Best Shots Advance Reviews: HAWKEYE #6, AVENGERS ARENA #2

 

 

Avengers Arena #2

Written by Dennis Hopeless

Art by Kev Walker, Frank Martin and Jean-Francois Beaulieu

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

What's so funny about Avengers Arena is that when you take away the bloody trappings behind it, it serves much the same purpose of its predecessor, , and even operates with a similar methodology. Even though the high concept is " with sidekicks," this book actually helps expand the Marvel Universe.

What do I mean? Well, after last week's violent debut... Dennis Hopeless actually delivers a character piece. I know, right? Featuring the origin of the teenage Deathlocket, there's actually very little blood and guts in this sophomore installment, which I think needed some extra carnage at the beginning to show it meant business. But what Hopeless does is very similar here to Christos Gage — using deep characterization to build up the Marvel Universe and its ranks, with new additions to the families of Captain Britain, Deathlok and even Ulysses Bloodstone.

The major difference here, however, is the setting, which in turn gives us a much darker tone. Dangerous foes aside, it's hard to set up this kind of tension within the confines of — by virtue of it being a school with superhero professors, it's tougher to get these kids in too deep, you know? But in Arcade's Murderworld, all the gloves are off. In this regard, Hopeless's comic does come off as pretty derivative — the campfire exposition scene screams of Lord of the Flies, while Death Locket's near-catastrophe strongly evokes the Hunger Games.

The other thing that Avengers Arena brings that its predecessor didn't is a visual edginess. Kev Walker's characters aren't the smooth, fresh-featured kids that Tom Grummett drew, these are dirty, angular adolescents that could both warm your heart and then turn on you in an instant. Walker is able to distill the horror of the book's concept into body language and shocked expressions (mainly from the corpses), but isn't doing it to overwhelm us. In that regard, Death Locket's tweenage tank top shows both how endearing these characters can be, and how in over their heads they are in Murderworld.

Distaste with the exploitative high concept aside — and I can only imagine that amount of hate Dennis Hopeless has gotten for doing this book — Avengers Arena is sort of the dark mirror image of Christos Gage's beloved sleeper book. More characters showing more character, but unlike the immortal IP of most Avengers books, these new concepts come with a very distinct expiration date. If Hopeless can balance the extended characterization with the sort of Battle Royale fisticuffs that set this series apart, it may escape the fate of its canceled predecessor yet.

 

Hawkeye #6

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

There's a scene in this issue that really illustrates what Matt Fraction has done with Clint Barton. As the world's greatest marksman sits on his Bed-Stuy rooftop for his building's regular potluck, one of his neighbors just can't quite seem to get his name right.

"Hawkguy." And that's really what Hawkeye is all about.

For this holiday-themed issue — yeah, it's really a Christmas issue, but it's far from serious, and Fraction tosses in some tongue-in-cheek Hanukkah and Kwanzaa references so all we non-Yultiders feel included — Fraction delivers a quiet story of everyday heroism. It's not just the war against the DVR, although that certainly helps ground this comic in reality. It's about taking superheroism down to the street level, fighting the good fight not with repulsor blasts or Uru hammers but by simply standing your ground and not leaving your home because a gang of punks sent your entire building a death threat.

It's really a poignant work. But what keeps it manageable is the underlying humor. "Hawkguy" being an example. For those who know their comics inside baseball, the misnomer came from Fraction's young son misunderstanding Clint's name. But Fraction has made it a joke we can all get in on -- of course the name fits, he's one of us. Clint is a goof and a screw-up, so him cutting the cables of his DVR like they were a bomb doesn't seem so out of character. Perfect aim, imperfect life trajectory, and that contrast between the humor of everyday life and the cold resolution of a life-and-death decision makes both seem much more powerful. You don't need big set pieces to make a big impression.

And I haven't even gotten to the return of David Aja yet. What an interesting artist — Aja really flies in the face of widescreen storytelling, instead favoring almost the opposite approach. Tons of small square panels dot the page, but surprisingly that doesn't muddy the emotions behind his Mazzuchelli-style faces. Every page winds up having a method to the layout madness, like the DVR instructions lining the side of one sequence — there's a real sense of design at play here, and it adds a deliberateness that you don't really see anywhere else. The small panels also really set us up for the big, quiet, expansive moments — there's a beat where Clint stands his ground that absolutely makes the book, and that's all based on Aja's salesmanship.

Now, I know Hawkeye isn't for everyone. I know that plenty of superhero fans out there want cosmic action, broad visual storytelling, stakes that shake the universe and alter heroes forever. That's everything Hawkeye isn't. What Hawkeye is is a human story with spurts of superhuman potential. It's a character piece, a quiet assurance for a Christmas night. It's nothing you expected and everything you wanted. Hawkguy is the gift that keeps on giving.

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