The first issue of Fraction/Aja/Hollingsworth’s Hawkeye nicely sets up the way in which this series works on slowing down narrative time through multiplication of gutters and through the domestic nature of Barton’s conflicts. As I pointed out in the first part of this discussion, Aja’s drawing and Hollingsworth’s palette reinforce this narrative contrast between Hawkeye and the typical, action-packed, superhero narrative. Further, as I pointed out in the second part of this discussion, the formal focus on time in the series allows for the use of subtle narrative juxtaposition, such as that between legality and justice, through which Barton’s character can be interestingly explored.
This focus on time continues throughout the subsequent issues of Hawkeye (again, issues four and five are something of an exception – all the more interesting, however, for highlighting the formal and narrative strategies of the other issues). And this focus on time is finally brought to a kind of apex in the sixth issue of the comic, in which the narrative is structured around Barton’s quite literal “making home” – furniture and home-electronics arrangement and set-up.
As in the first issue, from the very first page, Fraction, Aja, and Hollingsworth subvert our superhero-comics expectations by presenting struggle with electronics-cables in the form of a bomb-disposal scene. Treatment of time, here, plays a prominent role. Typically, in action comics (and movies), these easily recognizable bomb disposal scenes are slowed down to a crawl in order to build suspense. Like the first issue, then, the sixth issue of Hawkeye opens with a promise of a narrative that will fulfill our superhero expectations (see part one of this discussion, linked above). This promise is, however, quickly and playfully broken on the following page on which we encounter Iron Man and Hawkeye – well, Stark and Barton – trying to set up Barton’s DVR, VCR, DVD, TV, and A/V receiver. Hollingsworth’s use of Christmas colour scheme and Aja’s representation of Stark’s and Barton’s sweating, nervous faces retroactively become funny and strangely endearing.
Barton’s subsequent superhero antics with Spiderman and Wolverine become framed by his domestic concerns: “Did you see the finale of ‘Dog Cops’ last night,” asks Wolverine at one point, to which Barton responds, “Gaah spoilers spoilers spoilers shut up. I got the whole season in this DVR at home.” As we get glances of Barton’s conflicts over a span of six days, conflicts which involve both evil minions and the return of the tracksuit mafia, we are consistently referred back to Barton’s domestic problem: that of building a home. Here, as in the case of the juxtaposition between legality and justice explored in the first issue, domesticity and heroism, private and public spheres, are brought into contact.
This bringing into contact of public and private spheres is highlighted in the last two pages of the comic in which Barton is set to take a stand against his enemies, with an emphatic “I’m not going anywhere” laid over an image of Barton’s building; and – more pointedly – with the only full-page image of the issue in which Barton wordlessly stands in front of his building, his weapon at ready.
The most interesting aspect of the issue, however, is its panel layout, which employs the technique most effectively used by Chris Ware in his Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. In this graphic novel, Ware intriguingly represents the failure of traditional ideas of masculinity and their relationship to superhero narratives by giving the reader a beautifully illustrated and beautifully designed mostly-uneventful domestic story of the relationship between a boy and his estranged father.
Here, Ware uses the technique of laying out a large number of small panels in order to slow down the reading process in the interest of representation of the minutiae and dreariness of the everyday existence of a man-child whose male role models have consistently failed him. Inside a superhero comic, this strategy necessarily acknowledges the lessons of Ware’s narrative. Hawkeye’s subversion of the traditional superhero narrative and its focus on the domestic here come into a sharper focus.
Since the 1980s, with Frank Miller’s Daredevil and The Dark Knight Rises, with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen, as well as more recently with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and (maybe) even Zach Snyder’s forthcoming Man of Steel, we have been taught to think about not just superheroes’ weaknesses and shortcomings, but also about the way in which their public personas comes into conflict with their private ones.
Hawkeye inserts itself into this discussion by ‘domesticating’ Barton’s superhero action. By representing jumps/fractures in time as continuous and by slowing down narrative time through use of gutters and a large number of small panels, Hawkeye effectively domesticates Barton’s superhero struggles. By doing this, it brings into contact his public and his private personas in a similar way in which it brings into contact Barton’s concern with both legality and justice in the first issue (see part two of the discussion, linked above).
What we have here is a new kind of superhero: a superhero whose private life becomes a setting for heroic action. Not only does this make Barton more relatable to the reader, it also continues to rewrite the superhero figure in light of the problems with the genre that have been raised by Miller, Moore, and others.