The first issue of "Dark Reign: Hawkeye" hijacked the concept of "Dark Avengers" and took the training wheels off. Andy Diggle proved to be much more inclined to let the darkness shine through than Brian Michael Bendis has been -- let's put it this way: Bendis injects moments of violence into what has been a slow, simmering evil; Diggle brings the violence to the fore, and the evil and sadism erupts on nearly every page.
This second issue begins with the same delightfully, unrepentantly, brutal tone that the previous issue ended with. Last issue concluded with Hawkeye (the man formerly known as Bullseye, now a "hero" in Norman Osborn's Avengers) murdering a bunch of civilians and getting caught on tape by a passing traffic chopper. As issue #2 opens, we see what happens when a Dark Avenger is caught in the act of being "dark." You might expect a scandal and a cover-up after what this vicious Hawkeye has been recorded doing. But first, Diggle lets this character unleash his wild side.
The cover-up comes so quickly that there isn't even a chance for a scandal, as Norman Osborn's H.A.M.M.E.R. forces blast into the television studio control room and abduct the producers who have seen the footage. But before that happens, Hawkeye has his moments of fun with the camera crew, using his arrows in ways that Clint Barton would never attempt: arrow through the eye of the cameraman; exploding arrow placed just out of reach of the pilot, after giving him a "fighting chance" to reach the off button. When we see Hawkeye swinging from the rooftops after barely escaping the explosion, there's a dissonance between the image and its implications. We've seen a guy in this costume swing with his grappling arrow before, we've seen him escape explosions, but when it's Bullseye beneath the costume, the traditional heroic imagery becomes something shockingly different.
Tom Raney and Scott Hanna, with their sinewy style, give this comic the slightly skewed look it needs. Raney has always seemed to fit best with the darker aspects of superhumanity -- "Stormwatch" was perfect for him -- and there's something twisted about his version of Hawkeye. Even with the decorative purple costume, his Hawkeye is not the iconic hero with the square jaw. Raney gives Bullseye-as-Hawkeye an angular visage, a lean-and-hungry look that would make anyone nervous (provided they lived after seeing him up close).
Meanwhile, Ben Urich is on the scene, investigating the supposed battle between Hawkeye and Bullseye. That's how Osborn covers it up -- explaining that the noble hero Hawkeye was fighting Bullseye and that's why arrows and target-carved skulls litter the rooftops. But that cover story takes on an added dimension when this evil Hawkeye accepts a mission from Osborn -- a mission that gives him an opportunity to kill with impunity -- but finds himself arriving at a place where his potential victims are already dead. Dead, with targets carved into their heads.
Is Diggle setting up a Tyler Durden split-personality scenario here, or is someone else adopting the Bullseye mantle just as this maniac has become the new Hawkeye? The ending of the issue provides some clues, but after the unrestrained madness of the first issue-and-a-half, it's a bit disappointing to see this series devolve into a Hawkeye vs. Bullseye cat-and-mouse game.
Still, this is a good, if not the best, "Dark Reign" spin-off so far, and both Diggle and Raney surely have more twists and turns in store for us.