At a glance, I can see why readers might write off "Hawkeye" #11. Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth construct an entire issue told through the eyes of Hawkeye's dog Lucky (better known as Pizza Dog). Is it a gimmick? Perhaps. But does it result in a good comic? No. It results in a great comic.
Regular readers of "Hawkeye" will recognize some of the events through the eyes of Lucky; the recent murder on top of Clint's building being of course the most important one. Since Lucky is a dog, of course, readers see everything through a slightly different perspective. I love the idea that when Lucky looks at someone, Aja displays a stylized icon involving their face, and then lots of little sub-icons that radiate off of the main one explaining what Lucky knows (or should that be smells?) about them. Everyone in the apartment building has an identity to Lucky; he doesn't know their names (and why should he?) but it's clear that he understands basic facts about them.
Of course, that's the essence of being a dog, and part of why this issue is so good. He can sniff around for "clues," but add in the scent of a half-eaten, thrown out pizza and all bets are off. As Lucky lurches through his day, everything is realized in a way that a dog would perceive the world. People speak in mumbles with only key words making sense to Lucky. My favorite is how there are some phrases that Lucky always recognizes ("good boy") and how sometimes it's just words within a sentence that he'd know elsewhere ("collar" and "stays" both popping up within an otherwise unintelligible sentence). For so much of this, this could serve as a primer on how to tell a story without using a traditional narration.
Of course, since this is a story about not just any dog but Hawkeye's dog, "Hawkeye" #11 has a couple of great little flights of fancy, too. My favorite is the comic's take on the sly seductress that tries to distract the hero from figuring out what's going on. It's such a funny and simultaneously ludicrous sequence that once you realize what's going on, it's hard to not bust a gut laughing. Who would have thought a dog could be so conniving? The strongest part of the script for the issue, though, has to be the conclusion. It's a nasty gut punch, one for which we don't know all of the story yet, but I feel like Fraction unleashes that revelation at just the right time to make the wait for the next issue (and a return to a human narrator) all the more painful. I'll admit, I felt a little lump in my throat.
Aja's art is fantastic as ever. The iconography mentioned earlier that he draws to show Lucky's thought processes are truly brilliant, ones that simultaneously tell so much and yet don't reveal more than we should be able to learn. I also love the way that Lucky's living in the here-and-now is shown through the art. When Lucky's in the panel or it's someone/something that he's concerned about, they're in full color. But in a larger area -- say the front hall of Clint's apartment -- only Lucky, Clint, and Kate are fully rendered and in color, by sitting a full color panel on top of a blue-and-white outline of the rest of the area. Anyone who's owned a dog will instantly figure out what's going on; the rest of the world has faded away because it's just not as important, and Aja illustrates that phenomenon perfectly. Aja plays a lot with the 16-panel grid here, too, sometimes using the entire panel layout but at other times dropping out rows or columns to let Lucky's icons bleed through, or to have it show a larger scene like the apartment staircase (and have it partially faded out into just an outline as discussed earlier). I like that he has the ability to create something using such a rigid structure, but also the skill to know when to partially or completely abandon it. (Who knew that Aja could draw a "sexy" looking dog? It's a little disturbing, really.)
"Hawkeye" #11 is a charmer from start to finish. I love the bold choices that Fraction and Aja made, and I appreciate that what could've been a throwaway issue ended up being incredibly gripping by the end of the comic as we move past the events of the previous installments. Add in Hollingsworth's beautiful flat colors and it's another big, big winner. I'll be shocked if "Hawkeye" #11 isn't on next year's Eisner Awards ballot; it's both excellent and different. Well done, all involved.