$2.99 per issue / Publisher: Marvel
WRITER: Matt Fraction
ARTISTS: David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth

 Rating: *   *   *   *   *

‘Being really good at archery’ wouldn’t necessarily be anyone’s ideal choice of a superpower, especially when others get ‘thunder god’, ‘super-strength’ or ‘rage-fuelled monstrous alter-ego’. However, Clint Barton – aka Hawkeye – has always been a bit of an odd-man-out among the powerful titans of the Avengers, a fact that’s also made him one of Marvel’s more potentially interesting characters.

Given that he was also one of the stars of the mega-succesful Avengers movie, there’s little surprise in the appearance of an all-new Hawkeye ongoing title. However, writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja haven’t gone the easy route – what could have been a quick and easy cash-in has instead ended up as one of the most well-crafted, sharp and downright enjoyable superhero titles currently on the market.

A lively burst of down-to-earth action, the new volume of Hawkeye explores what Clint Barton does when he isn’t being an Avenger. Each of the first three standalone issues follows Clint, alongside his sidekick and definitely-not-girlfriend Kate Bishop (the ‘female’ Hawkeye, previously of the Young Avengers), as his attempts at a non-superhero life in New York see him tumbling into and out of scrapes with tracksuit-wearing Russian mobsters and a gang of highly theatrical thieves.

Packing a tremendous amount of energy into each twenty-page issue, this is a funky action thriller with a cinematic flavour but an unmistakably comic-book sensibility. Very much part of the grittier, street-level end of the Marvel universe alongside titles like Daredevil, Fraction’s take on Hawkeye is immensely likeable and engaging, casting Barton as a world-weary and battered hero with a knack for getting himself into trouble.

Super-smart dialogue and eye-catching set-pieces are combined with a brilliantly self-referential approach to both visuals and dialogue. Fraction’s always been a clever writer, but with Hawkeye he’s brought aspects of the experimental approach seen in his dazzling sci-fi espionage saga Casanova into the Marvel mainstream, and it’s incredible how well the combination works. A jazzy, riotous comic that’s willing to surprise its audience, it also follows Mark Waid’s Daredevil in being the latest superhero title to turn away from the well-worn ‘widescreen blockbuster’ approach, instead concentrating on the kind of storytelling comics does best.

An impressively dense read, Hawkeye often features up to twenty-four panels on a single page, but David Aja’s crisp, stylish art keeps the action under control, evoking the realism and grit of David Mazzucchelli’s legendary work on Batman: Year One, alongside a selection of impressive visual flourishes and gorgeous colour work from Matt Hollingsworth. The only real mis-step is some arrow-related violence in issue two that’s excused a little too easily – otherwise, this is slick superhero comics done right, with energy, wit and a serious amount of style.

FACT BOX:

Fraction also has a pair of ‘mature’ creator-owned miniseries coming up from Image Comics – Sex Criminals (with Chip Zdarsky) and Satellite Sam (with Howard Chaykin).