Leave It Better Than You Found It: Looking Back at Hawkeye

I’m a very different person than I was in 2013.

I mean, I imagine that we all are to some extent, but 2013 going into 2014 is what I consider a huge turning point to who I am right now. In 2013, I was depressed. I was struggling to find work for most of it, felt like I had been abandoned by my mother as she moved off to Toronto, and generally felt like my heart had been trampled on. The ugly green couch that I slept on in my current roommates’ house was my sad little space and it felt like I may never get to leave it.

One of my few solaces became a growing love of comics that exploded once I found a job and had income. The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by Gerard Way, Shaun Simon, and Becky Cloonan was one of the first, but Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue Deconnick and Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky followed soon after. When I did start making money, I started buying superhero comics that had been on my radar for a while.

I’ve gone on about how Deconnick’s run on Captain Marvel changed my life for the better (and you’re sure to hear it one more time once Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps finishes), but there’s one series I don’t feel like I talk enough about the personal effect it had on me: Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run on Hawkeye, which just ended last week on #22 after numerous delays.

Keep telling yourself that, Clint. [From Hawkeye #22 by Fraction, Aja, Hollingsworth and Eliopoulos]

Keep telling yourself that, Clint. [From Hawkeye #22 by Fraction, Aja, Hollingsworth and Eliopoulos]

Hawkeye started in 2012 and was already two trade paperbacks in when I started reading it. By the time I started reading the series, it was already beginning to affect other books that Marvel was coming out with at the time. Instead of having Clint be a solo avenger, it was really about Clint on his days off and what exactly makes him the hero that he is. It was also about Kate Bishop and how the title of Hawkeye weighs on her. It was also about a dog that ate pizza. It was about a lot of things.

Series like Charles Soule’s She-Hulk got this formula down right and put their own twists and turns on it, but nothing hit as hard as Hawkeye did. It was the story of a normal guy who was so self-deprecating, self-defeating and just generally a mess of a human that he could never see himself as a hero, but he absolutely never faltered from his own moral compass. It was about his journey and his complicated relationship with the women in his life and his brother. It was also a story about a young woman who was still trying to find her way in the world and sometimes falling flat on her face, even if she did the right thing. It was also about a dog who got a second chance at life. Again, it was about a lot of things.

Much like Fraction himself, this series spoke to me in a much quieter way than Deconnick’s Captain Marvel. Both were things I needed at the time, to be honest. I needed the heart up, eyes to the sky view of Captain Marvel, but I also needed the feet on the ground, best foot forward even if going back to bed sounds better theme of Hawkeye. Just the unspoken ways that Fraction tackled depression, growing pains, and just fighting to get up again left a mark on me without anything else in the series to influence it. I often joke that while Carol Danvers is the person I want to be, Kate Bishop is just the person I am. Snarky, weirdly mature, and unsure of herself, but does it anyway. “You’re not the hero of this story, I am” became my motto along with “We will be the stars we were always meant to be.”

I also have the last four sentences of this issue burned into my brain forever. [From Hawkeye #20 by Fraction, Wu, and Hollingsworth]

I also have the last four sentences of this issue burned into my brain forever. [From Hawkeye #20 by Fraction, Wu, Hollingsworth and Eliopoulos]

And the things this comic did to tell its story were just as amazing as the story itself. Along with David Aja and Annie Wu’s sublime art for the regular series that was complimented by Matt Hollingsworth’s gorgeous and distinctive color palettes, there were guest issues by Javier Pullido that got the spy novel feel that Fraction was writing for. Francesco Francavilla captured the darkness of Barney Barton and the Clown in a way I think no other artist could. The Hurricane Sandy issue with Steve Lieber and Jesse Hamm captured the fear and tenacity around that time with perfect expressions from both Hawkeyes and the people they came across in their adventures. This doesn’t even begin to cover the famous issues by Aja that were told from Pizza Dog’s perspective and with untranslated sign language after Clint went deaf. My personal favorite though? The issue illustrated by Chris Eliopoulos that retold the series in a cartoon Christmas special about superpowered dogs.

That was the kind of stuff Hawkeye could get away with. It challenged what exactly a superhero comic could be, especially when it was telling a story about a guy who is normal compared to a lot of his friends and teammates. Instead of being about the next big crossover, Hawkeye took time to grow a story about normal people grappling with what it takes to be a hero and experimenting with the visual aspects of that kind of story along the way. Eliopoulos was the unsung hero of the series, especially as it got towards the end and he had more room to play around with how the series was lettered. There’s a panel in #19 aka the Sign Language issue that I can never forget and that’s mostly because of the way it’s lettered.

On top of reading the series, Hawkeye was the first time I cosplayed from something and didn’t feel lagged by self-judgement because I wasn’t as good as someone else. I talked about it some here, but being a chubby girl who mostly depends on thrift store finds and my basic sewing skills, cosplay can be a terrifying prospect sometimes. This is why I was drawn to steampunk initially, but as I got more into superheroes, I became wary about the amount of spandex. However, that wasn’t the case for Hawkeye. There were plenty of normal, gorgeous, and distinctive street clothes to cosplay. My first foray as Kate Bishop in her look from the cover of Hawkeye #9 made me feel extra super confident and I ended up meeting my very favorite Barton cosplayer because of it! And my costume from Hawkeye #20 got me a very enthusiastic reaction at HeroesCon from a Kate in the jumpsuit. It was pretty awesome, to say the least.

SQUAD SQUAD SQUAD!

SQUAD SQUAD SQUAD!

Hawkeye ended with #22 featuring a lot of what it opened with: a man, his injured dog, an apartment building filled with a rag tag group of tenants, and the Russian mafia in tracksuits. While there was one plotline left open that I hope gets tackled down the line, the series dovetailed perfectly into that issue, calling back to several distinct moments over the course of the series. I know I especially got sniffly when Kate confirmed that she listened to Clint about the boomerang arrow and Clint thanked her for her help in ASL.

While the series bookended with several common themes, the effect it’s had on superhero comics cannot be underestimated. Showing the kind of stories you can tell about heroes on their days off and how it can be done, there’s a mark that Fraction, Aja and company left on the comics landscape that won’t be going away any time soon.

It also left a mark on me that I don’t think I’ll ever stop being grateful for. For the emotional impact every issue left with me when I was trying to figure myself out and the friends I made along the way because of it.

To Fraction, Aja, Wu, Hollingsworth, Eliopoulos, Pullido, Francavilla, Lieber, Hamm, Steve Wacker, Sana Amanat, and anyone else involved in the series, I have two words for you…

I mean it. [From Hawkeye #22 by Fraction, Aja and Hollingsworth.]

I mean it. [From Hawkeye #22 by Fraction, Aja, Hollingsworth and Eliopoulos.]

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