Marvel’s best new series. An issue focusing on real-world disaster. A creator who is donating his profits to a worth cause. Yeah, I’d say that’s pick of the week material.
Written by Matt Fraction
Illustrated by Steve Lieber, Jesse Hamm, and Matt Hollingsworth
We’re pushing the next story back by a month to make room for a two timely stories about Hawkeye and Kate Bishop dealing with the ramifications of a hurricane that hammers the east coast. With lovely art by the Eisner Award Winning artist Steve Leiber and newcomer Jesse Hamm, it’s a perfect pause before the next Fraction/Aja mini-opus begins….featuring the reveal of a villain that I can promise you no one sees coming
When writer Matt Fraction sat down to pen this comic, centered on Hurricane Sandy, I am sure he knew it would require expediency — in the process of getting a comic from the writer’s word processor to the comic shop, many snags can slow down the process. If Fraction wanted the issue to be as timely, it would be up to him to help speed the process along. The approach he came up with, though — splitting the comic into two stories, each illustrated by two artists — may have originally been for the sake of efficiency, but it actually helps the comic deliver impact on multiple levels. Clint’s story is a more personal one, where the first Hawkeye is on the outside. Sure, he’s the title character, the one we pick up the book to read about, but in this story, he is merely our cameraman, the Nick Carraway to Grills’s Jay Gatsby (a flattering comparison, for sure). Sometimes by limiting our view of a character, writers can make their personality and emotions stand out so much more, and that’s the case with Grills and his father. Kate’s tale, on the other hand, is one about community, and how sometimes one exceptional individual still needs the help of others. Overall, though, this is a comic about how we react to tragic, larger-than-life situations, and Fraction masterfully captures multiple facets of these situations’ effects on their victims: from true despair, to helpful goodwill, to stubborn determination.
Of course, this is still “Hawkeye” — without the wit and charm readers have come to love and expect in only six issues, it wouldn’t be the same comic. Fraction has to deal with a lot of pressure in this regard: when writing a superhero comic about a real-world tragedy, it can be very easy to seem insensitive when you are really trying your best to show your honest concern (see: the 9/11 issue of “Amazing Spider-Man”). Add in that this is a book known for its humor, and it seems like Fraction is playing with fire. However, this issue manages to keep that signature voice Fraction has crafted without ever seeming irreverent; the quips and quirks are still there, but they reflect that human aspect of how we keep on keeping on no matter the circumstances. Clint’s self-bashing for not knowing Grills’s real name, Kate’s somewhat comic frustration, and similar chuckle-worthy moments help make the situation Fraction has translated seem more real, and enhance the from-the-heart quality that defines this issue.
Artistic duties on this single are split between Eisner Award-winning Steve Lieber and the lesser known Jesse Hamm, the former illustrating Clint’s story and the latter drawing Kate’s. While it’s always a shame to get an issue that isn’t illustrated by series regular David Aja, I think we can say that this issue is a special circumstance. Steve Lieber delivers the level of quality you’d expect from a man who won the Eisner: while his style is certainly noticeably different from Aja’s, it still has the book’s urban aesthetic down solidly. It may not look the same, but it feels the same, if you catch my drift. Lieber’s art has that similar touch of picking out all the details that are necessary to convey character and tone, while still keeping the page sparse enough to carry both motion and emotion. His layouts are not quite as intricate as Aja’s (solely in regards to this issue, of course), but considering that Javier Pulido worked with full script rather than Marvel Method when he filled in, it is likely that Lieber and Hamm were in a similar situation, leaving less room for innovation and counting on the two artists to simply to a damn good job.
Jesse Hamm’s work may not be quite on the same level as Lieber’s, but he brings some new things to the table in terms of stylization. The slightly more bare-bones style. in terms of finished appearance, that Hamm is working with leads to a couple of smudgy-looking panels, and a few instances of foreshortening that are a bit difficult to follow. However, Hamm’s overall feel for storytelling is sound and provides him a good foundation to work from; if he can clean up his otherwise endearing style a bit more, he could be a name to watch for in a year or two.
This issue is also another example of how integral Matt Hollingsworth is to the series in maintaining a sense of visual continuity. When Pulido stepped in for issues #4 and #5, he adopted a style that was similar to Aja’s in order to fit into the book’s established look, and Hollingsworth’s colors sealed the deal. To repeat myself, Lieber’s art in this issue is different in looks but similar in style to Aja’s, and yet it isn’t distracting at all due to Hollingsworth using the same striking yet subtle color palette to create a unified look. Hamm’s art is the furthest step from Aja’s yet, and even so the colors make it clear that this is still Hawkguy rather than just another Hawkeye comic. It’s more than using similar hues; Hollingsworth clearly knows how to use those colors differently with unique artists’ line work in order to acheive a look that appears the same, even though it isn’t. Add in his ability to make characters stand out in terms of storytelling, without making them contrast obnoxiously, and his smooth shading, and you have a shoe-in for the next round of Eisner nominations (again).
As you may have heard, there are reasons to buy this comic outside of its contents. Matt Fraction has confirmed that every dollar he makes from the sales of this single issue will go to the Red Cross, for the specific purpose of Hurricane Sandy relief. If you will allow me to editorialize a bit (read: get on my soapbox and talk about matters outside of the comic itself), what we are seeing with Hurricane Sandy is what we saw with Hurricane Katrina: a few months later, and the rest of the country has moved on, even though the areas devastated by the storm are still suffering from its effects. Now more than ever, after the media has stopped giving these damaged areas of the nation screen time, after partisan politicians have turned their backs on their home states and hometowns, we need people like Matt Fraction who are willing to keep raising money for those whose lives have been wrecked by this disaster. Does this have any bearing on the quality of this comic as a piece of sequential art? Certainly not. Would I tell you to buy a copy or five even if it wasn’t particularly good? Probably. Considering that in this case, though, you’re getting a great comic while supporting a necessary cause, you’ll just have to trust that I would be up front and tell you that this wasn’t a good comic, but that you should buy it anyway if that were the case (and longtime readers probably know that I would do so without hesitation).
As steadfast as I am in regards to my objectivity, I do admit that this is a comic that cannot easily be assigned a numerical value. I can, however, tell you two things: first of all, this is a good comic that continues the series’s trend of being some of the finest comic work put out by the big two; second, this is a comic whose purchase helps those in need. Considering those, on our typical pass/browse/buy scale, where do you think it is going to fall? Events such as Sandy are will forever scar many lives, but sometimes they provide us with the impetus to see the best of people, whether in terms of goodwill or craftsmanship. It just so happens that “Hawkeye” #7 is an example of both.
As an addendum, Kelly Sue DeConnick wants you all to know that if this issue spurs you to donate further to the Red Cross, her and Matt Fraction would love if you would name it in honor of Hawkguy and send a screencap to either her or Fraction or both.