Matt Fraction and David Aja have sustained their creative momentum in sculpting a resolute but solemn Clint Barton. We are witness to a hero trying his damnedest to fight for what is right, against progressing insurmountable odds and he is feeling it. The pressure is from the Russian tracksuit mafia, who have remained the stable heels of the book. We are slowly meeting more of the tracksuits and this issue focuses upon Kazi, a hitman who originates from hell. David Aja has taken a break from this issue and we are treated to Francesco Francavilla glorious pencils. His previous works on Batman and current pursuits with Black Beetle have received high acclaim. The style is very much of a film noire, shadowy, underworld constitution and is quite a niche climate. This issue reveals the brutal origins of Kazi juxtaposed with a late evening parley with Kate Bishop, and the scene is set for the mysterious and melancholic colours of Francavilla.
Matt Fraction knows perfectly how to direct a comic and give the freedom to allow the artist to showcase his work. As with David Aja, he does this superbly as the plot is succinct and there is a clear aim with this book. This comes across without the need for heavy dialogue or narrative and that is an all important skill. Kazi has a strangely nihilistic disposition that befits the assassin vocation. His conversation with Kate is a delicate combination of aloofness and flirtation that certainly ruffles her, and is well played out. His muted personality is transposed with the memories of his awful childhood with the mafia and his development as a hitman. As we progress through the comic, his character gains brevity and weight, whilst we begin to understand his gloomy persona and garner concern for Kate. The artwork is simply breath taking as Francavilla successfully displays two stories simultaneously but distinctly. The opening page sets a soiree at the top of a skyscraper with panels interspersed revealing the teasing glances between Kate and Kazi. Their conversation reveals subtle movements and hand gestures between characters, in simple classic panels. When we move to the explosive fire scenes of his childhood, the panels are more creative and erratic making his fear and distress palatable and upsetting. This is then replaced with dark foreboding as we visualise the reflections of his murder victims through a shattered glass window. Francavilla’s eyes are key to his emotional voice and child Kazi’s torment is shown through them. As he matures into his hitman clown mask we can only see emptiness and sadness through the makeup; the tears of a clown. Francesco is his own colourist and it is quintessential to his work. His red and yellow shades express Kazi’s childhood terror, but the pink, blue and orange tones create a beautiful moonlit environment for a romantic dalliance.
Fraction and Aja have created a Clint Barton who is afflicted with misfortune, in the pursuit of noble ventures. The reader has developed loving affection for Hawkguy, whilst his support cast seemingly haven’t. They see his life as a series of mistaken choices whilst we see a well-meaning hero often met with severe physical pain. David Aja has taken this principle and developed a way of expressing his thought processes through musings and introspections. These are often from facial gestures or the insecure decisions revolving around everyday banalities. The creative team and Hawkguy are proving immensely popular. Now bring in Francesco for an issue. His style is so unique to him that Fraction’s story takes on the Francavilla vibe. This is extremely successful in paralleling Kazi’s turbulent past with his present subdued personality. However the last two pages feature Kate and Clint interacting and there is a subtle tonal change. This is no longer Francavilla territory and I found it disconcerting as Clint’s solemnness belongs to David Aja. My adoration of Barton arose from the pencils of Aja and I struggle to feel the same way with another artist. It may reflect an immaturity or overt nostalgia on my part but I felt similar when Pulido took over the pencilling for The Tape issues. In that case there were more similarities and Hollingsworth was still the colourist so it was less of a deviation. There is nothing that can be taken away from Francavilla because this book is highly commendable as the sub plot and character exposition is so impressive. If he took over the book permanently, then I would be incredibly excited to see his impression of Hawkeye, but it feels misaligned as a temporary solution. I would have preferred Clint to remain exempt from this issue but that is not to say I did not thoroughly enjoy this book.