"Hawkeye" has, since its inception almost a year ago, easily been one of the best, funniest, sharpest and most innovative superhero books to come out of the big two in -- well, just about ever. With "Hawkeye" 12, Matt Fraction and guest artist Francesco Francavilla prove that there are still plenty of surprises to come and room to grow.
A restrained story in many ways, but with strong emotional beats, this is the second issue in as many months that doesn't even star Clint -- that's two books in a row where a book called "Hawkeye" barely showed a guy (or gal) named Hawkeye. After last month's ground-breaking, gorgeous mostly silent issue featuring the beloved Pizza Dog, Fraction and a precise Francavilla bring a tale of Hawkeye's youth, told through the eyes of his older brother, Barney.
Credit where credit's due, Fraction handles some potentially cliché material (drunk abusive father, dead parents) with exceptionally smooth writing, and part of that is a lack of over writing, allowing Francavilla's powerful imagery to speak for itself. As a result, the issue never feels cloying or overly sentimental despite the subject matter. In fact, when contrasted with Barney Barton in present day, it all fits together beautifully. Fraction finds small but important ways to show the similarities and differences between Clint and Barney, the kind of things that make for diverging adults, and the aspects that define individuals for good or ill. Fraction is smart to focus on more than just the tragedy of a troubled past, instead drawing readers into Clint's complicated relationship with his brother -- a relationship full of nostalgia and disappointment, failures and gratitude, love and pain. That hug on the final page is painstakingly and yet effortlessly earned.
Though I am a big fan of Francavilla's work and style, he wouldn't be my first pick as a fill-in artist for this title, but I love being proved wrong. He really embraced the feeling and energy of "Hawkeye" in this issue, while still effortlessly maintaining his own style. Francavilla's work sometimes has a looseness to it that I don't think would work for this book, but there's a precision in the execution, particularly in the panel layouts and storytelling choices, that really make it work. It's also effective, because Francavilla's moody and evocative work is a good tonal fit for a slightly darker and more emotional issue of "Hawkeye." Francavilla on this specific issue is proof yet again of what a smart team puts this book together, paying very close attention to its exceptional execution month to month.
Superhero fans are lucky to have such a stunning book as "Hawkeye." To think, a year ago, I was exceedingly grouchy that Hawkeye was getting his own book (by Fraction and Aja no less!) while Black Widow languished without. While I still think Natasha deserves her own book -- and with as celebrated and perfect a team as Fraction and Aja -- I can't possibly regret the continued brilliance that is "Hawkeye."