Art by Chris Eliopoulos and David Aja
Writing by Matt Fraction
Published by Marvel
I’m at a loss for how to talk about Hawkeye anymore. Starting as Miller/Mazzucchelli-lite, with Year One‘s upstart Batman and Born Again‘s Daredevil under siege replaced with an idiot-savant interpretation of Hawkeye, there was promise. David Aja’s minimalist backgrounds and frumpy character designs sketched out a vision for a Marvel series which, for the first time in years, showed interest in the ordinary while still allowing the Poppy elements of superhero fiction (costumes, insignias, dynamic fight scenes) to bleed into the edges. This even breathed some humanity into Matt Fraction’s usual dopey, Mildly Quirky dialogue: Clint Barton is occasionally badass, but marred by impulsiveness and social ineptitude (particularly the teased maybe-romance he has with Kate, a.k.a. Hawkeye 2), making Fraction’s dialogue a nervous tic rather than “postmodern” and “cool”. With a cast of tenants in an apartment block Barton has bought/taken under his protection (from a gang of tracksuit thugs), there was even some wiggle room to explore issues of class (Clint an awkward, nouveau riche slob; Kate a spoiled heiress with competence; the tenants resourceful working poor). A clever arrangement.
Only Fraction’s too clever. To the point he charted the series into a string of filler issues, mainly gimmicky POV switches like #11‘s World According to Pizza Dog, and a continually delayed showdown against a teardrop-tattooed assassin in favor of bad sitcom hijinks. Tedious, rudderless, self-congratulatory, Hawkeye the series sells ‘Net memes rather than aesthetic and themes. If there was a nadir, a “Christmas Special” guest-drawn by Chris Eliopoulos–using bobble-heads and crescent mouths to blandly evoke Charles Schulz–about mutliculturalist holiday heroes and canines dressed as the Avengers (for reasons?), which trades any notion of festivity (religious or otherwise communal) for a pithy moral about “accepting help,” well, that would be it.
Art by Ian Churchill
Writing by Jonathan Ross
Published by Image
As part of the 90s Image house artists, Ian Churchill’s potential has been stifled. The overdone linework, crosshatching, and distorted anatomy he absorbed from Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, and Marc Silvestri devoted to ill-fitting superhero titles (Uncanny X-Men, The Ravagers) where the bulging muscle-men and well-endowed (yet twig-armed) super-babes were ugly representations of reactionary politics (currently, this school of comic art is more prominent in DC’s New 52, Marvel nipping occasionally at the heels). Revenge‘s first issue, ironically, frees Churchill by going all in on depravity and debauchery. Churchill revels in the wrinkled face of aging action star Griffin Franks–leathery like the horrors of Richard Corben’s underground comix–as he has sex with his (much younger) fourth wife Candy. She’s just convinced Griffin to get an experimental facelift in Mexico to save his career, though this is a con; a grotesque plot to rob him of his money (revenge for inadvertently destroying her family decades prior). Griffin spends the issue on the surgical table, chemically left awake but motionless as Candy mocks him. The pain induces hallucinatory tableaux where past, present, and fantasy intersect–Griffin’s action hero role “the Revenger” appearing amidst flashbacks of his womanizing, talk show interviews, and absentee-fathering (Jonathan Ross’ timeline is barely coherent), even a redemptive act of reconnecting with a daughter is sullied. Under Churchill’s kaleidoscopic view of pain and perversion, Revenge inflicts its violence upon the reader, blood dripping from panel to panel, page to page, until it’s clear anything noble or good or decent its protagonist had or could have done has been smothered by the lives he’s stepped on for his own gratification. Griffin’s own proclamation of revenge, manifesting his screen persona like a slasher film villain, doesn’t offer the possibility of catharsis or justice: only more grotesque, unglamorous bloodletting. Churchill’s newfound specialty.