“Hawkeye” #15 features the return of regular series artist David Aja, as writer Matt Fraction turns his focus away from Kate Bishop in L.A. back to Manhattan and Hawkguy himself, not to mention a newly emboldened group of tracksuit mafia thugs who continue to be a major annoyance, and worse, to Clint Barton and his neighbors. This is the missing issue that readers might have wondered about, hitting the shelves a month after #16, weirdly enough, and three months after #14. It’s only a number, though; and this issue is every bit as fun and suspenseful as past issues of the series.
With this game of issue numbering, this issue’s aptly-titled story “Fun and Games” gives a nod to Marvel’s old puzzle magazine of the same name, right down to the mag’s logo, and the typically eye-catching Aja-composed cover that’s a pastiche of a crossword puzzle and an image of the classic horn rim-masked Hawkeye. Few probably ever imagined a decades-old activity book would serve as the basis for the look of a story like this, but as always Aja assembles a unique-looking story that could be told by no one else. His simple drawing technique collaborates well with his densely packed pages, jamming in all kinds of information without making every page look too busy or complex. The format works especially well in digital format with a guided reader app like comiXology’s, where there’s no accidental peeking ahead at subsequent panels. Never has Clint being literally caught with his pants down been such a surprise.
Despite the story title, though, things are not all fun and games, as Clint’s war with the Bro-fia escalates and things take a decidedly darker turn. It’s a cleverly timed move by Fraction, who always manages to keep the mood light despite the dire circumstances surrounding Clint and his allies. In this issue, the ambiance steadily gets heavier, before culminating on a genuinely troublesome note. The shift makes the seriousness all the more striking, bringing the potential underlying threat to the surface that’s been there all along, beneath all the layers of the seeming fun and games.
Fraction also introduces the question of who’s really in the right in this whole conflict, and what constitutes doing the right thing. Clint ponders whether doing good is represented by what’s legally right, what’s morally right, or what just feels right, and comes to a realization that they might not all be the same thing. It’s a potential shake-up to the status quo of the series, but typical of what Fraction has done so well throughout the run: put Clint in an impossible situation, and make incredible stories telling how he gets out of them.
“Hawkeye” #15 isn’t just another terrific issue in the series; it’s a terrific issue that elevates the threat level. The series has generally been a look at what Clint Barton does when he’s not an Avenger, but by raising the stakes, Fraction ends the issue with a statement: the mob has just declared war on an Avenger. It’s an agonizing cliffhanger, but it makes for the best testimonial that any single issue of a comic series could have: an equally agonizing wait for the next one.