On first glance, “Hawkeye” #17 by Matt Fraction and Chris Eliopoulos seems ripe for reader disappointment. The plot is a flashback that is a detour from the overarching story and David Aja only does the art for two pages. The concept — showing readers the winter holiday cartoon special that Clint slept through — is hilarious, however, and it’s a surprise and a pleasure that the story turns out to be a smart, tongue-in-cheek parody or riff on “Hawkeye” itself.
With his usual comic rhythm and confident pacing, Fraction dishes out jokes that are irreverent meta-commentary on the character of Clint Barton and the overarching plot so far. With his purple costume and lack of powers, Steve the Dog is an obvious stand-in for Clint, and Steve’s membership in the Winter Friends mirrors Clint’s inclusion in the Avengers.
The “Winter Friends” cartoon plot is ridiculous and self-aware, playing on cliches of the holiday cartoon adventure genre, including a corny moral and deus ex machina resolution. It’s too bad that Clint slept through the cartoon, though, because it’s a message that was meant for him: no dog – er, no man or superhero – is alone, and that Clint shouldn’t let pride keep him from accepting or seeking support from family, friends and community.
Besides pun names like “Menorable,” the funniest part of “Hawkeye” #17 is the pack of dingos who are a stand-in for the Bro Gang. The dingo’s dialogue is structured around “dog” the way that the Bro Gang can’t get enough of saying “bro.” Fraction’s writing and sense of humor is recognizable and distinctive in its sense of play and rhythm, not just verbal rhythm, but the rhythm of a character’s movements and thoughts and how he or she figures within the pulse of human relationships or within the urban environment.
Aja and the various guest artists have set a high bar for artwork, but even with Aja’s two pages bookending “Hawkeye” #17, Eliopoulos’ art holds its own. It isn’t graced with Aja’s bold graphic design and ambitious layouts, or Wu’s expressive line, but Eliopoulos’ art is well-matched to the story. He captures the energy and goofiness of the dogs, and his style is better suited for the ridiculous cartoon antics of the action.
“Hawkeye” #17 is successful in its formal experimentation, and the results serve characterization and suspense. “Winter Friends” is light and absurd and doesn’t take itself too seriously, but nevertheless another dog story and Eliopoulos’ art further expand the series’ emotional and formal range. It’s great that Fraction is able to make style into substance this way in offshoot stories, adding to the richness of the world he has built.