Matt Fraction and David Aja's "Hawkeye" #8 continues to impress as they bring back Clint's mysterious redhead Penny, who in turn brings all sorts of trouble with her thus creating massive professional and personal trouble for Clint.
Perhaps most interesting about the issue Fraction and Aja's actual attempt to deal with the complexities of Hawkeye's romantic life -- i.e. we've seen him sleep with Penny, but in regular continuity he's technically dating Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew). While I enjoyed the scene in which they tackle this conundrum immensely, in truth it left me more confused than ever before. Prior to Fraction trying to deal with the relationship issue, I was content to just let Hawkeye be its own book, free of the messiness of continuity (because who knows in what time or place it takes place -- and more importantly, when a book is this good, who cares?) But I confess to a bit of confusion now, and the urge to scold Clint, as Jessica did not seem pleased and it made it harder for me to applaud Clint's otherwise enjoyable (though absurdly complicated) relationship with Penny.
What to say about Aja's art that has not been said before? It's simply fantastic. He's doing something with "Hawkeye" that is both modern and forward thinking, but also feels retro and heavily rooted in the best comics that have come before him. Yet for all the style that fills his pages, he never sacrifices storytelling. In fact, his storytelling is superb -- effortless and beautiful at once.
Peppered throughout this issue are single illustrated pages by Annie Wu, designed to look like vintage style comic book covers. Initially, I wasn't sure how I felt about them from a storytelling point of view (though they are lovely as illustrations) but Fraction does it again and when you realize what those pages mean, you will curse yourself for ever doubting his master plan. It's brilliant.
Eight issues in, "Hawkeye" continues to be the standard upon which all great mainstream comics should be judged. Consistently beautiful, funny, smart, human, heroic and decidedly alternative, despite its publisher, it's simply the best superhero book I've read in a very, very long time. This issue stumbles slightly by acknowledging that other comics exist -- in introducing the complexities of Clint's love life in continuity -- but it's barely enough to even put a dent in everything else that is oh-so-right about "Hawkeye."