(Marvel Comics, 2014)
Written by Matt Fraction
Artwork by David Aja
Color Artwork by Matt Hollingsworth
The excessive wait between issues is finally over but can Matt Fraction and David Aja pull us back into their world of kitschy noir crime tropes and track-suited Mafiosi? Of course they can! The creative team that originally brought us this solo Avenger series like no other and who is just coming off winning an Eisner for the wildly inventive and imaginative Hawkeye #11, which features a narrative seen completely through the eyes of Clint’s faithful Pizza Dog, has returned with a vengeance. Fraction and Aja have once again taken the sequential art form of storytelling to an uncharted height. Silent or wordless issues are not a new thing; they have been done well to extremely effective results by several creative teams since the idea’s introduction, which for me was Larry Hama’s now classic G.I. Joe story “Silent Interlude”, 30 years ago this seemed like such an alien concept to me that this story really pushed the envelope of what could be done with sequential art in my young comic book reading mind. Now, however like anything else that was once cutting edge, the concept has been somewhat over-exposed. Enter Fraction and Aja; these two innovative storytellers have taken the idea and by making inspired modifications returned it to the cutting edge of the medium.
This issue centers on Clint’s debilitating injury at the hands of his fashion challenged foes which has left him deaf. The obstacles this presents to writing a comic book could have proven problematic for even the most seasoned creative teams however that is not the case here, quite to the contrary in fact Fraction and Aja seemed to thrive when experimentation gives way to genius. A large majority of the narrative is told via American Sign Language; Aja very boldly renders the various signs in clear graphic fashion, weaving them in the panels of expressive facial representations. Although the amount of dialogue is extremely meager Fraction does a thorough job of telling an engrossing story of brotherly turbulence oscillating between violence and love concerning Clint and Barney. Clint’s deafness opens certain creative avenues to Fraction and Aja by necessity that allow them to push the limits of their storytelling partnership; Fraction relies heavily on Aja’s graphic style to get the job done, however it is Aja’s ability to precisely render a seemingly limitless array of facial expressions and emotions that really drives the point home in a great many of the silent scenes in this issue. His use of blank word balloons to express Clint’s inability to hear is genius, as is the clever use of what little dialogue there is to help analyze and discern the important story beats which, by the way still come across loud and clear.
This is one of the more poignant issues we have seen in some time; the lack of actual dialogue in no way diminishes the amount of heart in this narrative. The Barton Brothers’ story is tragic, humorous and most of all deeply human. The creative team wrings every drop of emotion from this story through varied creative storytelling approaches, equal parts cinematic and graphic. Matt Hollingsworth’s palette once again perfectly accentuates the tonal quality of the narrative, adding a depth of mood and emotion that has come to be a defining characteristic of this groundbreaking series. This issue perhaps even more so than others is the result of a gifted creative team working in concert to brilliant result.
Hawkeye remains one the most innovative and inventive books on Marvel’s roster. Matt Fraction and David Aja continue to find ways of challenging the norms and changing our perspective just enough to make us aware of the potential for brilliance that still exists in the world of sequential art. This issue may have been light on dialogue and endlessly delayed but in the final analysis it is entertaining, engaging and without a doubt, worth the wait, however I hope we don’t have to wait nearly as long for issue #20. (4.5/5)
Shawn is an aspiring writer/ artist who has been reading, collecting and living comic books for over 30 years. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their son, lots of cats, dogs and other various finned and furry friends.