Hey, whaddaya know? I like a Matt Fraction book about Hawkeye.
This is surprising because, up until now, I've never been a particular fan of Clint Barton, nor have I enjoyed what I've read of Fraction. I gave him no end of crap for Fear Itself and I found his Defenders to be a bit overly smug-smarmy in tone for my tastes. However, Hawkeye #2 builds on the promise of the first issue in crafting a fast-paced lifestyle for Barton in his off-duty hours, with the added bonus of ex-Young Avenger Kate Bishop, a young smartass Hawkeye in training who really doesn't need much of the training.
For the purposes of this review, I'm going to assume Kate is at least 18 by now. I haven't read much Young Avengers beyond The Children's Crusade so I can't be sure, but if she isn't, there's a hell of a lot more skeeve in this book than I'm currently understanding.
The two of them are teaming up to intervene in some shenanigans involving the Ringmaster and a bunch of high-end criminals who are planning to rob other criminals by distracting them with a fancy circus act. While Fraction drops in some amusing bits (like a Daily Bugle headline that reads "EVERYTHING AWFUL Oh God Somebody Do Something"), the first time he's actually made me laugh out loud comes from Barton's perception of Ringmaster's appearance.
Fraction pulled a bit of that schtick in #1 with the Russian landlord, but that last panel of FRENCH! just made me laugh and I couldn't stop. That bridged the gap I'd had with appreciating him as a writer – namely, I didn't think he was that funny when he was trying to be funny. Now, I've got a foot in the door of Fraction-comedy, and it really helps that in four panels, it's playing on Clint's ignorance while at the same time establishing him as quick-witted and shrewd.
David Aja's artworks is fantastic as well. He does amazing things with layouts, constructs a completely awesome moment illustrating how quickly Barton does his thing by going through the five-step process of shooting three arrows at once in the time it takes Kate to say 'that's cool.' No, she's not talking about what he's doing, but it helps underscore that yes, what he's doing is cool – even if it borders on being too self-aware, brushing up against that line of 'ain't I so cool' that has turned me off of Fraction in the past. Aja makes it work, and he keeps the pace fast and lays out action scenes with a beautifully slick elegance that belies the rough-and-tumble story he's telling. I also love the heavy purpleness of the book, implying the classic costume of his without actually putting him into it. Purple-ass t-shirts are good enough for me. Purple dresses are a bonus.
I do have a quibble or two – sure, these guys are top-notch uber-archers, la la la, but I'm so not buying the notion that you can fucking shoot people in the eyeballs with arrows and NOT kill them. Yet, that's what Kate Bishop does – blinds the Ringmaster for life by shooting fucking arrows into both of his eyes, but immediately stressing they're not dead. It feels like trying to have your badass and eat it, too.
Then there's also the cool but also weird relationship Fraction is trying to build between Clint and Kate. While he does make an effort to stress the age difference, having him dismiss her as being "like nine years old," he nonetheless shows Clint admiring her in a way that's right on the edge of salivating. Then, when he asks her to partner up with him full-time, he is pressured into admitting it's "because I don't want to sleep with you." Meaning that he keeps getting involved with his partners (Mockingbird, Black Widow, etc.) and that always screws it up, and therefore this would be safer. Another seeming attempt to dissuade us from thinking wrong of it, but then he repeats it to himself, scolding himself for saying that, while at the same time laying it over a contemplative image of Kate alone, suggesting that his outright stating that is going to put the idea in her head, and she'll be forming some kind of crush on him.
I could be wrong there, and I really hope I am, but that's the impression I'm left with. Clint Barton is finally an engaging character for me in Hawkeye #2, and I'd like to keep it that way, but if they're building sexual tension between a longtime Avenger and a barely-legal teenager, I'm-a gonna go ahead and get skeeved out at the thought. Until I know one way or the other, though, Hawkeye remains a pretty bitchin' cool series.