Requested this collection of the first five issues of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye comic book (plus a story from Young Avengers for salt) via public interlibrary loan — a comic-book first for me. Motivation came from my partner’s newly kindled love for all things Marvel via the MCU, and my recollection of praise for this volume when it first appeared in 2013, as well as my loving the stylish cover art.

Throughout the 1980s and early 90s I adored Marvel superhero comics. At the height of my personal fandom I bought and read every new Spider-Man issue (with three or four Spidey comics cranking out in parallel every month), and often took the stories’ crossover cues to follow various guest-stars back to their own series for a while. Like, you know, Doctor Strange would show up, and Spidey would say “Well hey there, Doc! Hear you’ve been busy in the Bronx!” and this would have an asterisk leading to an in-panel editorial aside advising the reader to see Tales of the Unnerving issue #512 for the details.

I miss all that, when I visit modern superhero comics. These cross-references have all moved off the pages and into meta-commentary on the internet, perhaps? I also notice the relative rarity of thought bubbles; time was that characters’ minds would frequently race with wholly internal dialog at every opportunity, providing another platform for the writer to squeeze in context-setting summaries of past issues’ events. If I recall correctly (as I’ve already returned the book to the library), the stories in My Life as a Weapon might contain no thought balloons at all, except perhaps for a single scene where a character has reason to talk to herself, briefly.

The lack of these in-book cues gives a subtly different feel from my own distant-past experiences as an every-day comics reader, one that it took me some time to put a finger on. The books today seem to feel more comfortable and confident that of course you already know who this guy is, and why he cares about this other thing. What, you don’t know how to use Google? And you have seen the movies, right? (And I do wonder if current, superhero-philic cinematic conventions, which tend not to read characters’ unspoken thoughts out loud, have influenced contemporary comics storytelling.) But the old style reinforced, within the work itself, how the book in your hands did not represent an isolated fantasy, but a single stitch in a decades-wide fabric of ongoing stories. Without all these cues something felt missing — even though we have Tumblr now.

And, of course, this phenomenon also brought the more direct effect of leaving so much background unexplained for a casual reader like me! For one thing, Clint — the elder Hawkeye — is apparently so rich (despite his decidedly quite modest living quarters) that this mega-wealth comes up as an important plot point in two separate chapters. He casually hands over thick envelopes of cash to buy an apartment building and a sportscar, respectively, rather in the fashion of a Grand Theft Auto player-character. But my skimming of his Wikipedia entry doesn’t suggest that he comes from a wealthy background, or that he otherwise enjoys fat bank as one of his defining character traits. Later, when we flash back to his adoption of Kate as his protege, we learn that she’s super-rich as well. Does she let him skim her savings after they team up, or do modern audiences, primed by examples set by Messrs Wayne and Stark, just assume that all super-heroes are naturally rich now — or even taxpayer-financed, by way of S.H.I.E.L.D. et al? I have no idea.

These confusions aside, I found much to love here. I really admired David Aja’s artwork in the first three collected issues, with thick, sparse lines resembling a charcoal pencil’s output, and yet pulling wonderfully soft, human expressons from this technique. I also enjoyed Fraction’s fresh take on sidekicking that Kate presents — where she really acts as more of a junior partner in a shared enterprise, to the point where she and Clint call each other “Hawkeye”. (And: dare I dream, another portrayal in popular American fiction of two sexually compatible adults who work together in friendship without even the desire for romance? No complaints from me.)

Within the Aja-drawn stories, I delighted to see an appearance by the Ringmaster, one of my favorite third-rate Marvel badguys. Fraction chose to portray him as not just a gimmicky larcenist with a hypno-hat, but as a murderous thug as well, and then has Kate arrow him right in the face. (Twice.) But, again, his Wikipedia article doesn’t say he’s dead or even blinded now, so I assume either he got better, or perhaps the “Marvel NOW!”-labeled books lie among the not-quite-canon. (Man, seriously though, don’t mess up the Ringmaster. I remember how good I felt when I beat him without any hints in the Scott Adams Spider-Man text adventure game.)

These three issues are followed by a somewhat less compelling two-part story with comparatively disappointing art by another hand, and then the issue of Young Avengers that tells how Clint recruited Kate. This latter swoops deep into “what in the world is going on” territory, where Clint is not Hawkeye but the masked “Ronin”, and everyone thinks Captain America is dead, and the Avengers are in hiding, and so on — all without a single expository word outside of character dialog, as modern style favors. I have read enough comics in my life to not worry about any of these details, knowing quite well that all the defining facets of any comics universe (e.g. Captain America’s definition as a not-dead person) enjoy immortal levels of elasticity.

A fast and mostly pleasant read, and the next collection, Little Hits, shall come to me via the Jesse Smith Memorial Library’s Young Adult section, apparently.

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