“Well, I don’t hang out with him. He hangs out with ME!”

Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction & David Aja et al. (Marvel Comics, 2013)
Hawkeye: Little Hits by Matt Fraction & David Aja et al. (Marvel Comics, 2013)
Young Avengers: Style > Substance by Kieron Gillian & Jamie McKelvie et al. (Marvel Comics, 2013)

I never thought that Kate Bishop would be a great character. All I remember about her from my increasingly foggy memory of the original Young Avengers series was her strange code-name issues (Hawkeye? Mockingbird? Hawkingbird?) and that her origin employs the always classy rape-as-character-building trope.[1] Bishop’s recent appearances, however, have proved me wrong.

Seldom do artifacts of popular culture live up to their recommendations but Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye does.  The pitch is straightforward – these are the monthly adventures of Clinton Barton (the classic Hawkeye) and Bishop when they aren’t off saving the world as (Young) Avengers. This gives the book just the right tone; largely done-in-one action romps with enough character development to keep the reader turning the page. Most of the stories take place in-or-around Barton’s Bed-Stuy apartment.[2] This move has the added benefit of detethering the book (largely) from current Marvel continuity.[3]

Fraction makes more than a few creative decisions that really make Hawkeye sing. By casting Kate as the skilled-optimist superhero partner and foil to Clint’s dour-but-skilled Avenger instead of simply as Barton’s sidekick gives the book a fresh energy.[4] You have a non-romantic man-female pair of superheroes operating as equals – something (not particularly) oddly rare in the superhero genre. While nominally this is Barton’s book with each passing issue it is clear that Fraction intends for Hawkeye to equally be Bishop’s book as well. Credit here must go, as well, to David Aja’s smart designs. He’s given all of the characters (but especially Kate[5]) very streamlined and modern designs, but not so modern that they’ll be a pain to look at in three years.

I cannot recommend Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye enough. That book, however, isn’t the only comic book featuring Kate Bishop on a regular basis.

There’s Young Avengers.

Gillian and McKelvie’s Young Avengers is the book that got me into reading superhero comics again. Back in another life I loved Phonogram with all of my engorged fanboy heart. When I read somewhere on the Internets that they were teaming up for run on the kid Avengers book, I knew (knew) that I must read it.[6]

On the very first page Kate wakes up after a night with a half-forgotten Grant Morrison character (from the golden age of NuMarvel). From that moment on I have been in love with the book.

Young Avengers has a lot going for it – the most diverse cast in modern comics, a non-stop energy that drives you to constantly keep turning the page, and a willingness to play with these characters’ rich histories without becoming trapped by them. Considering that many of the interesting YA characters were dead or unavailable at the time the series began, this is a very great achievement. I think what really makes the book work is that the collaboration between McKelvie and Gillian is so seamless that it feels like the product of a writer-artist. Gilliam knows how to write to McKelvie’s considerable strengths and McKelvie knows how to draw the most emotion out of Gillian’s scripts. The nigh-perfect collaboration gives Gillian and McKelvie the creative space necessary for their greatest accomplishment: actually capturing the voice of late teenagers.

They are almost too good at this. Take, for example, the Instagram sequence from issue #7.[7] Gillian and McKelvie succeed wonderfully at capturing what these sorts of internet exchanges are like and applying that to young superheroes. Yet… yet they succeed almost too well where the entire sequence becomes too cute for its own good. At these moments where  McKelvie and Gillian come closest to fully capturing the voice of late-teenagers it also the moment were their narrative and characterization feel the most constructed, the least natural. All fiction like this walks a fine line where it is easy to slip from cleverly capturing teenage voices to capturing what clever adults think are teenage voices.

Usually McKelvie and Gilliam avoid this narrative trap, but it always looms in the background – like a steadily approaching curfew.

Of course, we also get sequences like this:

And this:

…and that makes everything ok.  Young Avengers, for all of the slight tearing at the narrative fringes, is a fantastic book – easily one of the finest superhero comics of the twenty-first century.

I am, in the end, back. For the first time since c. 2009 I have a pull-box at a comic book store. I (we?), in some ways, can blame the character of Kate Bishop for reigniting this old passion.

Expect steady comic reviews to appear on this space, beginning (well) now.

[1] She also had a relatively terrible costume design.

[2] Fraction gets bonus points for his (largely) correct Brooklyn geographical references and Aja for his wonderful visual recreations for Bed-Stuy.

[3] Hawkeye did inform me that the main Marvel continuity has redesigned Nick Fury to match his movie-Samuel L. Jackson appearance.

[4]As Graeme McMillan and Jeff Lester note, Fraction’s Hawkeye is not anything like “classic” Hawkeye. Of course, Bendis did blow-up classic Hawkeye. So what can you do?

[5] See note 1.

[6] I think I read about the book in something Graeme McMillan wrote. Maybe for Kotaku?

[7] Which is not actually collected in the above trade. Oops.


2 Comments on ““Well, I don’t hang out with him. He hangs out with ME!””

  1. Joe Grimwalde says:

    I have to say, I really hated her origin, I hate that sort of origin in general, but hers was especially bad in it’s execution. It’s like they were trying to do everything wrong. The fact that it’s full-on rape when it could’ve easily been a mugging, the fact that such a horrible, traumatic event never seems to affect her in the slightest after she becomes a hero, the fact that it happened on her way home from volunteering at a freakin’ soup kitchen… Ugh. It’s like they sat down and said to themselves: “How can we make this even MORE tasteless?”

  2. Joe Grimwalde says:

    She’s awesome otherwise, but that origin… Well, let’s just say it’s one of many incredibly tasteless uses of rape that have no purpose and could stand to be retconned.

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