Five issues into "Hawkeye," it's clear that the book is Marvel's breakout hit of 2012. Writer Matt Fraction has managed to metabolize the slick, cool, medium-bending sensibilities of his creator-owned series, "Casanova," into a Marvel Universe superhero title as aesthetically complete as Waid's "Daredevil." It's a joy to read, and if Javier Pulido's second issue proves anything, it's that the book can even stand the absence of David Aja, the artist who made the first three issues seem untouchable.
The second half of this two-part story sees Barton and Bishop causing trouble in Madripoor while on the trail of a tape that (allegedly) shows Hawkeye performing a politically-motivated assassination. It's like an action movie about a street-thug turned secret agent, as the unflappably down-to-earth Hawkeye and his girl Friday (also named Hawkeye) attempt to escape a hotel full of crime bosses with their lives, even though they can't stop trying to prove themselves to one another.
What makes this book is that it manages to keep up a fast pace without seeming like a slight read. There's barely a panel or a piece of dialogue that isn't performing two jobs at once. The plot is simple without being facile, and although the ending leaves us with a question mark instead of a full stop (depending on the extent to which you believe whatever S.H.I.E.L.D. tells you), it doesn't feel cheap. That we're left wondering about Barton's actions (or not) is essential to understanding his situation in life and explaining his actions. He feels like he has to atone, even if he doesn't.
Pulido's Kirby-tinged visuals work brilliantly, giving the book an upbeat simplicity that helps to maintain a light tone even in the face of some hairy life-or-death situations. Hawkeye isn't a gritty title, despite the complexity of the character study, but a different artist could easily turn out a shadowy, muddy pseudo-realistic swamp where Pulido opts for minimalist lines, nimble layouts and stylized framing. After the first three issues it would've been tempting to say the book needed David Aja to survive, but Pulido makes a convincing addition to the team.
To put it succinctly, with five practically perfect issues under its belt, "Hawkeye" is a book you need to be reading. If you've ever wanted to witness a character-defining run in the marking, this is your chance. Don't miss out.