Major Issues: Hawkeye #20 and Why It’s the Best Superhero Comic Around

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In Major Issues, we look at one newly-released comic book each week. Updated Mondays.

Gardner Mounce

Hawkeye #20
Written by Matt Fraction
Cover artist: David Aja
Art: Annie Wu
Published by Marvel, 8/18/14

My problem with most superhero stories is that superheroes are defined by their privilege rather than their problems. The first question we ask about a superhero is “What powers (privilege) does the hero have?” instead of “What problems do they face?” Superman has super speed and super strength. Spiderman can shoot webs. Wolverine has claws and can heal himself. In all of these cases, the power is more important than the problem the hero faces.

This is bad writing because we can’t emotionally relate to privilege. We can’t relate to a person who has super speed or strength or laser vision. We can relate to Rick in Casablanca because of his problem: he’s torn between the love of a woman and helping a Nazi resistance movement. Now, if we just threw in there that Rick also has the ability to fly, then we’d expect for his ability to fly to play a big role in the movie. If he can fly, then the chance for Rick to solve his problems in a relatable, human way is over. Now the movie is about how he’ll solve his problems in a superhuman way that we can’t emotionally relate with.

Hawkeye doesn’t completely avoid this problem. After all, we know Hawkeye for his power. He is the person who’s great with a bow and arrow. But writer Matt Fraction sets this iteration of Hawkeye on a human (rather than superhuman) scale. For example, the whole series kicks off not with a display of might, but with an injury that puts Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) in the hospital. No matter how good Hawkeye is with a bow, he is but human.

Why is this better than a superhero comic? Because we can relate to it. Clint Barton is an Avenger, but a human one with really shitty “powers” compared to Thor and Iron Man and the others. His pride in his abilities causes him to fly too close to the sun, time and time again. It’s not his powers that keep us rooting for him, but his lack of powers. Unlike Superman, who can only be harmed by some ultra rare element, Hawkeye can be defeated by anything. Fraction doesn’t have to keep inventing bigger and badder super villains to compete with Hawkeye’s abilities. Because he’s human, Hawkeye can be defeated by gravity, or even his rent.

Not only does Hawkeye have relatively shitty “powers” but there’s not even just one Hawkeye. There are two: Clint Barton and Kate Bishop. They’re just human, after all, so why not share the responsibility of being a hero? This male-female counterpart dynamic could potentially blow the door right open for some sexist, rigid, gender role bullshit, but Matt Fraction makes both characters not only equally as talented, but allows both to have their own quirks, neuroses, senses of humor, and charms. Personally, I like Kate Bishop more. She’s a hell of a lot funnier.

What Fraction can be praised for more than anything else is that he’s made this comic about the characters rather than hokey cliffhangers or a single central conflict. There are overarching conflicts, but many issues are standalone stories, and oftentimes about completely innocuous things like what Clint Barton’s dog does when Barton’s out of the apartment (Fraction’s just skilled enough to make those issues the most endearing [seriously, pick up the dog issue, it’s amazing]).

Should You Get It?

If you start reading Hawkeye, you’ll be hooked. Not because it offers a glimpse of superheroes punching each other, but because Matt Fraction has written a couple of great characters dealing with relatable problems both big and small.

Gardner Mounce is a writer, speaker, listener, husband, wife, truck driver, detective, liar. When asked to describe himself in three words, Gardner Mounce says: humble, humble, God-sent. You can find him at gardnermounce.tumblr.com or email him at gmounce611@gmail.com 

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