Wednesday, August 1, 2012

One Bullseye In the Bunch

And despite David Aja's engaging cover, it isn't Hawkeye. This new series, written by Matt Fraction (The Defenders) and drawn by Aja (The Immortal Iron Fist), hopes to capitalize on the brilliant Avengers film. In fact, it reads like a screenplay written for actor Jeremy Renner: "You cowboy around with the Avengers some. Guys got, what, armor. Magic. Super-powers." Clint Barton goes on to list "shrink-dust" and "grow rays" and "magic" yet again, all the while he fights with a "stick and a string from the Paleolithic era." Before you can turn the first page, the narrating Barton says, "Paleolithic. I looked it up."

Only because Aja's art is so scruffily reminiscent of comics legend Dave Mazzuchelli's (Batman: Year One) do I even turn to page two. Last I knew, the Hawkeye portrayed in Marvel's The Avengers had at least a dozen technologically enhanced arrows. Last I read, the Hawkeye fans have enjoyed for years in comics wasn't a shit-heel who, after being wheeled out of a hospital with his many human injuries, kicks the wheelchair into traffic for no earthly reason.

But this is Matt Fraction's Hawkeye. Basic physics be damned, he can incapacitate thugs with a thrown playing card to the throat and redirect cars with a quarter through the driver's window. Oh, and the word "Bro" appears almost 30 times. Do you love the word, Fraction, or hate it? Either way, borrow Clint's dictionary. Look up "subtlety."

Sigh. Not every writer can be Mark Waid. A craftsman of clever, epic comics since the early 90s, Waid is a master of tone and characterization, who frequently revitalizes solo characters. He's had memorable runs on The Flash and Captain America, and his current gig, Daredevil, is Marvel's brightest book. The latest issue, drawn by the incredible Chris Samnee (The Mighty Thor), shines with a shared-universe exuberance that not every Marvel comic has. Tony Stark and Dr. Strange help Hank Pym (the size-changing Giant Man) as he navigates the brain of Matt Murdock, Daredevil. Our titular hero, who's blind but compensates with enhanced "radar" sense, needs help regaining it.

As Pym battles nanobots inside Murdock's brain, his memories mix with those of the patient. Murdock remembers his own origin, a barrel of chemicals spilling on him, but sees Pym's. Murdock thinks of a perfect beach and his love, Karen, but sees Pym's wife Janet instead.

It's all around wonderful stuff, with great representations of Marvel icons, as well as some soap opera antics from Foggy Nelson, Murdock's law partner. Their scene at the end brings the cover into focus while setting up the next issue's mystery. A bullseye indeed.

Which leaves Action Comics, off target and underwhelming. Wunderkind writer Grant Morrison (Batman Inc.) doesn't usually deliver choppy work, but with three artists drawing this issue, it sure feels like he did. Rags Morales, Brad Walker, and the enigmatic Cafu all pitch in with their muscular best. But in a story where Superman battles a different super-powered son of Kansas farmers (the Neo Sapien named Adam), he'd better come to a less hair-brained conclusion than this: "If I stop thinking- if I stop doubting and second-guessing myself- if I just rely on instinct- on what I do best- and put my trust in action!"

But thinking only stays off Superman's to-do list for a page, since doctors can't promise to save Lois Lane from her internal injuries. He zooms off to read "every medical text ever published." Then he operates (the docs help) using his x-ray and heat vision. He saves her life, and she recovers, in a few pat, compressed panels. And, if this issue wasn't already a swaying stack of Jenga bricks, Clark's landlady proves to be an imp from a "higher mathematical dimension."

Morrison is said to be exiting Action Comics with issue 16. Whoever replaces the brainy Scotsman will hopefully make a well-paced, readable comic from what's left in his wake.

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