
In the end, this is just another classic move from Marvel. It’s the book that absolutely no one asked for, much like the Emma Frost, Human Torch or the cancelled-faster-than-you-can-sneeze Kingpin ongoing series. Calling it a Hawkeye series is more than a bit of a misnomer, as the costumed Avenger is nowhere to be found. And just like the aforementioned piles of garbage, it deals with Barton’s early years, a treasure trove of creative gold that we are apparently supposed to believe wasn’t mined decades ago simply because of poor management. Or maybe it’s because no one gives a damn about Hawkeye’s life prior to being a superhero. Nor should they, if this is anything to go by, a book where a half-assed Bullseye stumbles around through a hackneyed story for absolutely no reason.