“Like faith needs a doubt, like a freeway out”
I do not like the cover of the latest Hawkeye #1, which is out in stores this week. I discussed this with Mr. Travis when it appeared in Previews, and now that it’s out, I still don’t like it. Actually, that’s not exactly 100% true. Julian Totino Tedesco, who is a fantastic interior artist but might now be better know as a Marvel cover artist, gives us a wonderfully striking image of Kate Bishop, standing strong and proud, arrow nocked (I’ll let our very own Jim MacQuarrie deal with whether she’s holding the bow and arrow correctly!), rocking her Ponch-‘n’-Jon mirror shades, in front of a neon light sign letting us know that she’s in Venice, CA, and the circle, crucially, is attached to a handle, turning it into a magnifying glass, letting us know that Kate is an investigator in this comic. It is quite a terrifically composed cover, placing Kate just a bit off-center and balancing her with the top of her bow, the “VEN” in Venice, and the tattoo parlor sign creating a frame for her within the circle, which highlights Venice’s funkiness (although you can find tattoo parlors everywhere these days, so they’re not quite as counter-culture as they once were). The great color scheme, with Kate’s mauve and the blue California sky complementing the yellow background, making the entire drawing pop off the stands – if your retailer racks this with other Marvel books, it stands out among the dreary All-New X-Men coloring, the very busy two Spider–Man covers and a busy Mosaic cover, the keen but very stark Daredevil and Jessica Jones covers, a very fun (but very black) Doctor Strange/Punisher cover, a humorless IVX cover, and a cartoony Gwenpool cover (among others, of course). Hawkeye‘s bright colors and excellent composition leap up at you, and while you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can judge a cover by its cover, and this is a good one.
Except … “The adorable archer takes aim — ON DANGER!” What?!?!? First of all, to keep the assonance, why doesn’t she take aim AT danger? That just seems logical. Second, “adorable”? Kate has been written as many things, but “adorable” is not one of them. “Adorable” describes a kitten, or a puppy, or a preschool child dressed as an adult, or a Pusheen plush. I have never thought of Kate Bishop as “adorable,” and I doubt if many people have. Bad-ass, sure. Wiser than her years? Very probably. Not, however, adorable. She is not adorable in this very issue, for instance. I don’t know who put “adorable” on this cover, but it’s weird. This comic is written by Kelly Thompson, which is the reason I broke my “I will buy no Marvel Comics for 4 dollars because it’s a rip-off” vow, as Kelly is a very good writer and this is her first Marvel comic that she’s writing from the get-go. Kelly, in case you’ve forgotten, wrote for several years at Comics Should Be Good, and she was a powerful voice for better female representation in comics. “Adorable” seems like it would grate on her, but maybe I’m wrong. I don’t have a problem with calling someone “adorable” as long as A) the person is actually adorable; and B) we would call a man adorable. Clint Barton just got done with a highly regarded solo series. Not once did anyone call him adorable, and I would argue he was more adorable than Kate in that series. So it strikes me as an odd word choice.
But I’ve written two long paragraphs about the cover! What about the inside of the comic, the very guts of the story?!?!? Well, as I noted, it’s by Ms. Thompson, with art by Leonardo Romero, colors by (shocking!) Jordie Bellaire, letters by Joe Sabino, designs by Manny Mederos, assistant edits by Charles Beachem, and edits by Sana Amanat (again, shocking!). It will cost you $3.99, and it’s your standard 20-page Marvel book, although the “recap” page is funny and should probably count as a separate story page.
I bought this because Kelly is a friend (as much as someone I’ve never met in person is a friend, but in the Internet Age, that can happen!) and also because she’s shown a remarkable ability to write great comics during her brief but prolific career. She wrote the best graphic novel of the year last year, she’s writing one of the best ongoing series right now, and she has written some other very good stories that show up here and there. I have skipped her Marvel work so far mainly because she’s jumped in late and occasionally co-written, and I’m not a huge fan of Kelly Sue DeConnick, so I don’t have much interest in Captain Marvel (although I might get A-Force in trade). Kelly (I suppose I should start referring to her by her last name, because I’m a professional, man!) has a good handle on characters, it seems, and she’s very good at dialogue, which is a lot harder than it looks. So I decided to pick this up. And … about halfway through the book, it wasn’t really wowing me. Thompson gives us Kate tailing a suspect and ruminating on her life so far, as she has relocated to SoCal and set up an unlicensed private investigation business. She sees guys about to rob a bank, Point Break-style (with president masks, and yes, Kate does know all about the first Point Break, so it’s a deliberate homage), thwarts them, and loses her mark (but doesn’t mind too much, because she thwarted a bank robbery and knows she’ll find him again). Then she heads to her office/apartment, meets her neighbor, and, when the book starts to get better, meets a bunch of potential clients, most of whom think she’s going to be the “real” Hawkeye. I know why Thompson did all this – she wanted to establish Kate’s superhero bona fides, which she does with the thwarting of the bank robbery, and she wants to set up her situation in Venice. I get all that, so I’m not too bothered by it, but it’s still a bit tedious, especially because Thompson tries a bit too hard to make Kate … I don’t know, adorable? Cute? Funny? Outrageous? It didn’t feel organic, and that was the problem. In an interview she did with EW, Thompson noted that she didn’t want to try to make this like Matt Fraction’s and David Aja’s Hawkeye because that was such a good series, and that’s fine, but perhaps because Fraction was writing about Clint and Kate was, to some extent, a secondary character, her personality felt like it came out in smaller bursts. She’s more mature than Clint, for instance, even though he’s older, but that only comes out in this comic once she gets a case. She also didn’t seem a perky in that series as she does here – not that she can’t be, but it seemed excessive in the early pages. Again, I get that Thompson is trying to establish her as a hopeful character, and that’s fine, but in the first half of the book, it felt like she was trying to cram all the sunniness of Kate’s personality into her, and it doesn’t work as well as it could. But luckily, that’s only the first half of the book, and if that’s what it takes to get us into the story and get people invested in Kate, well, such is life.
Because the book comes together in the second half. Kate gets clients, and we get a terrific 18-panel grid (6 x 3, across two pages) of her dealing with clients, and it’s very funny (they want the “real” Hawkeye, as I noted, and many want him so they punch him in the face). Finally, Kate gets an actual client, a college student who’s being stalked on-line. Kate gets on the case, and we get to see Thompson write nifty dialogue AND have Kate do some neat detective work, so the plot picks up nicely. Kate figures some things out, but of course there’s more to the case than just an on-line stalker, so we end on a decent cliffhanger. The first nine pages of the book weren’t bad, just a bit bland, but the final 11 pages are crisp and clever and move us along nicely, with high stakes and some witty repartee. Thompson balances the creepiness of on-line stalking with Kate’s optimistic outlook on life well, but of course the final page promises that her outlook will be tested.
I think part of the better stuff in the second half comes from the fact that Kate has people to interact with. When she’s tailing Brad, the initial suspect, and when she’s thwarting the bank robbers, she’s narrating the action, and it’s almost as if Thompson felt that she had to add words. Now, we know that comics don’t always need words, and it’s not like the narration overwhelms the page, but Romero (I’ll get to him!) does a decent job showing us what’s happening. When Kate gets her case, she’s able to talk to other people, and the “narration” (in this case, dialogue) feels more naturalistic. As I noted, writing dialogue is harder than it looks, but so is writing internal narration, and in this book, Thompson is better at the former than the latter.
Romero, whose work I’ve never seen before, does a nice job with the art. He doesn’t have a wild style – he’s somewhat meat-and-potatoes, kind of low-rent Lee Weeks (and I hope that doesn’t come across as an insult, because I love Lee Weeks) – but he gets the job done and he comes up with a few clever tricks. He does a good job showing panels with thick black borders to let us know that this is Kate seeing the scene through her camera, and the way he (and Thompson, who I assume had something to do with it) shows Kate assessing a scene – he uses concentric circles of mauve to focus on several different things, which of course draws our eyes to each item – is very clever. The two-page layout of Kate thwarting the robbery is nicely done, too – it gives us all the relevant details, but because the panels are small, Romero is able to pack a lot of action into the two pages without wasting time on what is, essentially, a way for Kate to show off that she knows what she’s doing (we assume she knows what she’s doing, because she’s been around for a while, after all, so two pages taking down hapless Swayze wannabes is about right). The 18-panel grid where Kate deals with weird clients is great, too, as Romero slowly breaks down Kate’s optimism until she’s ranting about Clint taking his shirt off (a very funny panel by Thompson) and the indifference of the client to her woes, as Romero shows that she’s perfectly happy to wait for Clint so he can take his shirt off. Romero uses the old noir cliché of Venetian blinds striping characters to good effect, as Kate slowly descends into a cage she can’t break out of (until Mikka walks through the door), and Bellaire, doing her excellent thing as usual, goes from standard colors (Kate’s in a green sweatshirt, which stands out nicely) to dark, angry reds as the sun sets (Kate’s office window faces the Pacific), which contrasts well with the cheery green of the sweatshirt from the top of the page. It’s clear that Kate isn’t going to be in costume as much as your standard superhero, and Romero does a nice job with the clothing in this book, especially when the people move in them (Kate’s shirt slipping a bit off her shoulder after she tackles the on-line stalker dude is a nice touch). Romero populates the book with interesting characters that you might expect to find in Venice – Kate’s neighbor, for instance, is fascinating in her brief appearance – and on college campuses, so the book is very grounded, which is nice given the vibe that Thompson and Romero are going for.
Overall, this is a good start, despite the bumpiness in the beginning. It’s clear that Thompson knows what she’s doing, and while the first issue sets everything up well, I expect the subsequent issues to be better simply because she doesn’t need to bring everyone up to speed in such an abrupt manner. She has a good situation for Kate, and the mystery is intriguing so far. Romero and Bellaire do good work, making this one of the nifty Marvel Universe books that is nevertheless set in a “realer” world than the one even Daredevil or Spider-Man inhabits. I love comics like this – technically superhero comics but ones that are set in as realistic a world as possible – so I’m looking forward to reading more of it. I just hope that when it becomes a huge hit Kelly will still want to talk to me when I finally have a chance to meet her in Seattle in March. By then, she’ll be a superstar!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆