Matt Fraction and David Aja finally brought their first rate Hawkeye series to a close after numerous delays. Marvel has rushed out the final collected edition, Rio Bravo.
The interesting thing about this iteration of Hawkeye is that it’s always been more about Clint Barton and Kate Bishop, the heroes that share the name, then about Hawkeye. And after a couple of interesting detours (Clint watching “Winter Friends,” a holiday special celebrating “multidenominational pantheistic all-inclusive winter fests;” a spotlight on Clint’s troublesome brother Barney), Rio Bravo gets down to what it does best.
After the Clown, the chilling killer in white face paint, killed one of Clint’s neighbors, it sends Clint into a mini-spiral. Kate’s decamping for L.A. (with Lucky the pizza dog!) is another blow. But Barney’s arrival starts to get Clint in gear. He reaches out to his Avengers friends for help in figuring out the agenda of Clown and the Tracksuit Draculas. Clint’s first attempt at dealing with the bad guys leaves both him and Barney dealing with some serious injuries. That provide the catalyst for some impactful exploration of the complicated bond between the Barton brothers.
Clint and his neighbors gather for a final stand against Clown and the Draculas that wreaks some more havoc. But Kate and Lucky return just in time and the neighbors come through to defend their homes. The series finishes with Clint and Kate reunited and the subject of a mob vendetta, while Barney proves true to form, putting yet another wedge between the brothers.
It’s almost redundant to heap more praise on what Fraction has done with Hawkeye. He really pushed the boundaries of what a Big Two comic book could be, injecting an indie sensibility and embracing experiments in form, narrative and tone that seemed like big gambles at the time, but in retrospect are obvious creative triumphs. Rio Bravo continues that tradition, whether it’s the whimsical “Winter Friends” allegory or the use of ASL and blank dialogue boxes to dramatize Clint’s hearing loss.
But Hawkeye hasn’t worked as well as it has just because of Fraction’s willingness to play with the form. At its heart, Hawkeye has been about Clint and his relationships and that focus is fully engaged in the finale. Clint gets important moments with all the women in his life (Kate, Black Widow, Spider-Woman, Mockingbird) and the bond with his neighbors plays a crucial role in the finale. But more importantly, Fraction uses the foundational Clint/Barney relationship to demonstrate some key parts of Clint’s personality and history and also to chart his growth. It’s intricate, subtle writing that pays off in all kinds of ways.
There may be no other mainstream series in recent memory whose success turned on the collaboration of writer and artists quite the way Hawkeye has. Fraction’s narrative experiments had a chance to succeed because his art team was not only simpatico but eager to meet Fraction’s challenges and exceed expectations. Aja may not produce quickly, but there are few artists in the medium whose work is as thoughtful and lovingly rendered as his. His expressive character work grounds every page, whether it’s a panel-packed conversation, some big-screen action or an experiment in form. His layout choices are always spot on and interesting and he gives everything a soft, lived-in feel that has made Hawkeye one of the most distinctive books on the market. Colorist Matt Hollingsworth’s work has been crucial to the equation. His muted palette with well-placed touches of bright color wrap everything in a soft, inviting aura that brings out the drama and power in the images.
Rio Bravo has room for a couple surprises, too. Chris Eliopoulos, the excellent letterer for Hawkeye throughout its run, illustrates the “Winter Friends” detour, turning in some bright, warm cartooning work that’s a visual pleasure. Much admired visual stylist Francesco Francavilla drops in for the issue focusing on Barney, beautifully rendering the flashbacks exploring the troubled youth and strong bond of the Barton brothers. It’s almost an embarrassment of talent tagging in. And while Annie Wu’s contributions aren’t included in this collection (see the excellent L.A. Woman volume following Kate’s West Coast adventures), as this series wraps, it would be a mistake not to mention her strong work as alternating artist with Aja.
Hawkeye changed the game for Marvel in many ways. Fraction, Aja and friends bring the series to the strong conclusion it deserves.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on July 30, 2015.