Picking up where "Hawkeye" #11 left off, Matt Fraction and Javier Pulido's "Hawkeye Annual" #1 follows Kate Bishop's adventures in Los Angeles as she encounters a vengeful Madam Masque. Left with nothing but her wit and good sense, Kate shines as the issue's star, even with the world as she knew it crumbles around her. "Hawkeye Annual" #1 neatly contributes to Fraction's fantastic run with snappy dialogue, suspenseful storytelling and stylistic art.
Kate's characterization is, without a doubt, the highlight of the issue. Her thoughts, voice and actions organically combine for a wonderful overall view of her character -- something readers haven't really gotten in the series so far. By placing her in an entirely new situation in unfamiliar territory, Fraction effectively shows what Kate is really made of. Her inner monologue, in particular, stands out for its creativity. Through it, the reader gets a look at Kate's not-so-composed thought process underneath her cool exterior and bravado (with hilarious asides like her idea to create an Avengers app). Each thought bubble offers a glimpse of the way Kate views herself: as Hawkeye, alias Kate Bishop.
Without an overabundance of action, Fraction manages to create an extremely suspenseful story through quick pacing and dramatic irony. From the get-go, the reader knows Madam Masque is undercover and after Kate. Watching Kate discover this for herself is absolutely delightful. The plot moves along quickly and smoothly as they engage in a tense but hilarious battle of wits. With a few necessary but not overbearing flashbacks, Fraction works in a few gray areas in Kate's life, adding subtle subplots that really enhance the entire issue. He exercises a great deal of skill and command over the plot and pace of this issue.
Pudilo, no stranger to the "Hawkeye" book, is a natural follow up to David Aja. Pudilo's style echoes Aja's with a few notable differences, particularly in Pudilo's use of silhouette. He utilizes this frequently throughout the issue; although this is fantastic in some places, like where he emphasizes little details like Clint's arrow key fob, Pudilo overuses it to some extent. The technique occasionally blocks the reader from seeing reactions that are otherwise made clear through dialogue, so that it seems unnecessary overall. Aside from that, however, his work is detailed and enjoyable. For instance, little winks -- like the message in Clint's breakfast cereal -- appear throughout the issue, contributing to the fun tone of the book. Pudilo, with the help of Matt Hollingsworth's colors, nicely compliments Fraction's style.
"Hawkeye" Annual #1 takes the series in a brilliant new direction as Fraction places Kate behind the wheel of the story. With a story that enhances the book for issues to come, Fraction and Pudilo develop and expand Kate's character in fantastic new ways, almost begging for a series of its own. The first "Hawkeye Annual," like the rest of the run so far, is inspired, eccentric fun.