By: Matt Fraction (story), Annie Wu (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors)

The Story: Will Kate get to the bottom of her latest case?  God only knows…

The Review: Because I am nothing if not obsessive-compulsive when it comes to pretty much anything, I had something of a panic attack when I picked up this issue and saw #16 on the cover.  Fortunately, one frantic Bing search* later revealed that it was Marvel that had switched things around for reasons I didn’t bother to investigate.**  Anyway, the last Kate-centric issue of Hawkeye was so good, it’s not as if you’d mind seeing her again this soon.

This time around, Kate tackles the delightfully messy celebrity culture of her new hometown.  For Kate, the complicated melodramas of Will Bryson (a trademark-skirting stand-in for Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys) and his brother Grey are an anathema for her usual stridence.  Indeed, she sinks herself into the Brysons’ lives believing there’s “a case” behind the conflict, only to discover it was simply the byproduct of “being nuts and stoned all the time and richer than God[.]”  Such is the way of a P.I., to discover the human frailty behind the crime.

The problem is Fraction wants to present the story as a cautionary tale about drugs, celebrity, family and artistry, but instead it only touches upon all those things and culminates in Kate complaining about the general awfulness of L.A.  Will’s special concert is supposed to redeem all that, but Fraction tags it on as a snappy, sentimental resolution that doesn’t naturally arise from the plot.  Last we see Will, he’s still morose over the loss of his masterwork; so what exactly motivates him to venture back into the world which he seems so desperate to escape?

Perhaps Fraction thinks he’s doing us a favor by sparing us the After School Special moment which encourages Will to share his “Wish” with the rest of the world.  But without seeing the exact transition from point A to B, we lose an important chunk of the story’s meaning.  Will’s recovery and newfound confidence seems instantaneous and unsold, rendering his brother’s bitter death tragically needless.

This issue also reveals weak spots in Fraction’s long-term plans for Kate in California, mainly in the character work.  With the self-sufficient Clint, Fraction can afford to keep the supporting players on the fringes, entering Clint’s world only to enhance his solo story.  But Kate’s no longer in the same position of independence.  If she’s going to rely on all these guys to get by, they deserve to be fleshed out, not simply tools to propel her story forward.  That means giving Detective Caudle more to do than to just be grouchy.  At the very least, Fraction needs to give Kate’s mysterious P.I. mentor, as well as the nicer half of her gay neighbors, names.

At least there’s always Fraction’s breezy narrative and hipster-ish sense of humor to carry the issue.  The Brysons’ story is well-told, even if it doesn’t quite lead to the payoff you hoped for, and no one can pull off the somewhat obscure pop-reference-jokes the way Fraction does.  In retelling her side of the story of how she asked a librarian to illegally download some music for her, Kate complains, “I asked a very simple question of a woman who in theory is supposed to facilitate availability of information and suddenly everybody’s Metallica’s drummer.”

Wu has the remarkable ability to make sudden shifts between sharp, angular linework to lines that freely swoop and swirl across the page.  It’s the contrast of these two styles which marks the division between Kate’s intense investment in the present and Will Bryson’s seduction with the past, which in turn shows Wu’s comfort level with both the action-oriented and drama-driven sequences of the issue.  Hollingsworth’s colors are no less striking for their flatness, allowing Wu’s fine lines to assert themselves and emphasize each and every hue.

Conclusion: The story peters out towards the end and does little to bring Kate’s new life to, well, life, but Fraction and Wu’s execution is strong enough to deliver an entertaining read anyway.

Grade: B

-Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Yes, I do use Bing as my primary search engine.  Don’t knock it; ninety percent of the time, I get what I need, plus it gives you points which you can exchange into Amazon gift cards.  Sadly, I am not being paid for this endorsement of both Bing and Amazon.  Clearly, I’m in the wrong gig.

** So long as the problem didn’t have anything to do with me, Marvel could number the issue #117 for all I cared.  It’s that self-interested bottom line mentality that makes me so popular during Secret Santa parties.

– Does anybody else find it weird that Kate can get beat up by two thugs in nurse’s outfits when she’s survived time-traveling criminals, alien invasions, and close encounters with extradimensional beings?