After the first volume was pretty much as good as its hype, I was very much looking forward to getting the same enjoyment out of this one. Unfortunately that didn’t quite happen here. While “Hawkeye” remains a solid example of how good a title featuring a B-list hero as its lead has to be in order to survive in this market, its increased focus on the title character’s train wreck of a social life diminishes the overall fun of the experience.
Of course, with a talented collaborator like David Aja on board for most of these issues, Matt Fraction’s take on the character can’t go too far off the rails. The latter’s talent for cramming as many panels as he can onto a page in as stylish a manner as possible continues to be used for great effect here. “Six Days in the Life Of” and “Pizza is My Business” are particular standouts, with the latter likely to garner the artist another Eisner next year for the way he shows how Pizza Dog interprets the world around him. Aja’s skill with making the look of the book feel effortlessly stylish that there’s always a concern that the issues not illustrated by him aren’t going to hold up. However, as Javier Pulido showed with his two issues from volume one, you just need to have an equally distinct style of your own.
Francesco Francavilla demonstrates that perfectly in his moody issue, which he colored himself. Where Aja employs a more minimalist style, Francavilla goes in for lush pulpy detail in the origin story for a new villain who shows up in this volume. The smooth party scenes between the character and Kate Bishop are contrasted against the lurid, violent Russian-set episodes which detail his violent upbringing and path to becoming a hired killer. There’s some great tension to the present day scenes given the dramatic irony that arises from what we know of the character versus what Kate does. It keeps you wondering what’s going to happen until the final page, when things loop around to his original introduction. I can’t say that this guy is arch-nemesis material, but his introduction as a villain is quite effective.
Steve Lieber and Jesse Hamm illustrate a special issue centered around Hurricane Katrina’s assault on the West Coast as Hawkeye helps out some friends in Queens and Kate attends a pre-wedding party in Jersy. Lieber’s style is surprisingly like Aja’s and it’s easy to mistake the opening scenes for the regular artist. Though he’s not quite in the same league, Lieber’s given some strong material to work with as Hawkeye has to work together to save a father and son who haven’t been on speaking terms in years. The writing is an efficient piece of work by Fraction and Lieber keeps it from being overly sentimental on the page. Hamm, on the other hand, has a much looser and more distinct style that verges on the cartoonish at times, particularly when Clint and Kate are arguing about the best guitarist in rock. There’s still an exuberance to the art here that ultimately makes it work for me.
Unfortunately the ongoing emphasis for all of these stories is on how Clint “Hawkeye” Barton just can’t keep from screwing up his life in one way or the other. While his reckless nature has always been part of his appeal, here he comes off as more self-destructive than anything else. There’s his ongoing conflicts with the Russian Tracksuit Mafia, his involvements with Penny -- the Russian girl who sold him the car of his dreams in the previous volume -- which lead to him getting arrested, and also have dire consequences for his relationship with Jessica Drew. You could even argue that he failed to protect a close friend here and the volume ends on a particularly low note in his relationship with Kate.
A large part of the first volume’s charm was that while Clint’s knack for getting in trouble wasn’t downplayed, it led to great action sequences that delivered the kind of superhero fun that I wish we would see more often in Marvel comics. In “Little Hits,” however, it more often than not leads to the dissolution of his personal and professional relationships as well as the threat of personal harm to those closest to him. That last part is one of the book’s weakest moments as the Tracksuit Mafia threatens to kill everyone in his apartment building if he doesn’t get the hell out of town. Clint doesn’t and... nothing happens. Also, as good as the Pizza Dog solo story was, Fraction’s decision to showcase it from how the animal sees the world winds up hamstringing some of the more complex plot points that the issue covers.
That being said, Fraction’s writing is still in good form for most of the volume with his trademark wit keeping things from getting too depressing. He also does some really neat tricks with the flow of storytelling in the issues here. Stories loop back around themselves to reveal additional details that weren’t evident at their start, and everything is structured well enough to reward close attention to them.
All in all, this second volume of “Hawkeye” wasn’t a bad read and I’m still on board for seeing where Fraction, Aja and Co. take the character from here on out. If nothing else, I’m slightly grateful for the issues this volume had because the quality of the first volume made the wait for this one feel much longer than it actually was. Now, I don’t think I’ll have that problem.