If you want to understand why Marvel Comic’s Hawkeye series is up for five Eisners next month–for Best New Series, Best Continuing Series, Best Writer, Best Cover Artist, Best Penciller/Inker (and could easily win them all)–all you need do is ask your comic book store to get you a copy of Hawkeye Issue #11, which hit the shelves last Wednesday.
Matt Fraction has delivered what I had been after for some time–when writers like Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns get endless acclaim and you never quite get that one issue that solves for you why they have such a great following–Fraction’s Hawkeye series has cemented his status for me as a top comic book writer. We at borg.com also loved David Aja’s cover art for the Hawkeye series last year, declaring him our runner-up for Best of 2012 for comic book cover art. Together Fraction and Aja gel together to make what we’ll look back on years from now as a classic Marvel Comics creative team. Matt Hollingsworth’s color art rendering plays an integral role in the series, too, highlighting Aja’s panels just where it is needed. Their Hawkeye series is subtle, slow-paced, beautiful, and thought-provoking.
A few quick thoughts before delving into Hawkeye, Issue #11:
One of the most difficult story themes to communicate in writing is language itself. Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat, a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan, once said that he saw the preview for the episode “Darmok,” where the Enterprise-D crew meets an alien race that communicates in metaphor, setting up Captain Picard and the alien captain to unite against a common foe to encourage them to be able to figure out how to communicate with each other. Moffat said the idea was so intriguing he refused to this day to watch the episode in the event it was not as good as what he envisioned it would be. He knew a good subject when he saw even a preview of it. Little did he know, he missed out on the something special. ”Darmok” is the best Next Generation episode because of its brilliant success in hitting head-on the subject of what real encounters with new beings would be like, with no universal translator, peoples facing other peoples (or aliens) would need to find a way to communicate just as races of Earth in the past had to encounter this struggle with language.
Multiple Batman comic book issues of the past show the Dark Knight uncovering a mystery with little to no dialogue. The less said the more intriguing Batman becomes, the more his stories are revealed visually, without language.
The best episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, titled “Hush,” featured a brilliant tale of the series’ Scooby gang trying to unfoil what was behind a curse that took away Sunnydale citizens’ ability to speak. The absence of language becomes a scary element–what do you do when no one can hear you scream?
Readers and viewers know good material when they see it, and genre fans love a good story that wrestles with such a basic concept–like language–that rarely is the subject of stories.
Why bring up “Darmok” and Batman and Buffy in the context of the current Hawkeye series? Fraction and Aja try something different and hit a home run in the process. Heck, they hit for a cycle even and nailed it. Issue #11 is told through the eyes of Hawkeye’s one-eyed “pizza dog” Lucky. And it is done in such a way that should put Fraction and Aja up for the Best Single Issue Eisner in 2014. It may take a few looks at the first few pages to see what Fraction and Aja are doing, but then it clicks and you think like Lucky as he learns of a murder and takes on his own client to gather clues to what has transpired in and around his apartment complex. Sometimes this is through what seems like a play on international road symbols, sometimes it is through symbols for smells, for people, and for sounds.
What matters is it flows so well and makes sense, despite the absence of many English words. It’s stylish, creating its own sub-genre: dog noir. Through Lucky we see anger, panic, sadness, fear, and joy. And we understand it because we understand his language.
What we really want to see in a future compilation edition is Fraction’s script. How did Fraction and Aja communicate with each other in creating this masterpiece of visual storytelling? Did they find it difficult? Why does Lucky drive off with Clint’s girlfriend at the end and why not keep going with an arc courtesy of Lucky’s thought-driven narrative? What painful fate will the creators meet if they ever dare mess with Lucky’s well-being in future issues? Like Krypto to Superman, Lucky is now a staple and required character in the Hawkeye mythos thanks to these guys. And now we just want more.