By: Matt Fraction (writer), David Aja (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors)

The Story: Clint and Kate infiltrate a magic show attended by the Marvel Universe’s crime lords.

The Review: I was all praise for the first issue, saying that it was quite possibly the best first issue of the year not called Saga and the start of something special.  Well, not only does this issue validate all of that, I think it may actually be better.  While it may not have that “first issue” excitement on its side, on a technical level, it’s just more proficient in both the writing and the art.  It’s one of those rare comics where you can tell that both writer and artist are absolute masters of the medium.

Let’s start with David Aja.  His work transcends the more traditionally pulpy feel from last month, blending that with a bit of a pop art feel.  More than that though, I can honestly say that Aja here is putting out some of the most creative artwork I’ve seen out of a current Marvel ongoing.  His panels and layouts are astoundingly creative from how Aja uses the page, to how he slows and quickens time, to the angles he chooses to portray in his panels.  While the dialogue scenes may be more grounded pulp type stuff, Aja’s action scenes are mind blowingly fun and his circus baddies look like something straight out of a Casanova comic.  There is no other comic that looks like this one and David Aja is really showing what the comics medium can do and that a slightly more indie, experimental edge CAN work very well in a Marvel comic, when done well.

As far as Fraction goes, it’s worth noting that he IS the guy writing the script behind Aja’s awesomeness.  As such, I think this is the closest we’ve ever gotten to the guy who wrote Casanova writing a Marvel comic.  Wacky, yet creepy and sadistic, villains abound in a comic that has a thoroughly madcap feel.  Yet, much as the spy thriller element somewhat grounded the insanity in Casanova, here Fraction’s pulpy detective comic edge to Hawkeye is what grounds the kookiness.  Sure, there are circus freaks in top hats using hypnosis tricks, but they’re doing it in a crowd of crime lords in a hotel.

Fraction also absolutely nails the dialogue this month and that’s mostly because his inclusion of Kate Bishop in this comic is everything you hoped it would be.  She is put to brilliant use here and the chemistry between her and Clint positively crackles.  Their back and forth banter flows brilliantly and feels like consistent, friendly, verbal fencing.  Yet behind all the bluster, Fraction also puts heart into the relationship as well, with Clint seeing a bit of himself in Kate.  I also loved how Kate’s youth and wit turn Clint Barton of all people look old, uptight, and out of place.  It’s not a position we see Clint in often, given that he’s generally the one doing that to Cap.

If there’s one complaint about the comic, it’s that Fraction is still finding his footing on how to make a bow and arrow a non-lethal weapon.  I’ll admit that it was a little awkward seeing Clint shooting a guy in the neck and Kate shooting a guy in the eyes and being told that those were non-lethal shots.  Either the Hawkeyes kill people, or they don’t – but I’m pretty sure shooting someone in the eyeball with an arrow will most likely result in death.

Conclusion: Nothing short of a revelation, this has emerged as one of the best books at Marvel.  If you like Waid’s Daredevil, buy this.  If you just like great comics with two talented creators making the most of the medium, you must read this.

Grade: A

– Alex Evans