Kate Bishop flies solo in this first annual for the award-winning Hawkeye series, proving that femininity and strong female characters are not mutually exclusive in the world of comics.
If this year’s multiple victories at the Eisner Awards for Matt Fraction and David Aja‘s Hawkeye didn’t initiate a ticker tape parade, it’s probably because it is the most logical thing in the world. For the last year, the team has consistently challenged the notion of what a mainstream superhero comic should be, and rather than rejecting this strange creature that sits in the middle of the Marvel Universe, critics and punters alike have embraced the down-on-his-luck Avenger as his life falls apart on his days off. A large part of the book’s appeal is Fraction’s ability to work interpersonal relationships into the drama without being the “soap opera” that contemporary comics are often guilty off. With the Hawkeye Annual #1, Fraction gets a chance to expand on a character that has been essential to Clint Barton’s own (arrested) development.
Spinning out of the events of the magnificent “Pizza Dog” issue, Kate leaves Clint to his misery, taking her belongings and the canine out west to California, intending to start her life anew. Of course, the Hawkeye name seems to be a little cursed, with Kate’s credit card declined, her belongings trashed and a rather public shaming at a hotel following. Her strained relationship with her parents offering no joy, she swallows her pride and accepts help from a mysterious and beautiful stranger calling herself Whitney Frost. Naturally, things aren’t as they seem and Kate is soon up to her plastered nose in trouble.
Fraction effortlessly applies his understated approach to Kate, but don’t mistake this for a cover version with a female vocalist. As Fraction reminds us in the introduction, which actually sits at the back of the book, this is a book about both characters and what they do when they aren’t being superheroes. “Lucky,” Kate gasps to her animal companion. “We’re a tautology”. That said, this is probably a more purely “action packed” issue than most in the ongoing, putting Kate Bishop up against a familiar foe in the form of cover girl Madame Masque. Yet it is also an issue about self-affirmation, allowing Kate Bishop to be a girly goofball and a kick-ass hero in the same page. Her frailties, much like Clint Barton’s, are core to her personality, but whether she is in or out of the costume, it is her humanity that wins out.
Javier Pulido not only gives Aja a much-needed break, by way of a terrific few issues with Francesco Francavilla, but returns to a story arc he helped create all the way back in issues #4 and #5 of the ongoing series. All artists can also be linked by a consistently high standard across the board, and in this case, colourist supreme Matt Hollingsworth as well, who is skilled at knowing when not to use any colour at all. Pulido continues to push the boundaries, frequently silhouetting characters throughout entire conversations, or even action sequences. Keeping some of the frame uncluttered, Pulido strikes upon a genius motif of using tiny caricatures of Kate inside thought bubbles to convey her inner anguish or simply non sequitur thoughts that ping about in her head. It’s a seamless reading experience, demonstrating an artistic style that tells a story in a way that only comics can.
“If you just give me one shot to show you how good I can be,” declares Kate in two separate instances in the issue, “how hard I work, how much I believe in doing the right thing — I won’t let you down. I promise”. The repeated mantra could have almost been Fraction’s pitch to Marvel, who deserve a tip of the hat for giving one of their cinematic Avengers a chance to let it all hang out in a prominent comic. Hawkeye Annual #1 does exactly what this kind of special should, supporting the main arc while giving an important character time to grow . We just hope it isn’t too long before we see Kate and Clint back in each other’s lives.
If you are an iTunes user, subscribe to our weekly podcast free here and please leave us feedback.