superheroes

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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Comic Review: Rising Stars

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Brent Hopkins

The 24-issue Rising Stars is an interesting tale of a group of children that attain superpowers via an intense flash of light from a comet. These children were all yet to be born and therefore only 113 of them receive this “gift.” They grow up with their powers and become known as the “Specials.”

Story

The story behind Rising Stars is definitely where the main interest lies. There has always been human interest figuring out how life would be if people had abilities that made them a cut above a normal human. This is regularly touched on in X-Men’s Sentinel saga, also with Lex Luthor’s general hatred of Superman being a living god. Rising Stars turns this on its head in a very satisfying way by limiting the powers that are given out to a set group of people and having them deal with being the extreme minority on the planet, yet wielding all of the power.

As can be expected, the Specials have their own personalities and hopes and dreams, as normal people do. They also are not all made equally. There are some individuals who are the Superman archetype and others that fall more into the hyper-intelligent brand of superhero. This disparity in skills causes schisms among the Specials themselves since some individuals feel they are of a superior nature to others.

The main plot gets rolling when a few Specials are murdered and it is obvious that one of their own is committing the crimes. This is all narrated by the last living Special, John Simon (aka Poet). John narrates the discovery that, with the murders the energy from the dead Specials is transferred to the remaining ones (Think Jet Li’s great film The One).

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Like this, but Jet Li has the skill set of a Super Saiyan.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and the reader gets to go on a special journey in the lives of superheroes, which is watching their full lives begin and end. Specials have all the power in the world, yet they have the same limitation normal humans do: time. Another underlying tale unfolds as well, which is how humanity would try to deal with suddenly falling from the apex predator perch.

Art

The art here isn’t really impressive. It isn’t bad, by any means, but the coloring and artwork definitely feel like a typical comic book. I would say if you were playing a game of charades and had to draw comic characters, Rising Stars would be the perfect point of reference. Held up next to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or East of West it fails to have that same visual impact.

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Cap’n Muurrca

Characters and Writing

Considering there are a mere 24-issues and three mini-series to get acquainted with the Specials there is a lot of ground covered. 113 is an impossible amount of characters to introduce and give personality to and intelligently author J. Michael Straczynski doesn’t attempt to. Each of the Specials mentioned in-depth in the comics are all interesting and either have powers you need to actually see to understand or have personalities so strong that you want to know what makes them tick. The inclusion of archetypical superheroes is also done intelligently. How would a real Batman act? You get to see it here. What would someone with multiple-personality disorder do with the ability to control other? Also in here. I found myself loving and hating characters and then merely understanding them by the end of the series and I loved it.

Worth the read and time to complete?

My God, yes. This feels like a brilliant deconstruction of the fantasy of superhero living a la Watchmen (not saying it is as good or anything). There are 24 issues and it really makes you think about what life would be like if you did have amazing abilities but knew you’d die at 70. My only complaint is that it does end very neatly, but I would prefer that over feeling unfulfilled at the end.

Brent Hopkins considers himself jack-o-all-trades and a great listener. Chat with him about his articles or anything in general at brentahopkins@gmail.com.

Images: Header image from here, other images here and here

Comic Review: The Punisher MAX

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Brent Hopkins

The Punisher is probably one of the strangest comic book heroes out there. Unlike more traditional heroes, he’s just a normal man with an extreme grudge that fuels him on his adventures. Most people know the general story of Frank Castle: a war veteran who returns from the Vietnam War and settles down into family life. Things are going well, until tragedy befalls him when he sees his wife and two children gunned down in Central Park. That tends to be the extent of knowledge people have of The Punisher and that really is what this The Punisher MAX series is about.

The Story

The comic is about the life of Frank and how he operates over a long span of time, about 30 to 40 years. One of the things I always found hard to swallow with The Punisher was how he could take bullets and broken bones but continue to function with almost no downtime. This series makes the whole thing make sense. Since he has years and year to operate, you hear things framed in terms of years passed since a major punishment last took place. This makes him feel far less like a superhuman and far more like a “normal” person.

Going along these lines, there is still a surprising lack of superheroes in this world. This means that Spiderman never comes to save the day and problems like war and international relations issues aren’t fixed just because an immovable object shows up to save the day. When the world goes bad it doesn’t get better, it merely gets worse and worse.

The series is also broken into storylines instead of one long series. Each storyline is five or six issues long and it keeps things interesting, because there are always different depraved people that need to be punished.

Lastly, because this falls under the MAX Marvel line, the story and artwork can be as brutal as need be. There is a bevy of swearing, brutality, and racism throughout the comic and it truly feels like a bunch of gangsters and hoodlums interacting with one another and not just the writer getting his jollies off.

Art

The art throughout the series is well done though you can tell when the artists change volume to volume. This isn’t really a problem because it remains dark and seedy, and the emotions really come through well.

Writing

The writing here is solid. Each character has a strong personality and since you know they’ll probably be alive for at least six issues you get to see what makes them tick. One thing that pleased me was the fact that there was never a single point in time where I felt like the authors wanted me to like Frank Castle. He is a complete and utter lunatic yet, throughout the comic, he seems to acknowledge it but is incapable of stopping himself from essentially being a mass murderer. His superpower is scaring the police away from arresting him and honestly, that is a superpower that usually is only left to the privileged. It is interesting to see this “liberty” extended to a calculated psychopath and to read what he does with it.

Worth the read and time to complete?

I will give this an emphatic, YES. This 75-issue series has quick arcs and relatively interesting characters throughout. You won’t really feel endeared to the characters, but isn’t that the point of a vigilante who takes far more than the law in his hands and uses the training he received from the military to exact his brutal revenge? This will not be for everyone, but if you have any interest in the character this is the series I would recommend reading from start to finish, which took about a week reading six or so 25-pages issue a night.

Brent Hopkins considers himself jack-o-all-trades and a great listener. Chat with him about his articles or anything in general at brentahopkins@gmail.com.