By: Matt Fraction (story), David Aja (art), Matt Hollingsworth (colors)
The Story: Clint learns that he doesn’t need to hear to listen.
The Review: Another year, another Eisner for the creative team behind Hawkeye. I confess I have no idea how these things are doled out, how anyone gets nominated or voted or ultimately chosen. But aside from the rather monotonous series of wins for Saga, the Eisners seem to be a legitimate honor for those who receive one. For Fraction-Aja, the award in question was Best Single Issue for #11, a.k.a., the dog issue.
I wasn’t terribly surprised by the win. Despite #11‘s flaws from an ongoing narrative point of view, it was definitely a groundbreaker, pushing Fraction-Aja to new creative heights in finding ways to convey information through a visual medium. For the same reasons, I have a feeling this issue will be a contender for the same award next year. The formula is simple: Fraction devises a novel plot development that’s also a major obstacle for comic book storytelling, and Aja ingeniously works around it. The result is something you can safely say you’ve never seen in a comic before.
Just to get this out of the way: the sign language panels, while an interesting and natural component to the issue, are not essential to your understanding and enjoyment. I can say this with a lot of confidence because I have no handle on sign language whatsoever, so I was completely in the dark wherever it appeared, yet I could still follow the story without a hitch. It was a little annoying to see whole swaths of panels that were of no use to me, of course, but I imagine they’ll be a pleasure for anyone who can interpret the gestures within.
Anyway, the sign language (or, more accurately, the absence of it) is really just another way for Fraction to emphasize the defining trait of Clint’s character: his abominable stubbornness and pride, probably the two qualities that, when combined, lead to the biggest human disasters. By now, we’re all very familiar with Clint’s utter refusal to admit weakness. The return of his childhood deafness as a result of Kazi’s attack in #15, and his refusal to talk about it at all, sign or spoken, is a good example. All it does is keep him unproductive, but he persists—yet another instance of him shooting himself in the foot.
Fortunately, by the end of the issue, he gets the idea that he can’t eke out a win against the Bro Gang alone. In one scene, he finally utters two of the magic words: to his fellow tenants, “We,” as in, “We will stop the Bro Gang,” as in together; to Jess, “I’m sorry and I need your help. I need everybody’s help.” Talk about a moment of evolution. All along, Clint has kept his fellow Avengers at a distance and tried to keep his tenants out of it, acting like he’s Captain America and can clear out the Bro Gang by himself. Accepting that he can’t doesn’t make him weak; it makes him heroic. He’s actually fighting back, not just half-assing a resistance.
But in my mind, the real hero of the issue is Barney, who displays shockingly great patience with his little brother’s douchebaggery despite his own post-attack disability. In #12, we learned that it was Barney who taught Clint strength through resilience, and he’s forced to teach that lesson again here. No longer able to avoid looking his troubles in the eye, Clint bursts out, “They took everything, Barney!”
“Not [yet],” says Barney calmly, Clint reading his lips. “…you can get it all back[.]”
And despite Clint’s rallying cry to the tenants, it’s Barney’s bedtime talk with Simone’s kids* about the nature of fighting that’s most moving. “You get hit and the one that can hurt and get hurt the most the longest wins. Even dumb ol’ Uncle Barney can do that. But to actually do good, y’see. To do good—ya gotta be good.” In this little speech, he sums up all his regret, shame, and hope at once, and he does it with such humble bluntness that you’re never in doubt of his sincerity.
Needless to say, this is another exemplar issue for Aja, and I’m sure there’s already another Eisner for next year with his name on it. But for all the gimmicky quality of the sign language panels, it’s Aja’s conventional stuff that makes the issue—that and his and Chris Eliopoulos’ lettering. I will never get over how expressive the faces on Hawkeye can look when Aja seems to use the bare minimum of linework. Barney’s face as he struggles to explain what one needs to do and be good is packed with emotion, even as he keeps his eye closed and downcast.
Conclusion: It finally feels like the plot is about to wrap up, and about time, too. Meanwhile, the issue is a creative breakthrough for Fraction and Aja, though it’d be frankly just as strong without the creativity.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * And am I correct in assuming that Barney’s hooked up with Simone? I don’t recall seeing her give Clint a kiss on the cheek when he comes over.