The premise behind this series has been the fact that Hawkeye is, at his core, a regular guy and so the book itself has been very loose and low-key in its approach to the Avenger. Issue nine suggests a sort of shift in this approach however, marrying the inventive stylistic structure and smart comedic tone of the series thus far with a stronger, more serialised narrative that even starts to get a little dark and sinister. The story of this issue is an entirely supplementary one, it is a sort of sequel to the last issue which got inside the head of Cherry ( or Darlene Penelope Wright if you want to be really long winded about it) and also a sort of prelude to the stories that are soon to come. It does this by stepping back and showing us the effect that events in the series’ sort of arc have had on the supporting characters in Clint’s life; namely the women that love him with both their hearts and on occasion bodies.
Though the TV reference in the title is nice, the issue is called ‘Girls‘, it does irk me a little given the content of the comic. Both Fraction and Aja go to great lengths to depict most of the female characters as physically and emotionally mature people; they look real, realistically aged and act like adults not teens in overdeveloped bodies like most super heroines. They have sex, regret it, develop emotions about It and regret those even more. The only girl in the book, the only innocent and potentially immature female character, is Kate and she stands to learn a lesson about that soon enough. Surely the working title for the issue was Broads and that would have been much better if you ask me.
But the title is only one word in a book with many of them, most of which are perfectly written and some of which are printed here for the very first time. My list of favourite new Fractionisms: a van, ‘Avengered’ as a verb and ‘brobrobrobro’ as whatever the hell that is. The man is a veritable ourobroros when it comes to wordsmithing, swallowing his tale in these strange circular loops that always end up forging new ground. On a larger scale the structure that he uses in the script, jumping focus from girl to girl, is smart but not as satisfying here as it has been in the history of the series because there isn’t much of a story beneath the trickery. The comedy and character is strong enough though that you don’t much mind.
While the story is slight this single issue does a very decent job of establishing the different characters and dynamic roles of these women in Clint Barton’s life; partly through the clever captions that are used to introduce them ( Clint makes the mistake of referring to Jessica Drew as ‘the friend-girl’ to us, showing off his opinion of the relationship) and partly through the words that they speak, Fraction allowing them to speak more than he does his central character. Red Widow, Spider Woman, Kate and Clint’s once wife Bobby each hold their own as characters that could quite easily hold their own series if Fraction wanted to write one and, of course, if Aja wanted to draw it.
I’ve already said a lot about Aja’s amazing art on this series and his stunning style but with this issue he still shows off a few new stylistic tricks: embedding an iPhone dial display in the background of a panel, perfectly depicting Clint’s illegible handwriting as the usual ‘too far away scribble ‘in a smart, semi-meta move and even recreating the infamous Lolita poster in his style so it suits the world of the series ( a fitting poster to include in the house of Kate, who is apparently like a Kate to Clint; the man himself unsure of what she means to him because of her age). He also does a damn good job of showing off the action scenes, evoking the characters expressions, etc. etc. but you already knew that would be the case.
So, for the first time since the series began Hawkeye has delivered an issue that I wouldn’t be willing to hand to someone as their entry point to this series, as their first ever comic but at the same time its depth of character, continuing story and cliffhanger means that the comic will probably be better for those of us who are invested in reading it for the long run. It’s as conflicting as the appearance of a killer clown in Clint’s neighbourhood and the chaos that he strews, but what’s easily decided is whether or not you should buy this book. The answer is like 100%, bro.