"I don't think you'd ever say you expect something to be 'the next Hawkeye.' It's like saying you expect something to be the next pet rock." - Axel Alonso
Hawkeye by Matt Fraction, David Aja, et al., just passed its one year anniversary and its thirteenth issue. Both of those are milestones for Hawkeye books in general – the Avenging Archer usually makes it to miniseries, or to solo endeavors that are cut short by sales or waning interest. In fact, Brian Michael Bendis cites the poor reception of 2008’s Hawkeye as one of the reasons he was allowed to kill Clint Barton during Avengers Disassembled. Heroes live and die based on their book’s sales—literally.
So what makes this iteration of the Hawkeye book different? And, more to the point, what’s to stop Marvel from launching a whole slew of books with similar concepts, backing, and fanfare?
Turns out—nothing. Over the past month and particularly at this year’s New York Comic Con, Marvel announced a new wave of books – All New Marvel Now!. Amongst the announced team books, the rebranding of current titles and the relaunch of some recently concluded were a new line of solo titles. And, much like Hawkeye, these books aren’t about Thor, Captain America, Iron Man or Wolverine (though the house staples got their regular share of news). These are series about characters who haven’t existed as purely solo characters for much of, or most of, their histories.
Does that mean they can’t succeed? She-hulk and Carol Danvers have both had multiple volumes dedicated to them, and many of those series have crossed benchmark issue numbers. Rhodey has been a popular part of the Iron Man mythos for decades, and now has his appearances in three movies backing him up. Elektra and Black Widow both come from histories and connections with various Marvel franchises—Daredevil, the Avengers, Wolverine. These characters have always been popular, and some of them have headed successful solo series before, even if they ultimately didn’t last. But if not being able to maintain a solo act over decades is the sign of a bad character, then Hawkeye would’ve been a scrapped concept long ago. But he’s still around, with the “year’s best breakout book” dedicated to him. So what’s stopping any of these others from achieving the same?
A large part of Hawkeye’s success is its artists and covers—David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth, Javier Pulido, Annie Wu and the rest of the team bring style, consistency, and great character work to the book.So what about the new contenders?
Black Widow, the star of 2012’s Avengers movie, is getting a book with moody, artistic covers and interiors by Phil Noto. Jennifer Walters, the original She-Hulk, is focusing on the law and her personal life with fashion-forward Kevin Wada on covers and Hawkeye notable Javier Pulido on interiors. Carol Danvers, Tumblr hero and Captain Marvel, is getting a second wave with another Hawkeye alum on art—David Lopez. James Rhodes is also catching movie buzz, his series branded as Iron Patriot. And then there’s Elektra, who’s coming off a Wolverine-crossover and has Mike Del Mundo giving her an abstract and inventive art direction. Each of these books has the potential to be an artistic masterpiece.
The thing of it is, lightning doesn’t strike twice. Some people are still baffled by Hawkeye’s success, even if they can map out why it occurred. Hawkeye is not what people expected it to be. It’s design and character-focused, quiet and offbeat. Its covers have attracted more conversation than any in Hawkeye’s considerable history. Its creative team engages with its fans and have a fan following unto themselves. Hawkeye just had an appearance in a major movie, he’s got toys and TV appearances and Marvel’s backing. Take it or leave it, like it or hate it, Hawkeye has captured attention. And maybe that’s why the book is still around, thirteen issues and going strong.
This has been a roundabout way of saying that these other solos, these other characters, have all the same elements and all the same chances of success. They have interesting, attention-grabbing covers. They have writers who care about the characters they are writing, and have interesting concepts for them. They have interiors by artists with distinctive styles and a wealth of potential. And, they’re launching as part of Marvel’s line-wide initiative, which is a treatment Hawkeye didn’t get.
If Hawkeye changed something in comics, or brought something back, or just brought people’s attention to something that was always there… it was character, and concept. Easy-to-access but not dumbed-down stories that can be read and enjoyed for themselves and not how they fit into Marvel’s grander designs. Hawkeye is easy, it’s fun, and it’s good. And nothing makes me happier than seeing people get into the wild, wide world of cape comics through this book and this character.
But you know what would be even better? If there were a dozen books like that. If the characters headlining those books weren’t all just blonde men with blue eyes. If women with all kinds of skills—secret agent, assassin, lawyer, pilot—and men from all kinds of backgrounds could have an equal shot at books that last, that are read, and that are loved. I want a million Hawkeyes out there, so anyone can find the fun, beautiful book that sticks with them and makes them love this medium as much as I do. And I want that to come through diversity, ingenuity, and care.
Marvel doesn’t always have a great track record with diversity. Just a few years ago, they cancelled all of their female-led books, and just over this year they’ve ended multiple series headlined by women. But they’ve also launched a good number, and no less than four are launching with new #1’s in 2014. I want to see those books do well. I want to see a POC-led book do well, and POC and women-led teams doing just as good as those led by Captain America and Cyclops.
So here’s the question—did you like Hawkeye? Did you expect to? Do you want to read more books like it? Axel Alonso thinks Hawkeye is an anomaly, a “pet rock.” If that’s what you want in your comics, show him. Buy new books when they come out, give Marvel feedback about what you did and didn’t like.
And maybe, this time next year, we’ll be celebrating the start of the second year of Black Widow, and shelves full of pet rocks and diversity.